Cultural Acceptance vs. God's Truth
NCW 53, March-April 1998
Q. I was attending a Baptist Bible Study Group and the minister said that it was not a sin for Abraham to take a concubine (Hagar) because it was culturally acceptable at that time. Does that mean that if something is culturally acceptable that it is OK??
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that because something (like polygamy) is "culturally acceptable" in one society that it is not a sin. It is either a sin or it isn't. If what this minister says is true then it is acceptable for Christians to practice homosexuality or to have pre-marital sex because these are culturally acceptable in many countries today. To maintain such a position is no different than saying that God is bound by man's laws, and that when man says something is wrong, it is wrong, even if it contradicts what God has revealed in His Word.
Sin is sin no matter what men, or societies, or governments may say. The Bible teaches very clearly that homosexual acts and pre-marital sex are sinful. Whatever society or the laws enacted by governments say is therefore irrelevant. By contrast, the Bible nowhere condemns patriarchal marriage (polygamy/plural marriage) but rather defines how it is to be lived, and how not. As it happens the culture of Abraham's day and the Word of God were in agreement. Abraham did right in taking Hagar not because the surrounding culture condoned it but because God's Law permitted it. If Abraham did sin it was in listening to Sarah (just as Adam has listened to Eve) and taking a concubine because he was in a hurry to fulfil God's promise of a son to him instead of waiting in faith. Therefore Abraham's taking a second wife was not a sin per se, but the reason he did was. This is confirmed, in a way, by the fact that Hagar and her descendants (the Arabs) were blessed by Yahweh to be populous but were cursed in another respect because the vast majority of them were to adopt a false religion (Islam) and were to wage war against the promised seed, Isaac and his descendants. The Bible prophecies a time of reconciliation between the children of Sarah and Hagar through the Messiah, Yah'shua (Jesus Christ).
The lesson we are to learn from this story is that polygamy is acceptable and not a sin but if entered into for the wrong reasons it brings strife. To go against the will of God is a sin, even if that is to enter a practice (polygamy) which is perfectly acceptable in God's eyes. The same may be said to be true of a person who enters monogamy or celibacy (both of which are lawful) when this is contrary to God's will. Thus it is important always to discern Yahweh's will and to conform our lives to that will.
Be careful of the "cultural cop-out". There is a disease in our modern world which I like to call "culturolatry". Nowadays all cultures are esteemed as being of equal importance by liberals irrespective of their content and moral (or immoral) affects. One might say that "God is no respecter of cultures" in the same way that He is no respecter or persons. All cultures have that which is good in them, and that which is bad. Cultures, like individuals, churches, and nations, are all going to be burned and refined in the last days. Our modern hedonistic, sexually immoral and unethical society is going to receive a hard judgment -- woe to anyone who tries to define right and wrong on the basis of what a culture or tradition teaches or they may find themselves on the wrong side of heaven!
As New Covenant Christians we acknowledge only one true culture which is yet-to-come -- the Millennial Culture -- and any aspects of culture in the existing ones which conform to the biblical standards. In a way, therefore, we are trans- as well as being supra-cultural -- we acknowledge the good in all cultures and try to imitate it, and yet look forward to a heavenly culture which we are trying to establish amongst ourselves. In Abraham we find a good rôle model because he acknowledged the good that was in pagan cultures (such as family values, patriarchal marriage, etc.) whilst taking a definite stand against polytheism, idolatry, etc.. It is not an easy thing for Christians to do always but one which they must absolutely do or else run the risk of being drawn back into the pagan culture they have fled from.
This page was created on 9 May 1998
Last updated on 9 May 1998
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