[O]ne must include in culture, and as fundamental to any culture, a set of beliefs, experiences, and practices that seek to grasp and express the ultimate nature of things, that which give shape and meaning to life, that which claims final loyalty.
A culture, especially formed from the absolute truth of God in Scripture, knows the necessity of preserving itself for posterity. The nature of God revealed through His creation and Words do not change in meaning. In the sights and sounds and sentences, we apprehend the message God expects men to inculcate into their lives and their descendants. This culture has used biblical criteria to shape its convictions and their communication. It has restrained its symbols to those manifested by God's revelation and reflective of the transcendent character of God.
Not any symbol or meaning or value will satisfy a culture regulated by a Divine standard. The Apostle Paul wrote under inspiration in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
A culture which responds to the purposes of God must respect and obey the imperatives that God gives. If God commands men to think on certain things, then those things can be comprehended. Therefore, men can and should know what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. If God is expecting men to think on what is lovely, then men can know what lovely is. In other words, loveliness is not subjective, but objective.
Once those symbols and values have been discerned, they shouldn't be changed. At best and at worst, they should be honed to demonstrate even more the resplendent nature of God. A God-honoring people will be careful and circumspect to protect what is right and best. They will do this by rejecting other cultures with a set of different symbols that communicate different values. By the character of God, this culture is superior to others and should be judged as such. As the greater it should reject the lesser.
God gave a culture to Old Testament Israel that He expected her to preserve for proceeding generations. He gave her a means by which to convey and protect it. As a nation, Israel was to contrast with those around her. She was their example. Her way was right, because it was God's way. The differences between Israel's culture and the others were found all the way down to the clothes that she wore, keeping the distinctions between her and them. God expects the same distinctiveness from the church and from the nation who would love Him.
Fleshed out in history, we should pay close attention to the culture in history at the juncture of its subservience to the Bible. This points to the reformation in Germany and England and their music, art, and literature. The Spirit of God wasn't silent in these periods. He was working through men with spiritual capacity to discern what is true and good and beautiful. Even cultural neutralists use these periods as a standard to judge excellence in music, art, and literature. With further analysis, we see the poetry of this culture to mirror in style and often substance that of David in his psalms.
The culture transformed by biblical thinking was changed through subtle steps of cultural syncretism reminiscent of Israel's compromise with the Canaanites. The Philistines and others came with their own symbols deep in meaning. Association with and then acceptance of a different culture formed a new one without the distinctions God required. As we trace the histories of Germany, England, and the United States we witness the same trends in acceptance of new cultures.
A new way of life was not immediately accepted. The old culture eroded. New cultures with different values than the old synthesized with the old to form a new. The process started over. With toleration as the chief ethic, new cultures were allowed and then welcomed. Judgment was reproved. The cultural diffusion violated the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. God was no longer represented. Ways not reflective of Him were indulged and then propagated.
What has become unacceptable is criticism, except of intolerance. Nobody's opinion is denied. The river has become polluted from every imaginable source. It will never supply the pure water it once did, unless we are willing to stop throwing everything into it. We must guard the river for the resources it provides. Without it, we are in greater danger than we might think. J. Gresham Machen gave this warning in 1913:
Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labor is also necessary. And that labor is being neglected. The Church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.
Machen argued that by not standing up to the change in culture, we were already championing the worst enemy of the gospel. It wasn't just a matter of taste, but an issue of eternity.
As we have chosen cultural relativism as a societal norm, that is, that any culture goes, but especially the one that will please self, society has dumbed itself down to the lowest common denominator. David Wells (No Place for Truth, p. 148) writes:
Accountability, for example, dies when the self is thought to be accountable only to itself, and in its place there has arisen an ethic that resolves everything into a simple proposition: what's right is what feels good. This in turn dictates that the pursuit of affluence as a means to self-fulfillment holds the key to life.
Robert Bellah (Habits of the Heart, pp. 77-78) in his study on modern individualism adds to this: "[U]tility replaces duty; self-expression unseats authority. 'Being good' becomes 'feeling good.'"
Loss of Distinct Roles
T. S. Eliot in his Notes on the Definition of Culture wrote:
The primary channel of transmission of culture is the family: no man wholly escapes from the kind, or wholly surpasses the degree of culture which he acquired from his early environment.
Dad and mom inculcate a culture into their children. To change a culture at a root level, you break up the family in its most foundational sense by destroying the roles of the man and the woman. One distinction of a scriptural culture are distinct roles for the man and the woman that complement one another (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23-32). The diminishing of the distinctions between the roles alters the culture.
We've got major problems because of the disappearance of the male role. Rampant divorce. Crime. Boys lethargic in school. Lack of spiritual leadership. Young men don't know what they're supposed to do. Marriage itself is on the decrease. Single men wandering the landscape, listlessly not knowing what to do. And homosexuality of many types is on the rise. The fatherless home is statistically the greatest cause of social ills in America.
For the most part, evangelicals don't like what they see happening, and they're reacting to it. Mark Driscoll in Seattle thinks it's ridding the church of "the boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus" (1) and encouraging a tattoo. He's proud to say at his church, Mar's Hill, that "their favorite movie isn’t 'Amazing Grace' or 'The Chronicles of Narnia' — it’s 'Fight Club.'" Mark Driscoll is one of the most popular evangelicals in America and he believes that, among other strategies just like it, this is the way to deal with the lack of masculinity in today's churches. Evangelicals, like John Piper, have contributed to a huge volume entitled Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and have begun The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Many mainstream evangelicals belong to this council---they see an obvious need. Evangelicals strongly oppose multiplying homosexuality across the land, being pushed by the media and even the government.
