Counter Cultural

by Stan Mitchell
I ran across the following statements recently: While discussing 1 Timothy 2:2-8, (on the role of women in the church) one writer remarks that Paul “was as much a child of his own time as we all are, but he simply had no concept of a world order in which women would be accepted in leadership positions equal to men.”
In other words, Paul was nothing more than a first-century Jew, limited in his understanding by his era and upbringing. His comments are, therefore, culturally conditioned and not authoritative for us today.
Which made me wonder. Where did we get the idea that the Biblical writers were lashed so helplessly to their culture? How astonished Paul would have been if someone had suggested that he was swayed by his culture, a hapless dupe to whatever the latest first-century fad happened to be! Can you imagine the deeply self-disciplined Apostle worrying about his standing in the opinion polls, or asking what Oprah thought? Does that sound like the Apostle Paul you read about? The Biblical writers were not shallow-minded fashion followers, they were countercultural. To speak for God was to run counter to the thinking of their own day and age.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Romans 12:2).
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2).
“You adulterous people. Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred for God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Exodus 23:2).
Of one thing we can be certain. The Biblical writers were no mere dupes of their age. They were determined not to be tainted by the thinking of their culture. They were deeply conscious of the fact that their God-inspired message was countercultural. Whatever Paul wrote about women in the church, morality, worship, or any other subject, was not the thinking of his culture; it was a word from God.
I wonder. Was it really Paul who was swayed by his culture — or is it we who are the ones struggling with choosing between God’s ways and man’s?

2 thoughts on “Counter Cultural

  1. You make some excellent points about Paul and his culture. I think it is important to realize that Paul was inspired by God to write the things he wrote. He was not writing as a godly man who lived counter to culture, even though he was. He was writing the words that the Holy Spirit gave him to write. If not for his inspiration, he would be as fallible as any other man.

  2. It is interesting that I would receive this article at a time when I am working on a sermon from 1st Corinthians 11:2-16, the section on whether or not to have one’s head covered when praying or prophesying. Paul seems here to be speaking expressly of something dictated by culture. We need to be diligent in discerning when it is proper to follow the culture, and when it is not.

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