[notice] Part 1 of a 2-part series by Port Elizabeth pastor, Afrika Mhlophe
Tallin, the capital city of Estonia is Europe’s capital of culture for the year 2011. A European city gets this honour for one calendar year from the European Union and in that period it has the responsibility to organise a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension.
I am in this city for the second time this year and I have already witnessed the pride the locals have in their culture and customs. They are a population of about 1,3 million but the pride they attach to their language, festivals, etc. will make larger nations envious. This country has had to endure over 700 years of colonial rule by different foreign governments and it is only in 1994 that they were freed from Russia, the last colonial ruler. This obviously is not dissimilar to South Africa’s own history.
This country also has the honor of being the most wired nation on earth. There are few places here where you cannot access the internet. Free wireless internet is available even in buses and boats. This is also the nation that gave the world the innovation called Skype, the application that enable us to make free and cheap voice and video calls over the internet. So you could say people here have a lot to be proud about. There is something else that some people here are proud about, of which they shouldn’t. They are proud that their country is one of the most irreligious nation on earth. Does culture, therefore, play a role in causing people to be closed to the gospel?
One morning while visiting one of the churches here we ran into a traffic jam caused by people attending something called a “Bread Festival.“ That’s right, a festival dedicated to showing different types of bread. The church we attended had no more than 40 people in attendance, far less than those who were at the Bread Festival. There are actually about 12 000 Christians in the entire country.
If you were to look at the broad definition of the word “culture“ then you would be hardpressed to apportion blame to it for people’s resistance to the gospel. Culture has to do with behaviors and beliefs that characterise a particular group. Changes to that group may also spell changes in their culture or at least how that culture is practiced.
I submit therefore that every group has a culture. There is a culture in business, youth, academia, politics, church, and of course within different ethnic groups. To make things even more interesting, within certain “cultures“ there are also “sub-cultures“. This is when a group within a specific “culture“ adopts certain behaviors that delineates it from the rest of the group.
I believe it is God who created culture but, just like everything He has made, culture needs to be redeemed. I do not believe that God wants us to forsake our unique and individual cultures and become part of a universal and uniform culture. God celebrates diversity but we need to be careful when that diversity is hijacked by those with nefarious motives.
The hijacking of culture may give birth to feelings of superiority in those who feel that they have a more “evolved“ culture in comparison to others. It may also give birth to cultural “pride“ wherein its adherents insist on practices that do not help to foster unity between the different races.Another by product of the hijacking of culture is the introduction of demonic practices that some African communities engage in.
Is it possible to be a Christian and still practise your culture? Yes it is if you practice parts of your culture that glorify God. There are people who are called Messianic Jews because they are Jews who believe in the Messiah. They don’t need to lose their Jewishness but are suppossed to elevate the Messiah above their Jewishness.
In the book of Acts when an argument arose about whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to attain salvation the apostles concluded that the Gentiles need not be circumcised but needed to lose practices that did not glorify God (Acts 15). People here can therefore have all the festivals that celebrate their culture so long as those festivals and cultural practices do not separate them from Christ.
Christ remains a rock of offence and there is no middle ground with Him. You are either for or against Him. A conflict therefore exists between Christianity and culture if culture seeks to exalt itself as being more important and legitimate than Christianity.