The battle we have in the A.D. (after Christ death) era is not an external one, but an internal one. However, Western Bible readers often project our militaristic cultures onto Biblical texts and make our internal transformation challenge into an external war with others who do not conform to our current or cultural way of thinking (and who we perceive to be less transformed by the Gospel).
Culturally speaking, Americans and other Westerners are relatively militaristic. If we think about the research a little, we may understand ourselves and why we prefer the militaristic way of doing things, why we tend to project our cultural preferences onto scriptures which were written by extremely different cultural beings in an extremely different time.
The Roman culture was also very militaristic; however, the New Testament Church culture was not. We could accurately say that the First Century Church culture was “feminine” in values while the Roman culture was “masculine” if we use today’s research terms to analyze and apply Hofstede’s groundbreaking research on cultures. Stick with me, I’ll explain.
According to Hofstede’s (1987) landmark research across hundreds of modern cultures, the US scored high on the “masculinity” scale of cultures. Hofstede named the polar contrasts of modesty and caring as “feminine cultures” and its counterpart of assertiveness/aggressiveness as “masculine” cultures. When speaking of “cultural values” it is not that one is necessarily better or worse, it is that masculine or feminine traits are descriptors of the ways we tend collectively to believe and to behave.
Masculine cultural traits include power, strength, individual achievement, self-centeredness, materialism, and assertiveness. Masculine cultures tend to be patriarchal, militaristic, and male dominated in every structure of a society. Even women in masculine cultures tend to embrace and support the values of the culture and operate within the same value system although women across cultures also generally value modesty and nurturing. However, embracing and complying to the dominant culture is a matter of survival, thus compliance is statistically most common.
Feminine cultures tend to value the quality of life and relational life, thus often have extended parental leave for both parents, an entire month of vacation for all workers, and often support the impoverished and have healthcare available for all members of society. Even men in feminine cultures tend to embrace the modesty (as opposed to self-promoting) and caring values of the culture.
As an American of European decent, who was raised as a military kid in a very verbally and physically aggressive household in very aggressive communities, I have been raised to “take responsibility” primarily for myself even as a child. I was not raised with a particular mindfulness or sense of responsibility for others. I have been raised to assume that I should dictate my own destiny, be strong, assertive, and even “fight for myself” as the responsible and even Christian way to behave as a member of society.
Even the churches I was raised in were very much masculine in culture. Leadership and decision making was male dominated.
I remember being in the back row with the rest of the kids for a particular church business meeting where the whole church broke out in a verbal battle over whether one particular man was eligible to vote because someone claimed that he had not sufficiently tithed. It was a very aggressive, angry, and demeaning group conversation. There was no attempt at reconciliation or apology towards the man after this meeting. It seemed to be assumed that “this is the way we do business.”
The first century Church displayed the opposite characteristics of militarism and individualism. They were compelled by Jesus and after his ascension multiple times to behave in opposite ways as was common to their surrounding conquest culture during the time of Roman occupation. Many of the instructions to them as we see in the New Testament were important and riveting because they were completely opposite of the norm. For example,
“. . . And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had . . . there were no needy people among them because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need . . . (Acts 4:32-35, NLT).
The beatitudes, a sermon Jesus gave (Matthew 5), emphasize opposite behaviors and attitudes of masculine and militaristic cultures: God blesses the poor and says, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” we often find the poor at fault for their impoverished state and say, “they did/do something to deserve what they get.”
God blesses those who mourn for “they will be comforted” . . . we often say, “get over it, stop feeling sorry for yourself, suck it up!”
God blesses the humble, yet we prefer the confident person.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice and those who are merciful, while we prefer the powerful who can use the law and highly paid lawyers to get away with abusive behavior.
God blesses the pure hearted while we prefer those who flaunt intelligence and can articulate arguments convincingly.
God blesses those who work for peace, while we admire those who fight for their own individual rights especially when they win.
Self-defense is a carefully guarded American right. Yet, Matthew 5:39 states if someone hits us in the face, we should turn to them the other side of our face (not defend ourselves). If they sue us and win, we should give them more! We are also instructed to give to whoever asks something of us, and not to resist those who need to borrow. These things are so counter cultural to us, and I imagine they were to the New Testament Believers too.
I write all these things to make the point that, “Often the storm is IN US, the storm IS US!” We regularly perceive the storm to be external, however it is our own cultural/inner beliefs, anger, and fighting that cause the storm. It is our own self-defense, aggression, individualism, and militarism that leads us to believe the storm is an external one to fight.
I propose that the storm is an internal one to quell rather than an external one to fight. I think if we stop fighting all the external stuff, stop trying to make everyone else conform by means of aggression that the Lord will calm the storm in us so that we can actually be light and salt, and peacemakers in this world. Once at peace ourselves, we could help reconcile people to The Father and to each other. The difference in us would be so peaceful, so loving, so obvious . . . and so extremely desirable.
By Doc Courage