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Counselling Cross-Culturally

As Christians, we value all people, regardless of culture, because we recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We also recognize that diversity of culture is a beautiful thing and differences in food, clothing, language, etc., should be preserved and appreciated. At the same time, we know that because of sin, not all beliefs and practices within a culture are godly or culturally beneficial. Truth is not subjective (John 17:17); truth is absolute, and there does exist a moral standard to which all people of every culture will be held accountable (Revelation 20:11-12).

Our goal as biblical counselors is not to westernize the world. Rather, it is to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the world and to disciple believers who find themselves in a crisis situation. The Gospel message will kindle social reform to the extent that any society whose practices are out of step with Godís moral standard will changeóidolatry, polygamy, and slavery, for example, will come to an end as the Word of God prevails (Acts 19). Godís Truth addresses the heart of mankind as it relates to marriage, parenting, behaviors and emotions, regardless of the race, economic, or social setting. Truth is truth Ė anywhere, to anyone! Perhaps applications vary in different settings; yet, the biblical principle remains heart and center of how cultural differences are to be lived out. Truth speaks to the heart, and the Holy Spirit helps the believer make appropriate cultural applications. However, culture must change when it contradicts Godís Word which is why it is important for believers of any culture to meditate on His word.

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul writes ďI appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Ē The exhortation that Paul presents is that since we have been the gracious recipients of Godís great mercies, we are to be ďliving sacrificesĒ to God. How do we do this? We are living sacrifices to God by not conforming to this world, but by being transformed by the renewal of our minds.

It is interesting to note that Paul says that we must be transformed by the renewing of our ďminds.Ē The mind is the key to the Christian life. The reason why non-Christians do not respond to Christian truth is because they cannot discern spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). The gospel is a call for the unbeliever to repent of his sin and embrace Christ by faith. The word ďrepentanceĒ carries the notion of a change of mind. Our thinking must be changed (transformed) from old, ungodly ways of thinking into new, godly ways of thinking. What we know in our minds to be true forms a conviction in our hearts of that truth, and that conviction in our hearts translates into action. Therefore, we must first renew our minds and assist our counselee in doing so as well as we address issues that conflict with Godís Word.

Paulís goals were to glorify God and to bring people to Christ. Thus he stayed free of any philosophical position or material entanglement that might sidetrack him while he strictly disciplined himself to carry out his goals. For Paul, both freedom and discipline were important tools to be used in Godís service. Paul never compromised the doctrines of Scripture, never changed Godís word in order to make it more palatable to people in any given place. He never went against Godís law or his own conscience. In matters that did not violate any principle of Godís word, however, Paul was willing to become one of his audience in order to bring them to Christ.

The Word of God transcends culture because it replaces cultural beliefs that are untrue with the truth and transforms the culture to embrace Godís Truth. As we take people to the Truth of Godís word and that seed falls on fertile soil in the heart and is watered by the Holy Spirit, an amazing transformation begins to take place. First, the thinking begins to align up with the Word. Then the behaviors begin to change to reflect that heart change. Emotions begin to reflect the changes in thought and behavior. This is sanctification, the process of growing in holiness and Christ-likeness. The early believers turned their culture and world upside down as they applied truth to their culture regardless of race, economics or social structure. We must help our counselees to do the same because cultural variety is good as long as it does not violate scriptural principles and Godís Truth.

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