I recently read a book called The Everlasting Man by G.K.Chesterton. Chesterton was an early 20th century English writer, journalist and (most importantly) a Christian. His writing are chock full of all sorts of ideas and thoughts–sometimes almost too many for me to take in. But I want to share with you one of those ideas–the illusion of familiarity.
It is impossible to imagine Western civilization without Christianity. Our culture is so completely shaped by the teachings of the faith that no one can escape it. Our modern languages were shaped and molded by the men who translated God’s Word out of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Phrases such as “apple of my eye”, and “the powers that be”, words such as “peacemakers”, and “scapegoat”, and literally hundreds like them fill our daily speech.
Christianity was responsible for treating women as the equals of men, teaching that all human life has value, the establishment of public hospital, the abolition of slavery, the spread of public education and the concept of the value of the individual in the wider community. And we could go on for a long time from here. All of the things we value in Western culture can be traced directly back to the values instilled by the teachings of Christ and His followers. Pagan culture was so utterly defeated that it is almost impossible for us to conceive of what it would be like to be a part of it.
Because of its prominence, almost everyone in our culture believes they know what Christianity is all about. People believe themselves to be sure of what Christ taught and what those of us who claim His Name believe. Unfortunately that is untrue of the majority of Americans. They believe themselves familiar with Christianity, but it is merely an illusion because their exposure to the faith is probably less informed than their exposure to the lives of Hollywood celebrities.
Let’s think of an example. It seems that almost every time someone is confronted with an accusation of immorality on their part, the immediate response is, “judge not lest you be judged”. There you go–true Christianity must mean–has to mean–that we can all do whatever we want without any complaint from anyone. In fact, Jesus meant no such thing, but many people will say it because they have an illusion of familiarity.
The really sad thing, though, is that many folks who sit in the pews of churches around the country also have an illusion of familiarity with Christianity. This can be because they attend infrequently or because they don’t pay much attention while they’re there, or they might even go to a church where the faith is poorly taught. But whatever the cause, far too many Christians have what I call a children’s Sunday School understanding of Christianity. They’ve never matured in their faith. They’ve never taken the time to actually study God’s Word to see what it truly says. Way too often they mix up Christian teachings with their secular views about culture and politics–projecting their ideas onto Jesus rather than His teachings into their lives.
If you want to be a serious Christian–and I pray that you do–then you have to take seriously what Jesus taught the apostles and what they have taught us through the ages. Your familiarity with the Bible can’t be an illusion if you want to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant” when He returns. God sends us His Word, we need to take it for what it is and walk faithfully in the pathways He leads us.