Culture and the Gospel

The gospel message is pure and truthful. A grey area for many Christians is how to live according to the gospel and Jesus’ teachings within the culture they find themselves in. Often secular people can view the gospel as something so intrinsically linked to Western culture that the sharing of the gospel with non-believers from other cultures is seen as ethnocentric and cultural superiority.

The challenge for a new believer to transform their learned life behaviour and living to that of one which represents the fullness of their belief can be one of the more blurred and difficult areas for one to reflect on and change. This can also be an issue for those who have grown up in the church, although I wonder if to a lesser extent?

Perhaps the changing of one’s life outlook and behaviour can be simpler if the culture they are a part of already embodies gospel values, thus providing them with an example. Although, if those whom are providing the example of how to live according to the gospel are of a different generation or sub-culture and thereby have certain different expressions of values such as modesty and leadership if this is indeed helpful, or if this increases the confusion of the believer. If one does not have the example of other believers to guide them, does this make more difficult the task of transforming one’s life to be in accordance with the gospel?

We can, out of self sufficiency or perhaps another trait, lean on our understanding of scripture in a cognitive attempt to live out our beliefs. I do wonder however, if we were to only rely upon hearing the voice of the Spirit in his instructing us on how to live, if the way he would ask us to live would retain the cultural aspects of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament?

I recently read an autobiographical book by Vincent Donovan entitled Christianity Rediscovered. (It’s pretty epic I very much recommend it). Donovan was a Catholic priest who went as a missionary to the Maasai people of Tanzania where God led thousands of Maasai to believe in Jesus. The struggle for Donovan was to allow the Maasai to retain their culture whilst integrating the gospel into it and overriding the cultural behaviours which are incompatible with the Gospel, as opposed to overriding it with a Western expression of the gospel. Donovan’s cultural ideas surrounding individual identity were challenged by the Maasai tribes’ collective identity, as for the Maasai belief in the gospel was not an individual choice but a collective decision. In similar although perhaps less controversial vein, Donovan had to decide if the practices of worshipful singing, the elements of communion, the sermon, etc, were of his own cultural expression, or were in fact, a necessity of the Gospel message. He had to ask himself: ‘are these ideas cultural, or specifically spirit-prompted for all Christians regardless of culture?’

Is listening to the Spirit and obeying his instruction enough to accurately live according to the Gospel message? What role does scripture and the church play in informing our expression of the gospel?



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