|The Use of Culture
One of the advantages of living in a different culture is that one has the opportunity to observe how other people look at life. This experience also allows one to review one’s own upbringing and compare the differences between different cultures and how they affect understanding the Bible.
For the past 40 years or so the sentence, ‘we must look at the culture of that time…’ has become a popular tool in grasping what the Bible says to the people of today. Many professors like to use the ideology of different cultures as justification to change what God has said to believers and use the altered words to allow the church to follow secular ideas and teachings.
They fail to think things through as the danger of using culture as an interpretive tool overshadows the benefits gained. Most of the time the professors and scholars only compare 2 cultures when doing exegetical work—the ancient middle Hebrew and the western ones. The problem with this narrow focus is that most of the nations of the world do not subscribe to the western way of thinking and what is right in the west is not always correct in the other cultures and what is wrong in the west is not necessarily wrong in those same countries (and vice versa).
Cultures have developed along their own lines of thinking, sometimes invaders or visitors influence their development. They generally follow the whims and will of the nations developing their own particular idea of how their society or civilization should function. They depend upon several factors that play large roles in developing societal rules for their people to follow. There is no one human cultural way greater than another. One is not superior or inferior as they all have their pros and cons.
This makes using culture a danger when it comes to scripture reading because of its limited nature, its fallibility and its lack of being the ideal. Culture is human created not divine thus there is no ultimate standard, no one human culture that is free of sin or corruption which makes it the best choice to judge the rest by. Culture just fails as a Biblical tool.
For the believer then using human culture to interpret the perfect words of God found in the Bible is a wasted effort beyond understanding certain ancient acts—Sarah giving her maid to Abraham to bear children as one example.
At no time does ancient human culture change what God has said is His will nor do they alter His or Jesus’ commands and teachings. The Bible is not a human product and was not authored by humans. Its source is the divine which makes it and its content superior to anything humans could construct, even culture.
Thus when the Bible says that women are not to be preachers, not to teach men then the modern secular culture cannot nor is able to alter the meaning of those words to excuse a change in practice in the church or believer’s lives. What God said 2000 years ago for His followers to abide by still applies today regardless of what the secular world or ‘enlightened believer’ thinks.
To use culture as an exegetical tool means to elevate it to above divine authority and make the latter subject to whatever human ideas permeate their present cultural norms. It also means demoting God’s word to fallibility status and allowing the idea that it can be wrong. Both acts are not correct. God’s word is the authority which governs culture and guides it in the direction it should go, not vice versa.
God’s word does allow some flexibility, for example the verse in Proverbs which states, ‘Spare he rod spoil the child.’ This verse does not mean that parents are only allowed to use a stick in punishing their children and that they are to beat the offspring until they are bleeding.
It means that the parents are to use discipline when the child does wrong. Now that verse does not eliminate correctly administered corporal punishment from being used nor does it outlaw non-corporal punishment. Other verses come into play, not culture, on how parents are to discipline their children.
This means that the parents are free to decide what punishment they will use upon their own children as long as it follows the rules God has laid out in other verses. Those rules fall under the guidelines of being fair, honest, just and leaves room for mercy and compassion The also include the disclaimer that punishment is to bring repentance, which tells the parent how far they can actually go when disciplining their children.
Culture cannot do this for all it produces are subjective ideas that eliminate God’s direction (for the most part) from the disciplinary equation. In today’s western culture the ideology of ‘no tolerance’ has taken root and people, children, students have been reprimanded unfairly because of this mentality. ‘No tolerance’ leaves out justice, fairness, mercy, compassion and installs one set of ideas by one person or group who have rejected other forms of punishment.
What makes this method subjective is that it is not perfect nor the ideal and other people or groups have their own ideas which often disagree with the current person or group in power. The standard for punishment changes with each new group or leader that replaces the previous one. This constant change only brings chaos and confusion to the people.
