by Garry Floyd
"And the LORD said to me, 'Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, "Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers in the day that I brought them up from the land of Egypt, even to this day, warning persistently, saying, 'Listen to My voice.' Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not."' Then the LORD said to me, 'A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers'" (Jeremiah 11:6-10).
As Christians, we face many challenges to our commitment to faithfulness. None is greater than our heritage and culture by way of mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, great-grandmother, uncles and cousins, and a host of forefathers. They have gone ahead of us and set a path that is very natural, comfortable, familiar to us -- it is what we have grown up with. But it may lead in a direction that doesn’t necessarily go toward God.
Notice, “They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers” (Jeremiah 11:10)? What is meant by the phrase, “iniquities of their forefathers?”
But first, let’s look at culture and its connection to the influence of our forefathers.
The Concept of Culture
If you ask 100 anthropologists to define culture, you’ll get 100 different definitions. However, most of these definitions would emphasize roughly the same things: that culture is shared, transmitted through learning and helps shape behavior and beliefs. Culture is of concern to all four subfields and while our earliest ancestors relied more on biological adaptation, culture now shapes humanity to a much larger extent.
- One of the earliest definitions of culture was put forth by Tylor in 1871: “Culture, or civilization, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
- The book defines culture as, “a society’s shared and socially transmitted ideas, values and perceptions, which are used to make sense of experience and generate behavior and are reflected in that behavior.”
- Culture is universal among all human groups and even exists among some primates.
- All cultures have to provide for the physical, emotional, and social needs of their members, enculturate new members, resolve conflicts and promote survival for their members.
Characteristics of Culture
Culture has five basic characteristics: It is learned, shared, based on symbols, integrated, and dynamic. All cultures share these basic features.
- Culture is learned. It is not biological; we do not inherit it. Much of learning culture is unconscious. We learn culture from families, peers, institutions, and media. The process of learning culture is known as enculturation. While all humans have basic biological needs such as food, sleep, and sex, the way we fulfill those needs varies cross-culturally.
[Robert F. Nideffer, "The Characteristics of Culture"]
Perhaps someone shows you a different way to do something, but you insist on doing it as you've always done because that is the way your mama did it. That's staying with your culture. But what if what you are doing is an affront to God? Then to obey God you would have to abandon what your culture dictates.
The intricacies of culture, what we have learned from our forefathers, is intertwined in our daily choices. We make those choices without much thought. But just because our culture dictates something, it isn't necessarily right. Therefore, it behooves us to prove all things (Romans 12:2), especially as it relates to our culture.
How many times have you heard the expression, “If was good enough for my momma, it's good enough for me!” at the expense of not examining the merits of truth? But, we’re taught that we should be proud of our culture, right? – Only to the extent that it does not conflict with following God.
Jeremiah 11:10 warns that God’s people were turning back to the sins of their forefathers. Their culture was leading them to:
- Refuse to listen to God’s words,
- Serve other gods, and
- Break their covenant with God
Truly they were following after the sinful habits of their heritage and culture – their forefathers.
Ask yourself how proud are you of your culture? Are you so devoted to your heritage and culture that you would willfully ignore God when among families, peers, institutions, or media influencers?
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36). God is serious about being number one in our lives. Yes, even if that means becoming ‘unfamiliar’ to familiar cultural expectations surrounding you. If what you do in following your heritage is an affront to God, then to obey God you would have to abandon what your culture dictates. If you cannot do that, then Jesus tells us, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37).
Jesus further said, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:38). By taking up your cross, you are actually abandoning your comfort zone. Don't like pain? Don't like suffering? You are going to have a hard time being a Christian. Because you are not going to be able to do the things that you want to do, let alone what your culture expects you to do. That's what you have to give up in order to follow God. Because His will is not always ours. And it's definitely not what our forefathers may have done. And it's painful -- a painful reality.
"He who has found his life", meaning that your life is more important -- it is more important that I preserve my life, "will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). God requires -- and has a right to require -- that He be put first. He created you, so what are you doing? If you do anything else, what are you doing? How are you going to get from here to heaven on your own?
Does anyone know what death is like? If you do, could you share it? Not that experience where you thought you were going to die but you're still here -- not that one. That one was a little dramatic, but it's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking die, come back, and tell us what it was like. You can't do that. But Jesus can. Jesus did.
Are you so devoted to your culture and your heritage that you'll willfully ignore God and what He declares? Perhaps you’ve been belittled, ostracized, or wrongfully accused of being part of some kind of cult because your light shone too brightly, or your saving salt exhorted someone from a certain path of destruction.
In the face of their criticism, let us make sure we are truly faithful to God’s calling, not just in word, but also in deed (Matthew 5:11-12).
Remember whose you are! We are not left out here without being able to nurture something that is an identifier for us as Christians. But if you look toward the media and you look toward your family, if you look to those comfort zones that you have -- those comfortable identifiers -- and you are not willing to put them through the test and put God first, you are going to have a problem with your faithful commitment to God.
You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). You are called to be different. Embrace your difference as The Called! (Romans 8:28). If your culture objects, you probably are doing the right thing. Now be a light to them. Shine the light of God's Word and the beauty of the difference that is Christianity amongst your culture. Let your culture see that you put God first. Give yourself permission in presence, in mind, in discussions, and convictions to be transformed into what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God! (Romans 12:1-2).