Christianity in a World of Cultures
Christianity has always related with culture from its onset. In fact, Christ was born into one of the cultures in the world. It is the relationship of culture to Christianity that is of concern here, especially now that the world is presenting duplicity of cultures or beliefs as a result of postmodernism, which is challenging absolute reasoning and authority. We cannot assume, given the evidence in history, that culture has no effect on Christianity or vice versa. It is true that Christianity has traversed many cultures, if not all. But how does it maintain its core aspects amidst cultural diversity? Does it lose some of its truths by becoming multicultural, or does it influence cultures and so force them to lose some of their aspects? It will be meaningful to see how the gospel, worship, relations, conflicts and missions in the Christian set up are handled among different cultures.
This relationship of Christianity and culture has been viewed in several ways before. In Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, he presents five views that are common to man. The views take the form of Christ against culture, Christ for culture, Christ making use of some part of culture, Christ dwelling in tension with culture, and Christ transforming culture. However, it is impossible to take one view and run with it because different cultures will present other forms. Moreover, we can risk relativism if we were to propose all views.
D.A. Carson, in his analysis of the five views, found them insufficient to be proposed as a view to be taken by Christians. He therefore proposed a multicultural view alongside christian segmentation of various cultures. In this view, Christianity embraces all cultures but segments those areas of culture that are sinful or life threatening. This perspective will now form our basis as we look into the various aspects of christian life in various cultures.
In proclamation of the Gospel, Christians coming into a new culture must ensure that the presentation reaches the thought forms of the new culture while also maintaining the truths of the gospel, especially the beauty and offense of the cross and resurrection. The aim will be understanding that brings conviction.
Worship styles will definitely be different across cultures; yet the great question for us when we worship in these cultures should be whether we are bringing out the important elements of worship to the new person in a manner that he may participate and realize the reverence of God. We will be forced to leave the forms we are used to and take the new culture's forms while segmenting it to offer reverence to the word and glory of God. The greatest dilemma so far in worship is music, given that different cultures have various forms. But the christian mindset should be clear to take up those forms, styles or tunes that are not associated with sin.
Moreover, Christianity has played an important role in building strong relations between people of different backgrounds, encouraging friendships, marriages and partnership for the Gospel from people all over the world. In view of Cross-cultural friendships, marriages or partnership for the Gospel, the Bible points out that these interactions are to have Jesus Christ and the Gospel as the center of meaning and reason when two people from different cultures come together. However, these relations have not been smooth in all cultures. There are some situations where conflicts have risen due to the different cultures. Christianity not being blind to the facts has been able to solve conflicts by pointing to the various cultural misconceptions due to sin in man while presenting the gospel as the solution to sin and peace for all men.
Finally, Revelations 7:9 presents to us a multicultural Bride of Christ, indicating that cultures are inherently not bad. This fact should encourage us to heed the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations, being careful to present the gospel clearly and give glory to God.