Sunday Morning Coffee Break: Who Defines Christianity?

After my internship this summer, I’m quite under the realisation that God is much bigger than how our own contexts usually confine God.  God is equally in the 10:30 am coffee break between the 9:30 am and 11am service as God is in the shout or the contemporary version of the ring shout.

I’ve struggled with what to call these Sunday Morning thingamajigys, I’ve used revelation, and last week I used realization and today I’m just going to call it a coffee break.

Today’s topic: Who Defines Christianity?

Liberals usually holler that the religious right has hi-jacked Christianity and made it some secret club that only select members can get in.  While that is true, I turn toward my fellow companions on the left and ask them, just how should Christianity be defined then?

After sitting in the core requirement of Church History 1, I realise that currently, our primary “text” from which we do Christianity isn’t the Bible, but really church dogma beginning with Paul, the martyrs and people like Clement and Ignatius.  We’re really interpreting the political contrivings of the church fathers and placing them on the biblical text.  From those various jump off points we have actually machinated doctrines of Trinitarianism, atonement, deification, sanctification and justification that have been passed down through the years and have placed them on the biblical text.  Because of that, I am convinced that some very interesting doctrines have been placed on our contemporary times that don’t necessarily make sense.

I see how Christianity was defined back in the day, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s all conjecture and up for debate.  If one side has proof, so does the other side–it’s all up to interpretation.

What I don’t like that the religious right has done is made Christianity an us versus them dichotomy.  This isn’t new talk for me, I’ve said it before in some of my other religious slanted posts, but for the life of me, I just can’t figure out why?  But of course, if one traces the roots of many of the mainline denominations in existence in America, many of them split over the issue of slavery–hence Southern Baptists for example.  They were quite clear that Christianity for them was to look like the monochromatic backdrop of people at a Sen. John McCain-Gov. Sarah Palin rally.

Scripture aside (because one could debate back and forth all day everyday) why is it that some Christians feel as though one must look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way–or to be more pointed, must say a certain creed (Apostles or Nicene), be baptized, receive the right hand of fellowship–in other words be initiated into their club in order to receive full membership rights?  Too many self-professed Christians are treating the church as nothing more than a sorority or a fraternity.

The church is full of “if-then” clauses propagated from the pulpit “If you tithe, then God won’t curse you” (Mal. 3:8) setting up a legalistic God that operates under retributive justice, but of course the church uses that to their advantage when they want to, and then preaches and teaches grace when something bad has happened–just ask Juanita Bynum (but who really knows what she’s talking about anyway).

Personally, I think the Old Testament as we know is nothing but conjecture.  I don’t hold the Bible in high authority like I used to.  Here’s an example: I think Martin Luther King’s “Letter to a Birmingham jail” is as equally inspired by God, and is just as much the Word of God as Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.  This is not to say that there isn’t good preaching material in the Bible or that some passages hold eternal truths that align with my understanding of God, but I have problems with a biblical understanding of a God who “tests” humans by telling them to go kill their own son (Gen. 32).  As far as I’m concerned, the only real book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes–Qoheleth is quite clear that “all of it is vanity.”

However, when I ask who defines Christianity, I would suggest this particular Bible passage (because some of y’all wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t pull a scripture to support my point) John 13:35 that, in my own interpretation, says “They’ll know that we are followers of Christ by our love.”   The beloved community has a responsibility to love conditionally–that one condition is that we should love, otherwise, unconditionally.

As Christians we may say that we love our enemy, but we really don’t show it often.  When it is reported that at McCain-Palin rallies that supporters have been allowed to call out “Terrorist” in reference to Obama or even the more damnable “Kill him” and receive nothing more than a lukewarm smile from McCain and a Dick Cheney-esque smirk from Sarah Palin, then it’s quite clear that we have allowed the wrong people to define who we are and what we stand for as followers of the one who was and is to come.

I knew it was really bad when Soul Jonz informed me that one our colleagues at school, who is much more Pentecostal in her practices told him that “Obama is a Muslim” (and thank God not a “Muslin” <– make sure you click on that link) and that “He kills babies” as though he was personally involved in alluded abortions.  As followers of the Way, I believe we have a responsibilty to not shape and remake Christianity into our own image as the left, but rather place it in the public square and have a discussion that brings us all into full fellowship with one another. 

I can guarantee you that if I wasn’t a church kid, I wouldn’t want to be Christian.  Admittedly, the pro-black side of me might have found appeal to a Jeremiah Wright (and I must say that white folk got another thing coming if they think that we’ve done away with the rhetorical powerhouse that is Minister Louis Farrakhan), but if mainline Christianity that has been presented in the public domain is promoted as being all white and patriarchal, why oh why would someone want to profess a belief of Christianity?

Who do you think has defined Christianity?  Do you think that God can or should be defined or confined to how we see it or do you think I’m just off my liberal rocker?

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

10 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Coffee Break: Who Defines Christianity?

