What is Christianity?
by Dave Brown
Do you use the word Christianity in you common speaking? If so, what do YOU mean by the word? When others use this word, what do they mean by it? Should we use words that are subject to misinterpretation in our speaking? Let’s give this some thought.
I am very reluctant to use this word at all because I am not sure what people will think that I mean by it. When scholars, intellectuals and theologians use this word the impression that I get from their contexts has been that they are either referring to: (1) the Roman Catholic Church, its membership and generally what they all are thought to believe; or (2) all organizations that claim belief in Jesus as the Christ, which would include the Roman Catholic Church, all of the “Christian” denominations, and all of the cults that similarly claim Jesus as the Christ. The reason that I do not use the word Christianity is that, if I use this word, I am almost certain that the listener(s) will associate me with this second usage, and I do not want to be considered as part of those who qualify according to either of the two definitions of the word that are given above.
The Bible condemns needless semantic argumentation. Rarely does such make any progress in our understanding God’s word and will for us. Certainly, we should do our best to define our words, and those of the Bible, even to the extent of inquiring into the Greek and Hebrew meanings. This is not argumentation – it is part of obtaining a clearer understanding. Semantic argumentation is when two people disagree on what a word means and how it should be used, and they get contentious about it. Better than arguing is to allow those who might differ from us to use the words/terms that they want to use in their own way, and for us to just recognize it as they intend (ask them kindly, if necessary). This, as opposed to stopping what might otherwise be a profitable discussion in an attempt to resolve the unresolvable. I see nothing in the Bible that says that it is sin if we do not agree on the meaning of every word or term. The emphasis is on the meaning of the entirety of given verses and passages – that is the word of God.
In fact, there are edicts against trivial disputing; e.g.,
1 Timothy 6:3-5: If any man teaches a different doctrine, and consents not to sound words, (even) the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4 he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words , whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, 5 wrangling of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain. (All Bible quotes are ASV.)
So why should we be concerned about being lumped-in with the “Christianity” establishment? Several things come immediately to mind, all of them stem from the first of these, which is the most important:
- ·“Christianity” does not seek the word of God (the Bible) for their sole source of authority. Instead they might seek any (or all) of the following:
- The Pope,
- The hierarchy of their church (bishops, cardinals, super pastors, clergy, etc.), believing that somehow the truth is implanted in this establishment of men, which within itself defies all logical reasoning by virtue of its inherent contradictions, even within given denominations.
- Continued direct revelation from the Holy Spirit to either all members (on a limited basis) or to some self-selected leaders (on a more comprehensive basis). Generally, this results in a cult of personality around the one who is esteemed to have the greatest amount of inspiration.
- Because of the emphasis on the organization, there a general disregard for personal individual responsibility to learn all of the truth (to the extent possible), and to practice what is learned. Personal responsibility is required throughout the New Testament. By this we will be judged (Romans 2:12; James 2:12; Revelation 20:12). Jesus will judge us as individuals, and while He has commanded us to participate in the work of the local church (Hebrews 10:25), we will be judged according to our own individual works (Revelation 20:13), and not by any organization we hold membership.
- The immorality of those who are supposedly practicing the doctrines of “Christianity” most closely. Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-20: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. 16 By their fruits ye shall know them. Do (men) gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” As an example, could there be a more definitive display of evil works than that of pedophilia? (This example is not isolated to any one particular religious group.) So why can people not see and come out from among them (2 Corinthians 6:17)? The most reasonable answer is that they have been convinced by their false teachers that the source of their salvation is their group membership, and it is much easier for them to deny their personal responsibility by accepting their group status.
- The great atrocities of “Christianity” that have been well documents in the history of the crusades, the inquisitions and other organized offensive paramilitary activities. Jesus never taught any such things. Neither He nor His apostles ever used physical force to promote the gospel in any way.
- The fact that the “Christianity” establishment specifically excludes those who take it upon their own to serve God to the best of their abilities according to the gospel of the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). Romans 10:3: “For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” [see Romans 1:16-17]. Romans 3:27” “Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith.”
The last of these is of interest especially to those who might wonder what most scholars mean when they use the word “Christianity.” It is extremely difficult to find any history of those who defied the religious establishment and served God as dictated by their personal consciences led by God’s word. The reason for this is that history does not deal with small exceptions – it deals with the mass movements, both religious and political. Those who ignored the edicts of Constantine in 313 AD and continued to worship in their homes and small local churches, according to the written and oral traditions of the apostles, were persecuted. And, like them, the many who are still being persecuted in many countries today, can only survive by going “underground” and keeping their existence secret. To the historians, they did not exist.
Even today, the number of dedicated servants of Jesus who worship in totally autonomous Bible-based local churches is a relative small percentage of those who call themselves Christians. The effort it takes to shoulder the responsibility to learn the New Testament worship and work of the church is perceived to be too great a burden, and it is far easier to accept the leadership of some established religious organization.
It is hopeful that this article, if nothing else, will convince some that salvation is not obtained by membership in any organization. This is not what Jesus required for salvation. Salvation, throughout the New Testament, depends on the individual’s commitment to Christ (John 3). Those who obeyed the gospel were “added to the Lord’s church” (Acts 2:47), as an effect, not a cause.
Jesus' Conditions of Salvation
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