Summary: How can we infiltrate our culture without letting it’s values infiltrate us? Daniel and his friends faced this issue...
One of the questions thoughtful Christians often ask when we’re trying to live incarnationally – putting flesh on the gospel – is how far should we go in accommodating ourselves to our culture? What’s OK for a Christian to do and what’s not when we’re trying to reach people where we are?
For example, should Christians watch movies? I imagine most here wouldn’t have a problem with going to the flicks, but some people would argue that we shouldn’t because Paul says we’re to meditate on what ever’s good and pleasing and noble and so on, and movies generally aren’t. And let’s face it, most of what goes through the cinemas isn’t very edifying, is it? The early Christians generally considered the theatre inappropriate. Yet other people believe it’s vital we stay in touch with our culture.
Is it OK to night clubbing? I bet a lot of you are screaming to do that! It’s not that
dancing is wrong, but there’s probably a lot in the clubbing culture – especially excessive drinking, drugs and sex - that’s not very healthy. But some people would argue that’s the best place to be to reach some people with the gospel.
What about the Eastern martial arts – karate, tai kwon do, Judo and so on? I did some research into martial arts when I was considering taking up karate some years ago and was surprised how deeply embedded Eastern religion and spirituality is in the martial arts. In fact, some non-Christians believe spirituality and the martial arts are so intrinsically connected that they can’t understand how Christians can accept them. Certainly the Lord forbade me from doing it. But others use martial arts to preach the gospel.
Even our sexuality is up for question nowadays. I’ve heard of some Christians saying it’s OK if they sleep with their girlfriend or boyfriend, they’re friends are sleeping with multiple partners and they only have one... presumably at a time. Yet the Bible is quite clear that we are to keep these things for marriage.
Sports on Sunday – not that one day is more important than another, Paul tells us, but when we choose sport over worship, what is that telling others about our priorities?
Appropriately modest clothing...
The list goes on and on. And the lines in the sand are quickly moved, especially in a society that’s constantly changing like ours.
Four guys in the Bible were faced with this very question. So let’s turn to Daniel 1.
Read Daniel 1.1-21
The captivity in Babylon raised all kinds of issues for the Jews. Their entire religious life revolved around the land of Israel. Now they’ve lost their land and their temple and they have to figure out what these laws and Scriptures mean in a new context.
THE ROYAL COLLEGE
These four young men, who evidently were nobles or princes and very gifted, were presented with this huge opportunity to study at a college to prepare them for service in the government. Although a brutal conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar had quite an enlightened approach to recruiting the best and brightest from across his empire.
But from a spiritual point of view, there’s a catch. Learning the language of Babylon was one thing, but learning the literature would have meant a heavy dose of astrology and the divination and the like, as well the history and philosophy of the Babylonians. These kinds of things were forbidden for Jews, as they are for Christians.
But they still go for it!
What do we do with that! What would you do?
I guess studying this stuff isn’t the same as buying into it. As you read on in Daniel you see a lot of the first part is about the conflict between Babylon and God. Daniel constantly relies on God’s wisdom, he prays to God in the face of certain death, and ultimately outwits Babylon’s best and brightest. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego face the furnace rather than bowing down to the King and are miraculously and spectacularly delivered. The King is humiliated and ends up acknowledging that God is the true King.
I think we need to be clear about the decisions we make in these situations. Daniel’s decision moved him into a position of great influence that he could not have had otherwise. It was the only way to get that kind of education. And God preserved him in it for his purposes.
Perhaps it’s a question of motivation - why do we seek or take the opportunities we’re after? Is it for our benefit, to get ahead, make money to enjoy for ourselves, more prestige or whatever? Or is it motivated by a desire to glorify God and see the gospel infiltrate and transform every part of society.
In 1Cor 9.22-23 the apostle Paul writes, "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."