Has God Revealed Himself Differently in Different Cultures?

The Bible says, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Darwin’s theory of evolution has not only presumed an alternative view of the origin of life, but also stated that religion is evolutionary, moving from primitive to complex; from the worship of many gods (polytheism) to the worship of one God (monotheism). However, the Bible declares just the opposite; that the belief in one God is humanity’s basic presupposition.

God allowed nations to go their own way (disintegrate into polytheism), “yet He did not leave Himself without a witness” (Acts 14:16, 17). God revealed himself in different ways to successive cultures. He revealed himself as Yahweh (the Lord of the covenant) to a polytheist by the name of Abram in Ur. God revealed himself to the mysterious Melchizedek (Genesis 14), who did not worship the gods of Canaan, but was called a priest of the God Most High (El Elyon). Later in the Old Testament we read that God revealed himself through dreams to the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41) and to Abimelech, a Philistine King (Genesis 20:6).

He revealed himself more directly to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius (Daniel 4-6). All of these were from different cultures and time periods. God also used the stars and planets (general revelation) to lead the Wise Men from the East to Christ (special revelation).

In the same way, God is at work today in the darkest corners of the world revealing himself through dreams and visions, and preparing people of different cultures for the gospel. Don Richardson once said that the God who has prepared the Gospel for the world has prepared the world for the Gospel. Richardson details this using a number of very interesting examples from the history of missions in his book “Eternity in Their Hearts.” Here is one of my favorites:

Scattered through the mountains rising between the Kachin and Lahu tribes [of Burma] lived another 100,000 tribesman called the Wa people. The Wa were headhunters [and spirit worshippers] . . . A benign influence was at work within the folk religion of the Wa people. From time to time, the prophets of the true God, whom the Wa called “Siyeh,” arose to condemn the headhunting and spirit-appeasement! One such prophet appeared during the 1880’s. He was called Pu Chan [and he] persuaded several thousand Wa tribesman in Pong Lai village . . . to abandon headhunting and spirit-appeasement. On what grounds? “Siyeh,” the true God, was about to send a long awaited white brother with a copy of the lost book. If he came close to Wa territory and heard that the Wa were practicing these evil things, he might think them unworthy of the true God’s book and draw away again!

One morning Pu Chan saddled a pony and told some of his disciples to follow it. “Siyeh told me last night that the brother has finally come near! Siyeh will cause this pony to lead you to him” . . . . While Pu Chan’s disciples gaped in astonishment, the pony started walking . . . and they followed it. The pony led those amazed disciples over approximately 200 miles of mountainous trails and down into the city of Kengtung. Then it turned into the gate of a mission compound and headed straight for a well. . . . They looked inside it and saw no water, but . . . a bearded white face. William Marcus Young climbed out of the well (he was digging) and faced them. “Have you brought a book of God,” they asked. “This pony is saddled for you. Our people are all waiting. Fetch the book! We must be on our way!” 

The Youngs and the Karen [people] colleagues—in addition to recently baptizing about 60,000 Lahu people—soon found themselves with another 10,000 baptized Wa converts, who in turn spread the gospel still further in eastern Burma and southwestern China! Does anyone doubt that God could cause a pony to lead those Wa men so unerringly over so great a distance? Surely the God who used a star to lead the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem could use a mere pony to find a certain well in Kengtung.

The Church has not always been faithful to its mission, but there should be no doubt that God is a Missionary God who has “pre-tuned” the world for the gospel by placing a witness to himself in every culture. (Acts 14:17)

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less…

This note was sent to me by Wes Ross, a dear friend of mine from Massachusetts. Wes is a musician-scholar-pastor and he recently responded to one of my blogs in which I quoted a portion of the famous hymn by Edward Mote, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” Listen to the hymn as you read the blog.

Check out this video on YouTube:

Hi Dave,

Thank you for these devotionals. They are often just what I need to hear. The hymn that you quoted at the end [of your blog] has always been one of my favorites. A few years ago, on one of our England trips (2017), I decided to try to find the church where Edward Mote was pastor in the town of Horsham. You may know that Mote was a cabinet-maker in London and would have been well-known to many of the leading evangelical leaders in the city.

Interestingly, he had been born (like George Whitefield) the son of parents who ran a pub. Apparently, young Edward did not have the benefit of a Christian upbringing and instead had to fend for himself on the streets while mom and dad ran the pub. At the age of 55, he left his career as a cabinet-maker (and the Christian community in London) and took the pastorate of the Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham. He was there for the next 21 years until his death in 1874. With just that to go on, Suzanne and I began our search by foot for the church. We found the local TIC and a lady there had heard of the Rehoboth Baptist Church and gave us directions.

When we got there, sadly it was locked, but peering through the glass door, I could see a plaque that celebrated this as the church where Edward Mote had written the hymn “My Hope Is Built.” I was ecstatic and insisted on walking around the church to see if there was another entrance. There was not, but soon the present pastor emerged from the church (he may have thought that I was casing the place!) and when he discovered our motive for being there, he invited us inside to see the small sanctuary where Mote would have preached. Then he said, “ He is buried out back, would you like to see?” Of course, I was thrilled.

The best news is that after all these years, the church is still healthy ( about 70-80 believers) and functioning with several strong elders and this young pastor who obviously had a heart for the community. In the short time that we talked, it became apparent that this man was Reformed in his thinking as well. I believe that Mote would be pleased to know that all these years after his death, this group is still reaching out with the gospel to the folk of Horsham.

We do not know the lasting influence of our ordinary lives, do we? Sometimes, it seems as if we are having no impact at all. May this story be an encouragement to all believers; just be faithful, my friend, just be faithful to serve the Lord in your little corner of the vineyard. Remember, your Hope in life is not in your success but in Christ.