A lot of people, even those considering themselves to be faithful Christians, find the Bible difficult to read. Not only are the stories not presented in chronological order, but they are written to address problems of 2,000 to 4,000 years ago. It’s fair to say that a little has changed since then.
Someone correct me if I’m wrong (as unlikely as that is), but it appears to me that the most drastic change affecting our perspective and approach to Christianity is Christendom. For those of you wondering what the heck Christendom is, it’s defined as
“Traditionally, the part of the world traditionally dominated by Christianity: most of Europe, Australasia and the Americas, plus parts of the Third World (thanks to http://www.csa.com/hottopics/religion/gloss.php).”
So when we speak of Christendom, we’re referring to world as influenced by Christianity. What I meant by calling Christendom the largest difference is this: we face a unique set of challenges, questions, doubts, resentments, and teachings which we must overcome that the pre-Christ world and early church had no way of predicting. No one who wrote or influenced the writing of Scripture had to deal with Baptist doctrine, Presbyterian doctrine, Methodist doctrine, Charismatic doctrine, etc. None of them grew up in a country claiming to be Christian. They grew up in a country claiming to be God’s chosen nation, which is somewhat similar, but they didn’t have the same Gospel message or road to salvation to deal with.
Pick twenty people off the streets in the United States and ask them what it means to be or become a Christian. On some level, you will hear twenty different answers.
My point is this: when a message has been around for 2,000 years, people are bound to screw up the details. That’s just how it is. Back when the New Testament was being written, people were being introduced to what they considered a “completely new religion”, even though it was only the planned transformation of Judaism. They didn’t grow up with Jesus being so common that they used the name while swearing without even realizing that they were mentioning deity. It just didn’t happen.
In today’s culture, Christianity is so “obvious” that most people assume they’re a part of it without even knowing what it is. Even those of us who think we know at least the fundamental ins and outs still have to deal with our stupid self-improvement culture that looks for the 7 Steps to a Fulfilling Life or the Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Christian. The Bible wasn’t written like that (yes, I realize that there were a Top 10 of sorts when it came to commandments). It was written to people who didn’t live based on the fundamentals of marketing and self-improvement. When they were told that Christianity is about relationship with God, they understood it on a level most of us have yet to fathom. For us, we tend to skip over that relationship stuff and look for a list of things to do to check off. We tend to believe that if we’ll say a prayer, tithe, read our Bible, pray over meals, avoid X-rated material, be faithful to our spouses, and avoid hurting other people as much as possible, that we’ve done our duty.
Someone has to address this crucial misunderstanding to the masses. It’s not enough that pockets of people are getting close to God at some churches. We live in a country of 300 million people who need to understand that God is not who the televangelists say He is. They need to know that God is not after their money (though He will require us to give it). They need to know that just because some old white haired guys and purple haired ladies with too much makeup get up on fancy stages on television and act like buffoons doesn’t mean that Christianity is a ruse.
And most of all, they need to know that it’s okay to throw out the rulebook and start from scratch… that God won’t be offended if they approach him with sincerity, even if they come with STDs, guilt, shame, depression, anger, lust, addictions, fears, doubts, or any other problem. People need to know He will accept them. They need to know it like they need to know that a real human being will accept them with all they’ve got going on inside and outside.
They need to know. It’s not fun to stop our ranting and raving about the coolest gadgets or websites or whatever drives us nuts. But there’s more to life than going to a Billy Graham crusade and working like a dog for the rest of your life. There’s more, and it’s my hope that we’ll cover more of this in the months ahead. I won’t burden you too often, since I know we all need to take in important truth in small doses until we grow accustomed to it. But we’ll take this journey together, throwing American religious traditions out the window and approaching God with fresh eyes and as few preconceived notions as we can manage.