THE DIVISIVE INFLUENCE OF RELIGIOUS CULTURES

In my eighty-two years, I have been privileged to visit and learn from many Christian traditions. I have concluded that most traditions and many doctrinal differences are rooted in religious cultures.  The following variety of definitions will help us see what a significant role culture plays in our life experiences.  Take a few moments to read them all:

  • Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
  • Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.
  • Culture is communication, communication is culture.
  • Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person’s learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning.
  • A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
  • Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group’s skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.
  • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action.
  • Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.[1]

The gospel of the kingdom is able to redemptively penetrate every culture, whether secular or religious in nature.  Therefore, able ministers of reconciliation can, by faith, rise up above such influences, and not be distracted from our mission.  Be careful not to include “enculturation” in our presentation.  (We may see the influence of religious cultures on others, but are not likely to see our own cultural tendencies.)  I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

I was praying for a person, asking God on how I could change him.  He said, “You love him; I will change him.”  I didn’t immediately “get it.”  Finally, God convinced me with this:  “If you change him he will look like you.  If I change him, he will look like Me.”  End of conversation.

We have this treasure in earthen vessels.  And so does everyone else.  Cultural strains are rooted in the history and environments of our earthen vessels.  “The Good News is that Christ is in us and among us, the hope of glory.  He fills all of us with all of Himself, and then chooses to grace and gift each one of us differently, for the common good.

Constituents of said cultures—all of us—are gradually transformed from glory to glory once we receive the King and embrace the kingdom.  The Holy Spirit is able to lead us all into all truth. The anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but His anointing teaches you about all things.

Apostolic grace is given to all apostles and also to those who are equipped for works of service by apostles.  This grace is measured according to our giftedness and also according to spheres, metrons, assigned to us.  This grace enables us to effectively function cross-culturally without bowing ourselves to the influence of religious cultures or being distracted by them.

“But, this is the way we’ve always done it!”

I am not totally discounting valid doctrinal differences.  But, the first hurdle we face in our pursuit of unity in our localities will require us to lovingly and patiently get past the all-too-familiar cultural differences—music, liturgies, venues and menus, traditions and administrations—none of which should be barriers, or even enter the discussion.  One needn’t travel from his base locality to experience the variables presented by religious cultures.  Many would need only to go down the street, over to the next block, or perhaps venture over to “the other side of the tracks.”

The objective of this writing is to encourage us to venture near and far at the Lord’s bidding, while trusting in Him to  teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.  We must remember, however, that we will not hear Him while unnecessarily distracted with concerns regarding cultural matters.  Bottom line:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

If we are both in Him, then we are TOGETHER IN CHRIST!  Just leave it there for a season of celebrating our oneness in Him!  Spend time together rejoicing in our common brotherhood.

Fall in love with one another!

[1] https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/choudhury/culture.html

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