Understanding Christianity

For centuries, Christianity has been pen-crucified and slandered. The hostilities and misrepresentations directed at it today has escalated, particularly through the liberal media. In many minds, Christianity is synonymous with the gross immorality, high crime rate and political wars in Western nations. Past events of the Catholic crusades, the Inquisition, or the witch trials are used as tools to poison minds against Christianity. Like the Humanist Magazine once wrote:

“The classroom will and must become the area of combat between…the rotting corpse of Christianity…and the new faith of Humanism.”

Much of this “combat” is hinged on prejudice and misinformation which can be dispelled-to a large extent- by knowledge. We need to educate our critics; to encourage them to step outside their presuppositional fishbowl and allow us explain what we really believe. Granted, most of what anti-Christians sling at Christianity (or what they think is Christianity) are not stones, but cotton balls.

What is Christianity?

The term “Christianity” was developed to concisely define faith in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour and Mediator between God the Father and sinful humanity. Contrary to what many think, Christianity is not just “a religion” it is a personal relationship with a Living Saviour. “From ancient times, world religions pledged allegiance to various deities” says the Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. “None of these gods had ever lived, most were based on imagination or heroic stories. But Jesus had actually lived in Palestine, had been crucified under Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor of Judea) and had been raised from the dead by the power of God the Father.”

“Neither Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, nor any of the world’s other religions makes any pretense that its founder is still alive” wrote Dave Hunt. “For Christianity, however, the resurrection is the very heart of its gospel. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then the whole thing is a fraud. Nor did Jesus tell His disciples to far off to Siberia or South Africa to preach His resurrection where no one could challenge that claim. He told then to begin in Jerusalem, where had He not risen from the dead, a short walk to the grave just outside the city wall could have proven that He was still dead.” (A Woman Rides the Beast, 1994, 33)

Christianity is based on the death and resurrection of a real Person – Jesus Christ. “The truly amazing thing about early Christian preaching is that it did not proclaim religious duties or moral standards, or even a reforming programme, but a person: one Jesus who was crucified and whom the Christians knew to be alive” wrote Michael Green. “Whether preaching to Jews or Gentiles, the early Christians emphasized not only what God had done for man through Christ, but what he offers (new life by the Holy Spirit, for forgiveness of sins) and what he requires (repentance, faith and commitment).” (The Lion Handbook to the Bible, 1983, 554)

Therefore, Christianity is living the life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is from this standpoint that a true Christian is to be defined. A Christian is one who is living the life of Christ. “The name Christian designates those who belong to Jesus Christ who have been saved or born again” wrote Elmer Towns. “The term Christian was originally a derogatory designation for believers given by unbelievers. The word Christ, upon which this title was constructed, suggests the most important thing about believers: They belong to Christ.” (Bible Answers for Almost All Your Questions, 2003, 63)

Was Christianity Invented by Apostle Paul?

The idea that apostle Paul founded Christianity is hinged on wholesale ignorance. Paul was born about A.D 3 to a prestigious family whose members were Roman citizens living in the city of Tarsus (Acts 22:28). He was raised in a strict Jewish home and came from the tribe of Benjamin (Phil 3:5). He was later trained in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a Pharisee (Acts 5:34).

It was his strong loyalty to Judaism and its traditions that prompted him to persecute Christians. Until he was converted into Christianity, he was its bitter enemy. That he was converted into Christianity proves that he was not the founder. Referring to his past religious philosophies and practices, he said: “But what things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ…and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” (Phil. 3:7, 8)

Only an encounter with the Living Christ could have transformed a hateful anti-Christian Jewish rabbi into a zealous Christian who was arrested, beaten and finally beheaded for his faith. The other apostles who had been personally instructed by Christ Himself for three years, had to acknowledge that Paul, their one time enemy, without consulting any one of them, knew all that Christ had taught them, and even had deeper insights than they. When he rebuked Peter for going astray, he submitted to that correction (Gal. 2:11-14).

Paul explained: “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (1Cor. 11:23). Then he reiterated what Christ had taught His disciples concerning the communion. Nothing he taught contradicts what Jesus taught.

