We all live in culture. We are immersed in it; we breathe it in; we barely realize it’s there. We read in Scripture how God created languages. With new languages and the resulting differences in thinking, plus the space between different people groups, God created cultures. Different cultures are his idea. Culture per se is good, because all things he creates are good. And like all created things, it is tainted by sin.
When a group connects with a people group and introduces Jesus Christ to them, and there is success, there is always a resulting tension between the cultures of the two groups. As I have said, every culture is created by God, but it is tainted with sin. So, it cannot be wholeheartedly embrace, but neither can it be completely rejected. It is the gospel of Jesus that is the transforming power in all cultures.
The church has responded to new cultures in different ways, at different times. It has decided its original culture was superior to the new one, and worked to suppress the new culture. It has tried to flow with the new cultures rhythms, but sanctify its practices. Hence, the reinterpretation of holidays. Or the invention of holidays.
There was a tribe in the south Pacific that believed they need to appease the spirit world. To do that, they needed to maintain a parity in honor killings. If someone in another village killed someone in your village, you had to kill someone in their village. Then, they had to. Then, you had to. And if you could do it by deceit and treachery, that was wa-a-ay better.
So, when missionaries found them they were locked in a continual state of war. And when the missionaries told them the story about Jesus, they cheered Judas, who by deceit and treachery got his “friend” Jesus killed.
It looked pretty bleak for any chance of the gospel taking hold among this people, until they discovered another custom, the “peace child.” If two villages were at war, and it looked like they were going to wiped each other out, one village could give an infant to the other village. The other village could do anything they wanted to the infant (mostly, they raised it as part of the “family”) but it was believed that this sacrifice by a father appeased the spirits and the blood-shed could stop. The missionaries declared that Jesus was God’s “Peace Child” and a tremendous move toward God among this people occurred.
The Bible says that God has left “sign posts” to himself outside of Scripture, outside of the people of God. Each cultures has its “sign posts” embedded in it. God’s people need to be aware of the “sign posts” in their community.
The point of part II: God is the inventor of culture, but at this time, no culture really honors him. And just because something originates in a culture that historically did not honor him, does not mean that he has not put his hand on it to point to himself and his way, and to bring honor to himself.