Inculturation is still a new term in many theological sectors around the globe despite the fact that it came into existence in early seventies. Inculturation refers to the process of going against the culture or societal values in the process of developing faith. Christianity is a relatively new belief in many societies around the world. The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, found the society where he was born practicing some cultural values.
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He was forced to undergo some of the cultural values of this society such as circumcision stage. He grew up in this society as a human being and therefore adopted this culture. When he began his evangelistic work, the society found his teachings somewhat strange.
He was treated as the son of Joseph. The society saw him grow as other children. His teachings, which somewhat challenged the normal societal values, were strange and not easily acceptable.
One main way through which inculturation can be expressed is by challenging the power from which such culture draws authority. In so doing, the culture would lose its very foundation, which would make it fall easily. This is what Jesus did in most of his teachings. Currently, many theologians have not managed to separate culture from religion.
As Johnston (87) notes, culture has been a major impediment in the development of the Christian faith. Christianity as a faith can be accepted in any culture because its teachings are meant to ensure that the society lives in peace, love and unity. These values are desirable in any society in the world regardless of one’s cultural values.
However, when intertwined with a specific cultural value, it becomes a challenge for other entrenched cultures to accommodate the faith. This paper seeks to analyze the inculturation process of specific historical moments in the development of the Christian faith
The History of the Christian Church and Its Interaction with Culture
The Christian faith that dominates the world currently traces its roots from Jerusalem in Israel. Jesus Christ, who was the founder of this religion, was a Jew by birth. His teachings and values gained popularity among a section of both the Jews and gentiles. Seen as royal, he was able to go against the expected values of Jews, which were oppressive.
He identified himself with both the rich, such as Zachariah who was a tax collector, and the poor beggars such as Bartimaeus. This was a little too strange for both groups. The rich wanted Jesus, who had gained fame due to his miracles, to behave as a royal person who could not associate himself with the poor.
He was expected to uphold the Jewish cultural values. On the other hand, the poor, who were the greatest beneficiaries of His miracles, did not expect Jesus to associate himself with such oppressive rich individuals like the infamous tax collectors. He remained a strange person to both people. There were many instances when Jesus interacted with cultural values in his mission of spreading the word in both Israel and other neighboring countries around Asia. This can be analyzed as below.
Christ against Culture
Jesus Christ acted in a manner that challenged the culture in many ways. He was a Jew by birth and therefore expected to behave as such. One such important cultural value was that a Jew would not interact with non-Jews, especially their Samaritan neighbors whom they considered unholy.
Men were also not expected to get into a discussion with strange women who were unknown to them. However, Jesus broke all these cultural values when He met the Samaritan woman at the river. He struck of a conversation with the woman by asking for water. In so doing, Jesus was breaking two main values, which were the one barring Jews from interacting with gentiles and the one that prohibited men from talking to strange women.
Even his disciples were amazed upon the realization that their master had engaged a Samaritan woman in such a discussion and even offered her salvation. When he allowed his disciples to eat without washing their hands, it was another sign of disregarding culture.
By challenging men who were determined to stone the adulterous woman, he was going against culturally accepted practice. There are many other instances where he broke cultural values. This is a sign that both culture and religion are there to make a man’s life easy and not oppressive.
Christ in Support of Culture
There are a number of occasions where Jesus Christ showed respect to culture. As was culturally demanded, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after birth. He also made trips to various temples within his hometown and other Jewish cities with his parents.
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Although one would argue that he was too young to make a decision concerning this, we are not told of any incident where he rebuked such practices in his teachings. When challenged by the Pharisees on the issue of tax collection, he simply said ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. This is a sign that he respected some cultural practices, as long as they were practiced with decorum.
Christ above Culture
In many occasions, Jesus showed that he was above culture through his actions. The Sabbath was a very important day to the Jews. They did not work and neither did they let any of their slaves work on this particular day. However, one particular day, he healed the sick on a Sabbath day, a crime which would attract a severe punishment if found guilty. When confronted by authorities to explain why he did this, He challenged his aggressors who were left with no option but to accept the fact.
Christ and Culture in Paradox
In some occasions, Christ and culture seem to exhibit paradoxical relationship. Jesus was considered a religious leader. He had managed to amass huge support from many of Jews through his teachings. He was a leader and his followers were like his servants.