Clement, an early church leader, wrote about him: “After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West and when he had done his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place…” (Letter of the Church in Rome to the Church in Corinth, 5)

If Paul was a fraud, why would he trade popularity and prestige for suffering and martyrdom? Was he travelling to nations preaching his own “inventions?” Did he stand before fire-breathing Roman governors or cynical Greek philosophers at Mars hill coaxing them on his personal concoctions? Such a feat would be insufficient to launch Christianity for a decade. How the enemies of the early church would have made a spot of this. In spite of the many accusations against Paul from the hostile Jewish and Gentile leaders, none of them ever accused him of inventing Christianity.

The word “Christianity” doesn’t have to be in the Bible for it to be valid. A term doesn’t have to be self-referential to be true. Christianity is simply the way of Christ. In Acts 9:2, even before apostle Paul was converted, he was going to Damascus “that if he found any of THIS WAY, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

Christianity was called “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:7) and “the way of the Lord…the way of God” (18:25-26). Apostle Paul himself called it “the way” (24:14). In another place, there “arose no small stir about THAT WAY.” (19:23). Jesus Christ said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (Jh 14:6). Christianity is walking in Christ’s way, having His truth and His living His life.

What About the Many Denominations?

The term “denominations” is not in the Bible and Christianity is not a denomination, it is a relationship with God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It is not the outward credentials of a denomination (or religion) but being in Christ and He in one that makes one a Christian.”If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9).

Some people make the mistake of classifying Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, Christian Science, African syncretic movements and even Grail Messengers as Christian denominations. This is an error. These groups are far off the fringes of Biblical Christianity. They can be more accurately described as cults or heretical sects due to their rejection of several Christian tenets. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy(often presumed to be the oldest) have also degenerated into religious systems. They have their own revelations, confession of faith, priesthood, rituals, authority structure and another Christ (which is a false Christ).

While Christian denominations differ from one another in mode of baptism, style of leadership, music or some traditions, they are united by the basic beliefs of the Christian faith – the sole authority and inspiration of Scripture, Deity of Christ, His atoning sacrifice. bodily resurrection and salvation by grace through faith alone. This is why a Christian can join any Bible believing, Christ-honouring church anywhere in the world. “The unity of the church is its degree of freedom from divisions among Christians” wrote Wayne Grudem. “This unity will be a witness to unbelievers, for Jesus prays ‘that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you loved me’ John 17:23.” (Bible Doctrine, Intervarsity Press, 1999, 372)

The Bible emphasizes that Christians should be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). Christians are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Phil. 4:3) The only people we are to separate from are unbelievers and those teaching a false gospel, not with other Christians who may differ with us on some minor doctrinal issues (2Cor. 6:14, 17, 2Jn.9-11). Christian leaders who forment denominational antagonism, even to the point of schisms are acting contrary to the Bible.

The idea that Christianity is false because there are different viewpoints is invalid. Even during the time of Christ, God tolerated a plurality of different groups – Pharisees, Sadduccees, Samaritans, Essenes, Zealots, Therapeutae, Jewish platonists etc., so He can allow the same under the New Testament. John 10:17 and 17:20-21  speak of unity under one shepherd (Christ) i.e the bringing of the Gentiles into the primarily Jewish early church. Nothing here or elsewhere indicates that the pope or a centralized human leader is the head of the entire church.

As long as we are on this earth, there will always be disagreements and differences in our understanding of issues. To a large extent, such disagreements on non-essentials are allowed in Scripture (Romans 14). But the essentials of the Gospel by which we are saved must not be altered or denied.

The Many Vices in Christianity?

The argument that Christianity is false because there are sinners in the church is absurd if consistently applied on other fronts. You don’t hear people say “I don’t go to that pub again because there are many bad people there” or “I will never go to the hospital because a doctor murdered his patient.” The vices of some church leaders or the “Christian West” do not disprove Christianity, because a nation, church or an individual does not represent Christianity. Christianity should be judged based on what Jesus and the whole of the New Testament teaches.

Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as a “Christian country.” God does not show prejudice, He accepts all people who call on Him (Acts 10:34, 35). One is not a Christian simply because one is an European or American or is affiliated with a local church. In fact, many western nations have rejected the Bible as God’s Word and forgotten their histories with God. The western media also intentionally promote debased entertainment and lifestyles (which Christians oppose) and at the same time portrays Christianity in a grossly distorted manner. One of the fads in the West is to regard Christianity as cult-like and brag of New Age spirituality or atheism.

So here we have the spectacle of hypocrisy. The same set of people who conflate the West with Christianity are the same ones who also parrot their anti-Bible arguments. In Acts 11:26 the Believers were first called Christians by the unbelievers. They saw something in them. They saw Christ and “the grace of God” reflected in their lives (vs 23). It is the grace of God that makes a Christian not religious titles, externalities or rituals.

