August 25, 2015
Cultural Christianity: The Enemy of True Faith
Post by Brittany Tedesco
I got all worked up the other day when I saw the headline about Nepal. Government officials are drafting a new constitution, and Hindu groups are pressuring them to abolish freedom of religion, which would make it illegal for Christians to share the gospel and practice their faith openly.
"What a setback!" I thought. It was only a few years ago, in 2008, that Nepal shifted from being the world's only Hindu monarchy to adopting democracy and secularism, which allowed for religious freedom. If the Hindus succeed in their plan, Christians will endure increased persecution—just like they're facing in so many areas of the world.
I was given a new perspective on the situation from our South Asia Director, who was born and raised in Nepal. She reminded us that if God should allow Nepal to revert back to the way it was when Christianity was illegal, it will purify the Church there. You see, freedom of religion—as good and right as it seems to you and me—can facilitate cultural Christianity, and cultural Christianity is the enemy of true faith.
What do I mean?
When it's easy to be a Christian—when there's no opposition or when you're actually rewarded in some way for identifying as a Christian—you can relax and start to coast. Our need for God can become less apparent to us.
A few months ago, Pew Research Center released its findings regarding religion in the U.S., which generated quite a buzz in the news. The polls showed that more and more people are identifying as atheist or agnostic, while the percentage of people identifying as Christians is on a steady decline.
I contend that those polls mirror what God is doing here and in other places throughout the world: purifying His Church. As it becomes increasingly less popular and rewarding to identify as a Christian in the U.S., we'll see more people dissociating themselves from Christianity. They're riding the cultural wave in whatever direction it takes them.
I realized just how deeply embedded cultural Christianity has been in my life this past 4th of July. I didn't want to celebrate it. The thought of watching fireworks seemed repugnant. I averted my eyes from the little American flag my husband put in our front yard. I've grown up with a deep love and pride for my country, and I felt hurt by it. Betrayed. Disgusted.
The idea of celebrating, in light of how godless our country has become, seemed to me a painful prospect.
Did you know that the first act of the first session of the Continental Congress was to pass a resolution to open its next meeting with prayer? Our founding fathers revered God. We've rejected Him, scoffing at His Truth. Our culture has shifted—and I think pretty dramatically in recent years.
In the years ahead, it will become increasingly more uncomfortable to be a Christian in the U.S. And this thought, on July 4th, made me angry.
Quite honestly: because I don't want to be robbed of my comfort. That's the plain, ugly truth of it. Being a cultural Christian is easy. But when culture shifts and comfort is stripped away, you realize that your own strength and knowledge isn't going to cut it—it won't supply you with what you need to thrive in a hostile environment.
The only thing that will is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, I think a lot of Americans have a warped view of God's Spirit. For a long time, I would hear the words "Holy Spirit" and immediately think of weirdness—of strange, so-called "manifestations" I'd seen in church gatherings that appeared unseemly and disorderly, and did more to divide than to edify.
On the other side, many churches and denominations have overreacted to abuses of the Holy Spirit by never mentioning the Spirit, never crying out for its power. We read our Bibles, oblivious to how crucial it is for a believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we'll hobble along, looking exactly like the world in which we live—Christians in name only.
In a recent post, I posited that it's our wealth here in America that keeps us from the kind of dynamic faith we see among believers in poverty-stricken countries. This could be part of it, but I believe the difference has a lot more to do with the Holy Spirit.
Spirit-filled people attract others to Christ. Non-Spirit-filled people do not.
And I would contend that being "filled with the Holy Spirit" is just another way of saying that we're "yielding control to the Holy Spirit," who already lives in us if we've put our faith in Christ.
How submitted are we to God? Do we sulk when our prayers aren't answered the way we'd like them to be? How broken are we before God? How clearly do we see our own sin? Are we aware of how desperately we need God to change us and empower us to be His witnesses. . .or have we deceived ourselves into thinking we can do this Christian life on our own?
Can we humble ourselves before God and admit our need for His Spirit to take control of our lives?
No Christians existed in Nepal before 1950. Today, more than 1 million live there. It all began with Prem Pradhan who was born in Nepal, but met Jesus while serving in the army in India. A street preacher handed him a Bible, which he read cover to cover, twelve times. He received Jesus as Lord and Savior and returned to Nepal to preach the gospel.
After nearly a year, he finally led a small group of people to the Lord. Even though it was illegal to change one's religion, Pradhan openly baptized the new believers in a river clearly visible to Hindu officials.
The Christians were immediately taken to prison—all nine were put into a tiny cell with poor ventilation and no sanitation. They slept on the stone floor, enduring the stench, the lice, the rats, the freezing cold temperatures in the winter, and the sweltering conditions in the summer.
Pradhan, who knew the Scriptures forward to back, taught his disciples—even leading others in adjacent cells to Christ.
Prem Pradhan, the first native missionary in Nepal
His disciples were released after a year, but Pradhan wasn't. The authorities had special plans for him. They moved him into a chamber full of corpses—the place they kept dead prisoners until their families could retrieve their bodies. They chained his hands and feet together, and shut the door, leaving him to sit in darkness among the dead. He'll die or go insane within a matter of days, they figured.
But Pradhan, filled with the Holy Spirit, talked with Jesus and recalled to mind the life-giving words of God's Word he had so diligently studied. People who came to collect their dead family members slipped him food. He was miraculously alive and well after five months in that hellish place.
They didn't know just quite what to do with Pradhan, so they moved him to various prisons—14 prisons in 10 years. Through him, people from many tribes heard the gospel and believed. When he was finally released, he started an orphanage, raising 100 children to love and serve Jesus. Those children grew up and continued the work Pradhan started.
When it was most difficult to be a Christian in Nepal, the Church grew. People couldn't help but be attracted to those Spirit-filled believers.
But in recent years, as it's become easier to be a Christian in that country, cultural Christians—perhaps seeing Christianity as a way to earthly prosperity—have undoubtedly multiplied, our South Asia Director told us.
If the culture in Nepal is changed back into a more hostile environment for believers, cultural Christians will quietly drop out of race—they were only a hindrance to the cause of Christ anyway. And so are the cultural Christians here in the U.S.
Why is cultural Christianity so detrimental to the faith? Because it's Spirit-less and therefore powerless. It deceives its holder and its beholders. It claims to follow Jesus, but looks little different from those who do not follow Him. It has no power to attract and affect the lives of other—or even the power to enable a person to resist sin in his or her own life. It's a bland, anemic distortion of real faith that so many of us shrug our shoulders and accept, thinking that's all there is.
God save us from cultural Christianity.