My "Christian"-ness was simply an extension of choices my parents had made but I had no clue what it really meant to be a Christian. It was a label I had applied to myself by default. As a result, I knew almost nothing about my Savior or His Word.
It appears that I was not alone in that "Christian by default" mindset.
A recent CNN article entitled Actually, that's not in the Bible makes the observation that Americans often quote "phantom bible passages" that really aren't part of Scripture:
- "God works in mysterious ways."
- "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."
- "God helps those who help themselves."
- "Spare the rod, spoil the child."
None of these are actually quotes from the Bible.
But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.“Only a few catch on.”
But why is that the case?
For the past 50 years numerous groups have bemoaned the Biblical illiteracy that has gripped Christians in America. In 2008 The Associated for Biblical Research made this observation:
One of the most serious problems facing the Church in the 21st century is the problem of Biblical illiteracy. Simply put, most professing Christians do not possess a sound and coherent understanding of the Bible, beginning with sound doctrine and general Biblical history. Evidence for this sad reality is quite overwhelming.
They go on to suggest these reasons are behind the decline:
- The Church Has Been “Dumbed Down” by the Culture
- The Church Has Adopted the Cultural Mandate to “Feel Good”
- The Church Has Allowed Elements of Unbiblical Worldviews to Infect Its Teaching
George Lindbeck, a famous Yale theologian, shared this sobering observation:
"When I first arrived at Yale, even those who came from nonreligious backgrounds knew the Bible better than most of those now who come from churchgoing families."
Theologian and author David Wells made this point in his book No Place for Truth:
"I have watched with growing disbelief as the evangelical church has cheerfully plunged into astounding theological illiteracy."
Sadly, this illiteracy only appears to be deepening. As more and more people adopt the "Christian by default" mindset their concept of being Christian does not extend much beyond showing up at church on Sunday morning.
Christian on Purpose
Consider what being "Christian" really means.
Christ-ian = belonging to Christ: Christ-like.
Chris Tomlin's song "I Will Follow" puts this idea to music:
Where you go, I'll go Where you stay, I'll stay When you move, I'll move I will follow you Who you love, I'll love How you serve I'll serve If this life I lose, I will follow you
If that is how we desire to live then we must first learn where He went, where He stayed, who He loved, who He served, and how He lived. Almost 2,000 years ago He made this declaration:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23- emphasis mine)
If we are going to follow Him and walk in His path then we should learn how He lived and how He walked. As a devout Jewish man in the first century, the Messiah lived a life of faith and purpose that few outside Orthodox Jewish communities of today can comprehend. That lack of comprehension and understanding of who Christ is results directly from ignorance of G-d's Word. G-d's Law (in Exodus through Deuteronomy) gives us a glimpse of the day-to-day details of Messiah's life. The whole Old Testament tells us about His nation... the nation in which He lived, in which He died, and which He served.
My personal walk of faith began in August 1996 at Harvest Fellowship Community Church in San Antonio, TX. I don't remember the sermon that Sunday morning but I do remember the moment I became a believer. At the end of the service I realized that I wanted to be near G-d but I could never be good enough on my own because of my sin. I remember an overwhelming feeling of guilt and the weight of a burden I could not bear. Then the pastor repeated the Gospel message that I had heard a thousand times before: Jesus paid the penalty for my sin so I could be with Him forever. I literally wept, fell on my knees, and thanked G-d because I felt that burden and that weight lifted. That was the day appointed for my salvation and it still brings tears of joy to my eyes when I remember it. I decided on that day and in that moment that I would follow my Savior and Redeemer wherever He would lead me.
If you cry out to G-d and He touches your heart and changes your life then be a Christian... Be Christian on purpose.
Here is my patented 3-step process for combating Biblical illiteracy:
- Read the Word.
In today's age of PCs, Blackberry's, iPhones, and Android tablets we are a simple reminder away from spending 5 to 10 minutes every day in G-d's Word. Start with Genesis and read all the way through Revelation. If the "so-and-so begat so-and-so" sections of Genesis bore you to tears and the seemingly endless list of offerings in Numbers chapter 7 makes you want to run screaming from the room then skip them and keep going the next day. Those passages will become more valuable to you as your faith matures.
A good commentary or Bible study will help you understand what some of the more difficult passages of Scripture mean. Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) meetings are one example of intense year-long studies that will grow your understanding of Scripture.
When you pray, don't simply ask G-d for things (even good things like patience, strength, and courage). Pray passages of Scripture that extol the greatness of G-d. Psalm 145, Psalm 30, and Psalm 119 are my personal favorites. In reflecting on how great and awesome G-d is we often find that our perspective on our own lives and concerns changes dramatically!
Don't expect instant results. A solid walk of faith and Biblical literacy is a lifelong journey that does not match our "one minute in the microwave" culture. Find a good "read the Bible in a year" list and stick with it. Don't get discouraged if you miss a day or two... or ten. If you get off track just pick up with the current day's reading and keep going!
I wanted to share one last quote from that CNN article:
“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.
Don't be Christian by default.