June 7, 2016
When Christians Get Sucked into the Culture
Post by Brittany Tedesco
"Please pray for us. We have a shameful heritage from Islam that will take years to get rid of."
This was the response I received from our field director in Egypt when I asked her about FGM (female genital mutilation). I'd just read this startling statistic: "87% of females in Egypt aged 15 to 49 underwent FGM from 2004-2015" in a Daily News Egypt article.
If you want to cringe and generally be horrified, I'll let you look into the details of FGM, including the resulting diseases, disfigurement, and health problems. To summarize: a girl's (or woman's) external genitalia is removed with a blade. In many rural areas, a sharp rock serves as the blade. Depending upon the culture, the victim—er, um—female might also be infibulated (sewn shut) after she's cut.
The article I read cited a UNICEF report stating that at least 200 million girls and women alive today in 30 countries have undergone the practice.
FGM is most pervasive throughout countries spanning the Sahel region in Africa, as well as a few countries in the Middle East and Asia.
In Egypt, FGM is typically performed by doctors. The practice has started to decline as the Egyptian government recently began penalizing doctors who perform the procedure--Egypt's Minister of Health hopes to completely eradicate the practice in the country by 2030.
But for now, it's part of the prevailing Islamic culture.
"They believe they are protecting their girls from lust and sin," wrote our field director. "Some girls are dying under this surgery. It is not allowed by law but they are still doing it."
She told me that FGM happens among 99% of Muslims and 80% of Christians.
Say what? Why are Christians participating in this practice?
Why do Christians anywhere participate in the prevailing practices of their culture? Sadly, it's usually because they don't know or aren't practicing the principles in God's Word.
Many people who identify as Christians in Egypt are Christians in name only.
"Orthodox religious women pretty much live like Muslim women in [their] homes except for uncovered hair," wrote the field director. "Nominal Christian [men] deal with [their] wives in the same way as Muslims." This means that husbands have the "right" to beat their wives and take on more than one wife.
She continued: "In Egypt, the Muslim woman's body is viewed just for sex, nothing more. They are supposed to accept their husbands having more women as wives. They hold up their veils only to eat or drink."
I can shake my head at how sad it is that Christians have succumbed to the culture in Egypt, but I'd be missing an opportunity to identify where I've succumbed to my own culture.
What cultural compromises am I making that don't line up with the teachings of God's Word?
I can't even examine myself unless I first know what the Bible says. Wherever biblical illiteracy reigns, the church is corrupted.
In the book of 1 Corinthians, we see a church that pretty much mirrored the culture in which they lived.
A bustling trade city, Corinth was located on an isthmus connecting mainland Greece with the Peloponnesian peninsula. Its two ports brought in many a ship captain who squandered his wealth on the city's infamous temple prostitutes—up to 1,000 of whom may have worked in the Temple of Aphrodite that overlooked the city. They would often descend their perch to prowl the streets for customers.
Historians tell us that, to call someone a "Corinthian" was actually a derogatory term—it meant they were a sexually immoral person.
Along with Aphrodite, the Corinthians worshipped a multitude of gods and goddesses. Idolatry was a completely normal, commonplace practice in Corinth. They especially venerated the goddess of wisdom, as they were a people who glorified the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.
No big shocker that the church in Corinth struggled with the exact same sins that pervaded their society. They glorified knowledge—even arguing over which prophet they followed (Paul, Apollos, Peter), they engaged in sexual immorality—no doubt falling prey to the lure of the prostitutes, and they fought and acted selfishly with one another. The cultural and pagan influences even caused some to deny the resurrection of Christ!
So what did the Apostle Paul do? He took them back to the foundations of their faith, which all center around the Person of Christ. Christ is the very wisdom of God, so why would we chase after worldly wisdom? Christ indwells us, so how could we even think about joining Him with a prostitute?
And then, Paul gives them a little history lesson. He reminds them of the Israelites who all ate of the "same spiritual food" and drank of the "same spiritual drink," which was Christ. But even so, God punished them because they disobeyed His instructions to avoid idolatry and the pagan practices of surrounding nations.
Instead of remaining holy—separate—the Israelites succumbed to the culture around them, time and again. Why? Because they forgot the words of the Lord. They failed to teach the next generation.
A sobering footnote in my Bible states that we, like the Israelites, are always just one generation away from falling away from the Lord.
Did you know that, long ago, Egypt was a predominantly Christian nation?
Today's Egyptian Christians are in dire need of discipleship and training in God's Word—they need a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Our field director told us that those Christians with a Muslim background put the rest of them to shame because of their passion for Christ; they've had a real encounter with the Savior, know what the Bible says, and are willing to live radical, counter-cultural lives. Many have lost jobs and families in their pursuit of Christ.
"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
This is a favorite verse among Christians. We like to hang it on our walls. But is it true? Are we different from the culture in which we're living? Are we a peculiar, holy people?
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).