The Church and Culture

Louvre Pyramid

“Culture covers the whole range of human society.” 

Brian J. Walsh

The relationship between the church and human culture is one of neither total acceptance nor pure rejection. Every culture, on account of our creation in God’s image, has some elements of truth, goodness, and beauty within it, which the Christian should not despise. Nevertheless, no culture is so preserved as not to be fallen and corrupted with the rest of humanity. The church needs to be discriminating, examining every cultural artifact, style, art form, or product in light of God’s revealed word.

Culture is a broad term. It encompasses all that we do as humans in developing God’s creation. When we design and build furniture out of wood, glass, or steel; when we compose music, write plays, or produce engrossing movies; when we set up institutions for promoting literacy and education, we are building culture. Fallen human nature, however, implies that our products as cultural beings will be tainted with sin. Our music may be brilliant while the lyrics extol pride and vanity. Our noble  effort to establish a political group might be tainted by a lust for power. And even a commercial business, which clearly serves an important need in society, could be managed by ambitious leaders who abuse and humiliate their subordinates.

So culture, while a God-given privilege and task, often bears the marks of humanity’s fallen nature. This is why discernment becomes necessary. We cannot abandon all cultural pursuits as evil, neither can we naively embrace all ideas as legitimate. Truth, goodness, and beauty must still remain our objective in assessing every form of culture.

Bringing this home, the church in Nigeria must be culturally discerning. Too often, we adopt either one posture or the other. Music, products, institutions, ideas, are generated across the diverse cultures of Nigeria. Embrace them as neutral? No. Reject them as worldly activities which do not befit the saint? Not at all. Culture must be assessed in light of God’s word. Does this song’s lyrics express truth or promote a lie? Is this institution in line with God’s design for human society? As the light of the world, we have a responsibility to pronounce on our society’s cultural pursuits. But we cannot stop there. We will also work to produce cultural products that bear the evidence of Christ’s redemption. Businesses in which managers demonstrate servant leadership, music which delight the ears and inspire the spirit, products which display excellent craftsmanship, and institutions which selflessly champion the public good. In this way, we would not only be dispelling the darkness, but we would also be giving light.

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