Cultural Chasms and the Prince of Peace
Every one of us is born into some sort of cultural heritage, whether it is Native American, African, Asian, Hispanic, South American, or European…and the list goes on! One of the main challenges we have when we become Born Again in Christ (the second birth), is being able to recognize and distinguish cultural beliefs and traditions that contradict Biblical Truths. These types of cultural traditions do nothing to expand the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth. In fact, they can have an adverse effect! We have to be careful about not getting caught up and trapped in a cultural chasm that leads to more division, hatred, and animosity within and without of the Body of Christ.
“So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, Why don’t your disciples live by the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7: 5-8
Some cultural traditions are ‘neutral’; others are dangerous to one’s eternal destiny and moral climate of a nation. Some cultural trends can actually prevent others from receiving eternal life! Please allow me to explain. Neutral traditions and practices such as dress, food, and holiday celebrations don’t necessarily attack the tenets of Christianity that are critical for salvation; neither do they interfere with the health of the Church Body, or affect one’s eternal soul. The dangerous and potentially damaging ones are those that contradict the Foundational Truths of Scripture (Hebrews 6: 1-2), Spiritual Unity and Godliness.
It is important to point out the fact that there is a huge difference between a humanistic way of handling social injustices caused by a clashing of cultures and God’s approach to the same. The Father defines injustices differently than the way some humanistic philosophies do. For example, gender confusion and same sex relationships have fast become civil issues that have nothing to do with God’s definition of mankind or injustice. There are those who will fight for gay rights and animal rights while ignoring the fact that millions of unborn children are being torn out of the womb every year across the globe. Meanwhile voices of objection are demonized for speaking out on behalf of Biblical morality and other social issues that betray God’s Divine Design for man. Violence is not His way of getting people free either. He attacks lies with the truth! (2 Corinthians 10: 4-6)
As a young girl growing up in the south I would often hear folks ridiculing lower income families by calling them “Poor White Trash”. Their nickname was “PWT”. They were made fun of because of a socio-economic status that was less than “middle-class”. To a so called higher class of people they lacked ‘sophistication’. Labels, generalities and comparisons based on external issues is exactly what Jesus came to destroy! In John Chapter 4, we can read about a deep racial barrier and prejudice being broken down by Jesus Himself. His personal encounter with a Samaritan woman while passing through an area avoided by most Jews, was prophetic and significant then and now.
At that time, there was long standing animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans occupied a territory formerly belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The capital city was Samaria. When the ten tribes of Israel were carried away to Assyria as captive slaves, the king of Assyria sent people from the surrounding regions to populate Samaria (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11). These transplanted Assyrians intermarried with the existing Israelites who lived there. At first they worshipped idols of their own nations, but being pestered by lions, they assumed it was because they had not honored the God of the Jews who gave them that land to begin with. Therefore, a Jewish priest was sent from Assyria to instruct them in the Hebrew religion. This priest taught from the books of Moses. However, they still retained many of their cultural customs and traditions that contradicted the teachings of the Torah. The Samaritans continued to embrace a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-29). Since the Jews living there intermarried with gentile foreigners they adopted their idolatrous ways and customs. As a result of this multi-faceted mixture, Samaritans were called “half-breeds” by the Jews. They were considered a race of people unto themselves not being all Jew or Gentile. They were despised because of it.
“So Jesus left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. He had to go through Samaria on the way.” (John 4: 3-4) Why did Jesus take the route directly through Samaria rather than go around it like most of the Jews? They avoided Samaria like the plague. The Pharisees and Jews in the surrounding areas would rather go miles out of the way east of Samaria taking a much longer route along the Jordan River than go near the despised Samaritans. Samaria was directly between Jerusalem in Judea and Galilee. Ironically, the name Jerusalem means the “City or Abode of Peace”. Like so many today, the Jews had the false belief that the way to have peace was to avoid uncomfortable issues or worse yet fight against them through violence. Jesus had a prophetic purpose in mind by taking the path less traveled. When He arrived at Jacob’s well in the middle of town, he met a Samaritan woman there and began a dialogue by asking for water.
