The Merriam-Webster people, publishers of the English dictionary, have named the word “culture” as their 2014 word of the year.

The company based its pick on significant increases in searches from last year on Merriam-Webster.com, along with spikes of concentrated interest due to media attention where the word was used.

“Culture” might well be considered a prime candidate for the word of the year in the brotherhood as well, after a high-profile YouTube defense of women preachers used it to undermine the biblical prohibition. The video brings to a point the arguments made for decades that culture neuters biblical commandments.

If it belongs to culture, it means it’s not relevant for all times and places.

On the Fellowship Room website, Eugene A. recently posted about the “culture excuse.” In a short but pointed article, he wrote,

When it comes to doctrinal issues too plain to deny, a popular modern-day tactic used by false teachers both within and without the church is a dismissal based upon the reasoning that says the only reason something was said or done is because it was the “cultural thing” to do.

For these false teachers, culture makes any number of things like baptism a “matter of preference,” says Eugene.

So culture becomes the machete that hacks away at any biblical commandment that postmoderns don’t want to accept, cutting back all the undesirable elements inhibiting the progressives’ forward motion.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, noted that the word culture is a chameleon. It changes greatly in meaning when used with other words, like consumer culture or the culture of transparency.

In the church of God this chameleon reproduces wildly, as we see the growth of the culture of relativity, the culture of progressivism, and the culture of anti-patternism.

Culture is the easy cop-out for those who want to change truth and change its very nature.

Cultural diversity, as preached in social and political circles, means that no culture is superior to another, that all cultures are equally valid, that no one has answers or truth or insights that must be accepted by all.

When that philosophy comes into the church, it means that whatever the first-century church did was good and valid for them, as a part of their culture. And whatever we choose to do today, even if it is far different from what they did, is good and valid for us as well. They did what was appropriate for them, and we do what we think is appropriate for us. So the reasoning goes.

But those who reason in this way have to ignore the many cues that undergird biblical commandments and examples, in creation, in the person and teaching of Christ, in the apostolic precedence, in the whole cumulative history of the revelation and character of God.

Ah, but you see, even the apostles were men of their times. So when they appeal to creation to say that women can’t preach, they were as much tied to their culture as we are to ours. And there goes biblical inspiration down the tubes.

Such positions involve progressives in contradiction. They love to point out, for example, that the gospel is nothing more than the death, burial, resurrection of Christ, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15. Just those three big facts. That is core gospel, nothing else. That is real gospel truth you can take to the bank.

Except that they lift the passage out of its context and make this summary statement a superior one to all the others that appear in the New Testament. (And there are many others, with different points of emphasis!) Progressives ignore that the summary of 1 Corinthians 15 was tempered by Paul’s discussion of the resurrection, a most problematic subject among the Corinthians. Here he makes no mention of, say, the incarnation. So we can believe that Jesus was a mere man, not divine, and still be saved? The divinity of Jesus Christ is a non-issue?

In some progressive churches, Phil Sanders writes, Christ’s divinity is indeed a non-issue. Believe it! Because when culture becomes the word of the year, or the driving concept of the times, there is no stop sign for how far it can take a church.

Therefore, there can be no reconciliation between progressives and faithful saints who follow the New Testament model for our worship, walk, and work in Christ.

Missions studies emphasize the role of culture in evangelism. Carrying traditions from home can raise barriers to reaching people in other cultures. In our own work, American Christian visitors find many differences. We have a single meeting on Sundays. One of the congregations meets at 4 p.m., another at 7:30 p.m. One has a Bible class, the other doesn’t. In one I stand up to preach, in another I sit. In one, a man passes trays and the offering bag. In the other, people pass the trays from one person to another. In neither does anyone wear a coat or tie. These are expedient practices that do not contradict true Bible teaching.

But the doctrinal differences begin when women start dancing in the aisle during the Lord’s Supper as an act of praise, as occurred in one congregation here in our state. Or when the preacher starts using clerical garb, as one has done in the Dallas, Texas, area. The list of departures goes on and on.

The distinction between culture and gospel can present challenges at times. But, as Forthright Magazine columnist Christine Berglund noted from personal experience, even children see “that there [is] a pattern for the church;” they already recognize that the Bible presents a model to be followed that transcends time and culture.

Perhaps the adults ought to become more like the little children, for of such does the kingdom of God consist. Their humility will keep “culture” from becoming the word of the year in 2014 or any year hereafter.

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us

4 thoughts on “Culture named word of the year at Merriam-Webster. And in the brotherhood?

  1. The Bible is God’s word, right everybody? He is your, our, anyone’s Father right?
    Shouldn’t we DO, THINK, or SAY what He has told us through His Son Jesus Christ?
    O.K., O.K., maybe something is not as comfortable as anyone might like but we must
    remember He is Father…not me, you, anybody. Whenever we might be tempted to
    sing that Frank Sinatra song, with the words, “I Did It My Way”; we better not.
    If we are going to run the race we better do it His way.

  2. We tend to read the Bible like it was writen by some 21st century white guys living in America. Fact is, the Bible was wirtten in languages foreign to us, by a variety of men in different cultures, using different literary styles and using idioms that even scholars have trouble understanding. We can’t understand the Bible if we don’t understand the culture in which it was written. Paul quoted Greek playrights and poets (Titus 1:12), he used sports metaphors (II Tim 4:7), he used common idioms (I Cor 15:32), he wrote personal paranetic letters (II Tim), mandata principis letters (I Tim & Titus), personal leters (Phil), circular letters (Ephesians) and letters addressing specific problems in specific congregations (Corinthians and Thessalonians). If we take all of Paul’s writings as being of equal importance and applying to all people in all situations for all time we miss his message. We need to spend more time studying the culture of the Bible.

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