The concept of culture and Christianity has been a subject of debate in the intellectual and theological realms for a long time. In this study, the thoughts by the two scholars, Niebuhr and Yoder provide the basis in which to think about the relationship between culture and Christianity. Even though the two differ in some aspects concerning culture and Christianity, they notably believe that the differences in which Christians conceive their duty as well as understanding the concepts of good and evil are not contingent to the variety of cultural, psychological and sociological patterns manifested in their lives. The differences indeed are more linked to the Christian situation before God was determined by Christ’s sacrifice than the cultural, psychological and sociological backgrounds. Description of Christians understanding of right and wrong has been connected to different kinds of literature consulted in this study. Christians all over the world belong to certain kinds of culture that inform their life styles, but the ultimate understanding of their duty in spreading the gospel is not plausibly tied to their cultural origin, and that explains why various Christian practices are similar across different people. For example, the way the Catholics in Africa celebrate the Lord’s Supper is the same as those doing so in Rome, Italy.
In his book “Christ and Culture”, Niebuhr argues that culture has no definition of Christians’ way of life. Neither Christ nor Culture comes into focus of his explications. According to him, the understanding of culture is secularized and is not based on Christianity or any biblical teaching. He does not link the Christ with anything manly, and indeed, he defines him as the son of God. In his writing, he calls the believers to the attention of purity and maintains that that they should remain benevolently so to the non-believers too. Equally, he reminds the believers to respect the authority. Jesus also advised the same in his statement that what belongs to Caesar should be given to him, and that which belongs to God should remain so. Importantly, the world should be aware that as much as Caesar has the authority to receive what is his, God is the ultimate owner of everything. In other words, everything belongs to God. Essentially, culture must be understood, as it would be by a secular anthropologist, without having to incorporate theological interpretation
From these statements, one would want to know the kind of relationship that should exist between the church and the state, and whether they should interfere with one another. In responding to this concern, it is apparent that the church and the state exist in the same space and should have a cordial relationship. They govern the same set of people, even though one has a secular approach while the other uses the religious approach. For the church to thrive, it relies on the resources supplied by the state, and in this precept, they should not oppose one another. In regards to the laws and the policies that run the society, they both give a greater dignity and value to humanity as well as other creatures, hence the need to support one another. The only problem is when the state and its resources influence the activities of the church to the extent that the church loses its focus. Thinkers like Karl Marx faults the church for being more influenced by the people in authority, and as a result reminds the church of its forgotten task. He believes that the believers have been brainwashed and indoctrinated to think like children where they have faith in in the afterlife so much so that they do very little to better their lives here on earth. As a result, he calls Christianity an “Opium of the People”, a drug that they administer to themselves to withstand the unbearable horrible pains.
Yoder, on the other hand, argues against Reinhold Niebuhr thoughts, which he believes are not giving sufficient attention to Jesus’ nature, which thus fail to instill Christian ethics and morals. In his book, “Politics of Jesus,” a radical Christian pacifism is identified as the most reliable approach for the disciple of Christ. Yoder maintains that because Christianity is anchored on a political standpoint, Christians ought not to ignore that calling. He criticizes Niebuhr for having deviated from the fundamental reality and instead, advances Gnostic thoughts. To him, the biblical teaching should receive its high prominence. The concept of right or wrong is worth examining alongside the biblical teachings and nothing more. He adds that people with the greater obsession of culture miss the touch with the biblical reality, hence failing to keep the will of God.
Importantly, culture defines people in most spheres of life, but that should not exempt the oneness of God. They should overcome the cultural barriers and divisions that have sunk the world in different chaos. As much as enculturation would be allowed in the Christian practices, it should not be advanced to the extent veiling the primary objective of Christianity. The gospel is meant for the deliverance of humanity regardless of their cultural background, and that was even evident when Apostle Paul spread the gospel to the Gentile world right from its inception. Jesus sacrificed his life for the sake of humanity and stated that “it is finished,” and in saying so, he meant that it is finished for everyone hence nobody should consider himself or herself superior to the other. It worries when different denominations think that they possess the truth of the gospel more than others do. As a result, the gospel has been more of proselytization than redemption. The society should be guided by the moral sense that sees everybody as an entity of value, not an enemy to be destroyed. More outstandingly, Christians should be careful with the decisions they make and the actions they take to avoid. The scripture in (1Peter 2:16), reminds that members of the church should “Act as free men, and not use their freedom as a covering for evil, but as a bond slaves of God”. This implies that everyone is the same in the face of God and must remain so regardless of the cultural background.
Yoder prompts his readers that culture makes a person to think along superiority lines, which indeed has led the world in to different chaos. It remains evident from Christ’s sacrifice that Christians must demonstrate obedience to walk on the right path and do well even at the face of death. Christ offered himself as a sacrificial lamb to save humanity, and thus, the church should emulate his character and stand firm for what is good regardless of the circumstances. No believer should practice revenge, since God is against it. It is the duty of every believer to do good to every humanity because God wills well for every person. The Christian ethics teach humility and oneness, and as such, the society should be founded on the principle of goodwill and love, not on division. Just as Jesus taught his followers, love is a greater string that ties the society together by reminding them to love their neighbors as they love themselves. The principle of love is caring, embracing and adoring. A society united in one accord attracts peace and amity. Therefore, the understanding of communion should be placed in its right context, (common-union) and (common-unity).
The worldview plays a greater role to inform the people’s understanding of everything around them. It is important though to note that the power of God is greater than that of man. The understanding of God’s purpose for humanity is not limited to believers alone, but to non-believers too. As a result, the believers should remain good ambassadors for the world to have a taste of the good news. The Bible reminds the church to tame their steps since the world would judge them with their deeds. This implies that every Christian should behave in a way that attracts the world to the gospel.
In conclusion, the gospel belongs to every person regardless of his or her cultural background. God created everyone in his image and likeness, which means that every person is important to Him. The society should not be divided along the cultural lines since doing so impedes the society from realizing its true value. Jesus died on the cross for the sake of humanity, and indeed, he remains an icon of peace for everyone. Everybody has an obligation of seeing one another as an entity of support, not an enemy to destroy. The church and the state should work together yes, but should not use their influence to oppress the masses. People are called to the kingdom of God, not as better than any other is, but because they belong there. The world deserves peace, which is found in one body of Christ. This should remain at the center of every gospel message so that diversity of culture is not viewed as a reality for division. In fact, diversity is a recipe for support for one another, and so the gospel.
- Bible, King James Version. “Bible Gateway.” Accessed July 10 (2014).
- Dever, John P., and Glen H. Stassen. “Transformational faith: a concrete discipleship ethic for growing churches.” Review & Expositor 92, no. 4 (1995): 471-487.
- Marx, Karl. “Religion, the opium of the people.” The world treasury of modern religious thought (1990): 79-91.
- Niebuhr, Helmut Richard. Christ and culture. New York: Harper & Row, 1956.
- Yoder, John Howard. The politics of Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994.