The Clash of Cultures

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Many years ago, I went to China as an English teacher with a team of college students for the purpose of sharing Christ.  My team of ten was led by Mike Kee and his wife, and we were working at a Chinese boarding school in the southernmost province for an entire school year.  For many of the group, this was their first real cross-cultural experience.  I’ll never forget the words of wisdom that Mike shared with us.  He discussed the usual stages of assimilation to a new culture: honeymoon phase, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance.  The reason that all humans go through this process when acclimating to a new culture is usually because, unintentionally, we tend to believe that the way we’ve always done things is the right way.  This is an extremely strong feeling.  There is nothing easy about the process of changing this.  However, as believers, our allegiance cannot lie with our culture.  Our allegiance can only be with the truth of Scripture.

Mike pointed out that when we evaluate the Chinese culture, there are many, many things that are biblical.  They are amazingly hospitable.  When a guest comes into their home, the guest gets the best of everything.  They practically wait on the guest hand and foot.  What a comparison to American hospitality!  Their loving ways humbled me so much while I was there.  Mike helped us to see that, while there would be many things that would seem odd, confusing, and downright wrong to us, we had to be careful not to judge them according to an American mindset.  There are many, many aspects of American culture that are not biblical in the least, but because it is familiar, we’ve never evaluated it by the standard of God’s Word.

This is especially difficult for us as believers because we are used to thinking of America as a Christian nation.  For this reason, we have come to believe that the way we do things is Christian.  The truth is the Christian faith will always be at odds with the culture—even “Christian” culture.  Culture, to some degree, teaches the necessity to submit to the pressures of the group—Scripture always tells us to submit to the sovereignty of God first.

There have been many times in the history of “Christian” culture where the group has accepted something, such as slavery, that is completely antithetical to biblical doctrines.  It has been the courageous voices of the few, however, who were unwilling to yield to the majority that helped bring about the much-needed change.  This legacy goes down through the ages of persecuted believers who stood firm on God’s Word even when pressured by “Christian” or pagan cultures.

In fact, the way of Christ is the way of the rebel, consistently going against the flow of normal human reasoning that puts its hopes on immediate pleasures and external, rather than internal, success.  And this is our true culture war—the war within ourselves.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”  2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV

And yet, these big battles cannot be fought unless we win the smaller battles against our own personal prejudices and fears.  And this battle will not even start unless we accept the fact that we are accountable for what we allow ourselves to believe and act on.  Our warfare is waged by bringing every thought in line with Scripture.  If you are a Christian, this is not optional.  Our actions flow from the truths that we believe.  If these truths do not, in fact, line up with God’s teaching, how can we hope to make choices that reflect Christ?
Oftentimes, those believers throughout history who have let atrocious things slide have done so thinking for some reason that God would not care.  I do not dare to live under that false assumption.  I tremble when I consider God’s righteous, and inevitable, judgment.  And this judgment is necessary, not cruel, for there is no way for all the wrongs in the world to be made right, unless justice is done.

With the awareness that one day we will face our Creator, we can have no other response other than to make sure that our inward culture matches the culture of the Kingdom of God.  In this vein, our lives are a constant process of re-evaluating our hearts and our attitudes making the small, but cumulative, changes that are necessary.

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