While the word “Christianity” ought refer to a single religion, the reality is that many cultures have succumbed to a process of syncretism where there are actually many, many forms of Christianity that look nothing like the original picture on the outside of the box. Pointing this out is painful for many, as it often pulls the rug out from some of our deeply held beliefs– things we thought were Christian beliefs and values, but ultimately turn out to be just cultural values and beliefs.
America is no different. The powerful influence of American culture has, for quite some time, seeped into the Christian faith to the point where we have an entirely new product. Instead of Christianity as it was passed onto the disciples and early church, we have a uniquely American version– and one we’d do well to dissect until we’ve found freedom from it, and freedom to return home to the life and message of Jesus.
Is the version of Christianity you’re living out the real-deal or is it the Americanized version? Here are ten ways you can tell– but there are undoubtedly many more:
1. If you look at the early Christians and are in disbelief over what you find.
If your primary identity is legitimately that of a Christian, you’ll be open to learning about Christianity as it was taught and lived by the earliest Christians. However, from an American mindset, original Christianity and the first Christians appear nuts: they were universally nonviolent (against capital punishment, abortion, military service and killing in self-defense), rejected individual ownership of property in order to redistribute their wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:35), and rejected any involvement with the government. When reading about them they seem rather un-American, and this will cause frustration or disbelief among those in Americanized Christianity.
2. Your chief concern with Muslims is how to defeat them instead of how to show them the love of Christ.
The chief calling of a Christ-follower is to love others. Whether a neighbor across the street, or an enemy across the world, Christ’s command is abundantly clear: we are to love one another. If your initial posture toward Muslims is that of viewing them as a threat instead of viewing them as people Jesus has commanded we radically and self-sacrificially love, then your Christianity might be Americanized.
3. If you can recite more of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights than you can the Sermon on the Mount.
Love the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights because they set the foundation for our country? Well, did you know that the Sermon on the Mount serves the same function for the new, otherworldly Kingdom principles that Jesus followers are supposed to be living by? If you’re more familiar with America’s founding documents than you are the foundation of Jesus’s teachings, your Christianity might be Americanized.
4. If you’re going to spend more time focused on the presidential election than serving real people around you.
Jesus calls us to get busy serving the least of these– to get our hands dirty, to embrace the position of “servant of everyone,” and to pour ourselves out as we endeavor to change the world right where we are. America on the other hand, invites us to view political power and force of government as the solution to the world’s problems, and that’s a tempting offer for both liberals and conservatives. If you’re more focused on what they could do than what you can do, your Christianity might be Americanized. (And here’s one similar: if you judge the heart of fellow Christians because you don’t like the political candidate they voted for, your Christianity might be Americanized.)
5. If you advocate cutting government programs for the poor but don’t actually tithe yourself.
An American value is small government and low tax rates, but a Christian value is the elimination of poverty– which is precisely why the early Christians shared their wealth instead of hoarding it. However, while many American Christians fight for lower taxes, the average American Christian doesn’t give money to charity. Where the early church shared everything, statistics show that Americanized Christians share almost nothing– less than 5% even tithe to their church. When we reject the Americanization of Christianity, we become focused on how to give more, not on how to give less.
6. If you say “we’re a nation of laws” in reference to immigrants faster than you quote what the Bible says about immigrants.
For a nation of immigrants, American culture has a shockingly hostile posture toward them. When this bleeds into our Christianity, we see Christians adopt a hostile posture as well– and that’s the last possible posture a Christian should have. The Bible has plenty to say on immigrants, and consistently lists them as one of the vulnerable groups of people God-followers care for. While the government has a right to determine who can come and who must go, the primary posture of a Christian is that of radical love towards immigrants of every type.
7. If you think Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is straightforward, but Jesus’s teaching on enemy love is somehow open to a thousand degrees of nuance.
People often forget that Paul wrote letters to specific churches addressing specific problems that had a specific context. Yet, in a society that is still wrestling with patriarchy and sexism, we take Paul’s letter to a specific church and make it a blanket prohibition for all times and cultures. However, when we get to Jesus saying “love your enemy” and “do not respond to an evildoer with violence” we abandon that same hermeneutic and say, “Well, Jesus couldn’t have meant we’re not supposed to kill our enemies.” Why? It’s Americanization- we interpret scripture in a way that is consistent not with authorial intent, but our own culture.
8. If you only see sexuality in the admonition to be modest.
We are a society that sees sex in everything– and we see it in Paul’s admonitions for modesty as well. However, if you look closely you’ll see that Paul isn’t talking about sexual modesty, but is prohibiting Christians from flaunting their money with expensive clothing and jewelry. However, we don’t see that in the text because Americanized Christianity would reject the idea we aren’t supposed to own expensive and flashy things. So, we make the passages about sexual modesty so that we can enjoy our expensive and unnecessary toys without a guilty conscience– all the while policing women with yoga pants.
9. If you think defeating gay marriage is the most pressing issue of our time.
Somewhere along the line, the Americanized version of Christianity taught us that defeating gay marriage was perhaps the most pressing issue of our time. Sadly, as Americans we’re taught to be self-centered and this is an incredibly self-centered view that completely ignores the global issues of our time. It is the mistaken identity that our issues are the issues. The most pressing issues of our time? Let’s start with the fact that 750 million people around the world don’t even have access to clean water or that 805 million people are chronically malnourished.
10. If your church honors soldiers more than the elderly woman who has been quietly teaching Sunday school for 30 years.
Because of the blending of America and Christianity, many of our churches sure do love them a man or woman in uniform. Back in my military days I remember wearing my uniform to church when I came home on leave– you get treated like you’re the most important person in the room. But you know who is the most important person in the room? It’s the person who is not in the room at all– it’s that little old lady who has quietly and lovingly been teaching the kids about Jesus while the rest of the church forgets she even exists. Americanized Christianity loves to fawn over those who fought, but the Kingdom of God teaches us the real heroes are the ones who are quietly serving in our midst to the point we are almost unaware they’re even among us.
Is the version of Christianity you were taught the Americanized version? What has it been like for you to transition out of it? What else would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your stories.