What is Christianity? What is it really? When you get right down into its heart, what do you find?
In recent weeks I’ve heard a lot of people bickering over what Christianity really is. Some say it’s the church. Some say it has transcended the church. Some say it’s an antiquated, impossible belief system. Some say it’s the only true authority.
I’ve been wrestling over these questions and others for the last few weeks. I’ve heard so many opinions. I’ve examined a great number of people who have carved pieces away or added pieces to or said “This person’s right/wrong, and if you disbelieve me then you’re not a real Christian.” I am certainly not saying testing is bad, or that once in a while something doesn’t need added or subtracted. (Obviously, it was good for Christianity to subtract the belief that the world was flat.) And, honestly, there have been parts that I’ve been testing to see how they hold up, and I’m still not sure of the answer.
But I do feel that it’s time for all of us to take a new look at Christianity, and to see it again for the first time. We need to reassess, “Why am I here? And do I even still believe this stuff?” And I think it will do all of us a great deal of good to find out what, exactly, it is that we’re a part of.
I don’t expect this examination today to be thorough. It can’t be. It’s a blog post. But maybe it can at least make us think. And maybe it can direct us toward the real questions, and to who we are supposed to be and why we’re where we’re at.
Here’s my thesis: Some would say Christianity is a sacred religion. Some would say it’s a personal relationship with Jesus. But the more I look at it, I think it is something more than both of these things. I think it is, and always has been, a movement.
Over two thousand years ago a man started proclaiming that a new day was dawning for mankind. It was time to repent of wickedness, and to be washed outwardly as well as inwardly. Because humans were about to meet their hero. This hero was a king for all ages. He was a beacon for change. He was the one kissed by God.
So everyone got ready. And then their hero showed up. And he didn’t act how they wanted him to act at all.
This hero started proclaiming a kingdom where love conquered. Where you didn’t retaliate against someone who hurt you. They wanted him to destroy the Roman rulers. But instead he started predicting that Israel would be leveled, including God’s home, the sacred temple.(1) He talked about a Day of the Lord, where the Son of Man would come in the clouds and judge the people. But he wasn’t judging the pagan oppressors. He was judging Israel. And little by little, the people who had been praying for him to come started saying, “WTF.”
So they killed the hero, and tried to silence his message. But all they did was light a powder keg. Because their king for the ages was the Son of God Himself, and God couldn’t stay dead. So instead He came and finished setting up a movement – His movement – that, under the care of his ambassadors and messengers (the meanings of the term apostolos, or apostles(2)), would go into all the world to show the love of God.
Roughly 30-40 years later, everything he prophesied and predicted came to pass. That generation did not pass away before all things were fulfilled.(3) The Romans leveled Jerusalem. The Son of Man came in the clouds with power. The Christians had been told to run for the hills (4), so, while the Jews were slaughtered and driven into foreign lands, they survived virtually unscathed. The old sacrificial covenant age came to a climactic end, and the new age of the Kingdom began. (5) Within 300 years, through periods of intense persecution and constant growth, Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. This exponential growth continued through centuries, and across millennia.
But wait. Let’s look at that last paragraph again. Within 300 years a condemned, heretical Jewish cult had risen from roughly 120 followers to being the dominant religion of the greatest empire on earth, while being regularly, often violently, oppressed. That’s nearly an impossible statement I just made. But it’s historical fact.
Then, a few hundred years later, the Roman Empire collapsed. Civilization crumbled. This began a period often incorrectly labeled as the dark ages. People say a lot of bad things about Christianity during this period. What they don’t realize is, without Christianity all culture, all stability, all chance of progress would have been completely, utterly lost. Christianity is the reason there ever was an Enlightenment. Without thousands of monks who spent their lives copying old texts (including all of the classical Greek writings), they would probably not have survived to influence the Renaissance. (6)
This trend continued. Christianity continued expanding, and continued to refine and change the world. Christianity was directly responsible for ending slavery across the Western world. (7) And it was also instrumental in the creation of the United States of America.
But how could a religion do all that Christianity has? How could any one institution so alter the course of human destiny? Because Christianity is not a religion in the strict sense that could be applied to Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism. Or, rather, it is more than that.
Christianity has never been stagnant for long. Of course, many times people have tried to force it into stagnation. But Christianity has always had this marvelous knack to not care what people who like the old ways think. The core of Christianity always remains. But everything else is up for interpretation and refinement. And its message of love, belonging and eternity are things that every heart, regardless of culture, seeks and longs for. This is how Christianity is spreading so quickly in China, Africa and even underground in many Muslim nations.
Christianity, in its purest form, is an ideal. It is an idea. It is freedom. It is not a city encased behind a wall with battlements set in place, as Islam is. It is a swiftly flowing river that constantly winds, twists and turns, while also expanding to allow for everyone else who wants to leap in. And, as it flows, it washes cultures, mindsets, and systems. It consistently reinvents itself. It constantly refines itself (often to the chagrin of those who religiously guard the old ways.) And it always, always reflects a light that grows brighter through each generation, even amidst (and often because of) intense persecution.
That is my Christianity. That is the Christianity that I observe through history, and that I proudly declare myself a part of. My Christianity is a movement. And, whether you realize it or not, yours is, too.
This could very well be part of a series. I don’t know yet. I also realize I put out some pretty different and possibly maddening ideas in this post, so feel free to discuss it with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Have a great week!
1. Matthew 24
3. Matthew 24:34
4. Matthew 24:16
5. For more on these ideas read Paradise Restored by David Chilton – available for free at http://www.freebooks.com/christian/paradise-restored/, Raptureless by Jonathan Welton – available for free at http://raptureless.com/, Victorious Eschatology by Harold Eberle, and The War of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian who lived through this destruction.
6. A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson
7. Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas