Please note that when I use the word “Christianity” I refer to essential theology as discovered through study of the Bible, not to “churchianity,” the elaborate, human construct that includes ritual, cant, legalistic rules and regulations, the accumulation of wealth, and the construction of hierarchies. When I refer to Bible study, I mean the grammatical, historical, contextual search for truth, not the random cherry picking of verses, not the total reliance on English translations, and not the dependence on traditional, church fathers’ writings. When I use the word “church” I refer to the church universal – the body of believers, not a specific congregation or denomination.
A friend recently asked me several excellent questions and I’m honored to address them. He was asking about Christianity – what is it exactly? – and he was kind enough to offer some options: Is it a faith? Is it a religion? Is it an identity? Is it a club? Is it just a heaven-based entitlement? Let’s look at each of these:
Is Christianity a faith? Well, yes, in the sense that faith is a way of thinking, a way of learning. We learn through empiricism-- actual experience or observation, or through rationalism – coming to logical conclusions about the events we observe, or by faith, by far the most common – someone tells us 2+2=4 and we believe it. Jesus Christ told the people who followed him that if they believed in him they would have eternal life. They accepted that as fact, as have hundreds of millions since. Christianity is more than faith in the sense that its doctrines rely on historical and scientific fact (empiricism) and on logic (rationalism). We can trace Christ’s lineage back to Adam and Eve, generation by generation. It makes complete sense that if man is flawed and can’t fix himself that he needs a savior. And we can prove the first premise by just watching the news; man is obviously a mess and is evidently not getting better. Is it a faith? Yes, but not a blind one. It is a faith that does not run counter to science or history and is perfectly logical.
Christianity is a way of thinking about the world. No other worldview is like it. And Christianity, regardless of what some preachers claim, begins with Genesis. Without a creator, a perfect, all-powerful creator, and man’s choice to walk away from that perfection, Christianity would make little sense. This is why Darwinian theory has had such a devastating effect on the church. Evolution and Christianity are diametrically opposed. Christian doctrine is very clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and that “No man comes unto the Father but by me,” Perfection cannot be attained by gradual evolutionary improvement, not physically – the law of entropy applies here, and not spiritually.
Is Christianity a religion? The answer to that is a resounding No! A religion is a human effort to placate, appease, gain the approbation of God, or gods. People have to kill other people to please Allah. They have to grovel their way through countless existences to gain Nirvana. They have to starve in the presence of herds of cattle to please their Hindu gods. But Christians have one mandate and it doesn’t depend on our merit at all. We are to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” And, to go back to our discussion on faith, it’s not having faith that’s the issue; the issue is in the object of that faith. It is Christ who did the work, not us.
In Christianity it is God trying to reach us, trying to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him – trying even to the extent of becoming human Himself in order to stand in for us and absorb in Himself the punishment due all of us. In all religions it is up to man to rectify our less-than-perfect condition. But here’s the problem –that which is broken cannot un-break its self. Yet religion attempts to do exactly that – DIY spiritual repair.
It is sadly true that man has been, since Cain and Abel, trying to turn simple belief into a religion. Abel understood that he was to show his grasp of the idea that a sacrifice would have to be made in order for him to be right with God and he did so by killing a perfect animal. Cain wanted to do it himself – Look, God, what I grew! And from then on man has been trying to come up with his own way to save his ego and make his own contribution to salvation and that impetus has infected the church from the very early days. Much of what non-Christians find repugnant about Christianity is not Christianity itself, but the religiosity that’s been layered on top of the reality. Where there is religion there is inevitably pride, which is what got us in trouble in the first place.
Is Christianity an identity? Most certainly. When we believe – at that very moment and forever after – we are identified with Christ and when God the Father looks at us, He sees His Son. “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” God sees not our own real desperate imperfections, but the perfect goodness of Christ. We are identified with Him, with His perfections and with His destiny. Not because of anything we did to earn that. We merely believe – and even better – should we drift away from that belief later, we still maintain that identity as a member of the family of God. We know this from the Greek verb tenses – we believe in one point in time and results continue forever.
Is Christianity a club? I love this question, because from the outside looking in it sure looks like that, and in the sense of Christians being made “joint heirs with Christ” I guess it’s true. But it’s a unique club. In the first place anyone can join. There are no restrictions. After all this is a club predicated on the assumption that we are all substandard beings – how picky can we get? People often make the mistake of judging Christianity by the Christians they know, assuming that if a self-righteous jerk can be in the club then it isn’t one they want to join, but our failings are proof of our beliefs.
Christianity is, ideally, a club with a clear, unchanging mission – to demonstrate to the angels God’s perfection. It is a club with a charter and its own rules of order given to us by God, but filtered through human brains so we can understand. This club does not have dues (I should write another piece on tithing), it doesn’t have a hierarchy of leaders (and another on denominations), nor does it have a uniform and a lot of petty rules and regulations. We are to “study to show ourselves approved unto God…” and “love each other as we do ourselves,” but that pretty much covers it.
Is Christianity a heaven-based entitlement? I’m not entirely sure what my friend meant here, but our worldview does see this universe as temporary, sees time and space as transitory limitations. We know that another way of life exists outside of what we see here and that life is eternal and unburdened by sin and death. We are merely passing through; this isn’t really home.
Is heaven an entitlement? Only in that once we are related to Christ, identified with Him, we are, no matter what follows, always His, but not because of anything we do or are, but because we applied faith-thinking (something we can all do) to the all-important question, “What think ye of Christ?” The merit is all His.
Which is mainly the answer to the “What is Christianity?” question. It is knowing that all merit and glory and goodness is in Jesus of Nazareth.