We’ve spent some wonderful times with several indigenous tribes in the jungles of Suriname. These people love to sing, and during worship times at the Bible camp, each village represented would present a musical number at the front of the teaching hut. These original songs were sung very enthusiastically and accompanied by guitars, tambourines, and lots of swaying and clapping. We were amused when infants, conscripted into the choir because they were cocooned in slings at their mother’s sides, would casually lift their mom’s t-shirts and treat themselves to brunch while their mothers continued singing with the rest of the choir.
How do you think that would go over at your church next Sunday?
Cultures are different. They reflect and express different worldviews and mores, different priorities and expectations. They are complex and fascinating and sometimes perplexing. Cultural adaptability is an essential quality for effectiveness in virtually any profession in today’s world, because in our global milieu cultures intersect and overlap in ways they never did before.
Some things about culture are morally neutral–like nursing in the choir loft, taking one’s shoes off in the house or belching out loud. Other cultural practices have moral implications and are rooted in spiritual principles that are either true or false. As citizens of one culture, we may be astonished, fascinated, tantalized or offended at the practices of another. This clash of cultures is a skirmish fought on the battlefields of familiarity and propriety.
For Christians, the overarching principle we should apply is this: Truth trumps culture. Any culture. Truth is the worldview of God and the culture of heaven, and Paul of Tarsus reminded the believers at Philippi that they had become citizens of heaven and, as such, should conduct themselves accordingly:
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:17-21 ESV)
It is clear from this passage that a believer’s culture will clash with the other cultures of the world. Discipleship is, in a sense, encouraging naturalized citizens of heaven to learn to live in their new culture.