Q: “How much should Christian Missionaries and other Christian workers try to save people’s cultures? Isn’t culture important?”
A: There is a real push of the world to save and preserve all cultures. Certain Americans take pride in the fact that we have so many multi-diverse cultures among us. When you study missionaries making inroads into foreign fields, it is of upmost importance that they first gain an understanding of cultural practices because these practices greatly influence the attitudes of people and how they interpret the world around them. By understanding the culture missionaries gain insight into the attitudes, perspectives, and stories of the people they minister to in order to properly relate to them and learn their “heart” language. When you consider such missionaries like Hudson Taylor, he realized dressing like the Chinese helped him greatly in relating to them so he could effectively present the Gospel.
But, as far as becoming part of the culture, adopting their thinking and all of their practices, that is a different story. The idea of cultures point to people being cultivated a certain way right down to what they worship, how they worship, along with their language, what they eat, how they think, the ways in which they celebrate, and their attitudes towards the various issues of life. Due to culture, people have a different way of expressing themselves and relating to one another, which not only creates misunderstandings, but prejudices. After all, many think their culture is better or more sophisticated than other cultures.
This brings us to the source of all cultures: they are a matter of this world. The world uses cultural differences to establish platforms that are designed to cause divisions so there is a need to control the masses by despots. Clearly, it does not matter how spiritual some cultures come across or how civilized they may be, at the core of all cultures are pagan ideas and practices, idolatrous preferences, perverted thinking, and unfounded religious notions and superstition. Granted, Jesus entered by way of the Jewish culture which had types, patterns, and symbols established within its religious practices that pointed to the Messiah, but the Jews still perverted their religion with their traditions and unholy mixtures.
This brings us to a very important reality: Jesus died to save us from cultural influences. Our different cultures may bring distinction, but none of them can save us from the perversion, the arrogance, the prejudices, and the oppression many cultures promote. In fact, believers who once were part of oppressive cultures relish their new life and freedom in Christ and have no problem adopting a whole new way of living.
The Bible clearly addresses this matter. I remember how a Native American asked Jeannette how he was to handle his culture and practices in light of being a Christian. It became obvious to him that he could not bring Christianity and his culture together without compromising both of them (Matthew 9:16-17). It was then that Jeannette gave him Acts 17:26, “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” (Emphasis added.)
The previous Scripture makes it clear that we are all of one blood and that the Lord has appointed the boundaries of people’s habitation. The reason for this is explained in Acts 17:27-28, “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being, as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”
Galatians 3:28 takes away other differences that have divided people such as race, gender, and status, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” This concept of being one is reinforced in Ephesians 4:4-5, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Today the world clamors for equality in many different areas, and yet there is only one place that such equality can be found and that is in God’s kingdom. All stand level in front of the cross of Christ, sinners in need of salvation, all have been offered the same gift of eternal life, and have been entrusted with the same commission. Each Christian is a member of one body, equally important in the function of the whole body.
Obviously, as Christians, there should be no divisions or prejudices based on race, gender, or status. The Apostle Paul counted the things of the world that brought distinction to him as dung (Philippians 3:4-8). We are to have the mind (attitude) of Christ, reflect His glory, and be walking, living epistles of His truths (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 32-3,17; Philippians 2:5). We are new creations, reminding us that the old ways of cultures, worldly preferences, and fleshly practices are behind us as we embrace a new way (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are now citizens of a heavenly country, destined for an eternal city. As ambassadors of Jesus, we have a mandate to invite all to come to Jesus, receive His gift of life and be part of the kingdom of God and a heavenly family. Our inheritance is not based on a worldly family nor is our identification established according to ethnicity; rather, our sole identity is found in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle Paul may have become all things to all men to win a few, but he never gave up who he was in Christ to come into agreement with the world that he claimed was crucified to him and him to it (Galatians 6:14). He never compromised the truth, the Gospel, or his calling. He recognized culture and respected its influence on those around him, but he never let go of his mission, sway from the course, or fail to stand and fight when truth and souls were under siege.
As Christians we are not here to influence cultures, but what we possess, the Gospel has the power to change the landscape of men and women’s souls, thereby, defining a whole new way of living for them.