While a Muslim is a Muslim by the virtue of being born in a Muslim home, a person doesn’t become a Christian because he was born in a Christian home. Until he receives the grace to live the life of Christ, he is only an empty, religious folk, not a Christian. When such a person embraces a cult orr becomes an atheist, we don’t see such a person as an apostate of Christianity because he wasn’t a Christian to start with.

The fruits of the Christian life is lived in union with Christ and a Christian can fail to live up to its standard (Rom. 6:1-5). There are also false Christians whose lives do not reflect Christ. They are described as goats in sheep skins, tares among the wheat, grievous wolves within the flock and ungodly men and women who have crept in and are mixing with true Christians (Mt. 25:32, 13:25, Acts 20:29 and Jude 4). They may preach from a pulpit, sit in a theological chair or have a high degree of respectability as a religious leader, but they are working and speaking for Satan, not Christ.

Is Christianity A White-Man’s Religion?

This is a canard commonly fostered on Africans. First of all, its disingenuous to take the acts of European slave traders or the conquistadors as examples of real Christians. That someone is an European doesn’t make him a Christian. The well-worn cliche: “the white man forced Christianity on us with the gun,” is not only a lie, but also an appeal to prejudice and emotion – which works well on many people.

Christianity was already thriving in Africa from the first centuries before Arab soldiers or Europeans landed on our shores. This can be seen from the New Testament itself. Simon who carried Jesus’ cross came from Cyrene (modern Libya). The early church also had African Christian leaders (Acts 13:1). The Ethiopian eunuch reading the Scriptures baptised by Philip was an African (Acts 8).

Many of the early church fathers were Africans. Tertullian was from Carthage (Tunisia), Origen was from Egypt, Cyprian  and Augustine were also from Carthage. These men had much influence on Christian doctrine. From their works, it was clear that Africans were not the ape-like, drum-beating, dim-witted savages that some biased books have attempted to paint them as. The light of Gospel was shinning in Africa but was eclipsed by heresies, paganism and Islam. These are facts of history. If people want to reject Christianity, they can do so for other reasons, but the “white-man’s religion” screeching rhetoric won’t cut it.

What Makes Christianity Unique?

Bible Christianity differs from world religions in several ways:

1. A unique view of God. Christians believe in One God in essence who is expressed eternally in three distinct persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-19). No other religion in human history is explicitly Trinitarian. Platonism or Neoplatonism did have a concept of a triad of ultimate reality, but the three (Good, Demiurge and Soul) were neither persons nor shared one nature.

2. A unique view of Christ. There is no real comparison between the Christian concept of Christ and that of world religions. Jesus Christ stands unique and alone without any rival in His perfect, sinless life, His death for our sins, His resurrection and second coming. No founder of any religion ever made such a claim. These religions may pay homage to Christ, but none of them considers Him to be God incarnate.

3. A unique view of the written word of God. Only the Bible provides the historical accounts of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus. Only the Bible has supernatural predictive prophecy and has been supernaturally confirmed by acts of God. It is the only reliable record of inspiration for the Christian faith. No other “holy book” measures up in this regard.

4. A unique view of salvation. Only Christianity declares that mankind is sinful and alienated from a holy God and that no amount of good works can get a human being into heaven (Rom 3:23). It declares that there is only one way to God and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins and once a person believes in Him, he receives that free gift of eternal life.

False religions and pseudo Christianity mislead people to think they can attain salvation by some act- karma, pilgrimage, sacrament, dietary laws, right thinking or penance. So while Christianity is based on what Christ has already done, these religions are based on what man can do or is doing to be in heaven, moksha or nirvana.

5. A unique manner of survival. Truth has an inherent ability to defend itself and survive. Christianity has withstood the fierce weapons of martyrdom, heresies, political antagonism and oppositions of false religions. Its still alive today, spreading everywhere without the force of arms. “The martyrdom of the first three centuries still remains one of the grandest phenomena of history, and an evidence of the indestructible divine nature of Christianity” wrote John Hunt. “No other religion could have stood for so long a period the combined opposition of Jewish bigotry, Greek philosophy and Roman policy and power; no other could have triumphed at last over so many foes by purely morals and spiritual force without calling any carnal weapons to its aid.” (Concise Church History, 2008, p 67)

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