By Jacqueline J. Holness
As I was driving and listening to a talk radio show, a caller accused American Christians of being “buffet Christians.” The host repeated the words, obviously pondering the term, and then laughed. As I continued my commute, I, too, began to ponder if what the caller said is true. While the term buffet originated in France, there is no denying that buffets have become an American cultural phenomenon—and we have the waistlines to prove it!
Choosing What We Wish
It’s tempting to fill our plates by sampling a little of this, maybe a lot of that, and maybe a vegetable or two for good measure—for a relatively cheap price. But have we also adopted a buffet mentality when it comes to how we approach our faith? Are we guilty of gravitating toward the parts of Christianity that are palatable and easily fit into our lives, while barely acknowledging or even backing away from the parts that seem difficult? Is our faith costing us anything?
Several years ago I interviewed a woman for an article I was working on about domestic violence and the church. The woman disclosed her decision to divorce her husband, a minister, because he had been beating her. And due to 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, she has opted to remain single. I remember holding my breath for a few seconds after her statement, and then slowly releasing it. I hoped she had not noticed my reaction. I thought to myself, She is really taking this stuff (Scripture) seriously! After reading the Bible and discussing my interview with a minister, I realized she had more freedom in her unique circumstances than she imagined; but the fact that she was willing to obey God’s Word at all cost astonished and impressed me.
I don’t know that I’ve heard similar resolutions among other Christians. To be fair, I haven’t asked many divorced Christians about this issue. But as I have considered marriage in my own life, my “get out of jail free” card has always been I can just get divorced if it doesn’t work out. 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11 are verses that just seem out of place in modern day culture.
In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 2002), Philip Yancey asserts that the Beatitudes, with their emphasis on blessings in Heaven rather than on earth, are not particularly popular fare for modern Christians. Yancey says,
Among many Christians an emphasis on future rewards has fallen out of fashion. My former minister Bill Leslie used to observe, ‘As churches grow wealthier and more successful, their preferences in hymns change from ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through’ to ‘This is my father’s world.’ In the United States, at least, Christians have grown so comfortable that we no longer identify with the humble conditions Jesus addressed in the Beatitudes—which may explain why they sound so strange to our ears.
Lately, I have noticed that many black gospel music radio stations play several songs that, while uplifting and rocking, focus on how God blesses us instead of how we can bless God. Verses like Matthew 6:20-22 remind us that our American dreams must be tempered with a view toward Heaven.
Decades after slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King declared, “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour and Sunday school is still the most segregated school of the week,” I pray that churches all over America have worked to integrate rather than segregate—from members to ministers. Obviously Galatians 3:28 advocates seeing beyond race and gender. And I believe this mandate extends to Christian organizations too.
Letting God Make the Choices
I was encouraged while attending the International Conference on Missions in Atlanta last year to hear Wing Wong, Chinese missionary and conference president, speak about the miraculous work of God he has experienced on the mission field. I have never understood why some, even Christians, avoid encountering people of other races and backgrounds. It is so rich to sample all of what the world’s cultures have to offer.
So yes, I agree with the caller and believe that American Christians can be “buffet Christians.” Let’s be on guard so we do not make our stomach our god (Philippians 3:19), and choose what is palatable instead of heeding and obeying the whole and costly counsel of God.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, and author of After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God, (Nevaeh Publishing, 2012). afterthealtarcall.com