Christianity Out Of Context

Regarding the Upstream Collective’s Jet Set Vision Trip:

For some of the participants, this trip to Europe is their first experience of Christianity in context.

You see, though they apply to all peoples of all times, the words of Jesus were given to particular people in a particular time. He spoke in such a way that His listeners immediately understood that what He was saying was radically upside-down from what the world had been saying.

The American church, however, lives in a world that is completely opposite of that in which Jesus taught. It’s no wonder, then, that believers in the U.S. have such a difficult time applying Jesus’ words.

When Jesus spoke about war and kingdom, his audience was surrounded by an occupying army. In America, we are the occupying army.

When Jesus advocated the payment of taxes, it meant supporting a government that was hostile to His listeners’ way of life. We, however, enjoy freedom, tax exemption, and government influence.

The promise of a Comforter is a tremendous source of hope– assuming you know and understand discomfort. Many Americans have never been truly uncomfortable in their lives.

Jesus declared that His followers were “not of this world.” Peter reminded the early church that they were “strangers and exiles.” Many American Christians have never even left their home towns.

It’s harder to make sense of Christianity when “we” are in the majority. When the norm is to go to church and “love” your neighbor, Jesus’ words seem, well, normal. We get caught up in the material, the temporal, and the cultural. We build buildings, fight for our “rights” as Christians, and become indistinguishable from the rest of society.

Throughout time, Christ-followers have tried to remedy this sort of contextual incongruity by artificially re-creating the hardships of the first Christians. That’s why monks take vows (of poverty, celibacy, and silence), and cult-members whip themselves; they’re trying to better understand Jesus. And they’re misguided religious legalists. But originally, the Jesus understanding part.

A poster platered on a wall in Prague

Prague is the epitome of the post-Christian urban center. Empty cathedrals, celebrated pluralism, enforced relativism. The previous generation’s false gospel has been rejected in favor of the idols of progress, materialism, unity, and self-expression. Evidence everywhere of humanistic enlightenment and little to no gospel witness to speak hope into the city.

We’ve long talked about how a look at the European worldview is a glimpse into the future of America. This has become even more clear in recent years. Some have lamented the cultural shift in America away from its Judeo-Christian roots. Others have gone to great lengths to create artificial “kingdoms,” rules, and drama in their attempts to relate to Jesus (also misguided religious legalists). As it turns out, the bad news is actually the good news. Finally, Christians are finding themselves “right-side-up” in American culture. We’re starting to have to operate as the outsiders that we were always meant to be.

I believe that Christians, just in order to actually be Christians, must pursue life in the margins, where we’re the minority. Where we suffer persecution, opposition, and intolerance. Where we don’t have money, influence, and privilege. This is the mission field.

For some of the leaders on the vision trip, this is their first time out of the country. But even more importantly, this is their first step out of Christendom and into the context that we as Christians were meant to live.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.