This sermon is a start of a response from scripture and my own study and knowledge to the questions raised in our last Town Hall around the Adaptive challenges CCC faces. In a cluster of responses you named what I’m calling a “Culture Gap” between church and the wider world. This message begins to teach about the relationship between culture and gospel.
Discussion/Reflection: I don’t have a very good set of questions to consider at this point because my thoughts are in too much flux still. (It is Thursday afternoon as I write this) This sermon is aimed to be about the relationship between culture in the church and culture outside of the church. In Acts 2, the main thing to consider is: What do the people hear in a way that made sense to them? In Acts 10 the question is: What adaptive change is Peter being taught here that was causing him to set aside part of his “culture?” What is his cultural pattern as a Jesus following man of Jewish descent? How is it being stretched and changed? In Acts 17 it is worth musing about what Paul does here culturaly. Does he disrespect the culture of the people he is addressing? Does he condemn them as wrong? Or does he do something else? How would you describe the approach he takes?
Summary of the Bible teaching from the three passages/texts:
“each heard their own language (culture) being spoken.”
What did they hear? The Gospel message! In a way they could understand! With the Holy Spirit active in God’s people, the good news of saving grace in Jesus can be communicated to other cultures.
God wants every nation (culture) to be fully brought into God’s fold, not just the nation of Israel. The cultural limits Peter was accustomed to (non Jews as “unclean” are erased in the new era. No one can be declared unclean anymore. Any human being can come into relationship with God afresh and learn to live right. Peter is stretched in his thinking (Heart Change) and shares the good news with this God respecting Roman Centurion and his family and household.
“So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you”
Paul uses symbols from their existing culture and religion as a connecting and starting point, and from that point teaches them the good news. This is a technique to remember. Find something that can be considered common ground to start the conversation.
Other things from the sermon:
Culture, described in just three words is: “collective meaning symbolized.” Culture is is a commonly understood set of symbolic communications within a group of people. It is a “way of being.”
Your culture can be recognized in:
- your language – including body language, (stiff upper lip)
- your actions/behaviour – such as handshakes or bowing, (high five)
- your appearance/clothing – friday casual, Goth, Reformed, Hutterite,
- they symbols that have meaning for you – like crosses or national flags,
- the stories you tell and like to hear, and so on. (Disney stories shape our beliefs)
At it’s core or base, culture springs from ideas & values. …
You often can’t see or recognize your own culture! It is what is “normal” for you. It is what we always do! It is like the water a fish swims in. If the fish could talk and you asked it what flavour the water was, it would say “I don’t really know. It is normal”
A lot of things we do when we come together in a worship service are “normal” to us. An example is : greeting time at CCC … thats part of our culture. We are trying to say something through greeting time, but it could be a big surprise and awkward for someone to whom that is culturally strange. You know you are encountering culture if you are in a place where you hear words or see actions or objects that do not immediately make sense to you… Others seem to understand and participate naturally, but you don’t know what to do.
Here is one of the best definitions of culture I’ve found, by former missionary Lesslie Newbigin: Culture is “the sum total of ways of living built up by a human community and transmitted from one generation to another.” I would add that it is mainly transmitted invisibly.
Human beings are — by virtue of being in God’s image — culture makers or meaning makers. We call this the “cultural mandate” based on Genesis 2, where God put man in the garden to work it and take care of it (cultivate it) and then brought over the animals so Adam could name them. Naming is a form of meaning making…
One other thing to always remember: Each bit of the Bible was written in a particular culture… we read it from within a particular culture, our own, and we tend to be kinda arrogantly confident that our culture has the best understanding. Be carefull with that…
Conclusion (some of this is different that what I said in the sermon):
In three passages we have interaction between Gospel and culture. In the first the Holy Spirit enables communication across cultures. In the second God breaks down cultural barriers that are no longer valid, and in the third a connecting point in the culture is found, and from that connecting point the gospel is shared.
And here we are, we’ve identified that one of our big Adaptive challenges is a culture gap.
What has happened? Have we lost the ability to speak across cultures? Maybe. Has the Holy Spirit stopped functioning among us in a way that makes that cross-cultural communication more possible? Maybe.
What I see us doing troughout history is forming denominations and congregations and bringing all kinds of culture in from the world we live in at the time this happens (Roberts Rules of Order, Organ Playing, shaping churches like courtrooms — or more recently like theaters, having academic lectures delivered as everyone sits in orderly rows, or having worship become a concert, having everyone sit real still to show respect or having them bopping to the beat of God and on and on). All of these are technicalities. And we, over time, become captive to believing a particular kind of musical worship IS Christian or Christianity, and we lose the movement of the Heart and Spirit that is at the core. And we begin to believe that clothing naked peoples in other parts of the world IS making them Christian or that teaching them to recite certain prayers IS making them Christian. (If you can get hold of the movie “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” it shows this well, but be warned, it is not a nice depiction of Christitan Missionaries, and has full frontal nudity in it.) Or that “taking the indian out of them and making them like us” IS Christianizing them. We still do this today! And we cannot even begin to close the culture gap and reach across unless we undergo some Adaptive and Heart changes.
Over time we become captive to our particular cultural expression of Christianity that we have inherited, and we my our nature “preserve” the practices of those while losing the meaning and spiritual vitality those practices used to bring in a particular time and place. And as we become a culture out of touch, we are not able to connect with the culture around us. After a while we lose track of Christlikeness itself… And we become a social club, or a place of social justice activism, or a huddle of world despisers, or…
In the face of that challenge, the bible teaches there are essentially two ways of “Being” in this world, Two Kingdoms. There is the way of the kingdoms of this world founded on the natural way of mankind without God, that says things like “he who dies with the most, wins” and “Get the best revenge you can” etc. And there is the way of the Kingdom of God, which says “give away your stuff” and “Love even your enemies.”
What relatinship does culture have to that Kingdom of God? Can it be packaged in one particular culture? I don’t believe so. I blieve our passages show us that people can be citizens of the Kingdom and have a vast variety of cultures.