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Culture of the Bible

Ruth in the fields

by Dennis Pollock

Because I minister in various nations throughout the world I am keenly aware of the importance of culture. Every nation has its own culture, and even within a nation, you may have different groups or tribes that possess a culture different from the others. I will never forget the time I went into a restaurant in Kenya that specialized in Western meals. I was with several Kenyan pastors, and we all decided it would be fun to have pizza for lunch. For most of these men it was their first time to try it. The pizza wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad, and after we had finished our meal I decided to take a quick poll. I asked each man which he liked better: pizza or ugali (a doughy mixture of cornmeal and water, which is the staple food for most Kenyans). Every last one of the Kenyan pastors admitted that they preferred ugali to the pizza. If ever there was a testimony to the power and dominion of culture, that was surely it!

In this study we will look at the moral components of the culture of the Bible. Many elements of culture contain no moral aspect. There is nothing inherently good or evil in choosing ugali over pizza. Wearing the shiny shoes of the New York businessman is neither more righteous nor more corrupt than putting on the sandals of the African cattle herder. The songs they sing in village Indian churches bear almost no resemblance to the songs you would hear in an American church, but no doubt both are well pleasing to God when they come from men and women with pure hearts.

On the other hand, there are certain moral practices associated with culture which can be either well-pleasing or intensely odious to God. In these moral areas, God is very much interested in bringing about change and conforming people to lifestyles that agree with His word and His will. The cannibal headhunter who has become a Christian cannot go on murdering people from neighboring tribes and keeping their heads as trophies on his wall. The gangster involved with selling drugs and running prostitution rings cannot, once he receives Jesus, continue in his present occupation, and simply change his business card to “Christian Salesman / Pimp.” Although he may have once run with a crowd that found this sort of thing acceptable or even admirable, radical changes will have to be made if he is to live up to his Christian confession.

Godly Culture

When we become God’s children we must make haste to emulate that culture which we find in the pages of Scripture, the culture of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the culture of Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Ruth, Deborah, and Jeremiah, and the culture of Paul, Peter, John, Anna, Elizabeth, and James. It will not be necessary that we adopt the dress of these men and women of God. No need to go out and buy some robe such as the prophets might have worn, or try to find reproductions of sandals that Jesus wore. Nor do we need to try to dig up a favorite recipe book by one of the wives of the apostles. No, what we need are the moral and behavioral dimensions of the culture of those men and women who walked with God, heard His voice, and were used as an instrument in His hands to impact their generation. What we want to learn and imitate are the ways of these people. What did they love? What did they hate? What did they consider abominable? What did they value and prize?

This has always been important for Christians, but in our present generation, where our culture is changing and degenerating with breathtaking speed, this is absolutely vital. If we do not immerse ourselves in the culture of the godly, we shall surely be swept away in the roaring rapids of the culture of the damned.

The Culture of the Scriptures

A Conservative Culture – When we read the Scriptures and immerse ourselves in the ways and lifestyles of the men and women of God we find there, we see that they were essentially a conservative people. They held onto morals and values that their ancestors had proclaimed years and centuries and millennia earlier. The prohibition against stealing and the various other commandments which Moses announced were upheld and confirmed for generation after generation. No new morality, no sliding, changing, ever-evolving scale of behavior for these folks!

All About God – The heroes of the Bible were irreversibly tied to God. They did not require any proof of Him. They did not debate or offer proofs of His existence. They were true believers, and assumed that everybody else should be as well. They did not always understand His ways, and they sometimes complained about His dealings, but they never doubted His existence. They saw their lives in the context of His plans, His purposes, and His providential hand.

Sexually Chaste – In the Biblical culture sex is for married couples – period. And the only marriage Scripture recognizes is that between a man and a woman. However, within the context of a heterosexual marriage, the Scriptures encourage us to enjoy ourselves, and give ourselves to one another. Proverbs encourages men to always be enraptured with their wives’ love (Proverbs 5:19).

Divorce – In Jesus’ day there was a controversy about just what constituted grounds for divorce, but Jesus came down on the more conservative side of this issue, and declared that, apart from sexual unfaithfulness, marriage was for life.

Modesty – The culture of the men and women of God we read about in the Bible included modesty. Paul instructed women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation” (1 Timothy 2:9). Women dressing with half their bosom exposed, or wearing tiny skirts that leave little to the imagination, and men wearing baggy shorts that reveal the type and brand of their underwear would have been roundly condemned by the men and women who walked with God and enjoyed the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Then and Now

This is what we will discover, should we ever decide to read the Bible through, and pay careful attention to what we find there. Sadly, if we compare these values to our present culture, we find that in virtually every point, our current American culture is moving in precisely the opposite direction. Where Biblical culture is conservative, American culture is becoming more and more liberal. “Progressive” is the word many like to use, but progressive in this case simply means we are moving with lightning speed far from the values and virtues that were embraced by our ancestors for thousands of years, and have made a “declaration of independence” from God’s word, His ways, and His laws.

