When Faith and Culture Collide – Why the Holy Spirit’s discernment must be engaged.

1000px-Globe.svgLet me begin by saying that every single culture on the planet, has the ability to choose one of two ways to worship God – the acceptable way, and the unacceptable way.

The first time we see this in history is in the book of Genesis, when Cain’s sacrifice is not honoured by God, but Able’s sacrifice is. Cain is so jealous of his brother’s favour, that he kills Able. (Genesis 4:3-9)

As time marches on, we come to the Tabernacle in the Old Testament, and to two men in particular. (Leviticus 10:1) By this time God had already decreed and set down how Tabernacle worship would be carried out, especially as it related to sacrifices and burnt offerings. They had seen how God sent fire to devour the sacrifice and figured they could do the same, taking their censors and filling them with fire that had not been drawn from the altar. God struck them dead for bringing “strange fire” into the presence of the Lord.

Later on, the sons of Eli would be struck down for being dishonest in their dealings with the people who daily brought sacrifices before the Lord. (1 Samuel 2) They did such things as extorting worshippers, taking more than their fair share of the priest’s portion of meat, and so on until the day the Philistines took the ark, and they died. (1 Samuel 4)

In the New Testament, (1 Corinthians 8) Paul urged the Church to be careful that they don’t knowingly eat meat offered to idols because doing so may cause a weaker brother to stumble. It is important to note that in the time Paul lived, most cooked meat was sold from stalls on the backside of shrines and altars to the many gods and goddesses of the time. For Christians who understood that such meat held no power because it had been sacrificed to powerless demonic forces, they would purchase this meat and eat it without a second thought. For other Christians however, who were more bothered by where the meat came from than the meat itself, seeing believers eating it proved to be a stumbling block on their faith, and they’d see it as okay to eat such things in the very temples of the idols themselves.

History continues to share similar stories right up to present day. The white man, hailing largely from the European continent, was over-run for what historians say is at least 2000 years or more, by druidic rule of law, worship and societal structure. This false religion’s influence reached into every single aspect of ancient European, particularly ancient Western European culture. Ancient celts believed as modern-day pagans, wiccans, new-agers, b’hai and others, that the earth was their mother and that every living thing had a spirit of some kind whether good or evil and that the evil spirits had to be placated to keep them at bay. For many years, historians and archaeologists couldn’t piece together much from this time period, but slowly, apparent discoveries are being made that back up previously understood historically recorded slurs by conquering armies. It appears that what was once thought mere propaganda by the Romans, may actually have been more true than Western European culture wanted to accept as their history. Even as the Romans admitted to wanting to wipe out this “barbaric culture” whereever they found it, enough of it was left behind to live on to this day in the form of groups already mentioned – pagans, wiccans, modern-day druids, new-age philosophies, and earth worship in all its various forms.

Needless to say, when Western European white men came to Christ and divested themselves of the Roman Catholic Church’s embrace and renaming of the Greeko-Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses, complete with their Christianized methods of worship, such Christians had to make choices as to what was and wasn’t acceptable worship and practice in God’s eyes.

For starters, “mother earth” had to go. (Exodus 20:3-6) God tells us in Scripture not to worship any created thing, no creature, no carved, sculpted or woven work, but God Himself. Secondly, the masks had to go. In Exodus, Moses removed his vail when going into the presence of God. (Exodus 34:34) The idea of using masks to invite the good spirits or drive off the evil spirits was no longer needed for the Christian. Paul writes of unveiled faces being turned toward God as He changes us from glory to glory in His presence. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Thirdly, the concept of sacrifices had to go, because Christ Himself had become the ultimate sacrifice. Appeasing the gods through sacrifice of any sort was no longer necessary because the Christian had already found grace in God’s eyes through the gift of Salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

These are just three examples of what the ancient white man had to face as they wrestled with their own culture versus how God Himself outlined His worship to be carried out in the Scriptures.

Songdove Books - djimbeSimilar struggles have been witnessed among the African peoples as they come to grips with their drums, rattles, jewelry, dances, song and story. Anything that clearly glorified the enemy of our souls had to go. But not everything from their various cultures was deemed necessary to go. African Christians discovered that they could make and dedicate their musical instruments to God and use them in their worship gatherings. They learned which dances glorified God and did away with those that didn’t. The chants that called on demonic forces were exchanged for songs and prayers that went straight to heaven. Flutes, drums, whistles and rattles were no longer decorated with the likenesses of forces being called on, but instead decorated to bring glory to God. Some of these instruments are now regular members of other cultural worship expressions across Western society.

The attempts by the Romans to wipe out what they deemed to be barbaric druidic culture across Western Europe did indeed stamp out much of that ancient form of worship and the culture that went along with it. But as stated earlier, enough had been left behind to force medieval Christians to make choices as to what would and would not honour God in their worship and daily life.

