Our culture and the Church’s doctrine13 Jun 2016, by Doctrines in
With smiles on my face, I watched on the internet how two Nigerian Catholic priests danced like King David to the sound of the African traditional flute common among the Igbo people of Nigeria. I sometimes feel that the sound of this flute “intoxicate” the people; it makes all of us so proud of been Africans, Nigerians, and Igbo in particular. The flute sounded in the Church, and the priests danced accordingly to the glory of God and the admiration of the worshipers. But I became worried when I heard some negative comments about the dance and the flute. The comments were made simply because the flute was blown in the Church and the priests also danced in the Church. I wondered what was wrong with it and asked myself if the Church’s doctrines and our cultures cannot embrace and find common ground of agreement. Syncretism is far from what I mean, and I stand against every form of liturgical destruction with all my strength. However, I am very much interested in the relationship between our cultures and the Church’s doctrines.
The word culture may be misunderstood, interpreted, or translated in different ways. Its meaning may depend on the context in which it is used. Still, this article refers to the expression of who we are through our customs, arts, social institutions, and other means by which we can express the “Africaness” in us. That was just what my brother priests expressed in their dance. They expressed the celebrating nature of the African people in appreciation for the goodness, power, and holiness of God almighty. While on the other hand, the doctrine is the Church’s teaching in faith and morals.
This whole stuff about doctrine and culture reminds me of St. Paul’s experience at Athens. Paul walked through the streets of Athens and observed how religious the people were; in other words, he observed their culture, way of life, and how they expressed themselves in arts and custom. He stood before the people and said, Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made of human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things (Acts 17:22-25).
Paul did not condemn the people; he rather taught the people to understand and express their faith in God in a better and dignified way. King David recognized the dignity of God’s presence and danced to the glory of God; he certainly did not dance like an African man, neither did he dance to the sound of an African flute but danced like his people and to the sound of their own music. My brother priests did as David did.
Though I strongly call for the appreciation of our cultures, we must let the doctrines of the Church purify them. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church’s doctrines ranks higher and above every culture, and so has the power to purify them. The Church’s doctrines are not opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ; the same Holy Spirit inspires them all and continues to inspire and guide the Church’s work. Letting the Holy Spirit purify our cultures through the Church’s doctrines is not a form of condemnation; I rather see in it what Paul did to the Athenians. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church’s doctrines, the “unknown god” is made manifest. If the African flute was blown for the glory of an unknown god, the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the Church’s doctrines teaches us to learn to do it for the glory of the one and only God who was, who is and who is to come. Our cultures must submit to God and glorify him; that is why not all forms of dances are allowed in our liturgical gathering even though inculturation is allowed. Inculturation is not a call to abuse liturgical celebration but to transmit the same liturgy to the people without damage.
I appreciate my brother priests’ cultural display, but it must be watched, so we don’t go to the extreme.