We must influence the culture. The culture must not influence us.
Many people have lost hope in Christendom because of statements and mindsets that Christians have supported throughout the various ages. We must be sure to not repeat these mistakes. Let us not allow our own beliefs and worldview to influence our perception of the Bible but rather let us allow God’s truth to alter our beliefs and perspective. Throughout the ages of Christendom the Bible has been interpreted differently and to mean different things by many people. This applies particularly in the areas of gender, slavery and race.
Early church fathers in no doubt contributed many great things to the Gospel and to the furtherance of Christendom which they should be well esteemed and respected for. They, however, interpreted certain passages of scripture through the lens of their cultural perspective and upbringing. These things below were not listed to defame our church fathers but rather to demonstrate a point and present a warning to us because they are just as human as we are. Here are some quotes:
Throughout most of history people believed that God made man superior and woman inferior and tried to use scripture to support this theory. This ideology came largely from the Hellenization of the early church which influenced theologians views of scripture.
Woman is a temple built over a sewer. –Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225).
[Women’s] very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.–Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215): Pedagogues II, 33, 2.
For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says,
even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little
consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman. –Origen (d. 258): Fragments on First Corinthians, 74.
Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together
with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But
when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her
alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he
is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and
the woman are joined together into one. –Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430).
What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children. –Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354 – 430): De genesi ad litteram, 9, 5-9.
Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. … Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. –Saint Albertus Magnus, Dominican theologian, 13th century: Quaestiones super de animalibus XV q. 11.
As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence. –Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, 13th century: Summa Theologica I q. 92 a. 1.
The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. –Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546), Works 12.94.
No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. –Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546).
Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude. –John Calvin, Reformer (1509-1564): Commentary on Genesis, p. 172.
Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me. . . . of what importance is your character to mankind, if you was buried just now Or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God. –John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement (1703-1791): letter to his wife, July 15, 1774.
Even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands. And this inward fear must be shewed by an outward meekness and lowliness in her speeches and carriage to her husband. . . . For if there be not fear and reverence in the inferior, there can be no sound nor constant honor yielded to the superior. –John Dod: A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandements, Puritan guidebook first published in 1603.
The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection. –John Dod: A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandements, Puritan guidebook first published in 1603.
Many Christians also used the Bible to justify slavery. Passages such as Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; “. and Genesis 9:25-27 “he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.'” were used as justification of the enslavement of Africans in the western world.
George Whitefield, one of the most prolific leaders in the Great Awakening of the 18th century used slave labor to help build his famous Bethesda Orphanage. He was also for the legalization of slavery in Georgia. Although, years earlier he had spoken out against the evils of slavery.
[…] the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example. — Richard Furman, President, South Carolina Baptist Convention
“In 1837, southerners in the Presbyterian denomination joined forces with conservative northerners to drive the antislavery New School Presbyterians out of the denomination. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split into northern and southern wings over the issue of slavery. In 1845, the Baptists in the South formed the Southern Baptist Convention due to disputes with Northern Baptists over slavery and missions.
Some members of fringe Christian groups like the Christian Identity movement, and the Ku Klux Klan (an organization dedicated to the “empowerment of the white race”), and Aryan Nations still argue that slavery is justified by Christian doctrine today.” Source
Some of our early church fathers blamed Jews for the death of Christ. Because of this belief they often held hostility against Jews. This explains some of the actions that took place in the largely Christianized Medieval Europe such as pogroms.
“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire… Second, that all their books– their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible– be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted…Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country…Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it… He who hears this name [God] from a Jew must inform the authorities, or else throw sow dung at him when he sees him and chase him away”. (ref. Martin Luther; On the Jews and Their Lies, translated by Martin H. Bertram, Fortress Press, 1955).
In more recent history churches also preached that interracial marriages were ungodly because “Lions lay with lions and tiger lay with tigers”. They believed that people of different races were made to only marry other people of their “kind” and should not intermix. Even men of God like Bob Jones wrote a sermon in 1960 entitled “Is Segregation Scriptural?”. In this he details how
“You talk about a superior race and an inferior race and all that kind of situation. Wait a minute. No race is inferior in the will of God. Get that clear. If a race is in the will of God, it is not inferior. It is a superior race. You cannot be superior to another race if your race is in the will of God and the other race is in the will of God. But the purposes of these races were established by Almighty God; and when man attempts to run contrary to the directive will of God for this word, there is always trouble. Now, that is the trouble.” Bob Jones – Sermon 1960 Easter Sunday.
Jones believed that Acts 17:26 “and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,” dictated the racial groupings of the earth. He believed that this verse was indicating that God forbade interracial marriages and that to do so was to go against the will of God and His plan for the human race. However, in 2000 Bob Jones University dropped their interracial dating ban.
What is the take away from all of this? That even the greatest and most respected men of God can be influenced by the culture of their day. We should not look down on our spiritual forefathers but rather learn from them. They are fallible people just like we are. The truth is that this was not what the Bible actually taught about gender, race, or slavery but rather it was how Christians interpreted it through their own cultural world view. This is why context is key. Today, we must be on guard for the same thing. Just because something seems right and we can “justify” it with scripture that does not mean it reflects the true heart of the Father. We must be careful that our own mindsets and culture do not influence how we interpret the Bible.
How does this apply to the church today?
There are many cultural ideologies that are infiltrating the church. We must be sure that in this season we are not allowing ungodly ideas to penetrate out hearts and minds. Nothing should ever turn us to the left or to the right. Our focus should only be on the Lord Jesus Christ.