As a second gen Christian, I think I can say I've had a personal experience of the pitfalls kids from Christian homes face, or what I would term the spiritual dangers of being 'Christianized'.
Having said that, mine was even the type of church where conversion and baptism were taken very seriously--no Sinner's Prayer magic formula you could say when you were seven, or post-camp spiritual high.
And yet, after years of Sunday School and church, obeying your parents, praying (and having a legitimate, if somewhat shallow relationship with God), behaving kindly, memorizing Bible verses...the lines blur. To yourself, more than to others. You aren't actually a Christian, but you're very good at looking like one.
I'm not saying that growing up in a Christian home inevitably leads to hypocrisy, though it certainly is a possibility. But I believe that more often, the problem isn't sincerity or hypocrisy. You do believe, you do accept, on the same simple level you had since childhood. To make it more complicated, you do actually want it to be more than just that; you (vaguely) want to 'be a real Christian.'
Meanwhile, you continue to do all the right things and after the hundredth gospel service you stop thinking of yourself when the pastor reaches the application at the end. Oh yeah, I know that stuff.
You've been Christianized.
First big danger of being Christianized: It stops you from seeing your sin, and from recognizing that you need to be saved from it. Especially for kids who are born with a sort of instinctive good nature/high tolerance, or have been blessed with lives that contain comparatively little conflict to challenge them, a Christian upbringing or at least obedience to Christian parents can be an additional stumbling block in recognizing your sin, and your urgent need for help. It creates a deceptive facade that tricks you as well as others--until something happens to shake the mask off. Like Nellie's description of Catherine's temper in Wuthering Heights, gunpowder doesn't explode if fire is kept away from it, but it is still gunpowder nonetheless; only waiting to be set off. Being Christianized is like another layer of sand hiding the gunpowder of sin in our souls.
All those times when people tell you how well behaved you are, 'how well you've turned out.' (another reason for my deep-rooted dislike of that phrase; as if parents can follow a formula and produce model children!) Your good kid image and all those years in church, all the Bible verses and theology you can spout, don't make you more of a Christian than the visitor who doesn't know who Abraham is. A sinner who has heard the Gospel a million times is still--a sinner. Having medicine in your home doesn't mean you're not sick.
I've shared before in my testimony how this 'good kid blindfold' snared me for years; I simply could not say with honest conviction, I have sinned. The words rang hollow even in my own ears. I quote Ray Hartsfield, I think for the second time on this blog: 'Every man faces a day when guilt transforms from an abstract concept to a soul-crippling infection.'
Being Christianized often makes that transformation harder.
A second big danger of being Christianized: failing to differentiate between what applies to Christians and what applies to nonbelievers; and getting frustrated, and stumbled, as result.
For every sort of society, conformity gets you acceptance. Speak the way we do. Join in our activities. Don't do that--do this--and you'll be one of us.
However, the church is not a society. Should not be a society. Unbelievers are accepted with love into the church family, but to be 'one of us' in the sense of one of Christ's children, a Christian--mere conformity isn't enough. Should not be enough.
There are so many passages in the Bible that become frighteningly, disturbingly works/appearance-oriented once we take them out of the context of the professing Christians they're addressed to, and plop them down in sweeping application to the whole Bible study group--whether you're seeking, whether you're professing, whether you're just sitting in this room because your parents brought you along, THOU SHALL EVANGELIZE TO THY NON-CHRISTIAN FRIENDS because that's what the Bible calls Christians to do. (for example)
No issue with that. But perhaps you need to look at your class and see each one as having an individual relationship with God, varying from one to another, even if you've had the same class for the last three years. What kind of ambassador has never actually been in the country they profess to represent, and aren't even citizens?
