A lot of ink has been spilled lately over the color of some coffee cups.
Starbucks’ seasonal red cups have been decried (ridiculously) by some Christians as an attack on Christmas. Apparently, the snowflakes and ornaments and snowmen on previous years’ cups are sufficiently religious symbols, but the color red is not. Never mind the convention of printing Christ’s words in red or the tradition of using red and green as Christmas colors
The thing just won’t get off my Facebook feed, and that prompted me to think again about something that bothers me often, something that came up a few times at cross-cultural missionary training last month.
We need to stop confusing culture with faith.
Culture is the practices and preferences shared by a given group of people for both to function in daily life and to express their artistic and intellectual ideas and values. It relates more to taste than to truth, to style than to substance. As missionaries, we need to train ourselves to function in another culture, removing (as best we can) our own assumptions about what practices and preferences are right, to work together with believers from other cultures, and to allow those whom we introduce to Christ to figure out how best to worship Him in their culture. Tracy and I have long admired our mission’s history with this, as their work in Nigeria led to converts who created their own expression of that faith rather than adapt to an imposed culture.
Jesus was not an American, a European, or even only a first-century Jew. He came to establish our only path to Heaven (John 14:6), not “the right” culture here on Earth. He told His followers that His Father doesn’t judge people based on their cultures (Galations 3:28) and instead wants all cultures to be included in His Kingdom (Matthew 28:16-20).
In struggling angrily against cultural changes that remove Christianity from its former privilege, we make an idol out of what we’ve lost rather than focus on what we still have: joyful, restored relationship with God.
We need to get much better about humbly acknowledging that every one of us is going to get to Heaven and find out our theology had errors in it. Every one of us will stand before God and account for everything we’ve ever done, said, or thought that went against His instructions to us through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.
God will care that we stood up for His name and commands, but we need to focus on those, not on petty cultural battles. To love God with all of our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). To walk humbly, seek justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8). To look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep ourselves from getting polluted by the world (James 1:27). To demonstrate and grow in our love for Jesus by actually obeying Him (said MANY times, especially throughout John 14) instead of cooing over a baby conveniently stuck in a manger.
Our culture is facing some important questions about balancing and protecting the rights of Christians (to live as Christians, not only to worship on Sundays) amongst changing cultural preferences, but red cups are not among them. In decrying every perceived attack, we make ourselves shrill and our neighbors deaf. Worse, we deceive ourselves and misrepresent our God, who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him would not die but have eternal life (yes, John 3:16). We turn Christianity into a badge of identity, a tribalist affiliation with no more significance than a sports team loyalty, a servant to our own preferences…
Instead of a relationship with the Lord and Creator of the Universe.
People would still disagree with us about that, some would still reject and mock us for it, but at least then we’d all be talking about the real topic instead of a hollow little idol.