By Stanley Ow Chong Kheng
Stanley is the GMMI National Lead Facilitator in Singapore.
What is culture? A sum total of whose we are today from the moment of our birth- ‘settled’ beliefs and practices. As a babe, we learnt through the 5 senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching from our moms (normally). We observe from our immediate environment how things are carried out, how to act and behave in an acceptable manner. Approval is a key element in our young minds. As we grow in age our mental capacity continues to expand. We now learn from our parents, siblings, and loved ones around us such as grandparents. Habits are formed- the do’s and don’ts. Our parents enroll us into kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. Our scope of influence and learning continue to grow and expand from the people around us- families, friends, church, neighbors, community etc. Learned patterns, habits, values, convictions, sense of purpose and missions are formed consciously and unconsciously. We become the sum total of what we have learned and observed through these influences. Through the years, we have grown and practiced what we are doing as a norm. This is my ‘culture’.
A quotation from Sir Edward Tylor may help us to understand culture better. This pioneer British anthropologist has combined these elements of beliefs and practices into a classical definition. It is ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.’ (1871:1)
We now realize that cultures (accepted norms of behavior) are everywhere in that it has become a mindset and its own comfortable ways of doing things that need the least changes on our part. We heard of school culture, community culture, political culture and even church culture. It may be considered as sub-culture.
Let take a step further about cross-cultural mission. Mission is the task. Consider Abram before his name was changed to Abraham. From him a Jewish nation, Israel was born. Who was Abram and where did he come from? Did he cross into another culture? What does it take for a message bearer to cross into another culture in the mission of sharing his or her faith in Christ, especially to the unengaged and unreached? What task is before us?
Abram came from one of the three sons of Noah, namely Shem (Genesis 10:1,21-22; 11:10-32). In Genesis 11:27, 31,32, we read, ‘This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. Terah took his son Abram his grandson Lot, son of Haran and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years and he died in Haran.’
Ur of the Chaldeans is an ancient city located about 100 miles southeast of Babylon near the Euphrates River in what is now known as Iraq. The moon god “Sin” was the patron god of this city. It is also to note that Abram stayed in Ur till he was married (v31). He stayed until adulthood, exposed to the culture of its day. He adapted from the culture of Ur to Haran and later another adopted new culture of God’s people- God taught Abraham the culture of heaven through faith and obedience. Eventually, Abraham became the spiritual father of all the Jews and Christian believers. Later, through Moses, God laid down the 10 commandments as principles for His people so as to continue and protect as ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.’ I Peter 2:9.
How about Jesus Christ, our Savior and Master? He moved cross-culturally from a heavenly culture and stepped into human culture in order to live among us (John 1:14). In Philippians 2:6-8 we read, ‘(Christ Jesus)…Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself as nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!’
I believe that Jesus Christ crossed into the culture of man in order for us to experience God’s culture. We are to share His culture with the world. In John 4:4 we read that Jesus had intentionally gone through Samaria. ‘Now Jesus had to go through Samaria.’ Saul of Tarsus later known as Paul the greatest apostle was called not only to the Jews but to cross into another culture to the Gentiles.
Acts 26:17-18 ‘I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and turn them from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’