God vs. Culture: Culture Without Compromise
Updated: Feb 8, 2019
There are so many different cultures and people in this world and of course, that’s what makes living on this planet so beautiful.
I’m blessed to be from one of the most amazing countries in Africa, Nigeria!
(I had to say ‘one of the most amazing’ for sake of attack).
It is the country of my birth, the home of my extended family, it is the blood running through my veins.
It is the most populous country in the continent of Africa, close to or over 186 million people.
It is an extremely diverse country with well over 1000 ethnic groups and over 500 different languages.
It is a country that is filled with so much culture and tradition and although she is not perfect, I love Nigeria.
I mean, I absolutely love Nigeria.
BUT I love God more.
There has been a popular and quite futile debate outside, and honestly even inside the church, regarding God vs culture.
A few months ago, I was in the middle of a discussion that turned into a somewhat heated discussion after I made the comment that, “I am a Christian before I am Nigerian.”
A few of the individuals in this discussion argued that Christianity came after Nigerian culture to which I then corrected myself by saying, “I am a child of GOD before I am Nigerian.”
Surprisingly, they were still quite upset and one stated “We can’t afford to lose our culture...Our culture and tradition will be forgotten if we don’t hold on to it.”
These were church-folks.
Now this isn’t to 'bash' said individuals in anyway because in fact, afterwards, we all came to a peaceful understanding, praise God! This is actually to bring light and godly understanding to what I later heard talked and argued about almost everywhere else after this conversation.
The questions to ask ourselves are:
Have we placed culture and tradition above God?
Must we compromise our faith in order to follow tradition?
Whether you’re from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Asia, Bolivia, Peru, Canada, or South Dekalb, we all have some type of culture and tradition, so this is for all of us.
Per usual, The Word of God will be used as the foundation for this blog after all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
Let's get started!
So what is culture?
Leslie Newbigin writes that culture is “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” (Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 188.)
The different cultures is what makes up a majority of this world, honestly.
A culture is made up of beliefs, traditions, views, norms, standards, ideas, languages, values, even foods and clothes. It is specific and unique to a group or organization of people, almost like their identity.
However, our true identity should be in Christ Jesus.
So, what is God’s Word and what does it say?
It is yes and amen. Period. It is unchanging, unwavering, unaltered, it is final.
At times, people try to twist and tangle and manipulate the Word of God, but at the end of their attempt, God’s Word still remains. Why? Simple. The Word of God IS God and scripture tells us that in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
His word is alive, living and powerful and we know that to be true because our GOD is alive living and powerful.
He doesn’t stutter in His Word.
So when He said in Isaiah 55:11 that “so as the word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it”, yea, He meant that. He is all powerful God. He is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. He is the I Am that I Am. Nothing goes before Him or is placed above Him.
As children of God, when we place culture above God, we are actually doing a few terrible and hypocritical things.
1). Disobey the first Commandment given to us: “Thou shalt have no other god before me” Exodus 20:3 & Deuteronomy 5:7. Culture can become a god.
It is great to be proud of our roots and where we are from. We can invest in our culture and tradition without compromising the Word of God and putting our own beliefs before God. However, when we do do that, we are telling God that we care and treasure our culture more than Him. We intentionally or unintentionally put our beliefs and values above God and His Word and that can easily turn into an idol. Yes, idolatry. Remember, an idol is anything that we love, treasure, enjoy, or direct all of our energy towards, above God. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a golden calf or a statue. So yes, a job, good grades, your girlfriend, your boyfriend and even culture can be an idol. Why would we exalt our countries and our culture instead of exalting The One who created it?
It’s like exalting the sun, moon, and stars but not the Creator of them.
Scripture tells us about this in Zephaniah 1:5. To “worship the starry host” is a clear violation of God’s law in Deuteronomy 4:19, “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven”. The “starry host” includes the sun, moon, planets, and stars. These celestial bodies were worshiped by the pagan cultures of the day, but God had commanded His people to worship Him and not bow down to other gods (Exodus 20:3-4). We can so easily make anything, especially culture, tradition, our values and such a god.
