It is usually a dubious action to place adjectives in front of the noun “Christianity.” The actual word can stand alone quite well on its own without any modifiers in place. But sometimes it might be appropriate to do so, for no other reason than to point out the oxymoronic nature of some of Christianity’s adherents. “Cultural Christianity” ends up being something like “Grape Nuts” which, in reality, is neither grapes nor nuts.
Which gets us to the heart of the issue: cultural Christianity is not really Christianity at all, and isn’t even distinctively Christian in its actual culture. Okay, some of you are getting impatient and want me to say it plainly. So here it is: just because someone shows up as a church attender doesn’t make them a Christian, any more than standing in a garage makes a person a car. A nice person isn’t necessarily a Christian just because he/she is pleasant to be around. An atheist isn’t necessarily unethical or immoral just because he/she is an atheist.
One of the parables of Jesus that was a complete head-scratcher for his disciples was the one about the sower who went out to sow seed. They just did not get what the heck Christ was saying because the disciples were too steeped in a cultural understanding of their religious practice and belief. So, Jesus made the meaning of the parable of the sower scattering seed a bit more understandable for them:
“The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop” (Luke 8:11-15).
All four scenarios of the seed involve hearing the word of God. But, here is the scandal that brought Jesus some derision: only the seed that retained what it heard and produced a crop is real true genuine authentic belief. This is not a parable from Jesus about differing levels of maturity among Christians. Nope, this is declaration from Jesus that out of the four who heard, only one proved to be the real deal. To put it another way: three out of the four people were cultural Christians, which really meant they were not Christians at all. They looked and acted like Christians enough to slide by as identified believers for a while, but the message never really took; it didn’t stick.
At this point we could become cynical and pessimistic about the current Christian climate in the West. If only three out of four people are really Christians, then what hope is there? Am I in or out? Are you questioning others’ salvation? Instead, we need to look at this from a different angle. If three out of four times the seed doesn’t take root and grow into genuine belief, then we keep scattering the seed! A person who hears but doesn’t actually believe doesn’t mean that it is a one-and-done situation. In fact, the average person needs to hear the gospel of grace proclaimed anywhere from five to twenty-five times from several different people before the word of God sticks, they take root in the true soil of belief, and end up growing up into mature faith.
The real aim of Christ’s parable was to not only unmask the cultural religion that was rampant, but to encourage the disciples to scatter the seed, to keep proclaiming the word of God over and over and over again in all kinds of places, all over the world. They were not to give up because the continual proclamation of good news will eventually result in a massive harvest.
So, be patient. Keep embodying the message of Christ. Continue speaking of Jesus everywhere to everyone. Persevere in praying for those within and without the church who need the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Do not give up.