What is culture?

This is the world where we live, our circumstances, our lives and the events going on around us. It is macro culture – ‘The structure or canvas of society’s values, world-views and perceptions on and in which popular culture, art, fashion etc. operate’. It is micro culture – ‘Those aspects of fashion, taste, artistic expression and popular culture which are transitory. Changes within the micro-cultural framework are arbitrary’.

We also live in the postmodern culture – ‘That which follows the breakdown of the rationale and order of modernism; characterised by fragmentation, networking and non-institutional cultural forms.’ This is the pick’n’mix generation. The generation that doesn’t feel obliged to buy into things which don’t feel good, because things are about feelings. A challenge for us as Christians as we present people with the one and only truth – Jesus.

There was no ‘visible’ youth culture until the 1950s. The word ‘teenager’ was first used in 1941. 

Culture in the life of the Christian

We are all in the contemporary culture of our day. We live in a town, city, village, in British society, in European culture and in world culture to a greater or lesser degree. This is the macro culture – Western culture. We also live in our own micro culture. We all have our own music tastes, fashion styles and beliefs. We live in a world where we are both more global and more local. We have 24/7 news from across the globe and yet many buy more local food products. It is a contrasting society where the differences appear to be growing while the mainstream media focus on equality often appears to mean a move to uniformity.

The Bible and culture.

Let’s start with basics. Mt 28:19-20. Jesus commanded his disciples to go out everywhere and make disciples of people, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to do everything that Jesus had taught. That is our job. Our Christian lives don’t end in conversion, they start. Jesus started this – ‘come with me and catch men instead of fish’ he said to Peter and Andrew. (MT 4:18-20).

In Acts 4:20, Peter and John answer the Jewish Council saying they cannot stop talking about Jesus. Look at the life and ministry of Paul. Christianity is evangelism. Christianity means like Christ. This is our life’s aim. In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus points out the cost. In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus reminds us to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth.

Look at Acts 2. The apostles started to speak in different tongues so they could preach the Kingdom of God in people’s own language. Take a look at Paul’s speech in Jerusalem (Acts 13:16-48) and compare it to his speech in Acts 17:21-34 when he is in Athens. In the first one he goes through the history of the Old Testament (as they are Jews), in the other he does not. Why? Because as Paul says in 1 Cor 9 he is targeting what he says to relate to his audience.

Let’s look at Paul writing to the Corinthian church. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (p.214). What is Paul saying? He’s saying that he will do whatever he has to do to win people for Christ. He is clear that his focus is Christ Jesus and the message of his good news. He is also clear that he doesn’t become the same as other people but that he enters into their world, lives with them and looks at things from their perspective in order to reach out to them. The Message (p.352). What else does Paul talk about? He talks about being the servant to these people.

Finally in John 15:16 Jesus tells his disciples that the chose them and sent them out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last for ever. Then in verses 26 & 27, he tells his disciples that he will give them his Spirit so they will tell other about him.

Why so much on this? Because as Paul says and did, we are called to live in the world but not as part of it.

What about Jesus?

Jesus was a radical. He was radical about the Kingdom of God. He was radical in the society he lived in. He is radical compared to the values in today’s society. Let’s take a look at Jesus – via The Message. Let’s look at a few interesting incidents that we have recorded in the life and times of Jesus.

Luke 4:40-41, Jesus healed many people from diseases and possessions. Luke 5:12-14, Jesus touches and heals a leper. (Lepers lived separately from other people). In Matthew 9:9-13 we find Jesus staying with Matthew the tax collector – the most hated kind of people. Luke 5:31-32, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.’ He ate when he was hungry, ignoring the rules of the Pharisees (Mark 2:23-28). He talked of loving your enemies (Luke 6:27-36). He wasn’t afraid of getting stuck in – see Mark 11:15-19. He hated hypocrisy and pious, religious people – Matt 23:1-36). He allowed a prostitute to pour expensive perfume over his feet (Luke 7:36-50) and so on… He turned things upside down.

But Jesus did more than that. He was from Nazareth, he was a carpenter by trade and he was not the figure portrayed in certain films. When he went back to Nazareth, people were amazed this was the same Jesus, the son of Joseph (Matt 13:53-58). And as Eugene Peterson writes in the introduction to The Message (p.7 – go check it out).

What about practically?

How far do we involve ourselves in popular culture? In short I believe the answer is between you and God. There are undoubtedly Biblical guidelines, however. The best Biblical guideline as we’ve seen in Jesus. However, we can look at Paul’s teachings too. In all things we can ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) and believe (6-8). However, we can look at our lives and look to see whether we are living as we should as Christians.

Take a look at Galatians 5:22-23 and see if the fruits of the Spirit are in your life.- ‘God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled… And because we belong to Christ Jesus, we have killed our selfish feelings and desires. God’s Spirit has given us new life and so we should follow the Spirit.’

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul asserts the primary importance of love as a guide to our lives. Read 1 Corinthians again and instead of reading ‘love’ insert the word Jesus. Now insert your own name. Is it true of you? Do the situations you put yourself in help you in your Christian life? Do you act as you should? Do you witness as you should? Look at Romans 12:2, ‘Do not act like people of this world.’ (see NIV). But look to see whether what you do is more important than your relationship with Jesus. If it is, change it. What you do & who you are in private is as important as in public.

Some other general guidelines. Should you drink a lot? Not if you want to be a church leader (see 1 Tim 3:1-13 / Eph 5:18 & Rom 13:13). Love everyone (Matt 5:43-48 7 1 Cor 13). Always set a good example for others (Titus 1:7). Always make good use of your time (Eph 15-16). Always use your time with unbelievers constructively and try to hold their attention (Col 4:5-6 & 1 Pet 3:15). Keep a clear conscience (1 Pet 3:16). Don’t worry too much about what you wear (Matt 6:25-34).

Jesus had no barriers between him and ‘sinners’. (Romans 3:23). Jesus, Paul and we should relate to people in their terms – Revelation. We are in the culture but our priorities are Kingdom priorities. But ultimately what you do is between you and God.

Jesus was radical and we need to be prepared to do radical things for him. Go for it!