She immediately recognized he was a Jew. She was suspicious of Him and wondered why He would ask her for a drink in the first place. She probably wondered what He was really after. You see, not only was she aware of the fact that she belonged to a people group the Jews hated, but she also had a bad reputation. Gossip spreads quickly! This lady had been married and divorced five times. There’s no doubt she struggled with shame. Jesus uncovered the fact that the man she currently was living with was her paramour-an illicit lover. But He spoke to her in a way that caused the walls of defense and fear to come down. She began to see Him in a different light than all the other men she encountered. After a few minutes of dialogue she saw Him as a prophet. After it was all said and done she recognized Him as the promised Messiah! Jesus was able to address and dismantle the faulty belief systems she had clung to all of her life. First, he identified her false concept of Spiritual Worship based on the Samaritan culture. Then He dug in a little deeper and addressed her heart of unbelief, her misplaced personal identity, and finally her sin problem, all of which kept her in bondage to Satan’s lies. She was liberated because Jesus confronted the cultural misconceptions that blinded her to the truth.
He accomplished this feat by directness seasoned with grace and compassion. Jesus had no personal prejudices or agendas. He came to do the Will of the Father. As a result, this Samaritan woman repented and embraced the revelations presented to her. She no longer saw herself as an object to be used and abused by men. She recognized God loved and accepted her despite others seeing her as a “half-breed”. She was called by the Son of God to be a Daughter of God; not a despised Samaritan who turned to men to fill an empty void. Through Christ, she discovered her real identity. Her struggles represented an entire region. You see cultural beliefs, sins, and social issues affect more than just one person in a family or city! They have a ripple effect. But now, as a “freed” woman she left a place of bondage and went to tell the whole neighborhood about a Man who knew everything about her life. Her personal evangelism resulted in an untold number of Samaritans coming to hear Jesus for themselves. Many believed and were converted that day! (John 4: 4-32)
Since Jesus was familiar with their spiritually errant cultural beliefs, He could address them with prophetic truth! Cultural belief systems mixed with empty traditions and the lies of the enemy need to be exposed and brought to the light. Without prophetic examination and confrontation, hidden animosities and wrong theology will continue to divide the Body of Christ and even doom others to hell because of silence about critical issues. Too many times, social and civil problems get mixed up with ungodly notions and emotional reactions of anger and hatred. The Bible tells us that the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1: 20). As Sons and Daughters of God, we are called to rise above the raw emotions of hate and anger. We need to become critical thinkers and well versed enough in scripture to be able to distinguish good and evil (Ezekiel 44: 23).
Being effective as an ambassador for Jesus Christ doesn’t mean we have to be “experts in the law”. Neither does it suggest we should join in with the thinking of the crowd to the degree we become indistinguishable. In fact, we are peculiar and different because of the Fruit of Spirit and the presence of God we carry (1 Peter 2: 9). We are “in the world but not of the world!” (John 17: 14-15)
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5
As a result of Jesus initial pioneering, the region of Samaria was reached on a larger scale after His Resurrection: first, by Philip the evangelist, then by Peter and John who prayed for Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8). Repentance and faith towards God is just the beginning of the journey. Conforming to the plumb line of scripture is something we all must strive for after we come to faith in Christ (Phillipians 2: 12). The devil is working overtime propagating hatred, strife and doctrines of demons through the media and other influential people in the public’s eye who are steeped in bitterness and sin. He knows his time is short so he tries hard to steal the salt shakers and candlesticks right off of our tables. If he manages to do so, we are “in the dark” about how to properly deal and heal our cultural chasms. Only Jesus can fix the problems of mankind, one heart at a time. We are His keys to unlock the chains and prison gates keeping people from recognizing Jesus is the Messiah and answer to life’s problems which is sin. Without prophetic confrontation, peace with God and men, is impossible. “Do all that you can to live in peace with all men.” Romans 12: 18 NLT
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Matthew 5:13
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7: 9-10
Let’s pray together that the Father will help us be better bridge builders and avoid the trap of cultural chasms…
“Heavenly Father, forgive me for embracing any cultural trends or beliefs that go against the plumb line of your Word! Reveal any hidden prejudices and belief systems I may have that do not promote the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of your peace. Help me be a bridge builder through my example of Christ Likeness and be aware of other’s cultural beliefs that need corrected in your love and grace. Let me not hide your light through a bushel of unbelief, fear or prejudice. Let me not substitute the salt of your word for a sugary gospel that has no power to set others free. Jesus, you are the Prince of Peace so help me be an ambassador of your peace as much as it is possible. In Jesus’ name I pray! Amen.”