In the Lord’s church, “change” in worship practices and other areas continues. We have been realizing and attempting to deal with these changes for decades. In essence, as Solomon indicated, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). A current trend introduces and allows practices based on cultural acceptance. In other words, a practice may be performed in one place, but not another simply because of culture. In this writer’s opinion, in many issues that which is deemed acceptable passes the test of acceptability because of cultural acceptance rather than allowing God’s word to determine whether or not something should be practiced.
The online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides the following as one of the definitions for culture: The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious or social group; also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversion or way of life) shared by people in a place or time. Let us look at a few examples of those things that may be partaken of or practiced based on location or cultural situation. I proudly profess that I am a “southerner.” I like grits with my eggs (I like a little mayo with mine, but some prefer butter). Sweet tea is its own food group here. We are said to have a little more “laid back” lifestyle. We like our barbecue. We pronounce words differently (often dragging words out and adding more syllables just by the way we pronounce our vowels). And, yes, “y’all” is a real word and is totally accepted in this culture.
This is all well and good as it relates to purely secular matters. However, that is not what we are discussing here. A problem arises when we indicate that those things of a cultural nature supplant what God’s word reveals as an acceptable practice or doctrine. As an illustration of what I am attempting to get across, I want to relate a few things that are culturally acceptable in Tanzania. If culture were the sole determining factor as to the viability of a practice or doctrine, notice what would be considered acceptable there.
• It is acceptable for a man to know that his wife is capable of bearing him children before they marry. Therefore, premarital sex is defended on a cultural basis.
• Polygamy is practiced and is culturally acceptable.
• The Massai tribe drinks cow’s blood mixed with milk as a religious practice.
• Numerous groups, including the Massai, dance as a part of their “worship.”
• It was discovered that, at one of our brotherhood schools of preaching, a student’s wife made an alcoholic drink called “pombe.” That practice was defended as culturally acceptable if one didn’t drink it themselves.
• Robert Stapleton, while working as a missionary there, related a conversation with a man who said, “If you will allow us to drink and have multiple wives, the church will grow.”
Notice things that are becoming more culturally accepted in this country. If culture is our guide, how long before these are deemed acceptable? Gambling is on the increase. Not only are there numerous casinos, but the purchase of lottery tickets and raffle tickets is on the increase, even among members of churches of Christ. Unless one has been totally oblivious to news of recent months, we see that calls for gay marriage continue to be heard. This will be a case that Supreme Court will decide. If that becomes culturally acceptable, what will our approach be? Recently, a congregation in Abilene, TX decided to open a “bar church.” It is alright though, because it was announced that they could not serve drinks during services (notice that tongue is planted fully in cheek).
This writer acknowledges that some will say that these are extremes and therefore ridiculous. However, let’s not be too hasty to rush to such a judgment. If the “cultural door” is opened (allowing practices because of cultural acceptability) where will it end? If handclapping during singing in worship or in response to something a preacher says is deemed acceptable because of the culture, then other considerations can be made based on other cultural conditions.
What we must consider is that culture has never been allowed to supersede or trump God’s will as revealed in Scripture. Adam and Eve set a cultural precedent by wearing fig leaves after “discovering they were naked.” That was not acceptable to God and further instruction and provision resulted in more suitable attire. Numerous Scriptures show that it is God’s will, either delegated to Christ or penned through inspiration, that serves as the sole basis for the acceptability of a doctrine or practice. Jesus said that “all authority” had been given to Him (Matt. 28:18). Paul related that everything we do must be done based on such authority (Col. 3:17). The Bereans were considered more “noble or fair-minded” because they searched the Scriptures to ascertain if something was authoritative (Acts 17:11).
What must our approach to such matters be? Again, we look to Scripture for the answer. John indicated that we should “test the spirits”, to see if they are of God” (1 Jno. 4:1). Paul instructed those in Thessalonica to “test all things” and to “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21-22). In other words, anything and everything that we do should pass the test of Scripture for its approval rather than using a man-made standard such as cultural acceptance.
May we be those who search the Scriptures and operate on God’s authority on these matters. If we deem something to be an expedient or a cultural situation, let’s be sure that the Scriptures authorize a practice before we engage in such things. This writer has long operated on a simple perspective: there is a way that can always be right and never be wrong. May we be those who seriously consider such things and determine that what is being done has God’s “stamp of approval” regardless of what man deems acceptable.