When I was having a discussion with an atheist the other day, he voiced the usual objection about Christianity being the only way to Heaven while other religions were unfairly left out. Over time, I had come across several different ways to address this, but there is one aspect about this issue that is seldom brought up. It’s the issue of cultural Christianity.
We take on the religion that is dominant in our area. If you live in Mexico, then you are probably growing up Catholic, for example. Middle East countries have their distinct sects of Islam. Other countries have their dominant religion. Although we treat Christianity as unique among these religions, we fail to take note that many church-goers attend because of culture; that is, they go because it is the usual thing to do, and they’ve been going that church because their parents did.
In this way, cultural Christianity is just like the world’s religions. God is not acting among the people of all those religions of culture, and that includes cultural Christianity. So from this point of view, it doesn’t make sense to defend Christianity as opposed to other religions. Especially so when we consider that many church-goers have immersed themselves in their surrounding culture and taken up the values of their society. They are no different than the churchless people around them. They can converse about everything that their acquaintances talk about; they just can’t talk about Jesus except as a historical character.
I myself grew up as a Catholic because that’s what my parents were. I went to a Catholic church because that’s where my parents went. I went to church regularly – and I still needed to be saved!
I was saved in spite of cultural Christianity. I was saved through hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ outside of a church setting. Jesus is the door to the true church. He said, “I am the Door.” Without an encounter with Jesus, there is only interaction with religious culture, with orthodoxy or tradition. Thus, many people believe they are going to Heaven because “I am a good person and go to church.” These words come from a cultural mindset, not a saved mindset.
The saved mindset say that they are sinners saved by grace, and not by any good thing that they have done: “Jesus saved me.” First came Jesus, then true appreciation for a local church gathering develops. Assuming that our faith does not get deadened by a cultural church service, we join in and grow.
We come to a saving faith as God intervenes through the gospel. Our lives are then transformed through the Word of God so that we become holy, becoming different than what we were before. (If you read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus goes over the before-and-after aspects of a truly saved person.) We become part of the spiritual Christianity, the mystical body of Christ on earth, as distinct from the cultural Christianity. We start taking on the values of God; we no longer live in the same way as those around us. Thus we emerge from cultural Christianity in the same way that people emerge from their world religion – through the working of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin, and causes us to grow in Jesus Christ.
As a church-goer, what is your background? Are you a person saved by faith in Jesus, or someone who just takes on the name of his or her denomination?