Monday, April 29, 2013

Christianity and Stereotypes

Reposted from my old blog, Steve+Theology. Originally published 6/27/12.

I want to tackle an issue in my first blog post that pretty much gets to the heart of what this blog is: stereotypes of Christianity. While the stereotypes floating around out there are typically based on a very real thing, Christianity is probably the most if not one of the most diverse entities in human history. Yes, a lot of Christians killed a lot of people during the crusades. At the same time there were several groups of pacifist Christians floating around too. You simply can't paint with a broad brush.

The things to remember are these: Christianity is old, Christianity has (through positive means or otherwise) made it around the globe, Christianity is made up of all kinds of different people.

Let's start with old. Our calendar is loosely synced to Jesus' (the Christ, root of the term Christianity) life. That means it has been roughly 2000 years since the seed of Christianity was planted. If you want to get into it's Jewish roots (ie the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible as it is now PC to call it) then you can at least double that. Through these times the church has gone through many phases. These phases often are the result of realities Christians of the time are facing. You can even see this progression in the bible itself. If you look at the apostle Paul's writing (he is the most prolific writer of the New Testament) you can see a progression through his lifetime. Early in his writing he was operating from the view that the apocalypse could happen any second. Later in his writing he began to realize while the apocalypse could happen any second it could also be more than a lifetime away. This meant that early in his writing long term things were less important while later in his writing he began to realize that people may in fact need to plan into the future. Another example is the early church. Prior to Constantine the Christians were varying degrees of underdog. This meant that worship was small, perhaps secret. Churches were in people's houses or built into synagogues somehow. Virtually overnight when Constantine adopted Christianity as a state religion things changed. All of the sudden Christians had the full clout of the Roman Empire behind them. This is the history of Christianity. While the message shouldn't change (and changes less than we think it does) the container for the message changes as fast as society does.

Secondly, Christianity has made it into every nook and cranny of the globe. Regardless of whether it's caught on some eager missionary has made it at some point to every remote part of the globe. Christians believe they're compelled to share their information about God. Even me, hence the blog. As we all know, cultures are different. A professor once shared with me that in one indigenous bible translation they had to change snake to scorpion when Jesus asks what father would give his son a snake when his son asked for a fish. The reason was that in that culture snakes were considered a pretty tasty treat. That's a simple example but all kinds of things can change Christianity. Another example is how some Anglican churches have pews reserved for the royal family. That's a biproduct of the British Monarchy that has spread throughout the commonwealth. The way Christianity is expressed will change at least a bit wherever you go. Again, the message should (and for the most part does) stay the same from culture to culture but it will be in a different container.

Thirdly, the different people. I'm a ministry student and therefore I do supply preaching. It's like when you get a supply (or substitute for you Americans) teacher when your teacher is sick. If I preach at my college chapel service and drop the word "hermeneutic" then everyone knows what I'm talking about (or at least has heard the word). On the other hand, if I go to East Podunk Station and say that word I'm going to loose people. For years in my home town there were two churches of the same denomination right next to each other. They shared the same theology, same politics, they were part of the same initiatives, but the one church was where the pilars of the community  went and the other was largely railroad workers. The two groups just simply didn't mix very well. My point is not that Christians don't get along (though they sometimes don't) but rather that in the same way people are diverse so is Christianity.

Now, what a lot of people say to me at this point in the conversation is "well why bother, it sounds like none of you can get along anyway!" Well, Christians don't always get along. In fact often we don't see eye to eye. What we do have is a common starting point: the Bible and Jesus. After that we start exploring all sorts of crazy ideas. This is actually a good thing. If we can get along, and we should, it means that we are constantly talking to each other, questioning each other, and helping each other. If we all got along it would be like driving our cars down the road with our eyes shut and assuming we were in the right lane. By exploring different ideas and different thoughts that come from Christianity's diversity we're doing what Christians call "discerning God's call." Basically, it means we're making sure we don't get stuck in our ways and are following God's ways.

So in the end my point is this: Christianity is diverse and diverse for a good reason. Don't paint it with a broad brush, sure the church often deserves it, but it doesn't always. What painting with a broad brush does is remove people from the above mentioned conversation. If you are interested in criticizing the church then it means you care, otherwise you'd hopefully be busy doing any number of other funner things. If you care but are unhappy, then you want to see improvement. If you want to see improvement you need to come in and join the conversation rather than tearing things down from the outside. If you just like complaining about something you're not willing to fix, then go away. No one likes a complainer. If you're interested in taking part in the conversation, pay attention to forthcoming blog posts. I hope to do one soon on topics like choosing a church, different denominations, and the difference between Christianity and the church. Godspeed.

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