Thursday, January 29, 2009

Becoming Christian Vs. Being Christian

I've had many, many conversations centering around what the biggest thing is that makes them cringe when thinking about their past church experiences. A majority of the time it has to do with the over-used and abused message that we're all sinners, going to hell unless we say a prayer of salvation and accept Jesus as our "lord and Savior".  Now, before the hateful comments start coming, give ear to WHY this message is like fingernails on a chalkboard for many.

Let me begin with a story of my own.  As I posted recently, I lost my grandfather a little over a week ago.  He was a fantastic person with a life full of stories.  To me, he was the embodiment of what living looks like.  Yet at his funeral very little about his life was mentioned.  Now I disclaim that I had no say in the funeral, that was for my grandmother, mom, and uncles to prepare.  The pastor was placed in charge of everything, and so he did what he thought best.  I am not complaining nor criticizing...simply using this as an example.  

There was one story told of my grandfather.  The pastor did a fantastic job talking to the audience/family about the allowing their emotions to run their course.  But the majority of the time was the same old sermon that you can hear in most any church in America on any Sunday morning.  Rather than being about my grandfather, it was more about trying to appeal to everyone else to make haste and become a Christian so that you will know where you are going when you die.  

I know of many churches where this happens at every funeral the pastor presides over at their church.  I know of many more churches where this is the ONLY sermon/teaching that you will ever hear on a Sunday.  It gets old.  It loses its effectiveness.  I dare say, overexposure dilutes the enormity and significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I dare say that even more, it leaves those that have become a Christian in this limbo because they are never taught what to do with that after, because each Sunday they have to hear the same message.  For many pastors its only about "getting them in and getting them saved".  Well, that doesn't cut it for the emerging world-view.  They want more!  They want to learn what it means to LIVE as a Christian.

Think about modern Christianity's focus in America.  It has, for the most part, been about becoming a Christian.  Now however, people want to experience the rich, active lives that faith brings them.  When these people read and study the teachings of Christ, they see less and less of a focus on becoming a Christian, and a huge focus on living a life of faith and vitality.  The focus has shifted from becoming Christian, to being Christian!

However, this is hard for churches to change, because the focus goes far deeper than the inability to prepare a different sermon each week. Take a look at our iconography.  The main icon of Christianity is that of the Cross.  The cross was an icon for the Romans and their subordinates long before Christians adopted it.  It was a symbol of pain, torture, empirical rule, conformity, and ultimately, death.  The symbols that the earliest Christians used was not the symbol of the Cross, rather they were symbols of life like the shepherd, the Ichthys (fish), and the lamb.  There are writings as early as the second century that speak of the use of the cross, but many historians agree that it wasn't until 326CE that the sign of the cross became a common and universalized symbol of Christianity.

Why 326CE? Because of the rule of Constantine who united Rome under the Cross.  In fact, Constantine took up the cross after his conversion as his banner of war.  The Cross has always meant "death".  When we hang the crosses in our churches, we are centering our subconscious and subliminal on the message of death.  I know that the message of the death and resurrection of Christ (this is why protestants adopted the empty cross icon over the crucifix) has been central, but we've also taken out the signs and thus the message of life; the lessons of living!

People today see enough suffering and death in the world.  They want a message of hope.  And while most Christians would agree that the story of Christ's death is essentially one of hope, the stock portrayal of that story is one of condemnation, sin, death, hell, and overall: hopelessness. These "fear tactics" overshadow any message of hope in the story.  There is a hunger for a new way to live.  A way to live out hope in our everyday lives.  A way to actually DO something about the pain and suffering in our world, which Jesus did indeed address far more than he did the message of death.  We are leaving people behind when we focus our attention only on the one message.  Rather, we should be modeling our churches after Christ; presenting a holistic message of practical living.  Living that involves love, peace, forgiveness, etc... 

People are hungry enough, and if they see the vitality of others living and helping, they will seek out how to become Christian, but are more interested and affected by being Christian first!


(The picture above is of a Tau Cross, the earliest representations of the cross in Christianity.  Now best known in correlation with St. Francis of Assisi)

1 comment:

  1. Man I had this big long reply to your post set up, and typed out then I tried to link a word to youtube video and it took the stupid page to that video, and the comments always open in a window that doesn't allow you to go back or forwards. I'm going to give this a full reply though--just not now.