(This post I originally wrote in response to a question on how to handle cultural differences. The person asking wanted to know how a missionary determines what is right or wrong in a culture and how does one go about changing something that is not right within the culture. I thought it would make a good post here.)
I am in a missionary working in a jungle village on a small island in the south Pacific. The culture here is incredibly different then what I am used to as an American. When I first arrived the culture shock was incredible and almost paralyzing.
After some time, I began my first church plant. When preaching and teaching on Sundays, I would have some women with no tops on. These women were usually breast feeding mothers who did not cover up after feeding their children. The children here breast feed until two to three years old. The children would be running around while I was teaching, and then run to their mother to feed. I am in a culture where fornication is rampant and expected. Most youths have lost their virginity by fourteen, especially if they’re female. Rape is against the law, but none the less it too is a cultural norm. A wife is almost property here and husbands beating their wives is common. Having more than one wife is also common. All of these items are clearly against Scripture. (Not the breast feeding of course, but the nudity, which occurred in between feeding the children.)
Now, my primary mission was not to end the nudity, remove the fornication, or stop the rape and wife beatings. My primary mission is to preach the gospel and as a result establish local churches. However, if a true church is established those things will change. The more who truly trust Christ, the more the local culture is affected and changed.
Let’s remember as Christians, in any part of the world, we will be different. We will be strangers and pilgrims on this earth. The people should begin to reflect the culture of heaven instead of the culture where they physically live. The missionary does not change the culture, but the Holy Spirit does as He changes lives. It is not up to the local people to decide what is culturally right or wrong either, it is up to God and His Word. Based on the authority of God’s Word, not my own authority, I teach against the unscriptural practices. There is something wrong in any part of the world where people make professions and yet there is no change.
“If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The Lord
As a missionary my focus is not on what part of the culture is wrong, but on drawing the people closer to a holy and righteous God. As a result, a new culture is formed in the church. This is not a western or village culture, but a heavenly one!