Keeping Christianity Christian
Many people claim to be followers of Christ, or, at the very least, of God. Many openly state that they are saved and have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. But I fear the vast majority does not understand what that truly means. They create their own definitions for such things as faith, church, fellowship, discipleship, and even Scripture. Over the course of time, men of great standing have taken away from the true message of what this faith we declare to be our truth is all about. There are some who have developed new ideals to replace the old. There are some who have compromised their own beliefs and values, seeking a convenient faith rather than a convicting one.
Books have been written, classes have been taught, and time has been wasted. Many seek to learn about things that are ultimately irrelevant to our cause. Much of what we do has been twisted about. I do not point the finger at the individual or the individual church, but rather at the entire body—since the days of the Early Church up until this very hour. Men have distorted the truth and have since become lost, stumbling and staggering through miles of doctrine, dogma, rules, regulations, policies, precepts, and the like. Men have based their entire lives on these things, devoting their souls and minds and hearts to the exhausting study of matters of little importance. They discuss and converse with brilliant minds but weak hearts. They speak of things they do not understand themselves; they only try to comprehend such wonders, but to no avail. They pursue doctrine rather than becoming a doctor to the sick and lost. They diligently study the works of Wesley, Calvin, and Luther. They obsess over the teachings of Beza, Tertullian, and Arminius. All the while, they give little ear to the true source: the infallible Word of God. Their eyes focus on religion rather than faith. They trade living for God for living for legalism. As a result, many have fallen away from what we were truly meant for.
Granted, there are those who do not fall into this trap. But it is my opinion, based on simple reasoning and observation of my surrounding culture, that if Christianity was in line with everything the Bible teaches, my guess would be that we would gain a lot of respect from our world for the way we conduct ourselves. As it is, however, we are often labeled as hypocritical or uncompromising arrogant and self-righteous. I know because I have seen. The world hates our faith because when they look at us, they look at our religious practice. But religion does not define faith; on the contrary, faith must define our religion.
We begrudge those who bring uncommon ideas of worship to our ears; we hinder those who would change the traditions we have for so long kept in place—traditions formed by men, not by God. And we judge those who seek only to live for God without restraint or hesitation. We suffer the lost to no end, and become visible hypocrites to all those who see us. Our actions do not align with our words and our testimony.
On the other hand, we compromise with the world. We look for loopholes, making faulty explanations for our actions in an attempt to justify ourselves. We have the wrong perspective. Church has become a fad. We go every Sunday to seek out that “emotional high” so that we can last the week, and we return seven days later to refill our empty tank. We sing praises to the ceiling, all the while judging the dress of those around us. We bow our heads in silence, and fall asleep or dream of something else. We hear the message spoken and comment only on the speaker himself, forgetting after a day or so what he said to us, and giving no thought of recall of the sermon’s significance. We stand and clap and raise our hands and our heads high, but all the while, we wonder what we will eat for lunch that afternoon, or what football games we will be missing. We busy ourselves with other thoughts, and we miss many opportunities to learn. We shut our eyes and close our ears to the convicting power of the Spirit. We reluctantly pay in our tithes, and lose faith that God is in control. We become full of doubt and soon are led to despair and discontent. Our faith has become nothing more than a nuisance, a pitiful ruse in an attempt to escape the problems of the world. We seek a hand out instead of a hand up. We seek to be fed without feeding those around us. We seek rest and peace and yet we hoard it from those who desperately need it. We hold the keys of truth in our grasp, but we focus too much on the path to the doorway of grace and thus we fail to cross its threshold. All the while, many seek the truth blindly, searching in vain for a light that we have covered up and stored away in a corner.
How has it come to this? How has Christianity lost Christ? Or, rather, how has religion?
The truth is in the source: the Bible. Below is a summary and outline of a passage from Colossians 2:6-23. Its words speak of this growing issue within the Body of Christ.
Verses 6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up by him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
Live in him. Rooted in him. Built up in him. Strengthened in faith in him. Do we do these things? Are we truly living as he did? If we live in Christ, we live as he would. Of course, being human, we cannot achieve a life without sin, as he did, because we are wrought and tempered in the sinful nature. But if we say we receive him as our Lord, should he not be seen in us, reflective of our actions? If we are rooted in him, why are we so easily shaken? If we are built in him, why do we so easily fall? If we are strengthened in him, why do we appear so weak?
We haven’t really received him, that’s why.
If faith is nothing more than a way for you to feel content or to feel secure, or if you simply seek to put on airs so that others will see you but have not the faith to stand for what you believe, do you really believe it? Or do you simply know it? It is not enough to simply know about God. Even the demons know him (James 2:19). Yet will they be saved? No. They know the truth, but have turned away from it. We all know the truth—the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. But do we believe it? Belief requires faith, and faith requires action, because faith and action must coexist. One cannot remain without the other (James 2:17). And faith is of the utmost importance. We cannot hope to trust in God’s grace if we do not trust in God. And just “saying the prayer” does not give us that ability. Anyone can speak those words, whether in sincerity or under compulsion or on a whim. It doesn’t matter what you say. It matters what you believe. It matters you do. And only God can know what one’s heart truly feels.
Thankfulness. Have we always been thankful? When a leader asks a group for prayer requests, and only half answer, then shouldn’t the other half have something good to thank God about, if indeed they have no present problems? Prayer is not just shooting requests to God. Prayer also must involve thankfulness, even if it is as simple as thanking him that you woke up in a bed and had clothes to put on and enjoy other luxuries that we often take for granted.
