Conform to Culture, yes or no?

(Jeff Johnson) #1

I’m curious about the cultural implications of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, specifically 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 vs. Peter’s treatise in 1 Peter 2:11-17. I imagine Peter and Paul discussing their unique perspectives over a cup of coffee. What are they teaching me about living as a Christian in today’s culture without being compromised? Do Peter and Paul agree with one another? What are the similarities, and waht are the differences? Paul seems to be more adamant about assimilating to the culture to convert new believers (forgive me but I picture Paul at a construction site using course language to “be like one of the workers” in order to gain their favor and respect), while Peter sounds more in favor of maintaining the tention of the “Christian lifestyle” while still immersing yourself in society (he strikes me as more of an uncompromising do-gooder that gains respect of the crowd because of his good works and high moral stance). What can I learn about being an evangelist in the marketplace, or among my non-Christian friends by comparing and contrasting these two pieces of scripture?

(christopher van zyl) #2

Id say by adding a third scripture. Or should I say, a character in scripture.
Daniel is a wonderful book.
In it we see him assimilating into the culture (he learnt the language, he studied the literature etc) and he maintained the Christian (or should I say Jewish) lifestyle (he ate his special diet, he prayed even when it was legislated not to, the friends didn’t bow down etc). So to me, it’s a beautiful marriage of Paul’s view and Peter’s view, culminating into the context of one of my favorite biblical characters.
I would say that Daniel has a lot of lessons about being an evangelist in all those places you mentioned.
For him, it wasn’t what city he lived in, but what city he lived for.

God bless!

(Jeff Johnson) #3

Wonderful! Thanks for the reply. One follow-up…do you think Paul’s view in 1 Corinthians was in any way allowing for the compromise of his Christian values in order to reach the masses? Daniel, like Peter seems very “uncompromising,” but I’m not sure about Paul. Paul seems to be much more a “do whatever it takes” kind of guy. By way of example, the rockstar Bono famously used course language while accepting an award…it was a very public thing…and, given Bono’s Christian beliefs, seemed to me to be a way of reaching out to the unchurched and being a source of attraction to them. Thoughts?

(SeanO) #4

@Jmworks9113 Good question. I think you are making a mistake in pitting Peter against Paul - I think that if you read all of their letters you will find places where Paul draws a very clear line of separation between the believer and the world and places where Peter points out the need to share Christ with respect to those around us.

Part of what you may be observing is a result of the fact that Paul was God’s missionary to the Gentiles, while Peter chiefly to the Jewish people. Paul therefore would have felt more need to emphasize the ability to do cross-cultural work in the Churches that he founded.

Galatians 2:8 - For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised (Jews), was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.

As you will see in the example verses below, Paul never sacrificed holiness or his convictions. He simply was willing to sacrifice his culture, wherever it did not conflict with God’s laws, in order to reach other people. He became all things to all men without ever compromising Christ or his Christian convictions.

Example Verses

I Peter 3:15 - in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Galatians 5:19-26 - The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

(Jeff Johnson) #5

Thank you. That makes perfect sense. Understanding that Paul maintains his Christian convictions while assimilating to cultural norms, can you give me an example of what it might look like to “become like a Jew,” or “become like one under the law,” or “become like one not having the law,” or “becoming weak” as Paul states in 1 Cor 9:20-22.

I’m with you…just curious, from a cultural standpoint, to what Paul might have been referring. Maybe I shouldn’t be taking it as literally as I am. I’m just trying to better understand the tension between the Christian principles of Paul’s day and the length to which he was willing to go in order to reach the non-Christian.

And, to put my question in context, I was affiliated with a very large church that embraced cultural norms to a large extent in order to reach the masses, but, honestly, it felt more like an attempt to get more cars in the parking lot. And the church has been uber-successful. But I am disillusioned because it feels like the church has “crossed the line” and become more worldly as opposed to biblical-based in the interest of marketing.

I am trying to better understand how far God wants me to go in order to evangelize, and not “conform to the world.” If you know what I mean.

Thanks for your input…very grateful.

(Carson Weitnauer) #6

Hi @Jmworks9113,

Thank you for starting such an interesting discussion!

One comment for your consideration, regarding coarse language. Consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:29,

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear

I think ‘corrupting talk’ is a broader category than coarse language, but it at least includes that as something forbidden by Paul.

Second, Peter and Paul knew and respected one another. For instance, Peter wrote about Paul’s letters in 2 Peter 3:15-16,

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Third, more generally, given that we take the Bible to be God’s word to us, and we believe that God cannot contradict himself, then we should look to find a harmonious interpretation of the Scriptures.

I appreciate your heart to reach out to unbelievers on their terms; the challenge is that we are called to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ the world. Closely connected, but distinctively committed to the way of Jesus.