Professing Christians have a personal relationship and commitment as their impetus to obey such commands in the Bible, instead of the Christianized's sincere but vague sense that this is right and everyone approves of it. Doing so only further Christianizes yourself, distancing yourself from the real thing because you deceptively seem to be 'doing it all already.' The kids who have been faithfully coming to Sunday School, the kids who text you things like 'I'm praying for you' and 'Trust God', but whose faith doesn't go deeper than obedient, dutiful, or even sincere--these kids are most in danger from the opiate of cultural conformity; conformity to the culture of the church.
And then, when they've been doing, and doing, and doing--dutifully, sincerely, patiently doing--there seems to be so much to do, when there's so little you get in return; and after a while, you get burnt out. Frustrated. What's the point of doing all this?
What's the point, indeed, when it's being done for its own sake and nothing more?
A third big danger of being Christianized--and this also applies to second gen Christians like myself, even after coming to a personal conversion: it's easy to mistake family culture issues for moral issues.
Let's have a very, very simple example, one that won't be sensitive or misleading to (almost) anyone. (sigh)
When I was really small, and my church was really small, and almost all the children in the church at that point were really small, we were all homeschooled--that is, our parents didn't send us to kindergartens. So, without my mom or dad telling me anything on this, I assumed in my small mind that being a Christian meant you were homeschooled. (I'm aware there are people who do hold this assumption, but I think most of the people reading this wouldn't think so.) And so when another small friend told me very proudly that he was going to go to Primary 1, I was aghast. 'You mean you're not going to come to church anymore??'
Family culture. Not a moral issue.
How one family decides to keep the Sabbath in practical and specific detail, obviously differs from another, based on background, lifestyle, even economic differences. One family, maybe, tries not to buy things on Sunday. But another eats out so Mom can get a much-needed rest from cooking, and they have time to fellowship with others. I was brought up keeping Sunday as a day where we don't touch homework (depending on what age you are, the idea will produce either a cheer or a groan). That, though, is an aspect of my family culture, and doesn't make us more righteous than another Christian family who does do homework on Sundays. But when you've grown up doing something, and the people around you take it for granted as well, it becomes too easy to make something small like this into a moral issue when we meet people who don't do what we do. Merely because we're so used to it, it seems weird that other people aren't. And that, obviously, is a bad reason.
I was reluctant to include the second example of keeping the Sabbath, above, because I'm aware what a sensitive topic it can be to some people, not just between families in the same church, but between churches as well. You may not agree with my classification of keeping the Sabbath under family culture, and perhaps it isn't, in your context; (maybe it comes up in the top five on your church covenant) but this definitely applies to many things. Things which we need to wake up and see for what they are: just things we're used to doing--or not doing--or doing in a certain way--and don't necessarily reflect a moral judgement on others who are different.
I don't pretend to be an expert on this. What little I've written is simply based on my personal experience and having watched others like myself struggle with the same issues. That, along with conviction that these are real concerns, is all. No masters in psychology or theology. No parenting or counselling experience either. Perhaps I shouldn't have written quite so much--thrown in a few more qualifications or disclaimers...
But having said so much, I want to qualify what may otherwise seem to some people as a rant against the hypocrisy, external-oriented if subversive pressure that Christian family culture imposes on nonChristian children (observe the vocabulary of literary analysis essays! The combination just lacks ideology, sexually repressed, and bourgeois.)
There are many, many benefits in growing up in a Christian family. So much so that they more than balance these few dangers listed here. I may have stumbled in a few small ways in my spiritual journey, but overall my Christian background has been something I am very grateful to God for, and to which I largely owe whatever little spiritual maturity I have. Perhaps I should--just to silence the mouths out there who might extrapolate--write a counterbalancing post on the blessings of being a second gen Christian, and all would be well...
Humour aside, it is simply a reminder to me that again, grace is everything. The best intentions, the 'most Christian' family background, aren't a formula to 'turn out' (ugghhh) scintillatingly spiritual Christians.
In the bleakest and bitterest hearts, God works. In the complaisant and yes, even the Christianized, God works too.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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