Do you ever wonder about the source of many of our Christmas traditions? In a recent blog from Bible Study Tools, the author unpacks some of the practices that we casually accept as being part of our Christmas observance.
One thing that may surprise some Christians is that two pagan festivals honoring the sun were also celebrated on December 25. It is possible that December 25 was chosen to counteract these pagan influences.
The author writes, “To this day some people feel uncomfortable with Christmas because they think it is somehow tainted by the pagan festivals held on that day. But Christians have long believed that the gospel not only transcends culture, it also transforms it.”
Culture is all around us. We are inheritors of a rich mix of ideas, relationships, practices, and taboos which we usually accept without question; however, we are not captives of culture. We can learn to exegete our culture rather than simply attack it or succumb to it. In fact, with Christmas as a case in point, Christians can use culture to communicate the gospel more effectively. So how should Christians relate to culture?
First, how can we use our culture to share the Gospel? The first step in communicating the Gospel in a culture is to know the language and provide the Bible in the language of that culture. This is the only way we can express the biblical message to people who are immersed in a particular culture. The Bibles we read today are not written in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or Latin. They are written in English and many are provided in contemporary, colloquial English. We can also look to literature, media, and current events to illustrate timeless Christian truths and inform the way that we present the Gospel.
Second, what cultural expressions conflict with our deeply held theological beliefs? In many ways, Christianity is going to be counter-cultural. When we take a stand for personal responsibility, human rights, and social justice, we may very well find ourselves in conflict with prevailing social norms. When we complain about misplaced priorities and wish that things were like they were in the “good old days,” we are probably dealing with trends, expectations, and lifestyle choices rather than crucial core beliefs. Although we may not like youth athletic competitions on Sunday, these are not going to destroy the church. These trends challenge us to be more creative in reaching families and children. We must be discerning in what we accept and what we condemn.
Third, how can we as believers transform culture? There are times when our beliefs are in direct conflict with the culture. In those situations, Christians join together to take a stand. Although widely accepted in the world well into the 19thcentury (and defended by many Christians in the southern United States), slavery was counter to Gospel teaching and needed to end. Christians in Great Britain and the United States took the lead in condemning the practice, despite the consequences. In reality, this work is not over, and human slavery continues even at our doorstep.
As Christians, we are called to use, critique, and transform the cultures in which we live. This is Kingdom work, but it is not easy.