Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Role of Cultural Context

Why cultural context is essential to understanding instructions given in that context:

Take as an example the US Constitution. The men who debated about, wrote, and signed that document, and the people who finally ratified it, had certain beliefs and experiences which the wording of the document specially suited. Nearly every resident in the new country had witnessed the oppression under King George and the resulting revolution. Not only that: they had been immersed in philosophical and rational defenses of that revolution through the press and official statements such as the Declaration of Independence. There is a Creator, they affirmed, who originally endowed all men with rights. Rights are something the citizens of the new thirteen confederated states understood. Although rights were enumerated in the Bill of Rights after the ratification of the Constitution, they were recognized and fought for during the war. One rally-cry was the right to representation if one was taxed. The Declaration of Independence is a magnificent record of the beliefs at the heart of the revolution and at the establishment of a strong central government several years later.

These men believed rights to be inalienable, unbreachable by any law man could make or any violence man could inflict. The national anthem, in its fourth verse, asserts, “When our cause it is just…” The founders believed in justice. And it was not their belief that established its existence. Justice existed, and they recognized that. They built a life, a country, and a political system on that reality.

When we look at the system we inherit from the illustrious men who wrote the Constitution, we are often at a disadvantage. In our philosophical ignorance, the system does not fit. The constitution does not cover questions that have arisen in the modern culture. Why?

I submit that the Constitution could not plan for a people so given to individual indulgence and so scornful of the absolute laws that govern men and nature. It was prepared as the governing document of that system. Many statesmen recognized that if the philosophical status quo changed in our country, our government would fail.

Indeed, though the Constitution has been adapted over the years, or in some cases ignored or willfully misinterpreted, it has been unsuccessful in conforming to the new framework of thought in our country. I am skeptical whether any system can hold stability in a nation where absolutes and justice are denied. It is just such a spirit of complete democracy that causes the insurgencies in democratic countries in Europe, Africa, and South America. Nevertheless, it is impossible to comprehend the original intent of the framers while denying their fundamental beliefs.

I could go into the ways the original Constitution is misinterpreted and misapplied, but that is outside the scope of this paper.

Why maintaining or restoring the original culture is essential to the effectiveness of an instruction:

My real intention is to say that just as the culture of the late eighteenth century was essential not only to the interpretation, but also to the success of the government instituted for that time, so many parts of the culture of the first century after Christ are essential for the comprehension and effectiveness of the instructions given in the New Testament. I say ‘many parts’ because it is possible that some cultural pieces do not affect the matrix of the whole. Perhaps we would do better to study which of those pieces are essential to the success of the biblical system than to strive for a melted and conformed set of man-manipulated instructions to apply to our modern state of rebellion.

Instead of saying that women were not allowed to speak in church “back then” because of the cultural stigma against women drawing public attention to themselves, and therefore trying to shove meanings into the words of Paul which he did not intend or foresee, we should see whether that piece of their culture contributed to the harmony of the early Christian families and Church. Rather than assuming that our wisdom is more enlightened than the wisdom that God imparted to the apostles and early church, we should study that wisdom and put into practice as much of it as possible.

This is not to deny the eternal relevance of the Bible. It is much more. I intend to picture the live and powerful nature of the Bible, its effectiveness to transform lives and cultures.

Man’s attempts at reforming culture are falling utterly short. In many cases, Christians have surrendered, and have embraced the fallen culture in which they live. It is time to forsake the wisdom of men and return to the wisdom of God, whatever the cost. It is time to ignore the scorn of the world and be different. It is time to take God at His word and see what He will accomplish.

To God be all glory.

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