Posts tagged ‘Cultural Norms’

Be Content

During our morning devotions today this came into my mind:

I am not spiritually weak because of this pandemic, and I am not obsessed with gathering in person with others who name Jesus as Saviour to get back to “normal”. God has not left me during this time, nor left me without an abundant supply of spiritual food. Indeed, I have never felt alone nor unattached to the people of faith in my life. A strong binding has kept my spiritual comrades close to my heart, in my mind’s eye and in thoughts and prayers.

And then this thought entered the process, one which has both intrigued me and encouraged me for 17 years:

In the Ojibwe language there is no word for “good-bye”! Whether someone is physically present or not, the connection remains intact over time and distance because being face-to-face does not determine the depth of affection and attachment to the people in our life.

The Words of God in the Bible are even more lively and penetrating (Hebrews 4:12) than ever before as I am given a clearer vision of the heavenly realm and reign of Christ on earth.

“So, brothers and sisters, I love you and miss you. You are my joy and my crown. Therefore, dear friends, keep your relationship with the Lord firm!…Always be joyful in the Lord! I’ll say it again: Be joyful!…The Lord is near. Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable…I’ve learned to be content in whatever situation I’m in. I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little. I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:1-13 God’s Word Translation©, selected).

We do not need others in order to live with Christ, but we need The Spirit free in us to live with others!

Faith in a Worldly Culture

People underestimate how they are manipulated and controlled by culture. I am not talking conspiracy theories here. I refer to the habits and customs that surround us and which we follow without thinking about even when they turn us into an anti-Christ. This cannot be overstated.

I will speak only of the Canadian culture here (though it is part of what is termed the “western culture”). We have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This particular cultural institution has become the foundational motivation for congregations that refuse to follow public health orders during the pandemic. Their claim is that they have freedom of religion in this document which means they are exempt from any law which they interpret to persecute their customary practice of religion. Notice that culture plays a double role in this fiasco.

The congregations are enveloped in a subculture that defines worship as meeting in a certain place at a certain time, and they define this further to be the primary definition of their identity. As prisoners of the wider culture of “rights” they use the secular laws to demand their religious laws as having priority over their responsibility for each other, inside and outside their circle.

This use of rights is entirely selfish. They refuse to see this because that would mean reviewing their subculture of privilege, that their right to act their way is superior to all other “rights”.

Jesus had the right to a fair trial, a right which was denied to the Christ. So did Jesus appeal the kangaroo court? Did Jesus whine on the cross about personal innocence and the injustice foisted upon the “Sinless One”?

No, because secular rights, won or argued in secular courts (or even religious courts) betrays an attitude of mastery or control instead of servanthood.

Here is the extreme example to verify the stand of the Bible (Matthew 5:40-41). Jesus taught that if someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat also. If you are compelled by a military or civic power to carry a load for one mile, then carry it for two. “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

If a public health order suspends the “right” of congregations to meet en masse in their precious edifice, then the congregation should not only obey it, but over-obey it somehow.

Instead we have self-righteous religious fanatics demanding their “human” rights to reject the teaching of Jesus, deny their community responsibilities, publicly declare that they have superior rights to others in the culture and forfeit the role of serving in their arena of operation.

What is their justification to abandon what identifies people as followers of Jesus instead of self and culture? They are heroes (self-appointed, alas) who are fighting for the human rights of all religious and spiritual people! I don’t need that. “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31b).

Vital Versus Vapid #1

There are foundational teachings which are vital to our eternal life. There are other teachings which are secondary or simply opinion, and must never be used as the grounds for eternal salvation or holiness. People too often confuse the two.

Please note here that I am not talking about heresies, which are teachings/beliefs which build walls against God. Here I am talking about teachings/beliefs which seem sound enough, but are interpretations and pet doctrine rather than Biblical.

It is not difficult to differentiate between teachings vital to our faith and holiness, and those which are for specific occasions or times, or merely cultural or personal opinion. Simply put, teachings that are about Church organization, human authority, religious rituals or cultural requirements cannot be used to shape righteousness (“doing the right thing for the right reason for the Right Person [God]”).

An obvious example is circumcision. Some early Christians felt that Christianity was a part of Judaism (correctly so) and then decided that all Jewish customs and norms had to be followed by all Christians (Galatians 5:2-6). We know that the Apostle Paul confronted this issue more than once, and was successfully able to have the Church declare this as unnecessary for salvation. This practice was not wrong; it just is not universally applicable.

Four Ways to Read

There are four ways to read the Bible: contextual; devotional; proof texting; transformational.

Contextual
Here the reader studies history, language and culture to add depth to the Bible stories. For example, “heart” in Hebrew thinking was the seat of the intellect, not emotions as it is in Western culture. For example, in Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have hid in my heart” really means you memorize it. A “hard heart” is a closed mind, not emotional callousness.

Devotional
This is the exact opposite of contextual. Here the reader reacts to what is read as a personal inspiration, not a theological study. For example, the Bible says we are saved by grace, and the reader gets a warm comfort from this.

Proof Texting
Here the reader stops and notes verses that support their theological ideology without regard to any original meaning that may have been intended. For example, verses that can be made to read that women are under men will be lifted up, and the verses that say there is “neither male nor female” in God’s eyes are ignored.

Transformational
This is the exact opposite of proof texting. Here the reader has an open mind, prepared to change personal behaviour or ideas based on a mostly literal rendering of the text. For example, Jesus said, “If you hate your colleague in Christ you have committed murder”, so the reader actively seeks reconciliation with someone with whom they are in conflict.

Submission

Too often culture, more than discernment through The Spirit, determines how Jesus followers follow Jesus.

For example, most believers know that Paul wrote, “Wives submit to your husbands.” Some even know it also says, “Husbands love your wives.” The outcome of this tidbit of information is the religious teaching that the husband is the boss, and wives can become, in actual practice, little more than unpaid servants.

I observe that the words to wives are found in 5:22-24, 33b. The words to husbands last longer, verses 25-33a.

What is more important is that the function of marriage, husband and wife, is a living metaphor for Christ and the Church (mentioned 5 times!). If anyone simply takes these words as a sociology of the family they stand rebuked by the very passage of Scripture they seek to use to justify injustice. The conduct of the wife (not women in general) is a witness to how Followers of The Way should walk humbly. The conduct of the husbands is a witness to the unsurpassed love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for humanity, to love mercy. Together these proclaim the testimony to God’s love for mercy (all this being what we read in Micah 6:8).

In other words, despite the cultural impulse to the contrary, these words are not about gender, but about God, who made marriage as a witness to the intimacy of the Creator with the creation.

Even further, these words are part of a bigger scheme to walk humbly in which children honour parents, and parents act to avoid provoking children to anger.

Even further yet, Paul goes so far as to say the conduct of slaves and owners who belong to The Way witnesses to the same relationship described by the metaphor. Slaves obey in a humility that calls out how we serve God. Owners are also reminded of humility, for God is their Boss Supreme.

All this is not about family or society, but that Believers are to live and breathe and relate and function in every way at all times to promote the Good News.

Explicit Word and Principle

There are two elements of the Bible that makes it useful for people in living by faith: explicit statements about what is good and acceptable and what is wrong and undesirable; and principles that cover items that may not be explicitly addressed in the text of Scripture. Read more…