Can anything good be found in man or the world apart from the grace and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ? What would the world look like if only one nation had the Bible? It would look like the days of Jeremiah.
In those days, only one small country has had God’s laws for 900 years. They live at the junction between Europe, Asia, and Africa. Around 725 BC, Israel was conquered by Assyria and deported (2 Kings 17:6). Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah is given the prophecy found in the 10th chapter of his book. Now the southern kingdom of Judah is about to be conquered by Babylon (Jer. 9:16). At this time, God gives a warning for all the people in captivity because they will be living near and meeting different peoples of the world—the Gentiles. What warning does He give?
Do not learn the way of the nations… For the customs of the peoples are delusion.
The way of the nations is their culture. The word could be interchanged with the “customs” of the Gentiles found in the next verse. In the NT, Peter uses the words conduct, behavior, and manner of life to describe the basic actions of a people group (1 Pet. 1:15, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Pet. 2:7; 3:11).
Writing in 1828, Noah Webster defined “culture” like this.
“The act of tilling and preparing the earth for crops; cultivation; the application of labor or other means of improvement. 2. The application of labor or other means to improve good qualities in, or growth; as the culture of the mind; the culture of virtue. 3. The application of labor or other means in producing; as the culture of corn, or grass. 4. Any labor or means employed for improvement, correction or growth.”
Our contemporary use of the term shows that today culture means the way of life that brings about the best kind of life. A culture represents a society’s best attempts to make true judgments. This is what we think good manners in children look like. This is what we think good music is. This is what we think just laws look like. This is the kind of character we think produces prosperity. Today there is a globalized popular culture that has been growing exponentially since about 1960 because the forward leaps of technology have been so massive as to sometimes approximate flights of scientific advance rather than mere steps.
Obviously, some things that some cultures do are wrong.
- Chinese foot-binding ended when Christian missionaries stopped it.
- European slave trade ended when Christian missionaries stopped it.
- Hindu suttee ended when Christian missionaries stopped it.
- Islamic polygamy has not yet ended.
These nations had ways that were immoral and impractical, and it is a mercy from God that some of the foolish ways have changed through the growth of the Christian religion. When their cultures should have been dedicated to the improvement, correction, or growth of the society, instead they were degrading the people under their influences.
Some of the ways of every nation bear a resemblance to every other, and in some ways they each differ. What can account for the similarities as well as the differences? From what spring comes culture?
That is the subject of the next entry.