What Christianity Isn’t
Christianity. No doubt a load of ideas came to your mind as you read that word. That’s because words are loaded. They gather meaning down through the years that would probably offend those who lived when the word was born. In this writing piece my hope is to peel off the layers of baggage that have built up over the years giving the word a bad name. The word was born in the first century and recorded in a book we know as the Bible. Let’s return there to see what Christianity isn’t so we can better understand what it is.
Christianity is not a religion
It will shock many to discover that Christianity is not a religion. But let me define the term. Religion is a human invention in which people try to explain God or no god and provide ways that we can please Him or ignore Him. Some people devise a religion that excludes the idea of God but they still adopt a set of standards for their life. The don’t believe in God but still have a religion.
When people try to explain God from the six inches of brain matter between their ears they end up with a convoluted idea of God and even more meandering, disconnected ideas and actions that lead few people to Him and paint a false picture of what He is like. King Solomon concluded that God “… put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3:11). In other words, we all have an inner sense of God and eternity but God has not given us the ability to figure Him or eternity out.
So we need to quit trying. Christianity is simply a relationship with the God who created us with the ability to discover eternal things and connect with Him and know Him. But He wants us to rely on His wisdom to define it.
Jesus said it plainly in His last earthly intercession: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). There you have it. Christianity is knowing God and Jesus and the result of that relationship is what He calls eternal life.
Christianity is not a set of legal standards
In this relationship God does not play games with us by controlling our lives through legal standards of behavior. Religion does that with people. Islam has the devotees of Allah bowing to their foreheads three times a day facing Mecca to the east. Mormons wear a special garment underneath their clothes. Buddhists have a long set of meditations, each connected to some aspect of spiritual living. Sikhs carry a knife at all times along with four other required articles of faith. On and on it goes as religion develops its standards of behavior attempting to connect with God.
All the while God goes out of His way to connect with us in real, living ways. He is a Person and is love itself. He loves because He is love and His love reaches out to us and causes our life to have meaning and purpose.
Paul warned his readers in Colossae against setting up standards saying, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:21–23). The apostle calls these silly rules “human precepts and teachings” and they simply promote “self-made religion.” God does not treat His children that way and does not commend the creation of human religion that allows us to treat one another that way. Religion seeks to control us but God loves us and seeks our freedom in Him.
Christianity is not just for white people
With the onset of false notions like wokeism and systemic racism, some people have rejected Christianity as a white person’s religion. That is as far from the truth as east is from west. The real truth is that Christianity was birthed in a multicultural environment, nurtured in a culture of diversity and to this day is a faith of racial variety. It is not an American religion but a way of life for people of all countries and ethnicities.
Jesus, the human expression of God on earth, picked the non-Jewish regions of Palestine to undertake most of His ministry. He first revealed Himself as Messiah to a Samaritan woman at a water well near Sychar in Samaria. Samarians were a mixed race who hated the Jews and were hated by the Jews. Yet, Jesus chose to reveal His identity to a woman from a hated race. He was neither a racist or a misogynist.
Jesus had an encounter with a Roman centurion that went against the racial customs of the day. The Italian military leader had a servant who was very ill and he came to Jesus and asked Him to heal him. Jesus immediately said, “I will come and heal him” (Matt. 8:7). But the man, knowing the racial mores of the day, insisted that He did not have to come but could just speak it and his servant would be healed. Jesus was willing to break all racial customs by entering the house of the Italian soldier but the man saved Him the trouble knowing that Jesus’s authority would work from a long distance. Jesus was not a racist and His later commission to His followers was to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The word “nation” there is best translated “ethnicities” referring to the many races of humanity.
Paul, a principle purveyor of the Gospel message, summarized the message of God about race: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). There you have it. The word from God about race is that He doesn’t recognize it so we should do the same. He looks at our hearts, not our outward appearance.