These events and decisions in the lives of the ancient western white man, much like the decisions that would be faced by the peoples of Africa, are now being faced by the North American indigenous peoples. Much like the ancient white man on the continent of Europe, the culture of the North American native was all but stamped out by colonization. The attitude displayed by the Roman conquerors toward Western Europe, would continue in the minds of those conquered, and come to North America. The Roman concept of driving Constantine’s brand of Christianity into “barbaric” peoples, came with the early missionaries whether they intended for it or not, and spawned very similar behaviour whether the missionaries represented the RCC or protestant denominations instead. The end result was the same. Much of indigenous culture was systemically stamped down.

Songdove Books - panpipesHowever, not everything was destroyed. Unlike the druidic cultures that got stamped out by the Romans, the North American indigenous peoples had literally carved, woven, or in some way recorded whether in painting or elaborate beadwork, what their ancient culture had been like. Several hundred years later, the modern generations of indigenous peoples are wanting to resurrect their ancient cultures, complete with the ancient spiritism, shamanism, and the trappings that went with such forms of worship. Some forms, such as pow wow drums, the shaman’s rattle, masks inviting or driving off certain spirits, chants, and forms of artwork depicting the ancient thought that everything had one or more spirits dwelling within it, all rose back to the surface over time.

Indigenous Christians are now having to face the same questions their ancient white counterparts once faced. What parts of our culture can be used to worship God? What parts of our culture must not be used to worship God? African Christians had to answer these questions too. Every culture has a right and wrong way to worship God and we need to be wise enough to sort through our own cultures as the Holy Spirit leads us.

Inanimate objects such as musical instruments have generally been successfully taken from the enemy’s camp and brought before God to sing His praises instead. Indigenous Christians have wisely removed the multiple-spirit aspect of modern indigenous art, and their blankets, vests, and other artwork reflect that.

But all is not as it seems in the modern desire to resurrect old ways. The concept of the great spirit, the thunderbird and the eagle have long been used in native cultures to reference their head god, but when one looks at how their head god would be worshipped, it is not the God of the Bible Who clearly stated how He is to be worshipped. Many tribes believed that naming a person after a given animal or bird or other creature, would cause the good qualities of that creature to oversee that person, family, clan, village, or tribe. On the coast, these would be carved into totem poles as each new head of the family, clan, or village came to power. Sadly, these “overseeing spirits” are not God, but demonic spirits and various Christian heads have had to break the chains placed over their homes by these overseeing spirits.

Songdove Books - blanketsThere is much in indigenous culture that is fascinating, beautiful to behold and listen to, enjoyable to eat, and colourful to wear. But these things must be separated from the practices that do not glorify God, just as the white man had to separate when coming out from Roman Catholic rule and rediscovering their own cultures again. Certain celtic knots can’t be drawn by the Christian artist with a clear conscience. Certain celtic dances that have survived to this day, such as the May Pole, cannot be engaged in by the discerning white Christian.

I had the rather enjoyable experience of meeting a Christian indigenous band recently and they spoke of the resistance they are encountering as they bring ancient indigenous practices into worship before Almighty God. I told them there are two prongs to this resistance:

1) Knowledge – whether skewed or not of the ancient ways of the North American peoples. There are plenty of stories passed down among the various tribes that point to very spiritually disturbing integration of demonic influences in everyday life.

1. A museum in Alberta had a life-size depiction of a plains native with bones pierced through his pectorals, ropes attached to those bones and anchored to the top of a pole. This native was pulling outward and backward, against the pull of the rope and bone, apparently in a dance to the sun. The plaque near this display stated that occasionally it was known that some of these men would continue to pull till they became numb to the pain and their skin would rip away from the bone. Such open knowledge of such dangerous practices have caused many Christians of any cultural background, to steer clear of ancient spiritual forms of worship.

2. Medicine men or shamen behaved much the way witchdoctors do in Africa, with potions and chants and rattles and dances and prayers intended to either do harm or good to those for whom they were called on. A story about such a medicine man was shared prior to the concert I attended for this indigenous band.

2) Experience – As mentioned earlier, where native Christian heads of their homes had to break demonic bonds caused by generations of blessings related to “overseeing spirits”, have caused many indigenous Christians to look on the spiritual aspect of their own culture with dismay and in some cases, disdain. I personally have heard first-hand accounts of Christians walking past longhouses and hearing screams in their spirit. I myself have walked past such places and felt the demonic spirits hovering around them. I and my daughter have felt these spirits when we walk into native art shops and museums, as have other members of my own family. There are certain pieces of very beautiful artwork that we will not buy nor have in our homes because of the spirits represented in the art.

I am not against various aspects of indigenous culture being resurrected, but for the child of Almighty God, they must do so selectively. Just as the white man and the black man had to selectively choose what aspects of their cultures could be brought into the place of worship and the family altar at home, so must the North American indigenous Christian discern what aspects of their culture can be brought into the place of worship at home and at church. Oriental and Middle Eastern peoples have had to make these choices as well.

I find myself praying for my indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ that they will receive the discernment of the Holy Spirit to know what can safely be transformed from worship of the enemy, to worship of Almighty God.