This is why culture cannot be used as an exegetical tool. Its use depends upon the person or group wielding it and its definitions or results will or can change when another group or person gains dominance over the rest. The culture of the time of Christ did not influence God’s writing of the New Testament nor did the apostle’s personal thoughts. They wrote as God directed and spread those teachings to all so that God’s followers would know how they are to live. There was no cultural time limit on those words and were meant to be followed till the end of time.
Sadly, the modern Christian has allowed the secular world to influence their thinking which has lead to the altering of God’s word in these times. False teaching has crept into the church and distorted right from wrong, truth from error and how a believer is to live.
The Bible, Jesus, the disciples did not teach that the believer is to follow culture when seeking the truth or what God meant by certain verses. It does teach to follow the Holy Spirit but unfortunately many do not because the direction the Holy Spirit wants believers to travel is often not the one humans desire.
So just like the Israelites of the book of Judges, they see how the unbelieving world goes and follow it, leading God to say—‘why do ye call me lord, lord, when you do not do the things I say.’
Inclusive or Exclusive
One of the main arguments unbelievers have against Christianity is that they think that God’s kingdom is very exclusive. They base this argument upon the reasoning that their rules and criteria should be used in determining who enters heaven and not God’s.
Because they do not allow God the right to manage His own realm, like they do the governments of the world, they come to false ideas about entrance into heaven. But is God exclusive? Does He bar certain people from entering His domain when from all human appearances they should be allowed to enter?
If we look at the words found in some scriptures we find that God really does open the door to all. In the famous born again passage all believers use we find the word ‘whomever’ used in John 3:16 and then in verse 18 we find it used again twice.
This tells us that the path of salvation is open to all. It does not matter their age, their sex, their wealth, or lack of it, or their social standing. The broadness of the invitation or criteria covers all of God’s human creation.
This means that people as good as the Dali Lama or as evil as Hitler have the opportunity to enter into salvation and be allowed to live in heaven when their earthly lives are done. But is it that simple?
The unbelievers often argue that people who live good lives should be allowed to enter God’s kingdom when they die and they get very turned off of the gospel when they are informed that people like the Dali Lama or others who do no human wrong will be excluded from entry and sent to eternal damnation.
Their anger is not justified nor is their rejection of Jesus because they ignore the criteria of God and replace it with their own standards of morality, no matter how inferior they are to God’s measure. Yes, we can say that God is exclusive because He has set the limits on who can or cannot enter into His eternal rest.
Those people who have not repented of their sins and accepted His son as their Savior will not be allowed to enter into heaven, regardless of how good a life they lived. Why? Because God has excluded one thing from entering His kingdom– sin. He does not want any part of evil in His presence.
God’s kingdom, God’s heaven, God’s rules. So yes, God is exclusive. Not all people , even those who claim to have preached in Jesus’ name, will enter into heaven. This is evidenced by the scriptures Mt. 7:22-24, Rev. 20:15, 21:27 and many other passages found throughout the Biblical pages.
Why won’t the Dali Lama enter God’s heaven—because he served a false religion and rejected salvation. Why won’t others of celebrity and fame enter into God’s heaven- because they did not repent of their sins and followed evil throughout their lives.
III. The Reason for This
Why does God act in this manner, shunning those who broke no human law or helped the poor etc.? It is simple. To allow any and everyone to enter into His heaven, God makes a mockery of His son’s life and sacrifice. Jesus’ blood was shed then for no reason and served no purpose. His suffering went for not if God broadened the way to His kingdom.
The Bible would be made moot and would not need to be written as it would not matter how one lived their lives for entrance into heaven was guaranteed with the removal of exclusion. Morality and laws would mean nothing and anarchy would reign on earth and people maimed and killed for the sport of it because the value of morality and the law was destroyed by the removal of the exclusionary clause.
God has reasons for His rules and actions and if people were honest enough to look beyond the surface they would see some of the reasons behind such implementation. Life as we know it would not exist if God did not exclude sin and sinners from His plan of salvation and His kingdom. God is a holy God and he would lose his holiness and paradise would not be paradise if he allowed sin to corrupt him and his kingdom