What is your cultural heritage? Middle class? Hispanic? Anglo? African-American? Asian? Southern? West Coast? SoCal? OC? I have asked many people that question as we seek to understand one another—understand what our roots are. Usually it begins with something like “American”. Then it goes to sub-cultural groups like those above, or more recently, “Liberal” or “Conservative”.
The thing is, most of the people I am asking this question are Christians. And to this day, no one has said “Christian” in answer to the question. None.
This tells me, among other things, that most of us don’t really know what “culture” means. It is the values, beliefs and behaviors of a given group or sub-group. When we are part of a culture we tend to adopt those values, beliefs and behaviors—in fact they usually form the core of who we are and how we see ourselves.
Given this, it is strange to me that we don’t first say, “Christian”. Christianity—more specifically the scriptures—give us a wealth of values, beliefs and behaviors which are “Christian”. The problem is that many of us see ourselves as something else first. We’re “American”, Hispanic, “Left-wing”, “African American”, etc.—and each of these groups has values, beliefs, and behaviors which aren’t necessarily compatible with what Jesus and the Holy Spirit inspired Word teach us. Jesus said we can’t serve two masters. One of these cultures will be dominant—it will become the “screen” or “filter” through which we sift the others. Any values of the sifted culture which are compatible with the screen can be maintained. But any of them which aren’t consistent with the screen are rejected—not because they are wrong or bad, but because they aren’t “American”, or “Middle Class”, or “conservative”, or (Substitute your favorite subculture here).
So, consciously or unconsciously we raise one of these to be our dominant culture—and the others will be filtered by that dominant culture whether we know we are doing it or not. How else can “Christians” be so adamant about arming and protecting themselves when Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek? How else can “Christians” tolerate sin—even celebrate it and declare people should be “proud” of it—when the scripture clearly says it is sin, destructive, and harmful? How can “Christians” be so arrogant, strident and self-centered in political discussions when Jesus said people will know we follow Him by our love for one another? We do these things because we don’t recognize that Christianity is a culture in itself, handed down to us by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, recorded in scripture, and practiced by others throughout history.
You’re thinking, so what? Here’s the thing: It is not the one who claims the name “Christian” who are followers of Christ. It is the one who recognizes Jesus as King, The Kingdom as his/her primary culture, and practices the values, beliefs and behaviors which come from the Kingdom—even if it means rejecting other values held by people around us. The one who allows Scripture to filter the cultural values of any other group and rejects those which are in opposition to Scriptural teaching is the true follower of Christ. That person is a citizen of the Kingdom—and their culture is Christ. This is important for that person, so that they live in such a way as to please our King. And it is in being Christian first that we have something to offer a divided, angry, hurt and frightened world.