There are lots of things in life that we cannot define, we just know it when we see it. When Wile E. Coyote sets some birdseed just below a large boulder and plans on dropping it on the Roadrunner, we laugh when it all goes wrong and he himself gets mashed. That’s called irony and few of us can define it but we know it when we see it.
Culture is a lot like this. Every one of us humans has a myriad of built-in sensors that let data in, both as a way of offering protection, but also for appreciation. The ability to see and hear and smell informs us that there is a fire in the house but also when the roast beef is cooking.
If culture is the outward manifestation of inward beliefs and convictions then peoples with vastly different beliefs should have vastly different cultures. Is there a difference between Paris, France and Paris, Texas? Well, just ask a native of either. Geography and climate and close neighbors play their part in how cultures develop for sure but at the end of the day, nothing is more powerful to shaping the language, arts, buildings, recreation, productivity, beauty or lack there of, than what a people hold most dear in their hearts.
When you drive through inner city west Baltimore you’ll see abandoned buildings, even burned out buildings, lots of people just sitting around, trash, graffiti, and broken crack vials in the street. You might not feel safe or wanted. There are not cheerful waves coming in your direction. The whole scene screams chaos, rage, despair.
Contrast that with an Amish farm community of mowed lawns, fields full of straight rows of corn, the men and women and children cheerfully laboring and being productive. Order and serenity, productivity and beauty, seem to be emphasized. There will be a calm to your demeanor. The picture may be as foreign to you as an inner city one but you’ll instinctively come away with a different conclusion.
What then are the inward beliefs that have been externalized? In the west Baltimore neighborhoods they have children outside of marriage, many don’t work, few are productive and there is not much ownership of anything. Therefore there is little to invest in; neither the children nor the buildings. Obviously there is a great value attached to not having to be productive or beautify or practice self-denial.
In Ohio they probably own their farms and are safekeeping an inheritance or preserving the work of their own hands. They work hard and value the productivity of their hands, the care of their children and general order. Clearly tomorrow is valued over today and all around you are images of the results of working hard today for rewards that will only come later.
If you were to be transported into each of these spaces, to a street corner of Baltimore at 9:00 on a Friday night and then to the Amish farm the same evening you would, in an instant, know that the peoples in these two areas had radically different beliefs. All your senses would inform you of this. And you would not need a sociologist to break down the data for you.
What Does Christian Culture Look Like?
And so, if we Christians are to build a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14), if we are to be a light shining to the nations, what would our culture look like at 9:00 on a Friday night?
Well, what are our deepest convictions?
Jesus says “ By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
What is the chief end of man but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
What are the two greatest commandments?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37–40).
How are we to work?
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. (Colossians 3:23)
How are we to rest? How are we to spend our money? How are we to play? How are we to create? What do we eat and drink? Should we play music, or paint?
In Scripture we find answers to these pressing questions. We are to be productive, work hard, rest on the Sabbath, full of love for each, honest in our dealings with our neighbor, creating beauty to honor the first Creator. We are to eat and drink and even feast, play music, rejoice, and be of good cheer. These are to be our inward beliefs and convictions and the world around us should eventually mirror these.
Nine O’Clock On a Friday
Steve and Kara Murphy write for Highlands and have a great podcast called HomeWise. They are a great example of what such Christian culture looks like in three dimensions. They have ten children whom they have raised to love and serve their Lord. They also have a home that they open every Friday night to their friends and neighbors. After providing food and drink and fellowship in their well manicured lawn with the babbling brook nearby, a bunch of their children, both younger and older break out their instruments and begin playing a mini concert of folk songs for all to enjoy. So unusual is this scene of joy and contentment, of happy children and grateful adults, that I have, on almost every occasion, seen people drawn in from the outside, but slowly at first like they are entering a strange world that might be a bit dangerous at 9:00 on a Friday night.
And it is because it has the power to change us. That is the power of the city set on a hill. We who inhabit that city are to build a culture that is dangerous to the miserable lives of our neighbors. They are to be drawn to our inward beliefs manifested outwardly. They are to smell the feast, hear the laughter, sense the joy and leave the City of Destruction for the Celestial City. Because there is good news inside. News of life and life eternal.
Have you and your family found ways to build a Christian culture in your own neighborhood? Tell us about it in the comments below.