Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

In the World But Not of the World (1)

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
We are all familiar with the statement of the above title, IÕm sure. Whenever questions arise as to the extent of the ChristianÕs involvement in the world we remind each other that living in this world does not mean we belong to it. But while this is a good and necessary reminder, it is not always easy to define exactly what our attitude to the world should be. We understand of course that ÒworldÓ here does not mean the cosmos as such or nature as created by God, but that the reference is to sinful humanity living in enmity against God and His Word. This is what the apostle John has in mind when he warns: ÒLove not the world, neither the things that are in the world.Ó

But what are those ÒthingsÓ he would have us avoid? Undoubtedly he is thinking of worldly fashions and behaviours that are born of sin and lead to sin. As he explains: Òall that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the worldÓ (I John 2:15,16). The question is, however, are there not also some good things in the world? Must we conclude from JohnÕs stern words, that literally everything this world produces is bad and thus anathema for the Christian? In other words, does the apostle here issue a blanket condemnation of all human culture?

This question has been the subject of debate among Christians throughout the centuries. What is culture? The word comes from the Latin cultura meaning tillage or cultivation of the soil. Metaphorically, the reference is to the cultivation and development of intellectual and aesthetic ideas and their practical applications. Culture thus represents the sum total of achievements of a particular group of people or a civilization.

Scripture tells us that there are only two kinds of human cultures: the culture of the godless and the culture of the godly. These two cultures have been at war ever since God put enmity between the serpent and the woman and their respective seeds (Gen. 3:15) and the conflict seems to be reaching a climax in our day. The recent presidential election in the United States was seen by many as a major phase of the Òculture warÓ that has been raging in Western civilization, especially since the nineteen-sixties. The Òsexual revolutionÓ that took place during that decade marked a radical departure from what had been, until that time, the accepted view of morality based on Judeo-Christian principles.

This Ònew moralityÓ as it came to be known, was not limited to sexual behaviour, but affected every other aspect of human thought and conduct. In the United States it has led to the infamous Roe vs. Wade legislation legalizing abortion on demand (1973), and most recently in the Netherlands to the legalizing of euthanasia and same sex marriages. Similar legislation is pending in North America, on state or provincial and federal levels.

The result of these massive and far-reaching changes is that many Christians are afraid of the very word ÒcultureÓ and they can only think of it in negative terms. They donÕt even feel comfortable speaking of a ÒChristian cultureÓ because in their view culture it is synonymous with humanism and secularism. They have become what the Germans call Òkultur feindlichÓ or hostile to culture. That is unfortunate, because Scripture does sometimes speak of culture in a positive sense, even when the reference is to intellectual, scientific and artistic contributions made by unbelievers.

Culture Developed by CainÕs Descendants
To get a perspective on this important subject, let us briefly review the origin and development of human culture as recorded in the book of Genesis. In his very brief letter Jude the apostle mentions Òthe way of CainÓ and he speaks of it as something terrible and something that will come to a fearful climax in the last days. ÒWoe unto them,Ó he says about the wicked living at that time, Òfor they have gone in the way of CainÓ (vs.11). From Genesis 4 we learn where this Òway of CainÓ began: in unbelief and rejection of GodÕs way of salvation. We are also told what the choice of that way resulted in: first in hatred and murder of a brother, followed by a life without God, the restless pursuit of worldly pleasure and the foolish attempt to escape the divine curse. Although God assures Cain of divine protection for the rest of his life, he leaves Òthe presence of the LordÓ and settles in the land of Nod, east of Eden where he sires a son, Enoch, and builds a city (Gen.4: 16).

This action reflects CainÕs determination to look after himself. Apparently GodÕs promise of protection is no comfort to him. It cannot allay his fears. How can God protect me here so far from Eden, he thinks? So he builds a city and calls it Enoch, the same name he has given to his son. Enoch means ÒinitiationÓ or Òdedication.Ó By giving his city this name he dedicates and inaugurates a new world, a new environment and a new way of life. Over against GodÕs garden we now have manÕs city as a monument of manÕs rebellion and determination to go it alone. It is manÕs first ÒDeclaration of Independence.Ó

Cain will solve his problem his way, not GodÕs. The solution of God was for Cain to repent of his sins and trust in the divinely appointed sacrifice. But that called for submission and reliance on grace. Cain wants no grace, no mercy. He will save himself. Here we have the beginning of civilization. It starts with man--fallen man--building a city.

Next we read that CainÕs son, Enoch, also has a son, Irad by name, and he in turn begets Mehujael who produced Methusael who became the father of Lamech. EnochÕs city begins to expand. Son after son is born. Families multiply and name is added to name. With the passing of years memories begin to fade. What happened to Abel is forgotten and the voice of blood is silenced, at least it no longer disturbs the prosperous descendants of Cain. The curse pronounced on their ancestor seems to have run its course. No longer fugitives and vagabonds, they feel secure in EnochÕs city/ fortress.

LamechÕs name is given prominence because, like Cain before him, he has the dubious honour of inaugurating a new life-style. If Cain was the first murderer and city builder, Lamech is the first polygamist. With him begins a new phase in the sordid history of human sin. His story is told in a few bold strokes. It is the story of lust, bloodshed and defiance. Lamech is the first to violate GodÕs institution of monogamous marriage. Lamech decides to have two wives. By setting aside this fundamental law governing the relationship between the sexes, the door was opened for many more sins of the flesh.

