Whose Culture?

by Omolola Oriogun

I recently attended a traditional wedding ceremony in the Eastern part of Nigeria – Aba to be precise. The program was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. in the afternoon but it was delayed because of some traditional rites that had to be done, cultures that had to be followed. As a Christian I thought and said to myself, “this is not right,” and asked the bride-to-be, “must you do this?” She replied saying, “if I don’t do all this, I won’t be considered married.” I couldn’t say anything but just had to shut my mouth because her response startled me.

While seated somewhere waiting for the traditional wedding to start, I thought back to 2006 when my elder sister had her traditional wedding in the Western way i.e. the Yoruba way. The program was billed to start at 8a.m but it didn’t officially start until 10a.m because some items were yet to be brought. After all the seeming commotion, it started and ended at 12p.m in a rush because the white wedding was slated for the same day.

I put all the different cultures, traditions, and customs that I know of together in my mind and tried to of course, juxtapose them with what the Bible refers to as ‘cultures, traditions and customs.’

I’ve discovered over the years that we are living in an environment that challenges us to continually evaluate what it means to live the Christian life. So how do we respond? The answer begins with the Bible. Our view of culture, tradition and custom must include biblical insights. In doing this, we will investigate selected passages of Scripture pertaining to culture, tradition and custom.

From Mark 7:1-9 which says “Then came together unto HIM the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of HIS disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked HIM, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? HE answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of GOD, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And HE said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of GOD, that ye may keep your own tradition.”

In the scripture above, JESUS made us understand that we humans love to obey traditions of men more than that of GOD, we rather prefer to hear man’s opinion than GOD’s own. Most times, we please ourselves instead of pleasing GOD and in doing this, we separate ourselves away from GOD.

Proverbs 22:1 says  “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” A man of GOD once said: It’s “cool” to be “bad” in our postmodern society. A “bad rep” has more “street value” than a good one. Glorification of a bad reputation is the standard in pop tunes. “Bad is good”, culture has even invaded the fringe of the church and majority of GOD’s children have embraced it. So what is a CHRIST-follower to do?

The writer of Proverbs gave us some tried and true advice. His pointed one-liners have withstood the test of time. ‘Reputation was, and still is, a reflection of character. Riches, or lack thereof, still try our prejudice. Prudence is still the mark of a successful person. Humility still trumps pride. The fear of the LORD is still the starting place for the most wonderful journey any human can take. Thorns and snares are still on the daily route for all.’

We are wise to heed the advice of the ancient sage. If we are to confront, with the truths of Proverbs, the upside-down, downward-moving, immoral, mainstream culture we inhabit, we must possess courage and really make full use of the grace of GOD. In so doing we mirror and exalt the life of the Galilean (JESUS) we profess to follow.

Follow me so as to check some Bible verses that talk about GOD’s culture, tradition and custom:

1. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” This verse shows that GOD has HIS own traditions that HE gave to HIS servants to teach in words and live as a lifestyle. So, HE expects us to inhabit that and not that of the world.

2. 1 Cor. 11:1-2 says “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of CHRIST. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances (cultures, traditions and customs), as I delivered them to you. Apostle Paul was able to affirmatively say ‘follow me as I follow CHRIST’ because, he upheld only GOD’s culture from the day he gave his life to CHRIST till his final breath on earth.  

3. Gal.3:28-29 says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in CHRIST JESUS. And if ye be CHRIST’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” These means that, in CHRIST, our culture, tradition and custom do not hold water.

4. Col. 3:11-13 says “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but CHRIST is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of GOD, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as CHRIST forgave you, so also do ye.” What these means is that, in the culture, tradition and custom of man, wickedness, hatred etc are the order of the day but in that of GOD, CHRIST is the head where peace, love and mercy reign.

5. Matt. 15:1-9 says “Then came to JESUS scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But HE answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of GOD by your tradition? For GOD commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of GOD of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” It’s obvious in this verse that man will always be man as JESUS pointed out, always taking to their own culture, tradition and custom, forgetting that such will always strife with that of GOD.

From these five scriptures, we can see that JESUS clearly stated the culture, tradition and custom of GOD and it is totally different from that of man. This means that, for you and I to live the life of CHRIST, we can’t live by the culture, tradition and custom of man which is sensual and devilish. We have to live by GOD’s own which is pure, holy and righteous.

In conclusion, on a daily basis, we need to pray to the Father, so that HE can give us courage to reflect HIS life in our culture. Amen!!!

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