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The Corruption of Culture

The result of sin.

Getting Around in Culture (2) 

And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son – Enoch. Genesis 4.17

Something culturally wrong
Human beings are made for culture. We take to it like ducks to water. We see this from the opening pages of human history as this is presented in the Bible.

How does culture, which is a gift of God to humankind, come to be of such a nature that Christians must repudiate and be done with it? What makes some culture so bad that we must wash our hands of it? That certain aspects or facets of culture become corrupt, or are created corrupt, no Christian will deny. But why does this happen?

Here is a religious ceremony, there brothers converse among their cultivated fields, a city is founded, tools and music and animal husbandry appear, a poem with a catchy rhythm pops into the mind of its composer and is recited to his wives.

The gifts of God for making culture were already beginning to appear among the earliest human beings. But there was something very desperately wrong with this picture. Something all out of line with God’s purpose in giving the gifts of culture to people.

Cain and his descendants were making and using culture in ways other than what God intended. Cain’s offering of a sacrifice to God appears to have been either a self-serving or merely perfunctory act, for that cultural activity was rejected by God. His conversation with his brother, which on previous occasions may have been about who would do which work among the crops on that day, was on this day constructed as a ruse to lure Abel out into the field, that Cain might kill him, perhaps with one of the implements made for the cultivation of the fields. A city was built, but it bore a man’s name, to honor him, not God. Industry and agribusiness appear, but solely for advancing the wealth and power of a particular family, one of whom, puffed up with his cultural achievements, killed at least one man for slighting him in some way, then wrote a poem about his deed and recited it to his wives, as a boast and a warning.

Culture off the tracks
Shortly after the fall into sin, culture went off the tracks. Human beings were engaging in all manner of cultural activities, and a good deal of what they were doing appears to have nothing to do with honoring God and carrying out His true, good, and beautiful purposes on earth. God’s gifts of culture-making were obviously at work here, but their use had become corrupted by mankind’s rebellion against Him.

Following the fall into sin, culture quickly became a means for gaining advantage over others, building strong tribal and national identities, and suppressing or enslaving those whose cultural achievements did not match up. Every imagination of the thoughts of men’s hearts, being only evil continually, was bent on making and using culture in merely self-indulgent ways, and this, as we know, ultimately provoked the judgment of God in the form of the flood against men and their corrupt cultures.

The entrance of sin into the experience of humankind could not but affect their culture. When people became a law unto themselves, they projected those self-serving ways on every aspect of their lives. They considered that culture was a tool for defining, sustaining, and enhancing themselves at everybody else’s expense, or, at least, without much regard for the needs or interests of others.

It was every man for himself in those early days of culture-making, and this is a condition which, because of the persistence of sin in the human situation, we continue to experience even to this day.

When culture becomes corrupt
Culture becomes corrupt when it is employed according to the whims and passions of men rather than the purposes and standards of God. We hardly need to argue that much of contemporary culture falls into this category. Not only are the will and ways of God ignored and flouted, but many aspects of contemporary culture are in all-out rebellion against God and His rule.

This situation demonstrates the power of sin to corrupt culture, so that it becomes, in many ways, a vehicle for lies, a source of evil, and a cause of ugliness of various kinds. When culture falls into this sorry state, it is the duty of those who perceive this condition to do whatever they can to repudiate and redress it. Christians are the salt, light, and leaven of the world; it is our duty to take every thought, and all of culture, captive for obedience to Jesus Christ, to redeem culture from the destructive powers of sin and rebellion, so that it can be renewed for the purposes of God and His glory.

If our approach to corrupt culture and those who indulge it is merely to condemn, we have failed in our calling from the Lord. He has called us to His Kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2.12) that we might learn righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit for every aspect of our lives (Rom. 14.17, 18). And He has sent us to the world for the purpose of spreading His grace and Good News, making disciples, building His Church, and advancing His rule on earth as it is in heaven.

Culture of many kinds will play a large role in our mission, so we must work to rid our cultural practices of every taint of ungodliness and all corruption of sin. Then we can redirect the culture of our lives, transform and innovate in culture so that, by the ways we make and use culture, the goodness of the Lord can come to light in the land of the living (Ps. 27.13).

Culture can be a transmitter of sinful living, and to the extent that it is, Christians will work to appropriate and renew culture so that by culture we may fulfill our calling to glorify God in all things. This is what we see happening in the Word of God, and this is what we must seek to realize in His world. As we get around in the culture of our lives, we must think with the mind of Christ that we might serve the cause of His Kingdom and glory in whatever we do.

For reflection
1. What would you look for as indicators that a culture was becoming corrupt?

2. How can you see that corruption tends to spread throughout a culture, and does not merely stay in the arena where it first made entry into a culture? Can you give an example?

3. Given the way sin can corrupt culture, why is it important that Christians be involved both in seeking to redeem culture and in winning others to Jesus Christ?

Next steps—Transformation: What is one aspect of corrupt culture that is within the reach of your active will? What will you do today to begin redeeming that culture for the Lord and His glory?

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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