The futile ways of your forefathers

What did the apostle Peter think of non-Christian “culture”? 

He wasn’t very complimentary. He didn’t celebrate it, or appreciate it. He doesn’t seek to preserve it. He describes it as “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18). What Christian converts inherited from their family wasn’t valuable. He doesn’t want them to continue to pass it on to their children and grandchildren. It’s not a history to re-tell, but to forget. It’s not just a mix, with good bits and bad bits. Nor is their culture neutral. He sums up their entire heritage in one, shocking word: “futile”. That word means: idle, empty, a waste of time. 

Some of their families might have been top brass in the Roman army! Some of those converts might have had a top education! Some of their families might have been in the civil service! But they’re “futile ways”. 

It’s not that Peter was a Philistine. I don’t think he means we shouldn’t cheer for our country’s football team, or savour our homeland’s dishes, or enjoy traditional dress. Feeling a sense of attachment to a place and loyalty to ancestry is part of the fifth commandment (Ex 20:12). But Peter has tasted eternity. The inheritance Christ handed to him (1 Peter 1:4) turned all earthly inheritance to perishable, rubbish. The gospel is to radically revise our attitude to the customs and culture we’ve inherited from our unbelieving families. Fundamentally, Christ’s verdict on those “ways” is “futile”. 

Instead, when we become a Christian, we join a new group, with a different ancestry, and habits and customs. It’s called the church. This group’s inheritance isn’t “perishable” but “imperishable” (1 Peter 1:4).  We are a “chosen race… a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). This nation isn’t just local, in one particular place, but spread through the earth and through time. To become a Christian from outside the church is a massive act of “cultural appropriation”, and that’s good! 

So, if you’re a Christian, the cultural history to celebrate isn’t your English-ness, or your European-ness, or your Western-ness. It’s not your Asian-ness, or your African-ness. There’s plenty of futility in those ways. Christ has ransomed us from them. Now our cultural loyalty is tied to the “holy nation” of the people of God, heading for our homeland in eternity (1 Peter 1:4).