Many love to speak about “culture” today. Christian education, supposedly, is designed to teach our children to engage in “cultural activities” that will make this world a better place.
But what exactly is culture? What is accomplished by the various “cultural activities” promoted in neo-Calvinistic colleges today? More importantly, what activity would be the biblical counterpart to the world’s idea of developing culture?
What is “culture”?
A cultural activity is one that is designed to develop human beings, especially by means of education. It refers to the act of “cultivating” people to promote their growth. Just as agriculture has to do with the growth of crops, so cultural activity has to do with the growth of people.
The growth spoken of here, however, is not merely intellectual. It is also moral. Various popular dictionaries will define culture as the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties, especially by education.1
So a cultural activity is one designed to improve people from a moral point of view. But what does that mean?
Morality has to do with issues of right and wrong. So a person who is morally improved makes better decisions, and he more frequently does what is right.
That being the case, what activity or activities will improve people morally? What does God use to cause some people to make better decisions concerning matters of right and wrong? And in which people will it have this positive effect?
Christ: The Cultivator
The chief means that God uses to cause people to make sound moral decisions is the preaching of the Word of God. Good works are only those that proceed from faith, and it is gospel preaching that is used by God to produce this faith.
The only ones, then, who will ever be improved morally are those who sit under gospel preaching and who genuinely receive what God says. These are the only ones who will ever make sound decisions, rejecting what is sinful and doing what is right. Those who reject what God says never, from the heart, do what is right. They are plants that will never produce a single good fruit.
And producing good fruit is what culture is supposed to be all about.
So Christ is the one farmer who engages in true cultural activities. He is the only one who can and does improve people morally. He is the one who cultivates the ground, softening the hard hearts and making them receptive to the Word. Then He also is the one who sows the seed of the Word of God, which takes root in the good-soil hearts of His people, so that they produce good fruit to the glory of God’s name.
Gospel preaching is the central activity that Christ uses to promote cultural development. It is chiefly by this means that He causes us to grow spiritually, so that we turn away from that which is evil and delight to do what is right and pleasing in God’s sight.
Can this world be morally improved?
So moral improvement does take place. But it takes place only in the church of Jesus Christ. Those outside of Christ are spiritually dead. There is nothing that can or does improve them from a moral point of view. By means of modern science and technology, even those outside of Christ may see an improvement in their bodily health. But nothing sinful man comes up with will ever bring about a moral improvement inside a depraved sinner. The dead, depraved sinner will always act unjustly in his dealings with other human beings.
So what about when we Christians bear witness to the truth and publicly make known biblical principles? Does this activity have any positive effect on those who are outside of Jesus Christ?
Many think that it does. But the truth is quite to the contrary. The proclamation of God’s Word is one of the keys of the kingdom that opens the kingdom to believers and shuts it against unbelievers (Lord’s Day 31). The Word of truth exposes the sin of unbelievers, so that they become angry, and then experience even more so the curse of Almighty God. They come to recognize that they are cut off from the living God. And the more they are aware of this, the more they grow in their hatred for God and His people and are plunged even deeper into the ways of sin.
The one city that will remain
Those who reject God and are cursed go quickly about building their own city. Thrust out of the city of God, they busy themselves with building their own city. That was what Cain quickly did when he was cursed of God and was thrust out from His presence.
And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch ().
The cursed Cain began to build his own city, with his own view of right and wrong. Such a city would have its own “culture,” designed to promote its own “moral values.” Yet no genuine moral improvement would actually take place there. In fact, not long thereafter, all the cities of sinful man would go underwater, justly destroyed by the waves of God’s wrath.
Such is Jehovah’s view of the “culture” produced by sinful man.
Christ alone is the one who truly performs cultural activities. He alone performs the work that produces good fruit, gathering a people out of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Together He unites them in one city, the everlasting city, with one view—God’s view—of what is good and what is evil.
1 For example, the eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.