How has the church helped us get there? I believe that there are many ways that churches have helped hurry along the demise of the roles of men and women in culture---their own day cares for their working women (Titus 2:3-5), the loss of male oversight of single, unmarried women (1 Corinthians 7:36-38), the multiplying number of single men wandering around without commitment to marriage and family among packs of unmarried singles who "hang out" together (Psalm 128; Proverbs 31:10; 1 Timothy 3:4; 5:11, 14), men with long shaggy hair and women with a butch hair-cut (1 Corinthians 11:14-15), music that makes men sing like women and women like men (1 Corinthians 6:9), and women speaking out and doing the business of the church (1 Corinthians 14:29-35).
Scripture highlights the calamity of role reversal or confusion right at the beginning when Eve asserts herself above Adam's headship. We got the fall out of role reversal. We know for sure that this was not what God intended (1 Timothy 2:12-15; 1 Corinthians 11:3). So we know this is very serious, yet the Bible gives very few explicit texts on this subject. So what it does say we should pay attention to. And what does it say is important regarding role distinctiveness? If we think reversal and confusion should stop, we should look at what Scripture says. Right? God knows more about this than we do. Doesn't He?
Sexuality is learned behavior. Certainly we were designed female for male, Eve for Adam. We have distinct roles. But even though we have physical and even psychological differences, the way that boys learn to be men and girls learn to be women is by what they see, by watching. God knows that. He made us. Society knew that too. That's why it exploded over even subtle alterations in female fashion.
Here is what God said in His Word, an explicit statement of His moral law, for the role distinction in dress. It is very clear. Very specific. The plain meaning has also been the historic meaning. It is Deuteronomy 22:5.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
It doesn't say that the garment is an abomination or that the activity is an abomination. The person is an abomination. This is the only time in Scripture that a person is an abomination unto the LORD for doing something. Why? Because it attacks or rebels against God's design. At a root level, God is our Creator (Rom 1:25). He wants recognition of that by the acknowledgment of His design. It is also another way that those roles are preserved. Appearance is the primary way that roles are taught. This is why we have a gigantic passage in the New Testament that also deals with this issue (1 Cor 11:3-16).
My experience has been that people don't care any more what Deuteronomy 22:5 says, when at one time it was the normal practice of not only churches, but society. America practiced Deuteronomy 22:5. Society itself frowned on not practicing this. They knew not doing so was "against nature" (Rom 1:26). As people began disregarding this text, the world reacted. Then the world accepted. Christians reacted too. Even when the world accepted, Christians still reacted. Now Christians accept. Not only do they accept, but now the Christians who still preach Deuteronomy 22:5 are the ones that are not accepted, even by other Christians. They are embarrassing to them. They are marked and treated with inferiority, the offscouring of the earth; well, like Christians. The world still knows what this means, because now we've moved one step further toward the male skirt.
Look back up at Deuteronomy 22:5 and let's see just what it says. It doesn't say "men should look like men and women should look like women." It says nothing about transvestism or Canaanite worship, some of the new inventions to avoid practicing the text. It says nothing about women putting on military gear. It doesn't say, "they both wore robes," because it isn't about removing distinctions. What it does say is that a man should not ever have on the woman's article and that the woman should not wear the male garment. It assumes that there is a male item of clothing designated to differentiate him from the woman, as well as a female item designated to differentiate her from the man.
Today, when I ask what the male article of clothing is, if the person isn't thinking, he'll say, "pants." But then he's got to stop, because women wear pants too. In other words, our culture has eliminated the male garment. There is none. The woman still has the skirt or the dress. The man has nothing. When the man lost his pants (no pun intended), he lost his role. He lost the male uniform. Everyone wears pants, so no one wears the pants. When the world did away with the male garment, Christians protested. When women started wearing pants, Christians opposed it. When Christian women started wearing pants, it wasn't because a group of godly women got together and prayed about it and sought God's will. No. It was a matter of rebellion and then the church went along with the world on this one. It's been so long since most churches practiced this, that it doesn't even seem like a biblical teaching any more.
The biggest argument that I hear is: "the Bible doesn't say anything about pants and skirts." There. They're done. That's the extent of their deep exegesis and application. What we have here is total capitulation by Christians to the world, changing the culture. Now we're debating whether homosexuals should be able to be married or not. We've gotten our comeuppance folks.
(1) Where are the cultural neutralists when you need them---no outcry about Driscoll's stated observations that music has meaning. Some music, according to him, can be feminine and some can be masculine. He thinks that "Christian" music being feminine is a big problem. How can we get meaning out of music when it is amoral and neutral? Ooops. Where in the Bible do we find that music can communicate something feminine or masculine? Isn't this taking man's traditions and making them into the commandments of God? Of course, the reason why Driscoll doesn't get called on this is because he is suitably worldly and secular enough to get his credentials on music, so forget the inconsistency here. What this example does show, however, is how stupid the concept of music neutrality is. I think everyone knows it's wrong; they just don't want to give up their self-gratification, some of which they call "worship."