Are there some specific examples you can share where you feel that your church has crossed the line? These may be a place where believers in good faith may differ, as a non-essential variation in how we follow Jesus. On the other hand, there may be a legitimate challenge as churches sometimes over-assimilate to the cultural norms.

(SeanO) #7

@Jmworks9113 The most obvious example of being a Jew to the Jews is when Paul had Timothy circumcised. Timothy did not need to be circumcised, but he did so in order to more effectively reach the Jews with the Gospel.

Acts 16:3 - Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so _he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Being like one without the law to one without the law might look like Romans 2 - explaining to people that God’s law is written on their heart rather than beginning with the Old Testament with Greeks. For example, Paul’s Areopagus speech - he does not start with the Jewish law. Instead, he starts with an altar from their own city.

Acts 17:22-23 - Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

As you think through your own Church situation, here are some articles that may offer you some good food for thought.

(Jeff Johnson) #8

Thank you.

Regarding your question - “Are there some specific examples you can share where you feel that your church has crossed the line?,” let me offer this hypothetical for your consideration:

A church has a covenant of expected behavior as a representative of the church for all staff members to sign that has all of the standard things you might expect. In the interest of improving the quality of musical offerings a talented and openly LGBT worship artist is hired and, by virtue of obvious talent, quickly ascends to become a worship leader…subsequently the covenant is changed…watered-down if you will…so that it allows for the worship leader to operate in the role without violating the covenant. The change is rationalized because (1) the quality of the service is increased because there is now more talented performers, and (2) it sends a clear signal to not only the LGBT community, but to other non-believers that the church is a welcoming environment to all lifestyles. This is a hypothetical situation.

Is the church correct in being “open” to the LGBT community to such an extent that it modifies its own covenant? The LGBT community certainly needs to be reached, we all agree, but to what end are we to “become like a Jew,” or “become like one under the law,” or “become like one not having the law,” or “becoming weak” as Paul states in 1 Cor 9:20-22.

Because the LGBT issue is such a hot-button topic, I am concerned that this conversation will focus in on that theme, so please just take the above example as a hypothetical. My core question comes back to, how far does God want me to go, in terms of today’s culture, to reach the non-Christian. Because…that’s exactly how far I am willing to go. I hope this makes sense…and thanks again for the feedback…Proverbs 27:17.

(Jeff Johnson) #9

Excellent! Thank you.

(SeanO) #10

@Jmworks9113 Indeed! Regarding your question about those who serve in the Church, I think it is important to consider what we are communicating. Are we saying “We love you - you are welcome - we want you to know Jesus”, or are we saying “You are welcome - there is nothing wrong with living in sin”. The first one is great - we want to welcome everyone to know Jesus! The second is a lie - it prevents the person from repenting and finding life in Christ.

(Steven Kalinowski) #11

Hi Jim ( @Jmworks9113)

Thanks so much for bringing up this topic. I find there is often no simple answer but principles to go by that affect each and every case and our own point of view and others point of view.
As an example
I grew up in a fairly strict mindset at church. The idea of having a beer at a quiet bar or restaurant-bar in my mind was someone who was not spiritual if saved at all. If a church member did this, in my mind, he or she was somehow not very spiritual. It was very frowned upon.
My Pastor finally said in a sermon that having a beer or not is not “IT”.
I remember contemplating what this meant and trying to get what he meant.
There was the back and forth of if you go by rules you are being legalistic. Then I understood that legalism is trying to find favour with God by going by the rules and expectations put down by your particular church. So this was not “IT”.
Then it was forget about the rules and be free but this is not quite right either.
Besides as a young person - what do you do ? exclude yourself from everyone?
The rule oriented type leads to sectarianism - cut yourself off from everyone.
The other way of many churches is about being market driven, super seeker friendly to the point of conforming to the world’s way of thinking. Give out a good product to entice people to come in.
All of this I found very confusing. I once used to go to a church on and off and happened to be there near Halloween. That Sunday, I kid you not, there were people dressed up including one in a rabbit suit. I thought, this is madness. This is worse than the situation that Paul spoke of when people would speak in tongues all out of order and what would non-believers think coming into the church?? I wrote an email about this to the Pastor at the time and he explained that it was about the church taking back pagan holidays in a sense … or that Halloween means nothing … I can’t remember the details - but it was just too much for me - It seemed like this was ridiculous and in no way honouring to God.
I think Ravi had a good example. It was about a pregnant girl in high school going up for an award. We should love and support her, but not be approving pregnant girls in high school as being a good thing or as some kind of ideal. My daughter tells me in some schools they think of themselves as being special and love the extra attention. This is upside down values, principles mixed up.

