Let me throw a few statements that will surely provoke some strong reactions:
All Jews are rich.
All Blacks are good athletes.
The French are rude.
All Mexicans are lazy.
All Arabs are terrorists.
Convenient, short, blanket statements that people use to define cultures... Except they happen to be wrong. I'm sure there are rich Jews, rude Frenchmen, and lazy Mexicans, and I know there are great black athletes and some Arab terrorists around, but those individuals can't lead one to make all-encompassing proclamations about their nations or races. Usually such statements are the result of unfamiliarity with a different culture, and are a simple-minded way to deal with the unknown. At best, they breed misunderstanding; at worst, ill-will and contempt. Let me throw out another one:
All Americans are Christians.
As an American, and as a Christian, let me assure you, this couldn't be farther from the truth! This may be difficult to believe, as America doesn't know what "Christian" means.
Here in the U.S., we all learn that our nation was founded by people who emigrated here to escape religious persecution in Europe (the same "Christian" mentality that slaughtered Muslims during the Crusades turned its attention to others of which it didn't approve!), and that our freedoms and laws are based on truths they say in the Bible. One of those freedoms is the freedom to worship God (or not!) according to whatever creed on follows. Other freedoms include the freedom from unjust persecution by the government. Therefore, government of the USA is structured to have strictly limited powers so that citizens can live their lives secure from autocracy, and yet safe from lawlessness by the judicious intervention, when necessary, by that same government.
These freedoms have allowed an interesting, historically-significant, mixture to occur: People of diverse backgrounds learning to co-exist with one another. By law you can't persecute someone because he believes something different than you. While this is not acted out perfectly, yet the fact remains that the concept stems directly from the idea of God regarding "Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female" as equal in His sight (Galatians 3:28).
However, since the US's inception, years have passed, and the basis for our freedoms has gradually been forgotten and disregarded. People have only a vague idea that our country was founded on Christian principlesnot even knowing what that meansand have come to think of the word "Christian" as a cultural adjective. If one's parents are Christians, one is a Christian, too, right? Wrong.
Maybe if our founders had made Christianity the official state religion we wouldn't have a confused, cloudy definition of the word nowexcept they couldn't. One of the main tenants of Christianity is that no one is forced to believe. God wants you to turn towards His love and mercy of your own free will. So our founders did the only thing they couldthey left the question of faith to be answered by each succeeding generation.
Thus freedoms ends up meaning being responsible for one's own beliefs and actions. Unfortunately, people quickly find out that it's easier to believe nothing than to believe the teaching of the Christ. Even worse, they accept such teaching as they find attractive and reject the ones that make them uneasy. This has led a diluted definition of the word "Christian". A "Christian" has come to mean either one born of "Christian" parents, or somebody who tires to "do the right thing" (whatever that is). If you try to treat people fairly, don't curse, or don't get drunk, then you're acting in a Christian manner. Jesus never enters the picture; He is extraneous to the common, everyday definition of Christian.
As you can imagine, this puts those of us who believe the words of Jesus in a curious position. We find ourselves having to define familiar terms before we can talkeven to our neighborsabout our faith. Incidentally, the word, "church" has also suffered diminution; it no longer means "the body of Christ", but a building where religious people meet, or any gathering of seemingly spiritually-minded people. If such confusion exists within our own borders, it's no surprise when those of a different culture don't understand!
Such misrepresentation of Christianity led a numerouswhile simultaneously appallingincident that happened when I was in Turkey. I was traveling with a friend, and it had been recommended to us to bring along photographs of our family to show to people we would meet. My friend has four children, and she enjoyed bringing out their pictures and bragging about the kids she'd left at home. We were taken totally off guard when our translator said that the Turkish people we were with wanted to know how many different fathers the children had! It turn out that soap operas are America's most widely-dispersed ambassadors to the rest of the world, and people believe they are seeing accurate depiction of life in the States! My friend hastened to assure our new friends that only one man was father to all the children, but the interchange left quite an impression of our minds. If soap operas = Americans, and Christians = American, then soap operas = Christians! What has happened to the pure message of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus brought to the world?
And who was the Jesus anyway? A fair skinned, blue-eyed easterner? My Bible tells me He was born a Jew, so forget the pale skin and blue eyes. He was a man of the Middle East and undoubtedly looked like it. He was raised in a Jewish household and lived His whole life in Israel. How could the religion that is centered on a Middle Eastern Jew came to be regarded as Western?
One of the glories of Jesus' message is worshipping "in spirit and in truth". His message of salvation is totally independent of location, culture, or upbringingGod created His plan in such a way that it crosses all borders, and every people of the world can have the opportunity to turn to Him. The whole earth is His place of worship; every language is fit to adore and praise the lamb of God. He knows we all live in various cultural settingseach one can be used to approach His throne of grace. Only God could have thought up the ultimate, simple path, by which all mankind might know HimJesus Christ.
At the moment, it appears that the west has a larger percentage of Christian than the rest of the world. Obviously, it wasn't always so, and probably wont' be in the future. Each of us is necessary caught up in our moment of timeit's hard to see history as we live today. That Christianity expanded from the Middle East westward is just a step along whatever route God has in mind. Many Africans now proclaim the Name of Jesus; the Church of Christ is blooming in Asia (Korea sends missionaries to the U.S.!) Perhaps in another few hundred years the stereotypical picture of Jesus will be black, or have almond-shaped eyes. It won't matter to the Gospelthe message will still be the same:
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