Every culture has its own customs and beliefs which govern major events such as death, birth, marriage, festivals and more. Many believers fear the loss of their cultural identity if they break with cultural tradition. Church leaders and cross-cultural workers often need to help the people they serve evaluate cultural practices and make godly choices.
The Culture Meets Scripture (CMS) workshop helps believers uncover a culture’s assumptions and beliefs, and equips them to make godly choices when cultural practices clash with Scripture. Participants learn ways to explore the root reasons for a culture’s practices, and then examine them through the lens of Scripture.
Three WBTS members attended a CMS workshop in Klang in July 2017. The workshop was conducted by Joanne Shetler, who was a Bible translator of the Balangao New Testament (Philippines) and is now a Scripture Engagement (SE) Consultant, and Amy West, who has a background in intercultural studies and anthropology, and is a Senior SE Consultant.
From L-R: Amy West, Jo Tan, Sally Ong, Joanne Shetler
The presenters used the illustration of a yam plant: in any cultural practice, the observed actions are only a small part, like the above-ground parts of a yam plant. Unseen are the underlying purposes, beliefs, assumptions, values, fears, needs, etc., which are like the swollen tubers buried in the soil. The presenters introduced techniques which can be used to examine any cultural practice in order to understand it better and transform it in a way that honours God. In some cases, however, a believer might have to reject a cultural practice if it is in contradiction to God’s Word.
Joanne Shetler told a story from her time in Balangao, showing how it can be necessary to break away from a cultural tradition: There was a pastor whose son was beaten up by a youth from a neighbouring village. In that culture, a failure to take revenge was considered shameful. However, when the pastor met the youths at the police station, he broke with his culture by refusing to demand vengeance (which the Scripture teaches is God’s prerogative), but forgave the youths and preached to them instead. The father of one of the youths was so taken by this that he invited the pastor to his house for a meal, and over the meal, the pastor was able to share the gospel.
A wonderful example of the impact of Scripture on a culture!