How are we to view Culture?

Title: How we are to view Culture


Text: Acts 2:40

Time: April 27th, 2008

The first Christian church sermon was given by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost to a crowd of godly Jews who were in Jerusalem to celebrate a Jewish feast day. But as I commented on in the past few weeks, the message wasn’t the typical church sermon you’d hear from preachers today because it didn’t flatter the audiences but rather rebuked them. Peter was a fearless speaker who wasn’t trying to win a popularity context as much as be a prophet of God trying to save souls. Today, I’d like to zero in one comment Peter makes in his Pentecost sermon that is important for us to understand today, and that is Peter’s attitude towards culture. What I mean is, what should the Christian’s attitude towards culture be? By culture, I mean society, the world, popular culture, everything that makes up our life with other people in the world. I’m talking about pop culture found on television programming, radio, music, newspapers, government entities, schools, the business world, fashions, tastes, styles, etc. What should a committed Christian’s view be of the world? Now there have been about three different reactions to the world found among Christians throughout the last two thousand years. One, embracing the world. Many Christians have reacted to the world culture by accepting nearly everything the world has to offer. Two, rejecting the world. Still other Christians have rejected the world’s culture entirely. And finally, Three, other Christians have tried to sift and sort out the good from the bad in the world, and use the good and reject the bad. These three responses show that it’s no easy task in trying to relate to the world if you are a Christian. There is a tension no matter where you live, no matter in which time or culture you live in as a Christian. But if there were a trend among Christians today, a tendency among the people of God at the present moment, it would be to embrace the world’s culture uncritically and indulge in world’s tastes, entertainments, styles, activities, attitudes, etc. In older days you would have heard many sermons coming from many pastors in many churches warning people about the dangers of the world. But today, that warning is hardly ever heard. So we can easily see that the scales have tipped in Christianity to embracing the present world culture without very little warning against it. But that wasn’t the case back in the early church. The Apostle Peter expresses the early Christian’s attitude towards contemporary culture. Listen to Peter in Acts 2:40, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” Now that is a strong statement, and from it we might think that the only thing we can conclude is that we must always reject all of culture, but that isn’t what the Bible teaches always in every case. But it does warn us against the evils of culture, which is something our generation in the 21st century – a generation that mostly uncritically embraces pop culture — needs to hear. Let’s unpack what a Christian view of culture might actually look like, in order to help ourselves know how to interact with society today.

First, we need to be critical of our culture. Acts 2:40, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” The word Peter uses here for “corrupt” in the original Greek is “skolias,” it’s the word we get scoliosis from. Has anybody ever heard of the disorder called scoliosis? Does anybody know what condition it describes? Yes, it’s curvature of the spine. And so we can see “skolias” means crooked or curved. Have you ever heard the little ditty about “There was a crooked man, who had a crooked cane, etc.?” That’s the same thing. Now in translating that word, translators have tried to make it more understandable to us by describing it as “wicked generation,” or “evil generation,” or “corrupt generation,” or perverse generation,” but some actually use the literal word, like the Revised Standard Version, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So we see here that Peter wasn’t afraid to call things as they were, he wasn’t fearful to tell it like it is, as they say. But you don’t hear much of that kind of preaching much anymore because most pastors today are into the politically correct approach to preaching. In fact, today they aren’t called preachers, they are called speakers, and their talks aren’t called sermons, they are called messages. Everything is designed so as not to offend or disturb the audience. It’s called being seeker-friendly. There are studies done today that show exactly what people like and don’t like, and so a great many pastors today read these studies and follow the marketing plan that best helps them attract the most people to their churches. This preaching style fits in perfectly with the general Christian attitude towards popular culture today – generally affirming, mostly positive towards the world. But that is not the attitude that the early church had towards the world. Listen to Peter: “Save yourselves from THIS CORRUPT GENERATION.” He called society wicked, evil, corrupt, crooked. That is not the typical description of Christians today of their culture. In fact, you’d think that it were just the opposite – Christians swallow the whole pop culture, hook, line, and sinker! The fact is as Christians we need to be more critical, more criticizing of our world, and less embracing and affirming of it. We live in a corrupt, wicked, evil, crooked generation. We live in a society where God is pushed further and further away, where sin is accepted more and more. For example, television and movies are getting dirtier and dirtier. Sin is becoming more acceptable than ever. Divorce, for example, is almost totally accepted now in our culture and in churches too. Now there will always be divorce, but it should be just a tiny percentage in the church, maybe 2 or 3 percent due to sin and selfishness, but today in the church it’s around 50% just like the general culture! Christians look just like the world because they aren’t being critical enough of sin and evil in their own culture. They are too accepting and tolerant of culture. So as Christians, we need to be critical of our culture and not just accept it.

