Most of us have a rough idea of what culture means. There’s western and eastern culture and Japanese and Chinese culture. Cities can have a culture as do organisations and denominations. Culture consists of shared meanings, values and patterns of living.
But a culture does not validate itself. It is what it is. But this says nothing of its legitimacy from the wider human perspective. At least not if we accept that there are higher values by which cultures are judged.
For example a culture in which hygiene is not valued might be esteemed as less worthy than one in which it is - because of the effects of health and well-being. Cannibal societies in the 19th century had a culture of their own. Yet we would not regard it as legitimate and humane simply because eating people is accepted as normal among them.
There are aspects of culture that have no moral bearing and features of culture that do. Among the former this might be the kind of hats people wear. Among the latter we could include how we treat old people. Racism is not ok personally or as a subculture. All this is to say that a culture is not legitimate because it is yours. A denominational culture that is a distortion of the gospel of Christ and of Paul is never legitimate just because it is ‘your perspective’ or tradition. Anything that restricts life and dulls the human spirit is not ok, even if it is our culture.
GOSPEL OF HIS KINGDOM
Christian Kettler writes, ‘Christ as substitute needs to take the place of a culture that becomes an object of idolatry. In a sense, he frees culture from itself and its pretensions, even in attempting to respond to God. As in T. F. Torrance’s critique of traditional natural theology, the problem with culture is not its existence, but its attempt to be independent of God.’ (1)
It’s possible to make our culture - the one we have been born and raised in - the object of idolatry. If our life’s effort should be directed to maintaining and propagating our culture, no matter what, we do not equip ourselves to minister the new covenant. This is to say we are not authorised or equipped to expand the Kingdom of God. It will not grow out of us.
‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ Matt 10.37 NIV.
It is never legitimate to develop a Christian culture on the basis of our own version of the gospel of the Kingdom. This is because there is only one authentic gospel. There is one King, one Gospel and one new and living way - our new creation life in Christ. Our agreement with Christ and Paul’s version of the gospel is the answer to the question ‘Are we of the Body or are we a Christian cult?’
‘I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’ Gal 2.21 NIV.
‘I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him’ 2 Cor 11. 2 NIV.
For the Believer, culture is the life of Jesus manifest in our families, in Christian community and society. It is the result of us in Christ and Christ in us. It is Christ come not only in our flesh but in our communities. We are gifted great freedom and great creativity here. All of us in our individuality are the expression of Jesus. We are both one in Him and ourselves in Him. Thus we have both individuality in Christ and diversity in Christ. This is the expanding and ingenious new creation.
When Paul declares that ‘Christ is all and in all’ he is asserting that Jesus and His gospel of the Kingdom is entirely and exclusively our life and that this life produces our culture - the culture of the new creation Kingdom of God.
(1) Kettler, Christian D.. The Breadth and Depth of the Atonement: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ in the Church, the World, and the Self: Essays, 1990–2015 (p. 30). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.