For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life. For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed
us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age. So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.
I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.
This man’s story, and his thought progression as he describes it could have just as easily been written and explained by the apostle Paul. In fact, Paul did essentially that in his letter to the church in Galatia.
Compare the statements…
“…and if you do all of those outward, cultural things, you’ll discover the God of the universe. And I’m thinking this is crazy that someone thinks that they can force their culture on God, and that God’s going to be impressed by what you wear, what direction you face when you pray, what you eat, and all these sorts of things.”
“You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.”
-Galatians 4:10-11 (Paul criticizing the Galatians)
For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised (a Jewish commandment from the Old Testament) or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.
“It seemed to me that if there was a God out there who could be known, he should be able to be recognized no matter where I face, no matter how I’m dressed because he’s God.”
It’s remarkable. Baleston had already started to see the problems with religion, and rightly thought if any God existed, then that God should transcend human cultures. God should be bigger than the traditions of men. It’s the same idea found in the New Testament, especially in places such as the book of Galatians.
To listen to what Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, one hears the same direction of thought as Baleston described. Think about that for a second. What Paul wrote nearly 2000 years ago was also a reality for a man in our modern world. If the message of Jesus so easily transcends thousands of years of humanity, then it’s understandable why it also easily moves across cultures.
This is simply how Christianity works. This is what it is. When you go back to the Scriptures themselves and let them speak without adding in a bunch of our own stuff, this is what you get. You get a Christianity that is not defined by an outward expression of religion or culture, and one that is not defined by the brand of church you attend, but instead you get one that is defined by the person of Christ, what He did, and sheer power of his effect on our life.
Which explains something… See, according to Pew Research, Christianity is declining in America, but a closer look reveals there is one segment of Christianity that has increased in real numbers: Evangelicals. In fact, the report goes on to say evangelicals are “the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching. Roughly 10% of U.S. adults now identify with evangelical Protestantism after having been raised in another tradition.”
One reason, perhaps THE reason, is evangelicals are the least likely to pile on as much tradition and culture into their faith, and the most likely to attend non-denominational churches and get all of their beliefs from the Bible instead of an official church.
I don’t think evangelicals themselves are the reason. I think the message is the reason. And the bottom line is when you focus more on the person and message of Jesus, and less on cultural traditions and outward religious window dressing, then it’s more believable. It’s more powerful.
In fact, based on the numbers world-wide, it’s safe to say that the one belief preaching a God who can “be recognized no matter where I face, no matter how I’m dressed,” as Baleston opined, is the belief in Jesus as the Messiah. His followers are found in every corner of the globe and in every corner of history since He died on the cross. Culture really doesn’t stop people from becoming Christian.
A real God would have a message like that, and it’s one reason I believe it.
After all, following Jesus never meant doing certain religious ceremonies or rituals or traditions. Those who see it that way are missing the real thing. Instead it’s Jesus who makes changes in me, in who I am, in my character, and in my life, regardless of where I live or what language I speak or who I’ve been.
That’s why we often just call it: “the faith.”
“The decision to come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah was not something that was a momentary lark, it wasn’t something that was a passing fad, and I could see changes in myself that I knew were not from within myself.”
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there.
Yep, and for me at least, this video demonstrates the sheer power and simplicity of the message of Jesus.