What does cultural relativism have to do with biblical teaching? How has it infiltrated and corrupted the church? How should Christian’s respond when the Scriptures are twisted to fit the culture?
Defining Cultural Relativism
A good definition of what is cultural relativism shows what churches are teaching today; “It is something directly related, connected, or pertinent to a topic; it may also mean something that is current.” If it is true what some people say that “Everything is relative” then nothing is because that is your truth and not mine or it might be my truth but it’s not yours. If the Word of God was true thousands of years ago then it is still true today. If we trust on human opinion or feelings, then we throw out objective truth. Today, everything in society seems to be subjective or relative to the culture today. It is like “Well, that is your truth but for me this is what is true.” If 2 + 2 equals 4 then that is going to be true a thousand years from today. If truth is relative or subjective, a student who received their test paper and received a wrong checkmark next to 2 + 2 = 5 then the teacher can’t teach anything. The child might say, “Well to you the answer is 4 but for me, it was 5 because that is my truth.” Something is either true or it is not. There is no rationalizing objective truth. There are object truths and these truths are found in the Scriptures. A person that says “There are no objective truths” has just stated objectively that there is no objective truth and they have just contradicted themselves. See how ridiculous that is? If someone says that biblical teaching is irrelevant today or that some of the teachings are not for us today, then ask, “Well, what about Jesus’ death? Was that only for then too?” Of course, we do acknowledge that the Mosaic Law is not relevant for us but that is explained in the Bible because Christ fulfilled the Law in His death on the cross for the New Covenant.
What is Cultural Relativism?
Cultural relativism in biblical teaching always occurs when people say something like this: “That is what the verses say but that was when or that was then…or today I feel it is…” Cultural relativism that relates to what the Bible says always holds to a low view of Scripture. They ignore the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8) and that “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but [His] words shall not pass away” (Matt 24:35) and “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away” (Matt 5:18). The Apostle John wrote that “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). The will of God is always revealed in the Word of God and so the Word of God does not change for God will does not change just as God does not change (Mal 3:6).
Many churches today, in the desire to seek more members, try to become culturally relevant. That is, they want to be popular and so they alter or change the methods of biblical teaching or their methods of evangelism to try and fill the pews and to be people-pleasers but they’re more often interested in filling the pews with tares and not wheat. They apparently don’t trust the Holy Spirit to bring a person to godly repentance and faith in Jesus Christ so they seek human means to try and make church appealing to the masses. One church sign I saw said that “God loves you.” Yes, He does but this love is a holy, righteous, demanding love that commands everyone to repent, confess their sins, and trust in Christ. Anytime someone says that the Bible says this but I feel or believe that God means this, then you are depending upon someone who trusts more in what they feel or believe than what the Bible says. Is it really any different from saying “I believe that there is ocean front property in Arizona?”
Many churches that are what is called “emergent” are like a weed that is emerging from the ground and these churches emerge only to fill what the culture wants and not what they need. Some churches feel like they have to focus on a Christian being happy but the Bible never promises that a believer is always going to be happy. That is not the goal. Our purpose is to glorify God and to make disciples of all nations by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not to teach on such flimsy matters such as “How to have a Happier Life” or as one prosperity teacher/pastor says “Have your Best Life Now.” Really!? If they are teaching that this is your best life now, then how much of a letdown will heaven be? I would say this that if you are not saved, this is your best life now but if you are born again, then your best life is yet to come with Christ’s arrival or when you die and are with the Lord.
Some churches have programs that offer classes in cross-stitching, bowling, golf, and even in painting and art. This is not wrong in itself, but when these teachings take the place of biblically-centered, Christ-elevating teaching, then they are supplanting the truth for something that does not glorify God or help a person to grow in holiness and sanctification. Every time Jesus started noticing the crowds that were following Him were growing, unlike the prosperity or culturally relevant churches did, He thinned the ranks by telling them things that they didn’t’ want to hear. The gospel always comforts the afflicted but it also afflicts the comfortable. In Luke 14:25-27 it says “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Today, churches seek to build their membership numbers by teaching an easy believism. Jesus always reduced the number of followers because He knew what was in their heart because “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-24).
The true gospel message always includes repentance (a turning away from sin), confession of sin (acknowledging their sinfulness), the need to be saved (by the Savior) and then trusting in the Savior to save them. No one is saved by thinking this or believing that but it is by faith in Christ that a person is saved. Paul said as much in Romans 10:8b-13 that a person is saved by what they say with their “mouth and in [their] heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Yes, Jesus loves you and He displayed this love on the cross; but it was not from feeling or thinking that this is the way it is done today. It is in the act of dying for those who didn’t deserve to be saved so that by believing they might be saved (John 3:16-17). If you believe this, then you will be saved but if not, you stand condemned right now (John 3:18). That is relevant in every age, even into eternity.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon