My Thoughts . . .
Monday, December 23, 2019
Have you ever heard someone claim, “If it was good enough for Peter and Paul, it is good enough for us”? Not everything that was right for Peter and Paul to practice is right for us. That may sound contradictory, but it isn’t. What most people don’t take into consideration is that the culture and tradition Peter and Paul lived under was not the same as ours. Culture and traditions have a way of changing through the years. Sometimes that change is right and at other times it may be wrong. Sometimes it may not be right or wrong due to circumstances!
Paul wrote to the Ephesian and Colossian brethren addressing both Christian “masters” and “slaves” (Ephesians 6:5-8; 6:9; Colossians 3:22-25; 4:1; Titus 2:9; Philemon 1). Slavery wasn’t outlawed in the United States until 1865. Prior to 1861, when the Civil War began, slave owners argued that slavery was “scriptural.” It was in the first century when Christianity began. Paul did not condemn slave ownership. No matter how much that topic rubs us the wrong way, scripture reveals the practice was lawful in apostolic days. Although slavery was abolished in the United States 154 years ago, it continues to be a sore spot in our history. We have National Parks that contain some 620,000 graves of Northern and Southern soldiers who died due to conflicting belief systems.
Our history is a testimony of how culture and traditions in one generation may be acceptable, while being frowned upon by another. Abraham was called “the friend of God” (James 2:23), Jacob wrestled with an angel (Genesis 32:24-30), and David stood tall as the slayer of Goliath (1 Samuel 17; 16:13; 2 Samuel 2:4). All three men are found in God’s Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11). Yet, what was right in their culture would not be in ours. Abraham slept with his wife Sarah and her slave girl Hagar (Genesis 16:4). He had a son by both women. Jacob married sisters. David had eight wives. Time changes culture.
Some believers today fail to see that the Jewish church continued to be zealous in keeping Jewish (Old Testament) law with its religious days, priesthood, sacrifices, and worship (Acts 21:17-26). Paul kept that law and its worship to prove to Jewish members that he “walked orderly, keeping the law” (Acts 21:24). The Gentile churches were not required to observe Hebrew Law nor to engage in Old Testament worship (Acts 15:6-29). Gentile worship changed, traveling in a different direction from what the Jerusalem and other Jewish assemblies observed.
First century saints obeyed Paul and Peter’s command to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Western culture changed that command and substituted a handshake. Culture changed and the Western church followed.
Culture often creates its cults causing tradition to reign as God’s word. This is a pit that conservatism may fall prey to. Although a tradition may have an innocent beginning, time erodes that stage and justifies itself with “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Liberalism takes a different path which contains its own potholes. Culture is hypnotic in convincing saints living in one century that all Christians before them “did church” exactly as they are practicing it. If their practice is difference from what the Bible literally states, their justification for that change is because the biblical action was based upon first century culture, not theirs. The doctrine advanced is that changes in a society’s culture allows changes in a biblical practice! However, this can develop into a problem. The Bible is void of instruction which gives a person the authority to change certain biblical commands to harmonize with his change in culture.
When newer translations of the Bible challenged the 1611 King James language, some deified that 290-year-old version. Some believed the words “thee, thou, and thine’ were divine language. Most popular church songs contained those words. Prayers were filled with them. The first person who addressed God as “you” was viewed as a heretic. If one read from any version other than the KJV, he was reading from a false translation. Human rules flourished allowing only the KJV as the translation that must be used in classrooms and pulpit. Some at first allowed the ASV second place, but that privilege contained a questioning “if.” 118 years have passed since the ASV was introduced, but there are individuals who continue to view the KJV as God’s only authorized version. Culture may create an idol that imprisons its subjects to accept a lie as truth.
Sometimes a belief will blossom due to a practice being accepted and practiced for a few hundred years. There is a contradictory position that has become an unwritten law for some. That law is, “Introducing anything new is not authorized by scripture.” Yet, we are top heavy with things that have been introduced since the first century! They were new at the time of their introduction. Why have we accepted those practices? “Because a trusted preacher of yesteryear said it was okay” or “Because we have practiced it for several generations, and it has to be right or we would not have practicing it.”
Culture and traditions have a way of changing through the years. Sometimes that change is right and at other times it can be wrong. In the first century, if a non-Jew didn’t submit to circumcision, Jewish believers would not accept him as a true Christian (Acts 15:1). When Paul was with a Gentile audience, he did things the Gentile way. When he was with a Jewish assembly, he did things the Jewish way (1 Corinthians 9:20-23). This caused a rumor to reach Jerusalem that Paul was telling Jewish believers they no longer needed to circumcise their sons or follow the Law of Moses (Acts 21:21). When Paul wrote to the Roman church, that Jewish/Gentile problem appears to be causing problems there (Romans 14). Christians still have a problem with that passage and its principles today.
When culture changes, does that require Christians to change biblical commands to harmonize with the new culture? We still have that problem today. Sometimes we are no better at solving it than first century brethren were.