Volume. XXI, No. 1
From the pastorís heart: Cultural Mandate Ė Itís Understanding
Though Christians have used the phrase, “cultural mandate,” for a long time, many of them do not have any clear idea about its meaning. What do Christians have to do with culture? What does it mean that Christians have a cultural mandate? In order to understand this phrase, there are a couple of things we need to do. First, we need to understand the meanings of two words, “culture,” and “mandate.” The word, “culture,” came from the Latin colo, -ere, with its root meaning “to cultivate.” Noah Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary defines “culture” as an “act of tilling and preparing the earth for crops; cultivation; the application of labour or other means of improvement.” It is also related to “an application of labour or other means in producing.” It also refers to “any labour or means employed for improvement, correction or growth.” “Mandate” means “a command, order, or a commission.” Today, the meaning of culture is a bit different from Noah Webster’s definition, though there is the same undercurrent emphasis of the word. Mostly, culture means in today’s milieu “a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artefacts that the members of society use and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.” It is also true that culture “generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance.” Despite these different significances, one common implication is that culture is something which needs to be cultivated, and it affects everybody in society.
With meanings and definitions alone, we cannot see the reasons why we have to study about cultural mandate. We need to see the extent and implications of culture and its influence on our societies. Culture always has been with us. However, it is worth noting that cultural studies in the last century have developed through the articulation of sociology, which is the study of society and human social action. Sociology is a part of social sciences including economics, political science, anthropology, history, and psychology. As we can see through all these webs and weaves, culture is related to every act of man and woman, and their societies. It includes the formation of government to the consumption of goods such as fashion, art, entertainment, and literature. It is also true that religion and other belief systems are often integral to a culture. Then, we can explain anything that happens in human society in terms of culture. That’s why culture has been understood to have four crucial elements: (1) values, (2) norms, (3) institutions, and (4) artifacts. The fact that culture has values indicates that it comprises ideas. It implies that culture influences the human mind. Culture is philosophical. We must be reminded that religion and beliefs have been classified as a part of culture. Therefore, it is important for us to know in what sort of culture we are living. Culture affects our mind. Therefore, if a man does not guard his mind from un-Christian or anti-Christian culture, he puts himself in spiritual danger. Culture also sets the norms. Norms consist of expectations of how people will behave in various situations.
Traditionally, evangelical theology has identified a three-fold mandate given to man at the very dawn of history such as (1) the Sabbath ordinance, which was designed to regulate man’s week after the pattern of creation itself, (2) the marriage ordinance, patterned after the nature of God, and (3) man’s cultural mandate, summarised in the first great commission: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” I do not feel any necessity to talk about the first two mandates because they are frequently talked about. Man is to use his dominion over the environment sensibly and wisely. He must harness all its resources and potential for the common good. He is expected to use God’s creation for His glory. From this mandate, all scientific enquiry and philosophy derives. Culture is a part of this mandate. Man is mandated to be responsible for developing the intellectual and aesthetic mores of our society.
Yet the believers of Christ have hampered these very pursuits. Churches have failed to develop and lead culture of the day. Instead, churches are bombarded and invaded by cultures of the world. As the children of Seth were influenced by the children of Cain, so too are Christians being led by secular and worldly culture. Though I cannot agree with Richard Niebuhr on his theology, I must say that he was wise when he explored on the topic of culture in his book, Christianity and Culture. He identified five possible relationships between Christianity and world culture: (1) Christ against culture - the church disengage herself from the world on the grounds of its thorough-going rebellion against God, (2) Christ of culture – the church is between Christian doctrine and cultural achievement, (3) Christ above culture - the church must play an important role to see any cultural achievement, (4) Christ transforming culture - everything needs to be converted to Christ, and (5) Christ and culture in paradox – there is a tension between the church and the world around it. We have to constantly think about our position in relation to culture and Christ. Culture is like fluid. It, by predisposition, both embraces and resists change. Cultural change can come about due to the environment, from inventions, and from contact with other cultures. Jared Diamond wrote a book, Guns, Germs and Steel in which he demonstrated how guns, germs and steel had changed the culture in human history. It is only an example that culture can be changed. At the same time, certain ideologies and philosophies may resist to change, or may not.
The same cultural mandate binds Christians today. We marry and bear children. We plant crops, build cities, form governments, and create works of art. Everything must be used to bring forth Christian culture because everything was made by Christ and for Him. This cultural mandate does not allow Christians to be content with their status quo. They must continue to strive to mould, formulate and promote Christian values, morals, philosophy, worldview, and policies. Christians should not be happy with good churches alone. They must go further to make positive impacts on their societies through Christian culture. They must not allow worldly culture including values, music, ways of life, or morality to hijack Christian culture. If we look at the issues confusing Christians today, it is not too hard to see the havocs made in churches already by the world A few examples are gay marriage, gay ordination, abortion, divorce, human cloning attempts, worldly music, and all kinds of liberal ideas. The Lord tells us to exercise godly dominion over all things without exception. This cultural mandate is also clearly shown in Christ’s words that we must be the salt and light of the world. Instead of letting the world change us, we ought to change the world. However, it is not given for free, we must earn it by hard work and prayer. Let us be conquerors over the culture in the world rather than losers. May the Lord give us strength to build up our Christian culture in us and to give it away to the world!