Where the Biblical culture is all about God, American culture is offended at the very mention of His name. Ungodly lawyers scour the nation, looking for any trace of God or Scripture, that they may strip the very smell of deity from the land. Where the Bible demands chastity, Hollywood demands a bedroom scene in every romantic comedy. While the Bible tells us that God hates divorce, today Americans divorce in record numbers. And where the Scriptures command modesty, we gather around our televisions to watch various awards shows, where singers, actresses, and celebrities preen in skimpy outfits, eager to reveal as much of themselves as possible, desperate to be known as being on the cultural cutting edge. Of course most middle-class American women wouldn’t wear such dresses on their trips to Wal Mart, but the lack of modesty has had a definite trickle-down effect. Wearing skimpy shorts and halter tops to the store and bikinis to the swimming pool have become common, both among slim young girls and even among middle-aged women who could never be called slim.

Hollywood

There are a number of reasons for America’s moral slide and cultural demise, but one of the factors can be traced directly to the hills of Hollywood. The people who entertain us are almost exclusively amoral. They live by their own rules, and their number one rule is that traditional rules do not apply to them. Hollywood actors are overwhelmingly liberal and secular. But it is not just the actors who have contributed to this decline in principles of decency.  It is also the producers and directors, and almost everyone in the filmmaking industry other than the workers at the very bottom, who are of the exact same bent. They do not go to church, they do not read the Bible, they do not listen to Christian radio, and they have no use for sermons, Christian books, or television programs. They consider evangelical Christians to be so odd as to be practically another species. In their minds Christians are stupid, bigoted, primitive, and hopelessly behind the times. Conservative economist Gary Becker wrote:

The personal morals of many filmmakers deviate greatly from general norms of the American population. Creative contributors to films divorce in large numbers, often several times. Many have frequent affairs, often while married, they have children without marriage, they have significant numbers of abortions, have a higher than average presence of gays… They take cocaine and other drugs, and generally they lead a life style that differs greatly from what is more representative of the American public.

Adding to the deleterious effects of the preponderance of amoral movies pouring out of Hollywood are the newscasters and producers, who are likewise overwhelmingly liberal and about as far from evangelical Christianity as it is possible to be. These folks are ingenious in their efforts to slant their stories to make conservatives and evangelicals looks as foolish and stupid as possible, while making the cultural elites appear wise, sensitive, caring, reasonable, and insightful. If you are going to interview a preacher or a conservative, find the most ignorant specimen available. And for good measure, try to locate one that is ugly, uses bad grammar, and drools a bit while he talks!

Resisting the Flood

This is what we face; every born again Christian is confronted with this disdain, from their first day in Christ to their last day on this earth. And as our world moves further and further from the word of God and the values and commands found in the culture of the Bible, we shall be looked upon with suspicion, contempt, and even hostility. “Why can’t these strange evangelicals fall in line?” they ask. “Why do they insist upon holding onto values that we have long since moved beyond? Why do they persist in lining up on the “wrong side of history?”

What they fail to realize is that our Bibles remain the same – they do not change with every new Supreme Court decision or with every new step toward raunchiness heartily embraced by society. Genesis is still Genesis, Isaiah still reads precisely as it always has. Romans is still Romans, Ephesians is still Ephesians, Paul is still Paul, Jesus is still Jesus, and God is still God. The Bible doesn’t morph, evolve, or adjust to fit our latest moral fads, and God still says, “I am the Lord; I do not change.”

Conformed or Transformed?

We are commanded by Scripture: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2). Culture has a powerful, intense, nearly irresistible conforming effect. If you spend enough time in a particular culture, you will eventually start to think like those around you, behave like them, dress like them, and speak like them – unless you are transformed by another culture which is more powerful still.

This is what God offers His people through Jesus Christ. He knows our weaknesses, our tendency to turn into the hue of our surroundings in chameleon-like fashion. And He has provided three resources for His children that effectively combat and overcome the influence of the worldly culture that seeks to enslave and conform us. First is the church of Jesus Christ. As Christians we are called to assemble together regularly to encourage and exhort one another toward godliness, and to worship together. Here we will find brothers and sisters who think the way we think, and confirm the truths that we have discovered.

Secondly is the Bible itself. As we immerse ourselves in the pages of the Scriptures, we begin to take on their hue and tint. The Bible tells us that Jesus gave Himself for us that He might cleanse us “with the washing of water by the word.” The wretched, smelly, continually decaying filth of the world is washed away by the pure truths we read and meditate upon as we spend time in God’s word.

And finally we are transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. God’s living presence within us strengthens our resolve, corrects our erroneous thinking, refreshes our weary hearts, and fills us with new courage to move forward in Christ. Through Jesus Christ and His indwelling Spirit, we find, as Paul put it, that the world has been crucified to us, and we to the world.


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