In Cain we see the man of violence. In Lamech we see the man of sensuality. From these two fountainheads of evil a flood of wickedness was to be poured out upon earth. Lamech lives for the pleasures of the flesh and views women primarily as sex objects. However, he is not just an immoral pleasure seeker, driven by his lusts. He is also a strong person, a real macho man. This is reflected in his boastful speech to his wives. Lamech tells Adah and Zillah that if a man so much as wounds him, he will slay him and if someone dares to bruise him, he will kill him. Such is the progress of sin. Violence begets violence. Disobedience to God leads to ignorance of God and ultimately emancipation from God.

This becomes clear also when we look at the various human inventions mentioned in Genesis 4. LamechÕs sons were all very intelligent and enterprising fellows, each in his own way. Jabal became Òthe father of such as dwell in tents and of such as have cattleÓ (vs.20). WhatÕs so innovative about that? Well, remember CainÕs curse. The earth or soil was going to deny him a harvest. So farming was out of the question for him and his descendants. It seems that for a time they did try to eke out a living from the uncooperative soil. But at some point they apparently gave up.

Here is where Jabal comes in. He seems to have been the first one to make a clear transition from being a tiller of the ground to becoming a raiser of livestock. He became a shepherd of flocks and herds and inspired others to follow his example. Because shepherding animals involved travelling considerable distances, it became necessary to protect oneself against the elements, so Jabal invented the tent.

Jabal had a brother named Jubal whose interests lay in a different direction. He became the father Òof all such as handle the harp and organÓ (vs.21). That means he invented musical instruments. With him the fine arts entered the world. Music has no practical value; one can live without it. But it can and does enrich oneÕs life, especially life in a cursed world. JubalÕs contribution was to make life a little more pleasant. His music soothed the emotions and helped people to forget their troubles for a while. It served to mitigate the effects of the curse to some degree.

LamechÕs third son was Tubal-cain and his contribution was in the area of metalworking. It says that he was Òan instructor of every artificer [craftsman] in brass and ironÓ(vs.22). He made all kinds of tools of bronze and iron. How much Tubal-cain himself did with metal we do not know, but what Genesis tells us here probably means that he laid the foundation which made later progress possible. He made the primary discoveries.

What these three brief statements tell us is that civilization was already quite advanced by this time. All the ingredients of a well-developed culture, namely urbanization, agriculture, animal domestication and metallurgy were in place, at least in principle, many years before the flood.

The Cultural Mandate
The most significant thing here, however, is that that these contributions to culture were apparently all made by the descendants of Cain. What conclusions should be drawn from this fact? Surely not that these accomplishments in the arts and sciences as such were wrong! Building and living in cities does not violate GodÕs commands. Raising livestock was the occupation godly Abel. Musical instruments were used in the service of God throughout the Old Testament dispensation. Our Lord Himself was a carpenter who no doubt used some of these tools invented by Tubal-cain.

So it is perfectly legitimate for Christians to participate in cultural endeavours, including the arts and sciences. It is even our duty to do so, because God gave to Adam and Eve the command to cultivate the earth. This Òcultural mandateÓ while in the first instance referring to agricultural activities was, no doubt, to include all other areas of human endeavour. Provided we seek to honour God and promote the good of humanity we may be engaged in the same pursuits, as were the three sons of Lamech.

Using Culture
But here is where the problem comes in. These men did not invent or develop these technological and artistic skills for the glory of God. Rather, their aim with these things was to improve their lot in life and to escape as much as possible the effects of the fall. Their deepest motive was to rebuild a new paradise on earth, but one without God.

This is still manÕs objective today. We have come a long way since the days of Lamech and his three sons. We have made tremendous progress in all areas of human endeavour. We are today as close to a curse-free environment as we have ever been. Work is not nearly as backbreaking as it was only a couple of generations ago. Food, clothing and shelter, thanks to Jabal, are available in great abundance and within reach of all of us, at least here in the West. Music--JubalÕs gift to mankind--may be heard whenever we want, what with CDÕs, cassettes and stereo receivers. It is even forced upon us in malls, doctorÕs offices and restaurants. Computers--Tubal-cainÕs contribution--have made difficult intellectual tasks so much easier, even pleasurable.

Yet for all the progress that has been made in all these areas, manÕs moral and spiritual condition has not improved. This was as true then as it is now. The generation that invented all these wonderful things became so depraved that God had to destroy it with a flood. We see the same thing today. Material progress seems to go hand in hand with moral deterioration. The reason for this is simple: God is left out of the equation. Man tries to build a civilization that has no place for the One who gives him the brains to build it. That is the tragedy.

What then is the lesson here? Granted that we may enjoy some of the benefits of civilization as already mentioned, but should we not exercise great caution as to the extent of our participation? Given the fact that our culture is predominantly anti-Christian, does not wisdom dictate that we keep our involvement in it to a minimum? Is it possible for believers and their children to enjoy especially the recreation and entertainment offered by the world today without becoming contaminated by its spirit?

We will try to answer these questions in our next editorial, D.V.

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