In the previous lesson we examined 10 examples of biblical practices that may have cultural aspects. In other words, before we analyze form and function, the extent to which we are to imitate practice in N.T. times may not be obvious. We suggested three questions that need to be asked in our examination. The third question is perhaps the most difficult: defending our rationale.

  • Which specific cultural practice is in view?
  • Are we obligated to follow a pattern? to preserve possibly cultural elements contained in the documents of the Bible?
  • Why or why not?

In this final podcast (25 minutes -- click below) we will consider a handful of guiding principles, with the aim that we may think biblically, respect Christian unity, and interpret scripture accurately.

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Guiding principles

  • Distinguish central matters from peripheral ones.
    • Unity (Ephesians 4:3) is based on adherence to the fundamentals (Ephesians 4:4-6). The farther away we move from the "center," the greater the likelihood of cultural relativity -- and the greater the difficulty of remaining unified.
    • Our strongest convictions should be on central matters; we ought to be less dogmatic on peripheral things.
    • We may note what is central by the emphasis the subject receives in scripture (1 Corinthians 15:29 v. 15:2-3.)
    • Jesus distinguished levels of importance (Matthew 22:36-39, 23:23).
  • Notice reversals within scripture. Biblical culture itself changes.
    • Focus on Jews over Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6, 28:19-20).
    • The shift from nomadic settlement to living in houses (Joshua 7:20, Deuteronomy 5:30 v.  Deuteronomy 11:20; 25:14). Note that the Torah has been "updated."
    • The number of the Mighty Men is significantly augmented (2 Samuel 23 v. 1 Chronicles 11).
    • O.T. Sabbath, no longer required (Exodus 16 v. Galatians 4:8-11; Colossians 2:16-17).
    • The abolition of circumcision (Genesis 17:13,30 v. 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 6:15).
    • Kosher laws (Leviticus 11 v. Hebrews 13:9).
  • Study history and theology, yet always give greatest weight to scripture. The early church were frequently overly strict. Their writings -- many produced 2-10 generations after the apostles -- often went beyond scripture.
    • Celibacy -- remarriage of the surviving spouse came to be discouraged (despite Romans 7:2; 1 Timothy 5:14).
    • Communion -- as early as 110 AD, celebration without an elder present was forbidden. Yet there is no indication of such a rule in Matthew 26, Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 11.
    • Monarchical episcopate (a single ruling elder amidst the body of elders) -- a move from a two-tiered ministry (Philippians 1:1; Acts 6:1-4) to a three-tired one (with deacons, elders, and bishops) -- on the way to a full-blown ecclesiastical hierarchy.
    • Priesthood -- by the 3rd century, elders were called "priests," as both Jewish and pagan thinking infiltrated the church (1 Peter 2:9-10).
    • A longing for martyrdom that contradicts Jesus' teaching (Matthew 10:23).
    • Patriarchy -- the second century church lapsed, after so much progress was made under Jesus, Paul, and others.
    • Clergy / laity -- ministry came to be viewed as the province of the cleric. Christianity increasingly became a spectator activity; the rise of monasticism in the 3rd and 4th centuries was in a sense a protest of the world(liness) within the church.
  • Distinguish between principles and applications (practicals).
    • 1 Peter 2 -- submission of slaves to masters. The early Christians supported the principles of humility, suffering for good reasons, and respect for authority. Yet slavery was neither condemned nor condoned.
    • 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 -- idol meat. Even if there is no idol meat section in your local supermarket, that doesn't mean the principle is without value. It is of immense value, once we distinguish the core principles at issue. In this case, we are to do nothing that might impede the gospel. Similarly, study Romans 14:1-15:13.

Thought questions

  • Do I have a simplistic view of culture? Can I see two sides of an issue, or is everything so "obvious" that I label those with different opinions stupid or unspiritual?
  • If I am in the business of enforcing rules, is my rationale consistent? How many of my church fellowship's rules are mere tradition?
  • Do I ignore the gray, preferring everything to be black or white? Am I biblically mature enough to distinguish practical and principle, form and function?
  • Am I overly fond of the traditions that evolved in the early church (e.g. in the 2nd-4th centuries)?
  • Do I speak and act in accord with the golden rule (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31)? Do I allow others the same freedom that I expect and enjoy?

Series conclusion
As a result of this series, my hope is that:

  • We may be more careful and sensitive interpreters of scripture.
  • We may be better at preserving the unity of the Spirit, respecting others who may hold differing views.