God's Word for today

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Christianity vs. culture - which takes precedence?

One of the struggles that many of us have as Christians is when it comes to conflicts between our cultural practices and our Christian values.  The subject came up in one of our seminary classes, where a colleague defenced the superiority of culture over Christianity by stating that "I was born an African; Christianity is something that I only adopted later in life".

This came as a bit of a shock to me, since I have always strived to ensure that my Christian beliefs supersede any other aspect of my life.  Not that I've always got it right, mind you, but the intention and the will is certainly there.

Lest I be accused of being Euro-centric or (gasp!) racist, allow me to explain my disquiet at this concept of culture being superior with an example from my own life.  I was born in England, and even though my parents (at that stage) did not dare darken the doors of a church other than to attend weddings and funerals, it was an essential part of our Englishness to be "christened" in the Church of England.  And so it was off to the local vicar, who agreed, after the promise of an invite to a good knees-up (British slang for a party of note) afterwards (at which, I am told, the vicar got so plastered on port that he had to be helped into a taxi to take him back to the vicarage), to do the necessary sprinkling that would fully induct me as one of Her Majesty's loyal subjects.

In later years, when I had accepted Jesus as Lord, I underwent what I considered to be my first (and only) "real" baptism which, in actual fact, was "re-baptism" - this being a big no-no in the Methodist Church, but in my defence I didn't know much about concepts such as "prevenient grace" at that stage.

This experience however meant that when my son was born, my wife and I were determined, as Christian parents, that James' baptism would be given its proper place and meaning within our Christian faith, so that there would be no ambiguity in later years concerning whether he had received a "proper" baptism.  So much so that we decided not to baptise him as a baby (undergoing a dedication service instead, at which we as parents made the appropriate promises to bring James up in the love of Christ), but instead left the decision up to him to make once he had come to an understanding of his own relationship with Jesus.

The upshot is that while many of my cultural practices are cast out of a distinctly English mould, in this case my Christian beliefs firmly overrode my Englishness.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that all cultural practices are necessarily in conflict with Christianity.  Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here, lest we repeat the mistakes of many of the early missionaries who equated Christianity with being "English gentlemen".  But in areas where culture is at odds with Christ, surely culture is the one that has to give way?

I'll explain my specific concerns in a later post.


Anonymous said...

Again, you've floored me.

Prevenial Grace and Beliver Baptism in the post.

hehehe, you keep me guessing.

Steven Jones said...

Hi Mark

The Methodist Church recognises both believer's baptism and infant baptism. Our default position is however in favour of infant baptism. As ministers, we are not permitted to promote believer's baptism at the expense of infant baptism, but we respect the wishes of the parents should they exercise their choice in favour of believer's baptism.

Under such circumstances, many Methodist ministers conduct a dedication service, which essentially follows the same process (including promises by the parents and congregation), except for the baptism itself. My wife and I exercised this option with our own son, who later approached our then minister to be baptised once he understood the Christian implications thereof. However, as a minister I am open to both forms, and will abide by the disciplines of our church.