Christianity was birthed on Pentecost day ten days after Christ ascended to His Father. Luke lists the following ethnic groups besides ethnic Jews touched by the message of Christ:
“Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:0–11). Three thousand people came to Christ on that day and almost all of them were from non-white ethnic groups. It continued that way for decades as Paul made his way across Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and Greece and Rome proclaiming the message of Christ to many ethnic groups. The early church was a diverse fellowship of every known race and it has remained that way to this day.
Christianity is not a business
One pastor related what he thought was the key to a church’s success. He said it’s all about nickels and noses, meaning money and people. I am sorry to say that many of the churches in America have simply become businesses with their tax exempt status and monetary practices and marketing programs aimed at bringing in the people and the money in much the same way as a typical business. This is not the Christianity of the founding document, the Bible.
Any group that calls itself a church that has as its motivating standard a business model has abdicated its responsibility before God. The church is to be the people of God joined together in Christ, serving one another with His life that flows through them by the Spirit. It is not a money-making venture or a platform for launching popular ministries.
No pastor or church leader should compromise their relationship with Christ for the sake of making a living or becoming popular in Christian circles. Jesus took the position of servant with His disciples and advised them to do the same (John 13:5f). Paul said of his ministry: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7, 8). He gave up everything including his own human accomplishments to seek and know the fullness of Christ in His life. That is genuine Christianity.
Christianity is not a totally individualized faith
Most religions of the world emphasize an individual path to God. Of course the Bible shows that there is a way to God for the individual through Christ but that personal experience leads to a corporate experience. Paul put it this way: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:26, 27). Christians profess a life in union with other believers knit together by the common experience of Christ.
To Christians the body of Christ is not just a descriptive metaphor but the actual spiritual reality produced by the life of Christ in people. His life draws us together and binds us together in a real spiritual body. What one member experiences becomes the experience of all. This is seen in Jesus’s command about love. He said “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30, 31). Our relationship with God is expressed in our relationship with people. Our individual experience of God will permeate our experience with people. That union produces the body of Christ, the church. John tells us that anyone who says he loves God but doesn’t love people is a liar. He concludes that “whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1John 4:21).
This love flowing from God produces a corporate body of love. That body is the body of Christ, the church, the people of God.
Christianity is not about heroes
We live in a world that elevates heroes almost to the point of worship. We have our movie stars, politicians, professional athletes and popular preachers. Christianity in its purest form does not allow for the adoration of heroes. It elevates Christ and deemphasizes the sensual qualities that the world elevates.
Paul wrote to the people of Corinth in Greece of himself saying “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4, 5). In other words, he did not want the Corinthians to elevate him but wanted them to recognize the power and life of God. Unfortunately, we have often taken on the hero-worshipping qualities of the world. We now have situations where thousands of people will come together to participate in energetic music and listening to popular speaker with “plausible words of wisdom” the opposite of what Paul was desiring.
There is only one time in scripture where one person is seen as the dominant person in a church and it is a negative, ugly picture. A man named Diotrephes wanted to have the preeminent place in the church and was kicking people out of the church who did not agree with him. John severely reprimand this man who was doing what many pastors are now doing in their churches and promises to straighten him out when he came in person to the church (3 John 9f).
Christianity is not about hero worship or self-promotion but about promoting Christ as head of the church and Lord of the universe.
Christianity is not a building-connected religion
Christianity is not centered around a sacred temple or other building where God meets with His people. The temple of God is His people, the body of Christ (2 Cor. 6:16). God does not dwell in a temple, mosque, synagogue or any other construction of man. He dwells in the hearts of those who invite Him to come in. There is nothing sacred about any building. What is sacred is God dwelling in His people — true Christianity.
So what is Christianity? It is the God of the universe coming, by His Spirit, to dwell in the hearts and lives of people who invite Him in. When He is truly present in our lives He begins to transform us into His image in a gradual but real process of change. This life in individuals produces a corporate expression of God known as the body of Christ, the church. Much of the rest of what we call Christianity has been added by people who think that God needs some help. It’s time to get out of His way and return to the truth revealed in the founding document, the Bible and let the vestiges of human effort fall by the wayside.