  1. AMEN. i do not think you are off your liberal rocker.I think you are awake and aware of what is REALLY going on. I too believe that particularly in Western civilization always confine the idea and concept of “God” to some bearded man in the sky who has superpowers. We have constructed texts ie the Bible and churches and religion to try to explain , understand and make the most of God, when in reality, these constructions hinder our understanding and just act as a comfort zone for our true uncertainty of what God is. God is so much more than what Christianity makes “him” out to be. At the root of it, Christianity is a wonderful religion and provides suberb guidlines to live our lives by, but there is a certain naivete about it that is truly scary.

  2. I’m not a christian myself though I was raised to be. I would call myself an atheist. To me that means that I don’t believe in a deity. Believe being the keyword. I feel that people of different beliefs would get along much better if they started to emphasize the word believe a bit more. I don’t know if I’m right in my beliefs and it always makes me uncomfortable when people present their beliefs as facts whether they be atheist or religious. Nobody knows, we’re all just trying to make the best of it and most people are trying real hard to live a good life, to be a good person. The bible does provide us with good guidelines for that, but it’s not like the law of gravity.
    I study medieval history. Like you I’m pretty aware of the way christianity and the bible developed. I have to try harder now not to judge people who believe the bible holds the absolute truth and was passed on to us directly by God. Sometimes I feel it’s all so hypocritical, but then I think of the Pennsylvania Dutch and how they truly practice everything that they preach. Who am I to judge?

    I love your quote from scripture, that’s how my grandmother lived her life, it’s always nice to be reminded of her example.

  3. Everything man touches becomes corrupt, and this would include the Holy Bible. God only knows what was taken out and put of the original scriptures before the political Church sent it to print, not to mention screw ups in translation.

  4. @all

    I jus knew there was a problem because my one friend went to see Religulous and he said he couldn’t preach authentically at least for the rest of the year.

    Something has got to change.

  5. @ uppity
    this one sentence wrapped up the whole post for me

    “I’m quite under the realisation that God is much bigger than how our own contexts usually confine God.”

    that right there said it all in the very opening. some church folk just don’t get that…they might say it, but they don’t act like it. i was born and raised in the PAW and my family has quite a few ministers (one of my cousins is on your blog roll actually), so i have been around church for a minute. in the past 5 years or so, my perspective about church and Christianity in general has changed (drastically in some aspects). many of us in the pentecostal or apostolic tradition have been force fed things (read junk) that really isn’t true. i’m not trying to knock the church, but let’s be real…some of the things said across the pulpit are far from biblical. i think it is those falsehoods (among other things) that keep some people (church folk or not) away from God’s presence. ultimatley, one should never let another keep them away from God, but you know how it works in the church…

    it’s a very sad state of affairs. i struggle with it every sunday…every church outing…every church activity. i look around and see the people and the ways in which they act…the way they profess their Christianity and holiness, and realize that they are far from those things. but because i don’t engage in those same behaviors, i’m viewed as a heathen. nah…i’m not a heathen (although i’m not perfect). my eyes are just open is all…

  6. LOL!! You sound like me in my first year of seminary. I was very skeptical of Christianity regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, the terrible past of Church History, the political posturing.

    Then I became reengaged in urban church ministry in NYC. Urban ministry brought me back to deep an abiding belief in the revelation of Scripture(not taking anything a way from the inspiration of MLK’s words) and hope in the midst of tragedy.

    It’s all about the journey

  7. Makes me think of the ‘back in the day’ gospel song, ‘Father, Open Our Eyes’ by Milton Brunson–I’d add the music but I don’t know how.

    Father, open our eyes
    that we may see to follow Thee, Lord.
    Grant us us Thy loving peace
    and let all dissension cease.
    And let our faith each day increase,
    and Master, Lord, please open our eyes,
    (oh, oh, open our eyes).

    Oh, He has given us (hills and mountains),
    He has given us (level plains).
    He has given us (food and clothing),
    Given us shelter (from the storm and rain).

    Oh and with all He’s provided,
    always hurting one another;
    just can’t, can’t be content,
    always fighting one another.

    (You promised to look upon us with compassion),
    (You promised to hear us when we cry);
    (smile down on Your helpless children),
    (oh Master, come on and open our eyes).

    Oh, oh.

    Oh, oh, open our eyes.

    Staying ever uppity…

  8. I think the “definition” of Christianity is pretty irrelevant, especially since many, I would venture to say most, Americans profess Christianity, and to them that means they “believe in God.” Regarding having a personal relationship with God, where one has invited Christ to be personal Lord and Savior, been forgiven of sin and justified by faith…that pretty much sums it up. Religion/Christianity is killing itself with all the drama, folklore and traditions that have been created entirely by man, without inspiration from God. The missing link seems to be the Holy Spirit, which Scripture promises will “guide us into all truth” or reveal the true meaning and interpretation of God’s Word, be that in the Bible or the words He continues to speak in our hearts. Scripture has been twisted and misconstrued by those who have no revelation of God’s Word and are trying to use their intellect/emotion/what they’ve heard to understand.

    Well, that was about as clear as mud so I’ll just shut up now.

  9. @Nikki Mo

    I would contend that many believe that Christianity may be more than that, or less than what you defined it as. The problem comes when you have two different people with differing opinions who come together trying to mke sense of it all.

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