This is a rant. And I’m writing it at midnight. Which is not the best time to rant. But I’m awake. So I’m going to rant. Why are people talking about creating a Christian culture, or a Jesus culture*? What does that even mean?
First, a boring brief history on some experiences in my life. I was born in Uganda. My grandfather was an Anglican reverend in a rural church in Uganda. We attended his church while visiting during Christmas. It was long. We got there at 8am. We left after 1pm. We were hungry. People used to sing the same songs every year. And more than one time in the same service. And they enjoyed it. Yes, I don’t understand either.
I grew up in a small town called Mthatha. We first went to the Anglican church in Mthatha. There were people walking around waving these things that emitted smoke with a funny smell. The guy at the front sang the bible. It was the same tune. Maybe they could have added a house beat to make it more interesting. But they didn’t. I used to get bored and go and play outside. I used to get in trouble for playing outside. We also had to dress formal and stuff. I couldn’t wear shorts. If I couldn’t play in formal attire, what was the point of wearing this attire?
Afterwards, we started going to a ‘megachurch’ in Mthatha. They sang songs with a band. There was emotion. The pastor made jokes. I thought pastors weren’t supposed to be funny. Church is supposed to be serious. People laughed at the pastor’s jokes. Even the ones that weren’t funny. Most people dressed very formally. Some didn’t. Sunday school was now called “children’s church”. We could wear shorts. And we used to run around. Yes, kids could run around in children’s church.
In high school, I got over that and started going to a small baptist church in Mthatha. They had youth on Friday nights, and the cool Christians used to go there. Yes. There were cool Christians. The congregation was very mixed, but it would have been classified a ‘white church’. The worship was mainly led by someone on the guitar. There was the occasional drummer, base player and keyboardist if we were lucky. They sang songs by people in Australia called Hillsong. Cool Christians listened to Hillsong. People clapped their hands while we sang. It was in rhythm. Most of the time.
Some time passed and a large number of Nigerians joined the church. They also joined the band. Now there was always a keyboardist. And songs had a step to them. The normal almost-rhythmic clapping we were used to was now a bit awkward. One Sunday, one lady went to the front and asked why people aren’t dancing for Jesus. If they love Jesus, they should dance for Him. And shout. And scream. The other Africans from above the Limpopo river signaled their agreement. The white people were awkward. People also started talking about Holy Ghost fire. It was starting to get weird.
In all these examples above, each of these people loved the maker of the universe, and were worshiping Him. They heard about the truth of Yeshua, and responded to worship Him as communities in their own special ways. If culture is what a group of people make of the world, which one of the above examples is a Christian culture? Is singing of the bible, or clapping of hands, or crying during the time of the service your community has decided to call ‘praise and worship’ a Jesus culture?
Culture is incredibly complex. Some cultures celebrate by dancing madly and spinning around. Others celebrate by just clapping their hands. In some communities, you can call a woman as old as your grandmother by their first name. In other communities, you can’t even call your older sister by her name only without giving a title of respect. Some people find talking to people you don’t know in a room rude and forward. Others find not doing so rude and aloof. And they can all worship the same Messiah at the same time as their understandings of what is normal is so different.
I think the term ‘Christian culture’ or a ‘Jesus culture’ is an oversimplification of how Christ transforms individuals and communities. Because how he does it in one may be expressed very differently to how he does it in another. And oversimplifying normally results in pushing one’s idea of ‘normal’ as absolute. So can we stop using this term. Rant end.
*This is no reference to the music group Jesus Culture. They may have different reasons for choosing their name.