He would send them to perform some errands and they would perform various duties as was expected of any servant. In this regard, he was acting within the cultural expectation where the servant would be at the service of the master.
However, when he washed the feet of his disciples, it sharply contradicted with what he was expected to do as a master. The last thing that the society, even the disciples themselves expected of him, was the washing of the disciple’s feet. This was too paradoxical.
Christ the Transformer of Culture
Christ comes out strongly as a transformer. During this time, the Jewish society had a well-laid down structure based on one’s level of income. It was rare to find that an individual rose from one level to another, though the society was a capitalist one. Those of higher statuses, who were able to hire servants such as Jesus, were not supposed to associate with individuals holding lower statuses.
The only relationship that was expected between them was based on issuing instructions. However, Jesus went against this when he associated freely with the poor, always healing them.
He was telling the society that before God, all are equal and as such, this equality should be practiced on earth. By protecting the adulterous woman, he was also transforming the culture that tolerated partial justice. He was telling the society that if it is about justice, then let justice be seen to be affecting each individual equally.
Growth of Christian Belief and its Structure
Upon the death of Jesus Christ, the disciples took the word to the gentiles. Within f the Jewish society, a number of people accepted the new belief that was advocated for by Jesus. Jesus did not disrupt the initial beliefs that the society held about God. He affirmed that God was the one that the Israelites had been serving all the years and that the laws of Moses were not wrong in entirety.
He only pointed out that some were meant to guide Israelites in the wilderness and therefore was archaic in their settled structure. He also insisted that some of the religious leaders were hypocrites who never practiced what they preached. He preached peace, unity and above all, selflessness.
This was a belief that many found very relevant, especially the gentiles. However, most of the Jews could not let their belief to varnish. They still believed that one day their messiah (not Jesus Christ) would come directly from heaven in form of mosses or Elijah. The gentiles on the other hand received this belief and this was the inception of the Christian religion (Johnston 34).
Among the faithful, they were taught to observe the values that Jesus Christ had given the gentiles and others. The main issue that was taught to the Christian was to believe in one God and one Savior. Many societies accepted this teaching because it was not challenging their culture adversely.
Upon critical analysis, many societies realized that Christianity brought with it many benefits and when adopted, it would ensure harmony in society.
However, its principle of equality was not acceptable by many in the higher social statuses, who believed that this religion was focused on challenging their prestigious positions in society. This saw many of them persecuted by various governments, including the Roman Empire.
Having realized that this religion was too strong to be suppressed, the Roman Empire decided to turn this into a state religion, but with the original cultural values. Johnston (56) says that the Roman government decided to marry culture and the new Christian beliefs. Through the support of government, a number of churches were built within Rome.
The more the new faith was accepted, the more the government took its leadership through the appointment of individuals who were their puppets. This saw the inception of Catholic Church, with its headquarters in Rome, Italy and pope as its head.
Development of Major Western Church Tradition
The Catholic Church was a Christian faith as taught by Jesus Christ but deeply rooted in the Roman culture. It became almost impossible to separate the Roman culture from the beliefs and practices of the church. As religion spread and people became more intelligent and more aware of the Christ’s teachings, the more they came to realize that religion as it was had some problems that were contrary to the original teachings. Many cultures could not fit in the religion, as was advocated for by the Catholic Church (Gonzalez 57).
This saw the need for inculturation of the Christian belief. As it is, Christianity only shuns habits that are retrogressive in the sense that they harm a section of societal members unjustly and that it breeds hatred and separatism, as opposed to love and unity. In England, the king, together with other local leaders who felt that catholic was too much of Roman culture, started the Anglican Church.
This was a direct inculturation from what the society had embraced. They took Jesus’ teachings, incorporated them with their culture, which was good enough to match the teachings of Jesus, and embraced the new faith as Christianity.
This spirit entered the American society. They also developed the urge to embrace this religion, which they realized was good but in the context of the American culture. The spirit of inculturation was so strong in the American culture to an extent that each section had its own interpretation, giving rise to numerous churches, each with its own beliefs and cultural practices.
In America, the members of society were more aware of their rights to an extent that blackmailing them was impossible. Up to date, there are so many churches in America as compared to other places around the world.
Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.
Johnston, William. Recent Reference Books in Religion: A Guide for Students, Scholars, Researchers, Buyers, & Readers, New York: Routledge. 1999. Print.