WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY?
Is Christianity a set of doctrinal beliefs? Is it a lifestyle based upon a set of truths? Is it the path to heaven? Or is it a path which begins on earth and ultimately leads to heaven? Granted, the word “Christianity” is a label used for all kinds of religious expressions which include Jesus. It is a colloquialism. But I use it in this setting to refer to the genuine faith of the Scriptures. What really is the Christian faith?
Matt.16: 24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
The modern church does not preach an eternal message anymore. Millions sit in padded pews with their eternal souls at risk and they leave feeling good about themselves and what they have heard. But Jesus warned us about neglecting our eternal souls. In fact He told us that gaining the entire world but losing our souls is no fair trade. This is no melodrama. This is no hyperbole.
We walk in the temporal. We think in the temporal. We find contentment in the temporal. We dream in the temporal. We strive in the temporal. We see in the temporal. We feel in the temporal. We live in the temporal. We understand in the temporal. And yet eternity will one day swallow up all that is temporal and all that is left will be eternal. And where will that leave you?
Pause for just a moment and think about eternity. There is nothing so serious. There is nothing of greater importance. It is impossible to fully comprehend even the concept of eternity. But what if you died and awoke in eternity and found you had lost everything? It wasn't that you had lost some things, but you had lost everything including your eternal soul. It is that which summoned Jesus to earth. It was your and my eternal souls which led Him to the cross.
But hey, let’s keep up the party here while the whole world slowly suffers and dies. That is why Jesus had us born here anyway. But is it not evident that the church has lost all sense of eternity? Almost without exception everything the western church does is centered upon this life and everything temporal. But is the faith called Christianity an eternal faith which lives out that eternity within the temporal, or is it just concerned with the temporal or just with the eternal? What is the relationship between the eternal and the temporal as it pertains to the faith in doctrine and practice?
Are not these the questions that should consume the church? Why are not these the real question that should be our journey and which should define us? And yet the overwhelming majority of local churches, denominations, and believers in general are comfortable in whatever mode they are now in as they live out their faith and beliefs. Once a doctrinal flag has been planted it seems as if the church considers its journey all but done. No more mystery, no more painful evaluations, no more repentance, no more brokenness. Is that all there is?
We cannot have an honest or accurate pursuit of authentic Christianity without an absolute reference point. Without that all opinions become the North Star and most of them are different. So the Scriptures must always be the guiding and illuminating light of truth. That includes the gospels, the epistles, and the narratives, as well as the template of the life of Jesus. And to take all of that and to condense it down to a small page on a church brochure or bulletin is at best disingenuous and at most deceiving. I realize that there are core doctrinal truths which are the foundation for our belief system, however when we make them a condensed version of our faith, and when they seem to exclude scores of other important truths, it makes all statements of faith very incomplete and misleading. It just may be that no written statement of faith can adequately represent the faith called Christianity. Yes, the greatest incandescent commentary of the Christian faith is a living, breathing follower of Jesus whose statement of faith is not confined to ink and paper, but allows deeds to manifest Jesus and His teachings. In reality His statement of faith is the entire Bible and His life is an unmistakable treatise on apologetics.
But the lines seem to have been drawn. While some venues of Christianity are unconcerned with doctrine, others have theirs as a standard bearer. And therein lies the enigma. Just what is Christianity and how is it recognized and lived out? If a person has a Biblically orthodox doctrine but is a haughty and mean kind of person is that Christianity? Or if a person is generous and warm but has a seriously flawed doctrine does that still pass as Christianity? Is Christianity something to be studied or is it something to live? With all the different religious streams and all the denominations which is the genuine Christian path?
Think about this. Most if not all the denominations find their distinctiveness in some facet of their doctrinal beliefs. Whether it is mode of baptism or gifts of the Spirit or eschatology or election or something else, they all have formed their own ecclesiastical group because of something they say they believe differently than do many others. Which denomination was formed because they loved more deeply or expressed humility more openly than do others? Which group formed because of some outward expression of Christ’s teachings? I think the closest would be the Salvation Army but even they have allowed serious compromise to creep in over the years.
Now with all those doctrinal issues we probably could decide which one was more of the Spirit simply by watching and examining the lives of those who were in each group. I mean if one particular denomination or group actually espoused the correct doctrine then it would have to reveal itself without question in the lives of its people. Their lives would be so much brighter and so much saltier and manifest so much of Jesus that it would be easy to see, right? But, sadly, that is not the case. There really is no one group that stands out with that kind of undeniable distinction.
That means that regardless of what you say you believe and what kind of impressive statement of faith you have does not represent Christianity if it is the exclusive core of your definition of the faith. Remember Christianity is not a science test or a test on Biblical vocabulary. Christianity is not just a questionnaire. And Christianity is also not just a set of humanitarian works. And this is the foundation of my post. The post Industrial Revolution church has never had a real and probing and even uncomfortable discussion, much less a pursuit, about finding and embracing the essence of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.
A very subtle but diabolical event has taken place. The church has been so comfortable with labels and monikers that slowly those labels have come to define us rather than our lives. And when that happens, the faith outlined in Scripture gives way to the prevailing ecclesiastical winds dictated by denominations, traditions, and the fallen culture in which churches and believers live. In short the church becomes shaped by things other than Scripture even though many of them claim that Scripture is their foundation. And the “Do” parts of Scripture like love, mercy, humility, benevolence, self denial and others are significantly outflanked by the “Believe” parts of Scripture like the Trinity, the virgin birth, heaven and hell, justification by faith and others. So your doctrine buys you a membership card and how you live out the teachings of Jesus are optional and those classes can be audited. It’s like being a member of the swim team and yet you don’t have to swim just be able to explain how.
But just what is authentic Christianity according to God’s Word?