The Danger of Copycat Christianity

June 9, 2022

Have you ever made a photocopy of a printed piece of paper that was itself a photocopy of a printed piece of paper? The result might be readable, but it would be far from impressive. The copy would in no way be better than the original. Rather, each time you made a copy of a copy, each result would be slightly worse than the "original" before.

Sadly, this is how some Christians live out their faith.

As we saw last week, some people  "copy" the faith of someone else, whether a celebrity pastor, the author of their favorite book, or a very influential person like a grandparent. As I said, this isn't completely "bad," (especially if Grandma is a very godly woman), but when the model of your life isn't Christ, you run the risk of creating a perversion of the life God calls you to. Sort of like a copy of a copy a hundred generations down.

Let me give you an example.

What's The Template?

God's Holy Spirit moved powerfully among American churches in the 19th and early 20th Centuries when it came to the concept of overseas missionaries. Many American-born Jesus-followers felt a conviction they were supposed to go overseas and help a specific people group hear about the life-changing gospel of Jesus. So they packed up their possessions, said goodbye to friends and family, and jumped on a ship where weeks later they began to set down roots in a new country and culture.

While I deeply admire these men and women who left everything behind for the sake of Christ, some of them didn't just take with them the gospel. They took with them their cultural trappings. They didn't just aim to help people know Jesus; they (most likely unintentionally) tried to convert people to their American culture. They gave the people American hymns, encouraged the people to dress in American garb, and even adopt certain customs and words foreign to the new culture.

But the goal shouldn't have been to make some island native like the American. The goal should have been to help the island native be an island native who followed Jesus. But what happened wasn't the island native seeking to be like Jesus. He or she was being encouraged to be a copy of a copy. In other words, the template wasn't Christ - it was a 19th-Century version of an Americanized Christian faith.

"Hang on a minute..."

Now, if you know your Bible, I anticipate you might be thinking, "But Erin, the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1 'Be imitators of me.' So we should be copies of the men and women who mentor and disciple us to know Christ. We should imitate them."

The Danger Of Copycat Christianity • Riverwood Church

As I said last week, if you have an extremely godly grandmother, it would be wise to learn from her and even imitate some of her ways. But Paul didn't want the people of Corinth to simply "be like Paul." After all, in the very same letter, back in the first chapter, Paul chastised the people; for some were saying, "I follow Apollos," while others said, "I follow Peter," and yet others claimed, "I follow Paul." Then in chapter 3, he corrected their errant thinking by basically saying, "Don't 'follow me.' Follow Christ! He's the foundation and template of your faith!"

That's why Paul didn't just say in verse 1 of chapter 11, "Imitate me." He said,

"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."

1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV, emphasis added

In other words, the goal wasn't to create copies of Paul. Paul's desire was that they would see Christ in him, and want to imitate Christ, just as Paul was.

If the Corinthians were to simply be copies of Paul, then the people they discipled would most likely be copies of them, who would then make copies of themselves... and on and on it would go. But if each generation sought to "make copies" with Christ as the template, then each disciple would be "made" from the original.

Who Do You Copy?

So let me ask you: as you consider your spiritual walk, who do you seek to copy?

  • Are you (foolishly) trying to copy me?
  • Or is it the podcasted pastor you listen to each week?
  • Maybe it was the person who led you to Christ?
  • Or is it someone you truly admire?

Each of those people might be great influences (well, except for maybe me!), but don't let yourself become a faint, weak copy of who God calls you to be by simply seeking to copy your favorite Christian. Rather, as we regularly say around Riverwood, seek to "live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved."

"Ok, Erin, I hear you. But how do I avoid falling into this "copycat Christianity" trap?" Glad you asked. 😊 We'll talk about that next week.

P.S. As I wrote last week, if you are part of the Riverwood family and haven't contributed to the Building Lives campaign yet, it's not too late to do so! We may have finished talking about the campaign through the Sunday sermons through Nehemiah and in this space right here, but that doesn't mean the campaign has concluded. We still have a bit more to go to meet our $50,000 'minimum' goal. And we want you to be a part! So consider this your invitation to generously give to be a part!

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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