Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to make a difficult choice between your culture and your Christianity? Do you ever feel like the ideas, customs, and norms you have grown up with are diametrically opposed to something you have just encountered in scripture? Welcome to the frontier where culture and Christianity clash on a daily basis in the lives of people who love God and are seeking to please Him.
Culture is a thing of beauty because it gives us a sense of identity and creates a common bond between us and other people who share a similar perspective to life. Culture creates community and a sense of shared values which binds a people together with a common understanding of what matters to them. Some cultures value individualism, others respect and others still honour and integrity. Whatever your culture is, celebrate it, but be prepared for those moments when your culture conflicts with your Christianity. How will you respond?
Marriage, relationships and family life are areas where most people groups have strong norms and ideas; ideas which are sometimes at odds with Christianity. Take a moment to consider your perspective on how relationships are conducted; when and whether to marry; who to marry; how weddings are conducted; the role you and your spouse play in the home; how you raise your children; your perspective of sex and your attitude to money. You will find that your views have been shaped by your background and the culture you were handed down. This is all great until you come upon a situation where what your culture dictates is totally out of sync with what scripture says. The question is, which will you go with?
Jesus made a strong statement about the danger of elevating culture above God’s word, while speaking to the Pharisees and some experts in the Law of Moses, in Mark 7:6-9, 13:
“Jesus told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites in Scripture: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is pointless, because their teachings are rules made by humans.’ “You abandon the commandments of God to follow human traditions.” He added, “You have no trouble rejecting the commandments of God in order to keep your own traditions! …Because of your traditions you have destroyed the authority of God’s word. And you do many other things like that.””
Those are very strong words coming from the mouth of the Saviour but they indicate clearly how important it is to Him that we make the Word of God the final authority in our relationships, homes and marriages, not our traditions. Culture is beneficial until it conflicts with our faith, at which point we have a clear choice to make. Will we go with God’s Word or will we go with the traditions of men?
Does the way you treat your spouse reflect your faith or does it just reflect your culture? Do you default to treating your spouse the way you see other people treating theirs or do you refer to the scriptures for direction on how to treat your spouse? Are your attitudes towards your marriage shaped by your understanding of God’s word or by the expectations of society? Consider your views on faithfulness in marriage; are they framed by God’s word or have you bought into the belief that a man cannot be faithful to one woman for a lifetime? Do you treat your husband with the God-given respect he deserves or is your respect for him tied to whether or not he fulfils society’s idea of what a man should be? Do you nurture your children as scripture commands or do you stifle them because of society’s expectations? What do you do when your fiancé wants you to get pregnant before he marries you? Or perhaps your wife is experiencing delays in child-bearing and your family is putting pressure on you to marry someone else? Do you defer to God’s word only when it suits you? The scenarios are endless and these are all situations which I have encountered as I counsel singles and couples.
When your culture and your Christianity are in a face-off, remember this. Nobody who executes marriage God’s way ever comes up short. God is the designer of marriage and He knows precisely how it was designed to work. It makes sense to consult the Maker’s manual rather than bowing to the opinions of others which are based on assumptions or presumptions. If you choose a spouse in line with God’s dictates and you conduct your relationship in obedience to God’s word, you stand a better chance of enjoying success in marriage. If you treat your husband or wife the way the Word of God commands, rather than the way culture dictates, that singular act invites the intervention and participation of God in your home. Prayer is powerful in changing situations but there is very little point in praying for our marriages if we make the Word of God ineffective in our lives by choosing culture over God’s Word.
At some stage in your relationship or marriage, you will have to make a choice whether to build by God’s directions or man’s opinions. Your decision will determine your results. If your marriage is currently in pain, you will be able to trace the source of that pain back to the time when you or your spouse stopped obeying God’s Word and started making decisions based on culture or the circumstances surrounding you. The solution is to go back to God’s plan for marriage.
Am I suggesting that we abandon culture hook, line and sinker? By no means! There are certain aspects of culture that support and promote God’s purposes and these we should embrace wholeheartedly. However, we have got to make a commitment that wherever culture comes up short or contradicts the Word of God, we will choose God’s word every single time. This is the path to an enduring marriage.