Many Americans think they love Chinese food.
All you have to do is ask them, “Do you like Chinese food,” to which they will reply, “You bet! I eat at the Chinese buffet all the time.”
Said buffets are to be found across the breadth and length of this country, and they are all surprisingly alike, with some variation on the quality and selection offered. They offer all sorts of culinary delights, most of which is anathema to sound dietary practices, but all of which is consumed with eager relish. From the popular General Tso’s Chicken, to the egg rolls, to the sushi and hibachi grill to the pizza for the kids, to the crab rangoons … it seems like there’s always something for everyone.
The curious thing about most of the food found in Chinese buffets however, is how little of it is actually Chinese. Some of it, one supposes, might be better described as being inspired by Chinese cooking, perhaps in a fashion similar to how some movies claim they are inspired by real life events … meaning they maybe kept the names.
As we start analyzing the various dishes we will, of course, observe that there are, in most buffets things that are obviously not Chinese … the pizza, the sushi (inspired by the Japanese), the alfredo noodles, the salad bar with its multi-colored jello offerings. But even the dishes most might think are Chinese, aren’t. While there was a General Tso in China, its most likely he never had anything resembling the dish that now bears his name. The chow mein noodles? Invented in San Francisco. The Mongolian beef? Not really a Mongolian dish. Even the ubiquitous fortune cookies are an American invention.
But, the buffet does delight. And there is something for everyone. It’s just not authentically Chinese.
Many Americans likewise love Christianity.
All you have to do is ask them, “Are you a Christian,” to which, they will reply, “You bet! I go to worship at such and such a church all the time” — with “all the time” being a vague term which, depending on the person, might mean anywhere from a couple of times a year to several times a week.
It is worth noting that to many Americans, Christianity sometimes seems to resemble the aforementioned Chinese buffet. There is something to please everyone. There are churches which will cater to your tastes, no matter what those tastes are. If you want an easy divorce, there are churches which will sanction it for you. If you want to get drunk on a Friday, there are churches which will tell you it’s OK to do so. If you want loud explosive music filled with screaming guitars and heavy drums, or if you want soft, soulful music with a nice choir … somewhere there is a church that will provide what you want.
Too often lost in all of this selection, however, is authenticity. The religious experience offered might delight the senses, tickle ears and get the adrenaline pumping, but chances are good it has little to no relationship to that form of Christianity found in the pages of the New Testament.
This is not a new problem, nor strictly speaking, an American problem — but it is a problem.
We see this in the concern the apostle Paul had for the church in Corinth, when he feared that the devil would lead them away from the purity and simplicity of Christ and His gospel (2 Corinthians 11:1-4). We are warned of the danger of departing from the purity of the Gospel, being told that to change the Gospel is to make it not the Gospel, and that the one who adds to it in his teaching will be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). The Scriptures warn us that the one who runs ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have a true relationship with God (2 John 9). And Jesus Himself reminded His listeners that teaching as doctrine the commands of men made their religion and their worship vain in the sight of God and revealed hearts that were not in tune with what God wanted (Matthew 15:8-9).
True Christianity is not to be found in the buffet. It is to be found in that form of doctrine taught in the New Testament. Men who are authentically seeking the authentic Christ should not be satisfied with men who tell them what they want to hear, but should continue to look until they find those teachers that point to the Bible — and the Bible alone — for their worship, doctrines and practices.
The church of Christ seeks to practice that form of doctrine once and for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 1:3) and invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.