Culture… the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group
This is a hot topic for people. In the Christian world it is often argued over how to handle it. There is one extreme that believes in taking upon cultural practices and thought processes are so necessary that they allow “cultural norms” to over shadow Biblical truth. A common term for this in the “church world” is the presentation of “water down gospel.” This extreme leaves a generation of people who are loosely Christians if even that.
The other extreme believes that culture has absolutely NO relevance to ministry. It is this belief that has caused such great tragedies such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the horrific crimes committed against the Native Americans. (if you’re wondering what it was like for them check out Native American Christian musician, Red Cloud’s song Koyote Gospel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HSCpwhMXLw )
There is a balance in all things. These two extremes have left many broken, lost, and confused. So what does Scripture say about Dealing with culture? Check out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I becameas one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Paul is not saying he has allowed himself to be consumed by the cultures of these people groups. But he’s also not saying that a person’s culture should be ignored. Instead he shows that he has taken the time to learn and understand the culture of the people he ministers to. He knows that by having an understanding of people’s cultures he can reach them more effectively.
Being culturally relevant doesn’t mean you sacrifice gospel truth to be hip. It means you, because you have an understanding of how people think and speak, are able to present to the gospel in a way they understand.
Knowing your audience is preaching 101. If I stand in front of kids I don’t use terms like propitiation, exegesis, or pneumatology. (but I do teach those words to them along the way) I use words they understand. I don’t use illustrations involving taxes and the government; I use illustrations involving cartoons and school.
Do I change what the gospel says? NO! Holiness is holiness, righteousness is righteousness. If you die without your Christ you do go to hell. If you fake your walk with God, yes you will go to hell. But how to explain what sin is to a person who’s never grown up in church? Fact of the matter is our “Christian-ese” does not make sense to people. Understanding a person’s culture helps us to help them understand God’s culture.
At the same time we must be careful not allow ourselves to overstep the boundaries set by God for the sake of being culturally relevant. There are certain cultural practices and aspects that are against God completely and we should NOT partake in. There are those out there who have used the excuse of being culturally relevant to justify blatant sin!
Friends I encourage you, find the balance.