“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…” – 1 Corinthians 14:33
We live in an increasingly complex world, and our ability to fully understand our world becomes increasingly more difficult. And, the future only promises to increase the difficulty. As knowledge grows, so does technology. We’re cloning animals. We’re transplanting all manner of human organs. We have vehicles on Mars. Think about the knowledge and technology that is needed to fuel these accomplishments. Is was imaginable only a few decades ago.
Not surprisingly, religion seems to be getting more complicated as well, especially when the word “Christian” is added to the mix. “Christian” is a brand that can be good, bad, attractive, or repelling. It’s a loaded label no matter whom you ask. The word “Christian” is overused, misused and misunderstood by millions of people and has become a “hot button” here in America and in every part of the world.
It is not to hard to understand why. There are are so many knock off or spin off Christian groups. People have gone to war in the name of Christianity throughout history. In fact, people use Christianity as an excuse to do all kinds of things. Christianity defies simple description, or explanation. It is hard to get your arms around what a Christian really is.
Ask 10 people for their definition of being a Christian and you would probably get 10 different answers. Some people think that to be a Christian means you can’t see movies, that you can’t dance, can’t have a drink, or that you can’t have any more fun. So many sincere believers get caught in the trap of other’s definition of what “giving it all to Christ” really is.
People believe it is very hard to understand the concept of Christianity because there are so many things to learn. Do you have to be a Greek scholar, a historian with a Ph.D, or a learned theologian? To listen to some religious people you would think so. Religious beliefs and the books and materials that support those beliefs are proliferating. New insights and interpretations occur almost daily. New theories are propounded regularly. New groups are formed. There are hundreds of denominations and religious sub-groups which consider themselves Christian. Can you understand Christianity with all its nuances and dominations without a string of letters behind your name.
Can we know whether Christianity’s bewildering variety of customs and teachings faithfully represents those of Jesus Christ?
For instance, how do you baptize a person? Do you dip them, do you sprinkle them, or do you fully immerse them? There are different points of view. People have an idea about what is right and they follow that in their particular denomination. The question is whether it makes a difference as to whether you are dipped, sprinkled or immersed. Most would say that Christianity teaches baptism and that is something we all agree on. But using what method?
Most of the differences in denominations are similar to this kind of thing. Do you worship on Saturday or on Sunday? In the morning or the evening? Do you use instruments or no instruments? Should you have a choir? Should you teach topically or verse by verse? What are your particular views about the way salvation is mediated by God? How about the Holy Spirit? Do you speak in tongues or not?
And then there are the stigmas that have arisen concerning Christianity on subjects such as being anti-sex, anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-science. Christians are viewed as hypocrites that don’t practice what they preach and have no tolerance for others. Christians are viewed as people that hate all other religions. As judgmental. As fanatics who abdicate their critical thinking skills when it comes to examining their own religion and are never open to discussion. And lastly, we Christians can be viewed as being easily manipulated politically to anyone who stands for family values.
And we can’t forget the stereotypes. Most people, especially those over the age of 50, can give you a pretty accurate parody of some wild-eyed evangelical preacher. There he is, his arms are fully extended upward, sweat is running off his brow, his right hand is clenching a Bible as if someone is trying to take it away from him, and he is yelling with each word punctuated by a pause, “You goin’ to hell, unless you…”
So what does it really mean to be a Christian? The term “born again” is often misused so it generates a lot of confusion. Religion makes people act strange. So where do you find answers to these key questions?
Over the next few weeks, I would like to give you those fundamental truths of Christianity and, hopefully, to poke through the stereotypes, stigma and media perceptions and clarify what being a Christian really means.