Throughout the years, culture changes result in paradigm shifts. It always takes a generation or two to assimilate to the change, but once it happens, future generations look back and wonder how their ancestors could have been so short-sighted, how they could have given into cultural expectations that clearly go against God’s standard.
The truth is, we all wear glasses that filter out the colors of racism and oppression and prejudice and even murder — we know they exist, but we don’t see them as a part of what we do. It’s surprisingly easy to rationalize whatever it is that our culture deems okay — and in some cases, even to support it by Scripture. Our glasses are great at proof-texting while filtering out the larger context. Sadly, our humanity makes us literally incapable of removing ourselves from the culture enough to see the true horror of what we do. Perhaps the saddest part about this is that very few Christians are actually a set-apart people of the Word. They are products of their culture who interpret their religion based on their preconceptions.
Think about slavery. Living in our current culture, several generations removed from the oppression of slavery, we’re horrified at the thought of it. But in the pre-Civil War era, it was perfectly acceptable to own another person; it made perfect sense to them. It was necessary for the economy, and probably even better for the welfare of the slaves themselves. Scripture even condoned slavery. They had no concept of what it would be like not to own slaves: how would they get dressed in the mornings? how would they harvest cotton? how could they live without this crutch they so heavily depended on? So because they knew no different, life continued as normal until slavery was abolished, the societal structure was reset, and the cultural paradigm shifted. And the world did not end. People learned to live without their crutch.
Even after abolition, though, the Jim Crow laws were nearly as bad. Today, as we live and work alongside our African-American friends, we ask how in the world they could have been arrested for drinking out of the wrong water fountain. Our minds literally cannot grasp such a thing; but back then, they couldn’t grasp how it could be any other way.
Think about women’s rights. The oppression of women stemmed from the southern ideal of “true womanhood” — a woman was the prized possession who needed to stay at home and stay out of public affairs. As this mentality took over southern culture, it too was given religious affirmation: Paul said women should remain silent, so this made sense. Never mind the examples of women teaching and prophesying and leading in Scripture. The cultural glasses expertly edit that out. Here’s just one example of this mindset, from R.C. Bell, from the publication The Way in 1903: “Woman is not permitted to exercise dominion over man in any calling of life. When a woman gets her diploma to practice medicine, every Bible students knows that she is violating God’s holy law…God forbids her to work in any public capacity…She is not fitted to do anything publicly.” However, in the late 19th and early 20th century there was more of a move toward gender equality and women’s suffrage. With this paradigm shift, people began to realize that the world actually wouldn’t end if women taught school and pursued education and a career. They were right. It didn’t. Now we can’t even fathom the sort of mindset that would forbid women to vote just because they are women.
Think about Jesus’ death at the hands of the Jews. Their cultural expectation was of a political Messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus was obviously not that, so He was a blasphemer. We wonder how they could have been so stupid, but let’s face it: if we were in their shoes, growing up with the same preconceptions,
we too would have shouted, “Crucify!”
Even think about the Holocaust. It was presented as being a good idea — rid the world of minorities, and the handicapped, and those who were a burden to society, to let the master race emerge. We wonder how in the world people could have been okay with the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people in the name of a superior social structure.
Kinda makes you wonder how in the world people can be okay with the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people in the name of a woman’s right to choose.
You see, we can’t help getting swept into the stream of culture. These mindsets become so deeply ingrained as a part of who we are, that we can’t imagine life any other way. In every generation there are a few who dare to dream of things being different, and these are the ones who change the world. But for the most part, we’re a sad lot of mindless cattle following the herd. Generations from now, what will our descendants say about us in disbelief and disgust?
“How could they have been so wasteful with their resources?”
“How could they have tried to ‘fix’ gay people?”
“How could they have thought it was okay to abort a baby?”
For one moment, try to take off the glasses and ask these questions.
It’s so hard for us to imagine what life would be like without our cultural mindsets, but the truth is, Jesus called us to look beyond the comfortable. To think outside the box. To travel the narrow and difficult road. This is precisely why so few are able to enter the Kingdom: it’s freaking difficult to find. I think it’s much harder than we’ve assumed all these years. Living Kingdom life requires that we take a good hard look at “the way we’ve always done it.” We have to ask the difficult questions and upset the status quo if we are to be truly not of this world. Living this way is offensive to the world, because we stand against the tide of culture. This is why early Christians were martyred: they were seen as a threat to the social system and the established order. Have you ever wondered why we fit in so well these days? Because we love our culture. We immerse ourselves in it. The media, the consumerism, the politics. As Pastor Steve Berger once said, “If we’re not being persecuted, it’s because we don’t look enough like Christ to a Christ-hating world.”
There are so many sincere Christians who have been led astray by the incremental deception of Satan as he infiltrates our churches with cultural values. We’ve accepted Christ, but our lives look no different. And we’re the ones losing, we’re the ones missing out on what the world could be. Instead of bringing the Kingdom to earth, we’re promoting our own kingdom. We’re living in our story instead of His. When Jesus comes again, will He look at our castles in the sand and say “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Or will He have to clear His temple of its cultural bias?
Jesus compared the Kingdom to hidden treasure for a reason. If we can’t listen for the still small voice in a world that clamors for its agenda, if we can’t see past the filthy lens of our culture-colored glasses to defend the marginalized and the oppressed and stand for Kingdom values, then we’re no better than any of the generations before us. We’re no better than the ones who crucified Christ.
God, grant us forgiveness for our blindness and syncretism.