It took me a while to start to think for myself and seen for myself. It is about Christ and what does that mean?
I read recently in N.T. Wright’s book - his first one on Paul ( Paul and the faithfulness of God) ( all his books are amazing if you can get through the first one hundred pages of any of them lol - then they suddenly take off) it just struck me anew. Here is Paul - the ultimate Jew, the best of the best, zealous for the law to the extreme, and in one of the verses he says that to the Jews he became as a Jew. I kind of thought before - ok he is adapting to the culture of the time - but didn’t really realize the amazing impact of this statement! His whole life upbringing - reshaped and remodelled, rethought, recreated in this new creation in Christ!
So it is like he is coming not as in one mode to the Gentiles or in another mode to the Jews but from a third mode or a higher reality in the Messiah. Wow!
All of a sudden - eating what has been sacrificed means nothing - yet allows for the conscience of the one eating or not and what others think.
So what does this mean for me at work for example?
I could go to a bar-restaurant and have a beer with a bunch of guys if I wished and felt the Lord wanted me to - but I won’t get drunk. But I won’t go to a strip joint with them.
I went to a stag once - but when the porn movies came out I left.
When at a restaurant with a bunch of guys and they start buying rounds - I stop at two beers and let the beers start piling up in front of me - not budging on going farther. They look at me with disdain. It’s a waste of beers they say.
I was once at a Scottish celebration - I can’t remember what is was - something about Robbie Burns I think. Things are going ok but then there is a toast to the haggis. It felt like idolatry to me. So I didn’t raise my glass. the only one there. I got comments back on that one - but I was convicted by God in my heart not to do it.
So it is not about a rule - it is about what I am projecting as a believer in Christ that counts.
I think Paul had such a hold on this brand new creation in Christ - he could allow others to see him as a Jew, a Gentile, N.T. he would even have been seen as a philosopher - but the overarching reality was in the Messiah and used every means possible within this new wordview possible.
I guess in some ways it is like Christ the Son of God adapting Himself to us to be able to see what God is like.
I work with guys that are French Catholics who love to blaspheme the name of Christ like a verb, words like - tabernacle, host, etc. It has got to the point where they think it is totally normal. I don’t use them because they mean something to me. I don’t generally ‘reprimand them’ for lack of a better word because they don’t know what they mean and don’t want to know because they don’t want to know Christ. They are totally ignorant of what they are saying. They celebrate St. Jean Baptiste day as if he was their own but haven’t a clue who he was or who he was pointing to. But they see a difference in me and can’t figure me out. I’m not religious and yet have words to say on the topic from time to time.
It is being in Christ and yet still stuck in the ideas of the world. It is a battle to not think after the world and not be isolated. Paul came from a higher view in Christ as a new creation. It is learning what this means and acting, speaking from this new creation point of the fly that is tricky. I hope I haven’t rambled on too much. It is pretty isolating in Quebec as far as any knowledge of the truth is concerned. Thanks for allowing me to share and hope this may be helpful to you or others. If I missed the mark - sorry. :slight_smile:

(Jeff Johnson) #12

Thank you. Helpful!

(Morgan B Bell) #13

I really appreciate this question and I think a lot of good thoughts are on this forum! The one thing I wanted to stress, which is already stated some throughout, is “becoming all things” is directly connected to reaching people where they are at without compromising Christian teaching.

The one practical place I have seen this play out in my own life is sincerely getting to know someone’s culture/beliefs. With some Chinese friends I have, I have watched evolution videos to better understand what they believe, gone to many Asian restaurants in the area, eaten/cooked different foods with them, and learned about the history of China from them. These are activities I would probably not normally do, but it shows I sincerely care about them. My brother has gone to the mosque some in order to better reach/connect with some of his Muslim friends.

Additionally, I have learned that “becoming all things” really involves investing a lot of time into people. If we want people to listen to our message about Jesus, we need to be willing to listen to their history lesson about their country if that is what they want to talk about.

I hope this helps some!

(Andrew Bulin) #14

@mbb0016, I really like your sentiment here. There are so many different cultures and lifestyles that we can learn about that are so very different from our own. Sometimes ethnically, sometimes socially as a sub-culture within our own.

I’m reminded constantly that each of us is born into the culture and background that we cannot choose, we grow up perhaps doing things that maybe we should not have but that was our choice, and then God still uses our wounds and checkered past to reach others that may relate to us, all for His glory. This is not at all to condone seeking out sinful behavior. But I think there are aspects of culture or environment that just are, and even then God is still willing to give some grace and compels them to evangelize others. For me, I know there are specific expectations and constants in my life that I should not forsake. For others that have not been so fortunate or wise in their lifestyles, God can still use them and I have to be careful not to discredit.

(Ron Livaudais) #15

In Romans 12:2 it states, “Do not be conformed to this world(system), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
We renew our mind by reading the Word of God and putting on the mind of Christ. We find
God’s perfect will in our lives by picking up our cross on a daily basis and prayerfully
Acknowledging to God, ‘Not my will, but Your will be done in my life’
Whether it is by example or by word, we have an influence on all those we come in contact with.
The kingdom of God is within us and wherever we go, It goes.

(Jeff Johnson) #16

Thank you.