February 21, 2024

The Problem With the Culture Argument

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There are many things in the Bible that we do not adhere to in today’s church.  We do not teach them as commands.  We don’t encourage people to follow them.  We try to ignore that they are even in the Bible.  And we do this because they are counter-cultural and inconvenient.

And this is part of the reasons that Christians aren’t taken seriously.  I can’t tell you how many conversations I have gotten into with unbelievers that follow this basic order:

  • We’ve all sinned and the Bible defines sin.
  • The Old Testament says that you shouldn’t do XYZ.
  • You do XYZ.
  • Aren’t you sinning?

And then after trying to get out of that one, the real fun begins.

It Says Men Can’t Do What?

Yes, the New Testament talks about men’s hair length.  It talks about when they should have a head covering and when they should not.  It talks about women’s hair length and head coverings.  It talks about the way the two sexes should behave toward each other.  And even though it says that both should submit to each other, a greater amount of time is spent telling wives to submit to husbands.  It talks about loving each other, but a greater time is spend telling husbands to love their wives.

What do you do with all this?  And what if we’re not doing it?

That was Their Culture

The common response to these questions is that this a discussion based in the culture of the day.  That these things reflected a response to a culture where prostitutes did not cover their head, and the Christians were supposed to go against the norm.  (No comment here about how we try to blend in…).

But to me it still begs the question “Is this just here for historical purposes, or are we still supposed to be following this today?  Leigh Ann is thinking a lot of the same thoughts in her latest post about how the cultural argument doesn’t hold water:

The whole cultural thing, I mean. The idea that Paul and Peter just stuck those thing about submission in there because they want to go with the cultural flow of the day and that involved submission to husbands. (Just a thought, but the culture of the day involved a whole lot of things that Peter and Paul had no problems speaking out against.) This is just what Jesus was all about, right, quietly challenging the culture of the day? It seems odd to me that we are told that Jesus came to break all the cultural norms yet in this area of submission we are given instructions on submission so that we can fit in with the cultural norms. Until those norms change, of course, then we have to figure it out on our own.

What Should We Believe?

How we respond to these questions is not trivial.  I mean, I can understand that most people avoid these topics because they are  uncomfortable, and they do not have easy answers.

Still, if I as a Bible believing Christian am supposed to accept the Bible’s teachings, believe that it’s the Word of God and try to do what it says, how can I ignore certain parts simply by stating that it was only for that culture when it’s not obvious in the text?

Leigh Ann uses the example of Abraham and Sarah.  Sarah was commended in 1 Peter because she called Abraham “lord”.  As Peter commands women to do likewise.  What do you do with that?

Today’s culture tells you that men and women are equal– to each’s detriment because we are not.  They tell you that marriage is a partnership that each one gives 100% and I agree with this.  But they also do not talk about the leadership in the home– or they want to place the woman as the primary and make her equal or greater.  What should we do with this?

The Cultural Argument’s Problems

young love The cultural argument is the easy argument to make, but I believe it’s flawed.  It seems to me that it’s a convenient tool that we use to ignore inconvenient teachings in the Bible.  It’s also inconsistent with the whole philosophy of being able to read and understand the clear teaching of Scripture.

Other places in the Epistles we have Paul telling believers that “this is not from the Holy Spirit, this is my advice” but we have no kind of disclaimers on passages that deal with submission, hair length, head coverings, etc.

What’s even more sad is that we say that we’re willing to do whatever God would tell us to do, and yet if it would make us stand out we don’t want to do it.  If it would make us look different, if it would make us uncomfortable, then we find an excuse not to do it.

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2 thoughts on “The Problem With the Culture Argument

  1. I’m not saying I live this way, but I do think true Christianity is supposed to be countercultural. Jesus was countercultural. Rob Bell has a great quote in Velvet Elvis about this very idea:

    I am learning that the church is at its best when it is underground, subversive, and countercultural. It is the quiet, humble, stealth acts that change things.

    The whole idea (command, really) of being in the world but not of it is pretty much the definition of countercultural, isn’t it?

    Amanda’s last blog post..Scarcity

  2. I think the church is at its best when it’s under persecution– real persecution. It is then that they are most connected with their Lord (counting on Him for their very life and provision), that they are the most pure (no fair-weather believers) and are the most loving. Yes, part of that is being counter-cultural– for the sake of being Christ like.

    There’s this age old concept that those that are claiming that they want to be authentic are most like their peers (imagine here the rebellious teen). We claim that we are different, but we want to wear the same clothes, look the same way, enjoy the same shows, etc. Even our baptisms are different today than in yesteryear. It used to be that you were baptized to show the world that you were a Christian. It meant something, it was public. Now we baptize children in a church were only believers are, and they don’t really have to testify to what they believe.

    Because Christianity is the majority religion in this country, and because of our freedoms, we have more chance of tares in with the wheat (to use a parable-type phrase). We have to get to the point where we cease to worry about ourselves and we start to truly live dead to the world.

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