Culture Wars

Opening Prayer

Lord, may I be guided and directed by You and not influenced by the ways of this world.

Read Acts 19:23–41

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Reflect

How would you define the culture you live in?

Artemis—goddess of fertility and nature—was worshipped across the Roman Empire from Spain to Syria. Her temple in Ephesus was deemed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and was a renowned cultural and financial center. Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths traded in shrines, and he rightly identified the Christian message as a threat to economic prosperity, religious dedication and national pride (27). It wasn’t hard for him to whip up a frenzied mob. The theatre held 24,000 people, and they chanted praise to Artemis for two straight hours (34).
Part of my university degree was in African studies. One of my lecturers’ favorite topics was what they saw as the destructive cultural imperialism of missionaries, who would arrive, introduce Christianity and then proceed to dismantle the indigenous religious practices. Missionaries of old were not blameless, and I’m sure that they could have been more respectful and sensitive in their approach. But the fact is, when and where Jesus is worshipped, culture is transformed. This doesn’t happen without disruption, because another god will first need to be overthrown. And until the kingdom of God has come in full, other gods have multitudinous devotees.

Apply

Read The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) and look at Jesus’ teachings. How are these different than the ways of our current culture?

Closing prayer

Lord, may my culture be transformed by the power and presence of the one true God.

Syndicated via Scripture Union. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Terry Schneider