Second, we need to be affirming of our culture. Acts 2:40, “”Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Now wait, isn’t this a contradiction? How can we affirm culture while at the same time criticize it? We are supposed to criticize the bad and affirm the good. Not everything in our world and culture and society is evil. How many think that everything, I mean absolutely every thing is wicked, evil, corrupt and crooked? No. That’s not true. Not everything is sinful that we find in the world, and we should be able to embrace what is good and reject what is bad. But it takes discernment, it takes critical thinking, it takes reflection, it takes work. The Apostle Peter wasn’t teaching that everything in culture, even the ancient culture, was evil or sinful. No. Not everything is bad. What does the Book of James teach? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights,” James 1:17. Every good and perfect gift. So there are good and perfect gifts that God gives us in this life, in our culture and world that are perfectly acceptable and we should embrace them. For example, that God for modern medicine and hospitals and medical procedures that keep us healthy and save lives. Some of you are here today because of the gift of modern medicine; some of you would have died before if it were not for the blessing and gift from God of medicine. So we must embrace the good and reject the bad. Or think of modern transportation. What a blessing it is to be able to visit family and loved ones (those should be one and the same, and I hope they are for you because if not that’s a problem), family and loved ones who are hundreds of miles away. In the old days, it would take all day in a horse and buggy to travel 25 miles. So modern transportation is a blessing from God that we should affirm. It’s part and partial of our modern culture, one of the good things in our world today. I think the Amish go too far in their rejection of the modern world. They see the evil, the sin, the corruption, the crookedness of the world and so they decide to reject most all of it. They don’t use electricity, but they use oil lamps in their homes, but they don’t realize that they aren’t really rejecting culture because to a cave man an oil lamp is fancy and high culture. So the Amish really are embracing and affirming culture, it’s just more of an old-fashioned culture and less modern culture. Simply rejecting modern culture doesn’t automatically keep one from sin, evil, and wickedness. The Amish have to battle with sin just like everyone. But the point is, not everything in culture is sinful, evil or bad. There is much good, much that’s right in culture, even modern culture. So we need to affirm good whenever we find it, and thank God for it whenever we can.

Third, we need to discern between good and evil in culture. Acts 2:40, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” But if our culture is a mix of both good and evil, why then does the Apostle Peter emphasize the corruptness of society? Because he wants us to beware of the evil, sin, wickedness of society and not just blindly embrace everything naively. It’s just good common sense to make people aware of the dangers of society. It’s like they teach in driving training school: “Watch out for the other guy.” That statement doesn’t mean that every single other driver is a bad driver or that everyone else is out to get you, but it makes you aware that there are bad drivers, there are dangers out there and you’d better watch out. Don’t assume that everyone is a good driver or that nothing bad could happen, because the moment you let down your guard, that’s when you’ll get hit, you could be injured or even die. So it’s better to warn people urgently than to simply let them go out and think all is right. As Christians we need to be very discerning in the world today. I’m afraid most Christians are not very discerning when it comes to sin, bad, and evil in the world today. Christians will watch the same dirty television shows and movies without batting an eye. They embrace the same sinful, wicked values of society without any misgivings. Why is it that Christian teenagers are trying premarital sex today? Why is it that married Christians are cheating on their spouses? Why is it that Christian couples are divorcing? Because they are buying into the attitudes and values of the world instead of listening to God in the Bible. Why is the Christian church not having a greater influence on the culture? Because the church, with its preachers and leaders and members is embracing too much of the thinking of the world instead of rejecting it and criticizing it. We need to be more critical of the world. I remember my old grandmother Short used to hear something on television and start into a tirade against it. She used to argue with something she would see or hear on television that she knew wasn’t right. She’d complain about it. Whenever she’d read the newspapers or hear the news on radio or television she’d complain. I used to get tired of hearing her complain, but she was doing something healthy – criticizing the world. We need to be more critical and less accepting of evil and sin. Now that doesn’t mean we should go around always grumpy. Remember one of the Seven Dwarfs was Grumpy. He’d grump about everything, even things that were not bad or good. That’s not right. But when you see sin, evil, bad, you need to criticize it or else you’ll tolerate, and then pretty soon you’ll accept it. That’s where most of Christianity is right now – tolerating sin and evil in our culture as if it were ok.

The Apostle Peter called it like he saw it: society was corrupt and evil. That is still true today. And we have to be willing to call it like it is also. Now one of the downsides to all of this is that people might think that you are negative if they hear you criticize something. You might get the reputation as a “nay-sayer.” I remember there used to be a senator in Washington named Jessie Helms who used to criticize a lot of things done in Washington – I don’t blame him for it because there is a lot of sin and evil happening in Washington. But one time he was giving a negative and critical speech against the federal funding of abortion, and somebody asked him, “Why are you so negative about so many things?” And he replied in a southern drawl, “The feller who came down from Sinai was a nay-sayer also,” referring to Moses and the Ten Commandments which were mostly negative commands. Now the challenge for us today is to be in the world but not of it. We need to learn how to embrace the good we find in our world but at the same time we must be willing to criticize and reject the sin and evil in the world. Now most people find it easier to be one or the other, to be either totally negative or totally positive. You’ll find that in churches sometimes. There are some churches, especially down South, where the first thing they’ll say is that they are “agin” it. They don’t even know what the question is and they’ll be “agin” it. It’s like a kid asks their parents something and before they even get it out of their mouth the father says, “No,” whatever it is, “No.” That’s not right. But most churches are the very opposite; they are always, everywhere affirming. “Do you approve of,” and even before the question is finished they’ve already said, “Yes.” Gay marriages, yes, they’ll say. Cohabitation? Yes. They just buy into the world’s thinking so as to be popular with society. Or in some churches, they only preach a positive message and never remind people that there is sin, God has laws, there is right and wrong, etc. It’s only affirming and smiles and laughing and happy and positive. That’s why Christianity and churches are in such a messy state right now because so many Christians and so many churches aren’t saying “No” enough to sin and evil. We need to be discerning. I like Hebrews 5:14 which reminds us of the importance of discerning: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” That’s discernment. We need to think about things and not just accept what the world tells us. We need to read our Bible carefully and pray carefully about all things instead of just assuming that what society is teaching is true. There is plenty in the world that is good and we should affirm it when we see it, but there is also plenty of evil and sin out there and we must strongly reject it and not be fooled. God will help us tell the difference.


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