Christians and Culture
Humans are cultural beings. Throughout history, humans have excelled at making and changing the tapestry of their cultures. Cultures are dynamic and constantly shifting with the changing of authorities – not only shifting governmental authorities, but also shifting ideological authorities in the academy, in art districts, and in religious structures. Religion is primarily concerned with meaning. Meaning shapes the values in a society and ascribed values guide the direction of society. These values can be good or bad; they can be rooted in objective morality or subjective preferences. Christianity has been a vital institution for promoting values that have shaped all of Western civilization. The following are some reflections upon the reasons why Christians have engaged culture, as well as what it is that Christians have been charged to do in and with the culture they inhabit.
The Christian Mission
The Great Commission of Christianity is found in Matthew 28:19-20 stated, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is certainly a religious command. It is also a command that will necessarily have a large impact on many cultures, wherever the gospel message is taken. By taking this gospel to all nations and proclaiming that the teachings of Jesus are true, the disciples set out to infuse the world with values given by God.
Preaching and teaching the gospel has the power to transform the mind of those who accept it (Rom. 12:2). By injecting the gospel into new cities and cultures, Christianity has had a profound impact on culture. Christianity has provided the basis for morality necessary to expand Western civilization. The Roman adoption of Christianity, the Protestant Reformation, and the establishment of the New England Puritans all contributed to the propagation of Western culture observed today. The impact of the gospel is marked on each of these landmarks of history and, in some way, caused them to take place.
The effect of the gospel in Western culture has been made possible because faithful Christians have heeded the call to spread the teachings of Christ throughout the world. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, and countless others spent their lives testifying to the truth and importance of the gospel. Because of their work and sacrifices, Western culture has had the benefit of being acquainted with the knowledge of God and the wisdom He offers to the world. This work, namely, making God known, is not complete for the Christian or Christianity until the day of the Lord’s return (Matt. 24:14).
Knowing Good and Doing Good
There is a Christian mandate to “not grow weary of doing good” (Gal. 6:9) and to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). Doing good is a requirement of the Christian faith. The Bible teaches that, “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James. 4:17). In order to do good, Christians must know what good is. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches us that the Bible is the authoritative and teaching tool of God to instruct humanity in doing good: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”.
The force of the Christian message to do good compels Christians to do good in society and culture. Christians are called to be good and do good by keeping God’s commandments out of love for God (John 14:15). This love drives Christians to admonish the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) as a masterful piece of
instruction that is life giving to the Christian and the culture they occupy. The Sermon on the Mount serves as a guide to understanding the Decalogue and is a summary of the ethics of God. Living out the tenants of the sermon in a variety of facets allows the Christian to be an exemplar of good works in culture. Doing good in society influences a culture to at least acknowledge what Christians have to offer. Christians are often seen as Pharisaical; they claim to have knowledge of good and evil, but continually fall into hypocrisy by not doing good. This does a disservice to the witness of the gospel and God.
Christians are called to know what good is, in order to be good and do good in society. A good society requires good citizens. Christians, therefore, must heed their call to be good, culture-making citizens.