But we must ask God to search our hearts, Psalm 139:23.
2). We become like a Pharisee
The Pharisees were known in the Bible as being hypocritical, self-righteous and in fact, Jesus even stated plainly that they don’t practice what they preach. Matthew 23:3.
There was always conflict with Jesus and the Pharisees in the Bible. This was because Jesus ate with sinners, told the Pharisees the truth about themselves and most importantly obeyed the commands of His Father and put the Word Of God first, while the Pharisees obeyed The Law and put their culture and traditions first. Now don’t get me wrong, they loved or at least claimed to have loved God! The Pharisees accepted the written Word as inspired by God. Unfortunately, the Pharisees gave equal authority to written and oral tradition, saying the traditions went all the way back to Moses. Evolving over the centuries, the Pharisaic traditions had the effect of adding to God’s Word, which is forbidden. See Deuteronomy 4:2.
Have we placed culture and tradition above God?
Must we compromise our faith in order to follow tradition?
Have we become like a Pharisee?
In Mark 7 (also found in Matthew 15), we see a perfect example of the Pharisees putting their own culture, traditions and values first.
“Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.” Mark 7:5
This was the question posed to Jesus by the Pharisees in the beginning of this chapter.
Now at first read, you’re probably like, ‘Well, I kind of agree! Shouldn't we all wash our hands before we eat?!’ But this was one of many ‘age-old traditions’ that the Pharisees stuck to and placed above God. They would have a ceremony in which they would wash their hands and arms at a certain time and in a certain way, seeing this as cleansing them from anything they came in contact with what was considered “unclean” (this included people as well).
And it wasn’t that the disciples were dirty, they just weren’t about to follow the Jewish tradition/ritual. Plus, I’m sure my guys were just HUNGRY.
But Jesus replied to them saying in verse 9, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.” He went on to say, “For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death. But YOU say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”
When we place culture above God, no matter where we’re from, we become like a Pharisee.
There’s God’s culture and then there’s culture of man.
We cannot blend the two.
Like in the discussion that I referenced earlier, people will argue that their culture and tradition date way before Christianity was even established. For example, evidence of human life in Nigeria dates as far back as 9000 BC, while Christianity appeared 1st century AD. However, God goes before time, in fact, He created time; He created the people who created these traditions and culture. So that argument can’t stand at all.
Culture and tradition are the creations.
God is the Creator.
We can enjoy our roots, our countries, our traditions, our culture without compromising ourselves and the Word of God.
I love my country, our food, our clothes, our weddings, our history and our traditions, for the most part.
But anything that isn’t accordance with the Word of God, anything that we place above God, we need to consider unacceptable, even if it IS tradition.
I can say that yes, there are a few things that are practiced in my country and in my specific tribal group that neither myself or my family are a part because it does not glorify God in any way, shape or form. 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us of this, whether it is singing, dancing, celebrating, etc.
And truthfully, there’s still paganism in Nigeria; beliefs and doings that have seeped into the crevices of our land for ages now. There are still things that are still practiced today by many believers, but because of tradition and what was passed down from generation to generation, are not questioned or even thought twice about.
We can’t, as children of God, begin to sacrifice our faith because of ‘tradition’.
We can’t out rightly disobey God. We can’t live as a Pharisee.
We have to be able to use spiritual discernment and the Word of God to distinguish between our traditions and the tradition from God which are recorded in scripture.
As an African, we are very proud of our roots and where we came from, but we have to know when to draw the line.
At the end of the day, the statement I mentioned earlier still stands:
I am Nigerian and I love my culture, but I will always be a child of the living God first.
When we get to Heaven, we won’t be separated by tribes and countries and cultures and social class. We will all be together as one, worshiping and giving praise to the God that existed before time was created.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27-28.
So again, I love my country and I love being Nigerian.
But I love God more.
One day, culture will die, traditions will die, religion will die and we will one day die with it.
But the Word of God will forever be alive.