Experiencing a different culture, different foods, different landscapes, and different people; it has widened the horizons of my world view. In Mozambique, looking at someone straight in the eye in a conversation can be seen as disrespect. While growing up, I was taught to look a person in the eye as a sign of giving attention and respect. When a couple here in Mozambique is having marriage problems, both sides of the family are called to help solve the issue. Just imagine calling in all your aunts and uncles, and parents to solve your private issues. By taking a step back, I can look at these cultures and see the many ways Christianity relates to culture. I’ve learned that there are things that don’t translate cross-culturally.
Sometimes Christianity and culture are intertwined, and at times they clash. Culture is part of what helps define who we are and the way we do things; the way we relate to people or how we do life. Culture is something good that needs to be protected, to some extent. There is another side to a culture that is protected and yet shouldn’t be from the standpoint of Christianity. Looking at culture from a Christian perspective helps us sift through what is culturally relevant from a biblical worldview.
Many things that we call acceptable as culture is merely sin. Should we allow a sinful practice in the name of culture? Should we participate in traditions even though its practice may be sinful? Here in Mozambique, it is the long-standing tradition to go to the witch doctor for many different situations. The witch doctor consults with the ancestors or spirits as to what needs to be done. To this day, many who profess to be Christians still consult with witch doctors as a way of “helping God out.” Where do we draw the line of where culture ends and true Christianity begins?
I’m a strong believer in letting our relationship with God define our culture. Relationship with God should be the source of one's life choices and practices. Unfortunately, progressive culture and long-standing traditions have many times limited or hindered churches and people from experiencing a deeper walk with God. How much secular culture has infiltrated into churches to the point of dilution of the Gospel? We battle this every day here in Mozambique, but it impacts the Church globally.
So many secular traditions have now become acceptable in church. Nowadays we may not even recognize them as secular because the church has lost its sensitivity to what’s sinful in the culture and what’s culture. I once heard a story of a Christian couple that visited the U.S. from Cuba. They were shocked, dumbfounded to see Christians celebrating Halloween. In Brasil, Halloween is translated as the Day of the Witch. Cultural sin may be re-worded or made into a fun dress-up day for the kids, but it doesn’t make it right. Look at the impact it is having on our brothers and sisters from different cultures.
The Apostle Paul said he became all things to all people so that he could by every possible means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). Sometimes this verse is used as an excuse to waiver in Christian ethics. Paul was just stating that he adapted to every culture to reach that culture. When with the Jews, he practiced Jewish culture but never the sin in the culture. Jesus was always condemned by the religious leaders for reaching out to sinners. Jesus did so to rescue them and save them. He never condoned or practiced their sinfulness.
We are called to be salt and light in this world. Are we standing on the truth of the Gospel and proclaim it without shame. Or, are we dimming our light so that we can attract darkness to the light and be relevant to the culture? Culture can become the proverbial pot of boiling water cooking us if we are not aware. Let’s be salt and light. Let’s stand up and stand out. Christians around the world are doing so, and it costs them everything. If we can’t do it now, what will we do when our culture presents real consequences? More people will be reached by Christians being brighter lights than dimming it to make Christianity “reachable.”