Please note: This entry is aimed at Christians only. My goal right now isn’t to proselytize non-Christians but to challenge those who identify themselves as Christians.
It’s no secret that a large portion of the American population considers itself Christian, 75% in fact. And yet I doubt 75% of Americans agree on more than one or two things. So how can one religion inspire so many diverse thoughts and ideas, so much so that it’s hard to distinguish some Christian activity and practices from secularism and pop culture, while other Christians are utterly immersed in their faith?
We all know there are a thousand different interpretations of the Bible, many that have led to split-offs, then more split-offs, to split-offs from those split-offs. Eventually, we landed here, with a vast number of Christian denominations sinking under religious bureaucracy. But what really matters, much more than any interpretation of a single Bible verse, is how each individual Christian got to his or her Christianity. By purpose or circumstance?
Circumstantial Christians were born to a Christian family. They went to church. They read the Bible. And now that they’re adults, they take their families to church. They celebrate Christmas. They even pray.
But what they’ve never actually done is made any of this personal. Personally, at the heart of who they are, Christianity isn’t there. There’s a lot of other things, like familial connections, material desires, a need to please others, a desire to appear a certain way, to achieve certain things. But there isn’t room for anything else. Christianity is like the suits they wear to work on Monday morning, except they put it on on Sunday instead. It’s an outer layer meant to speak to those around them about who they are. It’s part of their identity, like the color of their hair or skin. It is not, however, at the core of their being.
Purposeful Christians come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some used to be atheists. Some used to be Muslims. Some used to be Satanists. Many were drug addicts, prostitutes, cheaters, liars, thieves. Many were in prison. Some were rich. Some were poor. Some had exciting lives, hard lives, easy lives, and normal lives.
But Purposeful Christians have all come to terms with themselves. They have all been to the place of death to everything they held dear. They’ve watched their lives collapse. They resigned themselves to the authority of God. They’ve witnessed their lives rebuilt from the scraps.
They are Christians at the core. It’s not an outer identity, as inconsequential as the color of their skin or eyes. It is who they are.
The important distinction between Circumstantial Christians and Purposeful Christians is that one is a passive condition while the other is the result of action. I’ve talked at length about the importance of being a Do Woman, not an Is Woman, and this isn’t much different. Do you consider yourself born into Christianity? Raised as a Christian? Are you a Christian because that’s what Americans are? Or are you a Christian because you’ve taken the burden of Christianity onto yourself and have actively pursued the faith?
Purposeful Christianity is a hard sale. It’s not going to solve all your problems or make you rich or good-looking. It will not help you lose weight or find love or cure arthritis. It will change you, however, what you desire, what you prioritize, what you love. It will not change your circumstances, and that makes it difficult to persuade others to pursue it, understandably so. Most of us want to keep ourselves and change the world around us instead. Because losing oneself is a kind of a death.
The price is worth it, however, because death is inevitable anyway, and there’s no hope of life for those who have not actively pursued Christianity. It is also worth pursuing, not because of a Heavenly reward–and if you’re clinging to Christianity just to get to Heaven, you’re doing it wrong–but because Purposeful Christianity leads to a life that doesn’t deteriorate and wither into dust.
Circumstantial Christianity is safe, yes, and easy, but it is also a deadly trap. A Circumstantial Christian is convinced of his righteousness and never questions it or himself, which leaves him virtually unreachable and lost.
Finally, it may be a stretch to say it, but I will anyway. Most modern Christian churches are built on members who are Christians by circumstance, not by action. Christianity is so embedded in American life, so widespread, so connected to wealth and privilege, that it has been watered down into a vague shadow of its former self. This may explain why many churches are failing. They spend time arguing what is and isn’t righteous, what is and isn’t sin, what is and isn’t justified. They spend time selling Christianity as a cure-all and ignore what’s at the heart of their members.
Insufferable Christians Part II, Pop Culture and Christianity