It´s interesting to see how being away from your fatherland for a few months distances you enough to be able to view your own culture from a different perspective. So far I´ve been here for 2.5 months, and I have been learning to turn a more critical eye toward some American ideology that perhaps before I would have taken as true at face-value. My servant team has specifically been talking some about how the values and ideologies of America influence Christianity, something I will call ¨American Christianity.¨
Disclaimer before i continue: I realize that not all churches or people buy into these ideas. However, I believe that this is a general theme. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts as to whether or not you agree.
It seems that in American Christianity (AC), one of the biggest goals of churches is to convert people. I believe that is fine, as Jesus tells us to go into all of the world making disciples. However I think some churches forget that Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples, not to compete for who can get the largest number of followers. Too often in America we put all the emphasis on the numbers in our congregations–the more Christians we make the quicker, the better. So, to convert as many people as quickly as possible, some churches dum-down God´s message, making it less edgy and more appealing to the masses. To me, this ¨theology¨ is driven more from a consumerist standpoint than from the Bible.
Keep in mind this is not necessarily critiquing large churches. It is critiquing churches that are only driven and motivated by numbers and attendance.
Secondly, it is interesting to look at how many churches view a conversion. Often times, when someone decides to be a Christian they go up for an alter call, or repeat a simple prayer asking God to forgive them of sin and inhabit their heart. After that, they are Christian. Alter calls and prayers are extremely good things–that is, in fact, how I became a Christian. However, I think we should see them for what they are: a begining. Accepting Jesus into your heart isn´t the end of the journey. Making it to the altar for the call is not the final destination. Instead, they are the begining of the conversion in our lives. We need to think of what we are converting to. To Jesus? Yes, of course. But we are not only converting to Jesus, we are converting to a new lifestyle. I think following Jesus is a life-long commitment that requires a mindset change about how we see the world, and requires us to dedicate ourselves to actively seeking after God´s own heart and the things God values.
So, according to AC, what exactly is the purpose of converting? Many churches would say to reserve a spot in heaven and to ensure eternal life with God. I do think that this is a large part of believing in God, however I think salvation is more than receiving a ticket to heaven–that only has good ramifications for the individual that converted (which makes sense with our individualist culture, but we have to remember that most cultures around the world are more community-oriented). Maybe God´s original intention for salvation is more inclusive–perhaps it is more about His dream to reconcile and restore the world to His original plan. Maybe our salvation needs to be more community-centered: we believe in Jesus, and then we join in His kingdom revolution by loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, sharing our food with the hungry, clothing the naked, and doing away oppression (Isaiah 58).
Did God intend for us only to accept Him into our hearts and then wait around for our everlasting lives with a ¨this world is messed up, but there is a better one to come¨ attitude? What if that were God´s attitude toward our world now? I hope not. That would make this world a dark, depressing place. Maybe we as Christians are supposed to catch on to His vision for this world and do everything we can to work towards it, keeping in mind God´s promise for everlasting life and a ¨new heaven and new earth,¨ and knowing that, ultimately, complete reconciliation will come.
I´m not a theology student or pastor, and I don´t pretend to think I know everything about the Bible or what God wants for us. These thoughts stem from various books we have read, discussions we have had, and experiences I have had in the past 2.5 months. While I´m sure that my ideas will continue to change and be challenged, I wanted to throw my thoughts out there to you all as a discussion piece, and hopefully as a tool to encourage us to continue asking questions, encouraging each other, and seeking after God´s will.
So…what do you think?