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Christianity and Cultural Change

July 19th, 2019

“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is edifying. No one should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

Many people are reacting today to the news of the breakup of the marriage of Josh Harris, the author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, that advocated a “better way” for Christians to maneuver the tricky waters of courtship and marriage.

I am never happy to hear of the breakup of a marriage, especially a Christian one. So I ask you to join me in praying for Josh and his wife, that they can be reconciled.

However, I have a point to make.

I believe one of the most misunderstood factors in today’s world of “political correctness” is the meaning of culture. We live not just in denial of the existence of culture and customs, but we live in ignorance that they even exist. No more poignant illustration exists of this fact that the latest tweet of President Trump criticizing four American congresswomen who are women of color. (By the way, I found his tweet appalling and an attempt to disenfranchise these women, three of which were born in the United States.)

However, there is a back story here, a background of ignorance and denial that cultural perspectives are real. This is the elephant in the room, and needs to be taken into consideration in a positive but realistic way.  In the public debate about immigration there seem to be two sides who are both equally ignorant. One says all immigrants are great, no matter how different their worldview and government assumptions are from those of the United States of America. The other says all immigrants are bad, regardless of the potential and the needs of families and individuals.

But back to Josh Harris and Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye. 

Culture is normally defined as a system of perspectives and values that have been accumulated by a certain society over their long existence, or the way a people think. Customs are normally defined as a system of the ways these values are expressed, or the way a people act. Customs are seen and culture is unseen.

As systems, they have balance and symbiotic relationship with one another, as well as checks and balances within the system. Cultures and customs exist together like the ecology of a certain natural environment, and as systems, you cannot mess with one part of the system without in some way shaking up other parts of the system.

Dating, courtship, and marriage are major parts of every culture and custom system, and you cannot tinker with one part of the system that has been developed over centuries without very likely missing something important.

I do not know Josh Harris and certainly do not know his marriage problems. But I thought his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” was well-intended but ill-advised as a “solution” to what ailed the American system of courtship and marriage. Radical social solutions generally do not work in cultures simply because they generally are one person’s or one generation’s idea to correct a solution that society as a group has made over several centuries. Some key components are bound to be missed.

Josh himself wrote on his blog:

…to those of you who benefitted from my book, I am so grateful that something I wrote helped you. The fact that a flawed man could write a flawed book and somehow that could help some people is amazing to me. But, to borrow an analogy from the automotive industry, if a car serves some people but a flaw in its design causes damage to others, good intentions by the carmaker and even the endorsement of other customers don’t override the problem. I cannot recall all the copies of my book that have been published. However, my public critique in written and documentary form, and the numerous media interviews I’ve done in the past two years, are my attempt to both apologize and spread the word of about the problems I see in it.

There is some audacity in the very idea that one person could re-invent courtship and marriage for a society. Such ideas as best taken as suggestions to be considered. The old saying, “Never tear down a fence until you know why it was put there in the first place,” respects this idea of the working-together of elements of a culture. So, I am disappointed that his marriage failed, but the general advice of generations of Christian cross-cultural missionary work is to seek to redeem the cultural institutions and let the Holy Spirit lead to gradual change.

The culture of the Kingdom of God is found in the Bible, and particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, but there Christ dealt with deeper issues of the heart and did not seek to tinker with the many outward institutions and customs of society. Eugene Nida stressed that Christianity teaches moral ideals but in their application there is a “relative relativism.” The Bible says, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

Step by step, bit by bit, we redeem the time in whatever culture we exist in. There is no one single “Christian Culture” mandated on earth that requires that all Christians must wear the same clothes, pray at the same hour, eat the same foods, or go through the exact same customs of life. We have freedom under the Lordship of Christ, under the freedom of the Spirit, and under the teachings of the Word to follow Christ as He leads us.

The teachings of the apostle Paul were to seek the good of others, to see how we might improve life on this earth as we bow our knees and submit our hearts to the Spirit of Christ, and the word of God. So it is best to go slow and seek the Lord’s leadership step by step.


Leadership in Ephesians

April 9th, 2019

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. For He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence. In love He predestined us for adoption as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. (Ephesians 1:3-6 BSB)

It is telling that in the letter that Paul says the most about leadership in the church, in the family, and in life, he starts out by emphasizing the common grace we share. He first lays a strong foundation of the equality of all the saints in terms of the choosing, blessings, planning, and working of God through Christ. And only after he has laid such a wonderful theological foundation for the equality of all believers does he venture into the areas of leadership. 

He deals with five key relationships in this epistle: (1) Christ and the church; (2) gifted people and the church; (3) husbands and wives; (4) parents a children; and (5) employers and workers, or masters and servants.  The first and most important is the relationship between Christ and the church. There is no question that Christ is a gracious and loving Savior, who died to redeem us and who has given His Spirit to mark us as His, who also wishes to display for all eternity His great love and our great redemption.

I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. (Eph. 1:18-21)

But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-8)

The astounding truth is that despite the disparity that exists between the believer and Christ, despite His greatness and our fallenness, that God will still raise us up and seat us with Him in the heavenly realms as demonstrations of His great grace and kindness. 

So when the letter says that “God put everything under His feet and made Him head over everything for the church” (Eph. 1:22), Paul has more greatly emphasized God’s love and grace to us and His blessings to us. There is no question but that Christ is Lord, and that we should bow down before Him in surrender and submission, but the tone of the letter much more strongly conveys His love and the blessings of grace than the terror of Christ the Judge. 

So, upon that example and those principles, Paul then simply teaches about leadership in these other areas. What leader cannot read this epistle without being touched? This teaches us that the leaders of the church are not to lord it over their brothers and sisters, neither is the husband to lord it over his wife, nor is the parent to cruelly exasperate his child, nor is the employer to harshly disrespect his worker. It does not dismiss the leader’s role, not in the church, nor in the marriage, nor in the family, nor in the work place. But it does paint it the color of grace and respect. 

The Christian leader is the one who is most like Christ, who knows when to chase the money changers out of the temple, who knows when to ask the tough questions, who knows when to rebuke the sinner, but who also is willing to die for the ones he leads, who is willing to suffer disgrace and embarrassment if others will be blessed, who seeks to lift up and strengthen those he leads. The Christian leader is not the one who puts others down, but the one who lifts them up, that they might become more than he is. 

In whatever capacity God has given you the opportunity to lead others, seek to lift them up and not to tear them down. There may come a time for rebuking, but God never rebukes that He does not also plant a seed of hope and explain how things can be put right. Remember that the word of God is inspired and useful “for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The last part of that quote from 2 Timothy, “that the man of God may be complete,” does not refer only to the preacher or to the teacher or, for our purposes, to the Christian leader. It also is relevant for the one who is taught or led by the Word, that the word of grace lifts us up from our failures and Christian leadership should fully equip the saved for every good work.   

Ephesians, Leadership, Marriage