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Repudiate Unjust Culture

Like Jesus did.

Engaging Culture (1)

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Matthew 21.12, 13

A lesson about engaging culture
The story of Jesus driving the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple has an air of comic relief to it.

Can’t you just see those men, ducking the blows from Jesus’ whip as they grab for money and merchandise, while the crowd looks on, shocked, but probably amused?

Jesus had come to the very heart of Jewish life and culture—the temple. There He expected to take up the purposes of God, to seek Him in prayer and to make Him known through teaching. Instead, He encountered this unlawful trafficking in goods and services, within the temple precincts, and it made Him furious.

In this episode Jesus provides an important lesson for us, His followers, in thinking about how we should engage culture. Culture, we recall, consists of artifacts, institutions, and conventions which we use to define, sustain, and enrich our lives. Culture includes everything from language to fashion and entertainment, tools and technologies, public policies and the laws of the land, and much more. Culture can be very good, especially culture which glorifies God and enables us to love Him and our neighbors more consistently. By His common grace, God Himself has given human beings the gifts and resources for making culture. He obviously has an interest in culture and how it should be used. And He expects us to use culture in ways that will honor Him and benefit our fellow human beings.

The moneychangers and other merchants in the temple were neither honoring God nor loving their neighbors. They were using the gifts of culture God had graciously provided to take advantage of people, disregarding God’s purpose for His temple by turning it into a profit-making venture as they preyed on those who had come from far away to make an offering to the Lord.

Jesus observed that this practice, this use of culture, was contrary to God’s purpose, and, in dramatic fashion, He made known His displeasure in a most public way. Jesus aggressively repudiated this unjust and dishonoring use of culture.

When culture is bad
From this we learn that sometimes proper Christian engagement with culture involves repudiating culture that honors neither God nor men. And there is always plenty of such culture around.

Jesus didn’t just avoid the moneychangers’ booths and the merchants’ stalls. He overturned them and drove them out, taking the risk that He might incur the wrath of the crowd or the powers-that-be. But everyone seems to have understood that what these merchants were doing was improper, and no one moved to make Jesus pay for His action.

Sometimes culture is so bad, so dishonoring to God and hurtful to our neighbors, that believers must repudiate the use of it, over and over again, if necessary (we recall that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, cf. Jn. 2). To fail openly to repudiate unjust, corrupt, and even hurtful culture is to offer silent endorsement of it and leave our world unclear about standards for wholesome culture.

Christians should repudiate all forms of culture which deliberately violate the Law of God, or which take advantage of neighbors or encourage them to break God’s Law.

Here a wide range of cultural artifacts and practices come to mind. Christians should absolutely repudiate such obvious evils as abortion, pornography, drug dealing and abuse, political corruption, practices or laws that allow the exploitation of workers, women, immigrants, students, or the poor, and all practices that in any way encourage breaking God’s Law, including keeping the Lord’s Day.

But other, less obviously wicked practices should also be rejected and condemned by Christians, such as incivility, gossiping, slip-shod work practices, taking advantage of others, reckless driving, bullying, greed and selfishness, and many more. It’s not enough that believers merely avoid such practices; we must speak out against and repudiate them publicly.

A public effort
Repudiating corrupt or unlawful forms of culture involves more than simply not making use of it. We must argue publicly against such practices, pursue lawful actions to curtail or forbid them, rebuke or punish those who pursue such practices, and make very sure that no such cultural forms or practices are tolerated in our own lives or communities. We must begin with ourselves and our Christian community. Wherever any use of culture exists that fails the test of loving God and our neighbors, we should openly repudiate the use of such culture. Whatever we do, including all our use of culture, must be for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10.31).

Repudiating culture can be as simple and quotidian as the conversations we have with friends or co-workers. Or it can be more formal, such as holding a series of discussions about culture or teaching a class. We should also use available media to expose, denounce, and warn against unjust and harmful culture. When the people in Ephesus first began to believe the Gospel, they decided that a great public repudiation of wicked culture was in order, so they gathered and burned their occultic books for all the city to see. The effect of this public repudiation was “the Word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19.19, 20).

As we see from the example of our Lord Jesus, it is part of the Christian’s culture-making calling to expose and expunge whatever unwholesome uses of culture are within our reach. Engaging culture so that we honor God and love our neighbors begins with repudiating all cultural forms and practices that violate the standards God has set for making and using culture.

For reflection
1. “Christians should repudiate all forms of culture which deliberately violate the Law of God or which take advantage of neighbors or encourage them to break God’s Law.” Do you agree with this? What would this require on your part?

2. What are the consequences when Christians refuse to repudiate culture that does not honor God and hurts others?

3. What are some of the risks involved in working to repudiate ungodly cultural forms and practices? How can believers help one another in facing these risks?

Next steps—Transformation:  As in all our engagement with culture, repudiating corrupt and harmful cultural practices must begin at home. Spend some time in prayer, surveying your use of culture. Are there any aspects of your cultural life which you need to repudiate? Do so at once.

T. M. Moore

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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