Some places in America are observing Columbus Day today. This has become a controversial subject. For many years, schoolchildren were taught that Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer working for the Spanish, “discovered” America when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492.
Modern scholars are offended by this for a variety of reasons. First, there were already people in the Americas– Columbus didn’t “discover” a new-found continent devoid of people or culture. Just because the Spanish court, and most of Europe, didn’t recognize the existence of North and South America and the Caribbean, doesn’t mean they were undiscovered. It only means they were undiscovered by the major European powers. Scholars go on to argue that Columbus and the Spanish (and the French and English and Portuguese who followed) did not so much “discover” the “New World;” they invaded and stole it from those who were living here “in peace.”
I disagree with the way scholars have “revised” the history of Western culture. But it causes me to think of how, over the years, we have also revised the message of the Gospel, and our concept of Christianity.
Much like the modern scholars’ version of Columbus “Discovering” America, many people like to talk about “discovering” Christianity. We “encounter” the Gospel. Maybe we join a local congregation of believers, or a Bible study group. It’s exciting– at first. It is new and amazing in its message of hope and love and grace.
But then we hear ugly stories of Christians who are hateful, judgmental, condemning, greedy, hypocritical, and hurtful. “That can’t be true; that can’t be what Christianity is about,” we say. And so we vow that “our” Christianity will be different. We adapt our message to the current trends in our society. We tailor our message to our friends and neighbors, even when the it’s no longer true. We wipe out and “conquer” and reshape those verses that cause offense. We recreate Jesus into a “great teacher,” a pal or a guru, rather than a Sovereign Savior. We end up following our own gospel, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Or, we double down on legalism, making our walk with Christ more like a walk with His accusers, the Pharisees. We scream and argue about the “right” way to worship, or dress, or manage money. And we seek to wipe out those who don’t follow our traditions. We remove the promise of Grace from our Christianity, and replace it with judgment.
Except it isn’t “our” Christianity. We haven’t “discovered” the Gospel to make it into a “new” and better religion. We haven’t “discovered” a Jesus who is kinder or more accepting or less judgmental than He ever was. And We don’t follow a Jesus who refuses to love those who are not perfect or forgive those who have “fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Our “discovery” of Jesus should be a lifelong discovery– a lifelong journey of becoming who He wants us to be; becoming more like who He really is. Part of that is living out our faith in a world that refuses to understand or accept the Gospel. Part of it is living our lives according to the Bible’s principles, and not our culture’s trends. Part of it is trusting that God’s word never changes, even when the world around it does. And part of it is a consistent pursuit and practice of humble and earnest prayer. Otherwise, we may well be guilty of the same conquest and colonization as those we are condemning who came before us.