Community and Culture

Recently, I have become aware of a driving force in my life. It has almost single-handedly pulled me out of apathy, which (I hate to say) is quite a feat. Myself and those around me made a few commitments, but I feel that I was acted upon, not that I chose this. This powerful force I am referring to is culture.

The most pertinent dictionary entry I can find is: “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” Culture is only borne from a social group, or what I call a community of individuals. Every individual is part of a culture, because every person has a “normal” among people they know- they are accustomed to certain habits of social interaction. This shows primarily in the family and secondarily among friends. (Obviously, there are those who, for whatever reason, are not acquainted with their biological family. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have a community in their lives- people that are like family to them.)

The power of culture affects both those inside the community and those outside of it- those who are in other communities and are part of other cultures. A firmly established culture keeps those in that community “true” to those particular attitudes and behaviors. For example, when a typically phlegmatic member of an unemotional family has an emotional outburst, there is considerable pressure placed on that person to conform to the culture of that family. We have all seen this before. In a different way, when an outsider enters a community with a different culture, there is pressure placed on them to conform to that culture. And it could nearly be impossible for the individual to retain their culture and force the community to change- this is the inherent strength of communities. These clashes of culture are not unlike silent wars.

This inherent strength of culture exerts itself in positive and negative ways. We can become weighted down by an oppressive culture present in a community we find ourselves in. “…Bad company corrupts good morals…” the apostle says. We have seen over and over again the insecure christian teenager get in with the wrong crowd of friends and they change for the worse. They didn’t join the friend circle because they wanted to do drugs or sleep around, but over time, the culture of the group was too strong and they were overcome with it.

On the other hand, Jesus established an honorable culture among his disciples. We should not skip over the fact that Jesus called his disciples his friends. As the divine son of God in a world of mortals, one might assume that he would keep a distance from other people. But Jesus had a community of people around him that he spent a lot of time with, and there was a culture that formed from this community that remained even after Jesus left. We see in Acts 4:13 that the rulers, elders, and scribes- the leaders of the church in Jerusalem- noticed this culture. “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Peter and John had a confidence at this time that was unnatural, considering their background as uneducated and untrained men. Where did this confidence come from? We see in the second part of the verse, that the leaders recognized them as having been with Jesus. Been with Jesus. The priests do not conclude that doctrinal adherence resulted in Peter’s and John’s confidence to speak boldly, but they recognize that the disciples’ confidence formed out of the fiery furnace of being in the presence of God- literally living in community with Jesus. The culture of the Kingdom of God had rubbed off on them and their attitudes and behavior were changed in the process. We do not have the luxury of physical communion with God, but we have the Holy Spirit and we have the Body of believers. The key for us is to build community with those who are pursuing the Lord whole-heartedly.

The last point that I will make is that a culture, despite being wholly derived from individuals, is nevertheless separate from those individuals. It is outside of the community because the community, though being unified along certain attitudes and behavior, is ultimately a conglomerate– there are differences among the individuals. The sum of the attitudes and behavior of the community is not, therefore, synonymous with the attitudes and behavior that define the culture of that community. This is how a Godly culture is able to “call up” those who are in it. The attitudes and behavior that are most valued in the group are Godly attitudes and Godly behavior. So when an individual does not esteem righteousness in one area like they should- the culture of that community (through the individuals) continues placing due value on that area of righteousness and the individual is encouraged to do the same.

I cannot over-emphasize the fact that our personal walk with God must be firm in order for us to give to and receive from the community. As we invest our time and energy in this community, we reap the benefits of Kingdom culture infecting our lives. As we grow closer to God, we share revelation of his character with those around us and they are benefited. Likewise, we benefit from their revelation and thus begins a sanctifying cycle of both encouragement and correction. So let’s seek after others who are pursuing God whole-heartedly. Let’s develop strong relational bonds within this community. And let’s pray that the Holy Spirit creates among us a culture that esteems the values of the Kingdom.

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