In my last post, The Rise of the Pharisees and Legalism in the Church, I discussed how the Pharisees became so legalist in their viewpoint of the Old Testament Law that they actually pushed people away from following God. They simply made it too hard. But don’t we do the same thing today? What are the common lies we believe about the Gospel? About ourselves?
Extra Rules and Cultural Influences
What kind of cultural influences or ‘extra rules’ have we added which make following Christ seem more like a burden? Are we turning people away from the Gospel because we make it too hard? Are we shaming ourselves into believing we’re not good enough because we make it too hard?
I grew up with a legalistic view of the church. Here are some ‘rules’ that were given to me as a kid:
- You can’t eat lucky charms…because as Christians, we don’t believe in luck.
- We don’t watch 100 Dalmatians…because Cruella Devil’s name is spelled like devil.
- We don’t go to the movie theater…because we don’t want people to think we’re seeing something inappropriate.
I grew up in a small town. When the movie, The Passion of Christ came out in 2004, the pastors in our church drove 30 minutes to a nearby bigger city just to see it – so no one from our congregation would see them and think they were seeing another film. They did not want to have the ‘appearance of evil.’
Just think for a moment about your own holiday traditions. How many family arguments begin over how we’re going to celebrate Christmas, or Easter? Times that are supposed to be celebrated as ‘Christian tradition’ quickly turn into disputes over trivial details. Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, A Christmas tree – wisemen on the manger scene…
Do you see how easy it is to lock God away and presume a cultural view of Christianity? Think about other cultures for a moment. America is known as a ‘Christian’ nation. When people in Asia, or Africa, or India, think about America, what do they see? If they were to Google ‘America’ – pictures related to Hollywood, Taylor Swift, Brittany Spears, Michael Jackson…think about the cultural movements happening today that would show up.
From an outsider’s perspective, how is the culture of Christianity reflected in our nation? If you live in Asia and think ‘American = Christian’, would that bring your closer to the Gospel or push you further away? Let’s reverse it.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear ‘Iran? Iraq? Saudie Arabia? North Korea?’ Do their cultural norms reflect places and a people you would want to be associated with? Probably not. But here’s an interesting fact – Some of the countries, which send out the most missionaries per capita – meaning compared to the population – to spread a ‘Jesus following’ or a Christian message are South Korea, Mongolia, Palestine, and even China…in fact a 2012 study cited that America actually receives more missionaries than many other countries.
People are coming TO America to try and make us Christian.
The word ‘Christian’ is used 3 times in the Bible. And one of those uses was an insult.
Paul is speaking with King Agrippa, pleading his case and the King said, “Do you think you can persuade ME to be a Christian?” It’s a challenge.
But let’s take this down to a personal level. What happens when we push God away and presume a cultural and personal view of the Gospel? What keeps us from getting inside? We don’t want God to see our shame, or our guilt. If God is far from us, he can’t be touched by our own uncleanliness. You may have good intentions…so did the Pharisees. But what’s holding you back?
Let’s think about the common viewpoints of Christian Culture.
In order to be a good Christian, I must…
- Read my Bible everyday …but what happens when we don’t? We’re shamed into thinking “I’m not good enough.”
- …Never watch an R rated movie…maybe not even PG-13…..So what happens when I do? “I’m not worthy enough – I don’t deserve God”
- …Never say a cuss word….so what happens the next time I bump my toe, or lose my temper, or just slip up?… “I’m not strong enough.”
- …Always volunteer to pray….. In fact, if I were to say “let’s pray” – what’s the first thing you would do? Even this is cultural. If I look around the room and say, “let’s pray” most of you would bow your head and close your eyes. I went to China in 2010 and when someone said ‘Let’s Pray’ there, everyone’s hands went up in the air. Is one way right, or wrong? No. But our culture might say so – Growing up, every time it was time to pray in Sunday School our teacher would shout ‘heads bowed, eyes closed, hands folded and in your lap.’ Then you would laugh at the kid who would tell on someone for having their eyes open during prayer – “Miss Morgan, Jaimie had her eyes open.”… how do you know? Did you see her?…If you don’t volunteer to pray you think… “I’m not spiritual enough.”
- ..Memorize the the Bible…yes, the whole thing! “I’m just not smart enough.”
- …Listen to Christian Music – ONLY – dress a certain way, walk a certain way, talk a certain way – Do this, don’t do that… “It’s too hard.”
- …I must always be happy – Christians don’t get sad, or upset, or depressed…so when we do we think, “What’s wrong with me? God can’t see me like this? I am not enough”
What lies do you believe about yourself? About God? About the Bible?
We will always put our culture on the Bible. It’s how we relate to the stories and make it personal to us. It’s human nature. When we do this, or, at least when I do, I tend to reframe scripture to make it fit into a way that makes sense to me.
Or, perhaps you tend to shy away from the Bible because it’s hard to understand. “I just don’t get it.” So, we just skip the parts that are too complicated.
We forget that we live in a different culture and therefore, we don’t have the same understanding of the Gospel – unless we begin to put ourselves in the cultural mindset of Jesus. That’s how we get down to the truth – and stop believing the lies.