The third observation I made while in Asia is one where the church in neither country has it right. And in both, the attitude of the church reflects that of larger society. The pendulum in Asia has found itself at one extreme and, in America, it’s at another.
The matter to which I’m referring is that of respect and honor. Asian society (please remember that I am referring to a specific nation), operates largely on the honor system. And much of the honor that’s given is based upon the caste system. Honor is given to certain individuals because of the caste or the place into which they’ve been born.
Some of this makes sense in terms of their culture. Yet, at the same time, it really bothered me. For example, on a trip to the beach with the children and staff, I was one of the last to get on the bus. There were seats and there were handholds. Being American, and being a man, I tend to stand and allow the women and children to sit in a situation like this one. However, upon entering the bus, some of the staff began telling certain women and children to stand so I could sit. And it was very difficult for me to sit there. I did so only because I didn’t want to disrespect my hosts.
Other parts of this system, although a part of the culture, reveals that the church has not come to terms with Biblical teaching. Whenever we conducted a prayer service in a village and shared the gospel, almost everyone came forward for prayer. And my immediate response to this is how wonderful and refreshing it is. I long for a similar response in America. But it was explained to me that many come forward for prayer with improper motives. They believe that, because I am white, and because I belong to the highest caste, God is more likely to hear my prayers than their own.
In the U.S., however, we have the opposite problem. We have also allowed our cultural mindset to invade the church. And what we see here is a complete lack of respect.
It’s taught in our nation that everyone is equal. And I believe this to be true. However, along with this belief, we’ve adopted the mindset that no one should have more authority than another. We feel that, if someone has more authority than another, we are no longer equal.
We see this reflected in many ways. We have children who refuse to honor their parents. We have wives who refuse to respect their husbands. We have husbands who refuse to give honor to their wife as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). We have citizens who refuse to honor their governing officials. We have church members who refuse to honor those who are over them in the Lord. The list could go on and on.
We often fail to honor others saying that they do not deserve it. And, when we say this, we are right. No one deserves honor. We are all sinners deserving only of judgment.
But we are called to give honor as an act of grace. We are called to give honor because God has placed certain individuals in a certain position, as part of the order he has established. We honor these individuals realizing that, as we do so, we are honoring God himself.
The proper place for the pendulum, I believe, is between these two cultural approaches. Our lack of honor is sinful on our part. But the misuse of honor, to give one person more value than another, is sinful on their part.
We must give honor to whom it is due. But, at the same time, we must realize that we are all equal in Christ. We are loved the same, we are valued the same, and we have all been provided with the same salvation.