“What is a uniquely Christian approach to changing culture?” The answer is found in looking at Jesus! As we will see, he created a new culture, a culture in which people flourished. Jesus’ new culture had it’s roots long before he became a human.
In fact, this new culture started with a family. To a husband and wife, the aged and childless Abram and Sarai, God promises an heir that would lead their family to multiply into a large family. Thus God says that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you,” (Genesis 12:3). What a picture of flourishing, and for the whole world!
Some 400 years later, to Israel’s leader Moses (Exodus 6:2-8), God gave a unique Law Code to help the nation that had grown out of Abraham’s family fulfill the promise of human flourishing.
What God taught Moses and the nation of Israel was that they were to be different from the nations around them. Many times, God tells them that they are set apart to be his chosen people, and thus they are not to live in the manner of other cultures. God establishes and guides the creation of their new culture through the Law that he gives the nation of Israel.
The foundation of the Law is found in Deuteronomy 6 where we read God asking the people of Israel to love him with their total being. The new culture of God was vastly different from the religions of other cultures of that day, because the people of Israel and their God would be in close relationship. It was a covenant, a treaty, an agreement of love between the two parties, like nothing the world had ever seen.
The people of Israel were to be a community that lived out the purpose of human flourishing. As they migrated to and took possession of the Promised Land of Canaan, Israel was surrounded by people groups who had cultures that were not in line with the phrase “human flourishing”.
Thus the Lord instructs Israel in Deuteronomy 12:4 and 31, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way.” Israel’s practice of religion was to be vastly different from that of the surrounding nations.
One example of this was the Canaanite practice of human sacrifice. God guided Israel to create a new religion that abolished the sacrificing of human life (Deut. 18:10). Another example is that God gave Israel strict regulations on what was clean versus unclean food (Deut. 14). Also, God taught the people how to practice cleanliness. All so that they would flourish.
Next Israel was to create a culture marked by justice. That meant the eradication of any practice based on a philosophy of “might makes right.” In Deuteronomy 10:17-19, for example, Israel is to actively remember their own experience of injustice when they were oppressed as enslaved foreigners for over 400 years in Egypt. That terrible era in their history, the Lord says, should cause them to create a culture free of oppression, and instead create a culture noted for justice, especially to the marginalized.
He specifically mentions that they are to take up “the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and love the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” This new culture is exemplified by the heart of the Lord himself, who embodies justice, which he illustrates by saying that, “he shows no partiality and takes no bribes.”
Israel was a community of faith, creating a new culture of human flourishing. In establishing an entirely new culture based in the justice of the Lord himself, Israel became a beacon for the cultures around it. Israel’s new culture was designed to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, that his family would be a blessing to the whole world. In this new culture, this new way of doing life, God’s desire was his people who know his love, and live with such flourishing that all the peoples of the world would experience the blessing of flourishing as well.
As biblical history progressed, however, Israel would fail to live up to the Lord’s ideals. The prophets of Israel began to point to a new hope, a coming savior who would restore Israel to the kind of culture where humanity would flourish. So we cross over into the New Testament, which describes how the earliest Christians found that messianic hope in Jesus Christ, a hope that a new culture based in him was available for the flourishing of all.
Jesus described the creation of that culture using the image of the Kingdom of God as the ultimate destiny of all human cultures. While God’s Kingdom had not yet been fully consummated, Jesus preached that in him the Kingdom was near (Mark 1:14) and through him the Kingdom was working its way surprisingly and mysteriously into the world.
It is Jesus’ teaching on prayer, what we now refer to as The Lord’s Prayer, that perhaps gives us the best understanding of what kind of culture Christian communities should create for human flourishing. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father that his Kingdom would come, that his will would be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This new culture being ushered onto and through the earth, as Jesus envisioned it, was marked by humans doing the will of God. As the will of God is perfectly obeyed in heaven, so it will be in the new culture, in the way we go about our everyday lives. Jesus himself was a living, breathing example of how to live out that new Kingdom culture on earth, and furthermore, he shaped a new community that would demonstrate his new way of doing life to the rest of the world, inviting everyone to join them in the flourishing.
Like the Law of Israel, Jesus’ teaching was rich in justice, flowing from love for God and others. Once when asked what the greatest command of the Law was (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus quoted the passage I mentioned in the previous post on which many churches base their mission statements, a passage from Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” after which he noted that the second greatest command is “Love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18.
He would further demonstrate this love through his own ministry of healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed and providing food for the hungry. Then Jesus called his followers to do the same. In Matthew 25:31-46, in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, he goes so far as to say that when his followers minister to the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and the prisoner, they are ministering to him. If they do not minister to those in need, they are neglecting him. So much did Jesus want his followers to create culture for human flourishing that he embedded himself in identity with those in need.
Jesus grounded this new theology of togetherness in love when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35). The new culture of the Kingdom of God would pursue human flourishing because it would be marked by love for one another, for the least of these among us, as that is the kind of love Jesus himself gave to us. This is how we will change what we see going on in our world. Jesus gave us the blueprint.
Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash
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