Verse 8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
Hollow and deceptive philosophy—whatever does Paul mean?
Verses 9-23: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
Quite a mouthful, yes. But every word bears significance. What do we take from it? Look:
- We have the fullness of God in Christ
- Christ overrules all the rules
- We are saved by Christ, not the works or regulations of men
- We are buried with him by baptism, but alive with him through faith
- God’s forgiveness allows us to live
- Our traditions or codes are worthless in determining our salvation, since only faith in Christ saves us
- We ought not to judge or be judged by petty regulations that rest solely on human traditions and concepts that are not of God
- Reality is not found in sacraments, in dress codes, or in the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the church, but in Christ
- Worshipping without sincerity, focusing on subjects that are irrelevant (such things as cannot be seen or imagined, like Heaven or the angels or whatever questions too great to be answered by the human mind and left unrevealed to maintain the mystery of God), gaining idle knowledge (such things that are meant to be applied, not just memorized or familiarized), and focusing on self rather than others, the church building rather than the Church, and the problems of this world rather than the solutions—all these lead to a lost connection with God
- Anything said by man, whether he be pope, pastor, or pauper, or an angel of Heaven itself, must be tested by the Word of God for truth, and must not be taken lightly, but with profound sincerity, and we must realize that church does not make us grow, unless we go there to meet God and not just discuss Him
- We must not compromise and submit to the worldly principles, focusing on petty arguments that have led only to dissension and separation among the Church, creating “churches”, which was never intended, since the body cannot operate in pieces, but must remain whole
- Human teachings are doomed to perish, but God’s words will remain forever
- Such things seem wise but only lead to false humility, hypocrisy, and destruction
So where do we go from here?
The Church needs to reclaim its fallen image. Paul warned us that savage wolves, from among our own number, would distort the truth and lead many astray (Acts 20:29-30). He was right.
There was never supposed to be a difference between Catholic and Protestant, Baptist and Lutheran, Wesleyan and Pentecostal. These divisions were not God’s will. He has spoken to us in the Scriptures, warning us that many falsities and many issues would arise, and that only a scant remnant would remain true to the Lord. We are not meant to be churches, but the Church. There are no “Bodies of Christ”; there is only one “Body of Christ.” We are all different as human beings, yes. But our faith must remain the same. The Church is not a building. It is not a choir or a hymnal. It is not a large or small congregation. It is not the men who stand upon the pulpit and speak. It is not the equipment or the money that men have been blessed with. It is not the ability to go on mission trips or to hand out tracts. No, the Church is not found in any of these: it is found in the people—in the hearts and souls of every person who declares to be of the Body of Christ.
We then, as believers, ought to seek after one goal: the mission that God has bestowed upon us, to carry his name out into the world—not just on Sunday, not just on a mission trip, not just during our daily devotions—no: our mission never stops. From the moment we rise to the moment we fall asleep, we are to strive for perfection; and this is not found in policy or dogma, this is not found in rules and regulations, this is not found in the tenets of our church fathers, this it not found anywhere, save one place:
In all that we do, in all that we say, in all that we feel, in all that we think, let it rest upon the Word of God. Let it be fed by the teachings of Jesus. Let it grow through the prayers of thanksgiving and confession to God. Let it become strong in the fellowship of the believers, and let it carry on for all time in the daily worship of our Lord. Let us seek to become just like the Church that Christ began:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The Church no longer seems to look like this. It is time to act. It was time to act many ages past. But we have an opportunity and a responsibility to do so now. First we must purify ourselves by throwing off such things as pride, judgment, and hypocrisy, and we must continue on to seek God’s will by encouraging and uplifting one another, no matter who they are or what they have done. Yes, there must be leadership. Yes, there must be organization. But they cannot and must not replace Christ.
Every person matters. Every heart contains a song. If you listen, you just might hear its melody. Can we conquer indifference? Can we defeat apathy? Can we destroy the Enemy’s will to turn our hearts away from conviction? If we cannot, then there is little hope for men. We represent God, if we believe in his Word. If we turn our backs on him, we turn our backs on the lost as well. Someone must do the job. We are outnumbered. It will always be that way. We will be defied and attacked. It has always been that way. But God is still with us—and he always will be.
Every individual must decide, whether in leadership or service, what path they shall take. Some will continue in their ways, usurping the Faith as a means to meet their immediate needs. Some will continue to live a convenient faith, running from God’s conviction. Some will hide their entire lives, only to be found and judged on the day appointed by our just God (Acts 17:31). Some will continue to wallow in their doubts, their minds clouded with uncertainty. But, for those who choose to persevere, always persisting, never quitting, a glorious future awaits. A joint effort must be made. In order to reach the world, we must become united in our fight. No more can we afford to worry ourselves with meaningless arguments that merit nothing more than excessive knowledge about things we cannot understand. No more can we afford to look sideways at our brothers. No more. The world will not stand in unity, except to confront us. It is time for us to answer the world’s challenge. Let no man declare us hypocrites. Let no man declare us insane or radical. Let them see love and compassion, by which our faith will become evident and our duty fulfilled, for there is no alternative (Galatians 5:6).
The responsibility does not belong to a single sect or denomination. It belongs to every single person who declares to be akin to God through Christ. It is time to act. It is time to put the churches back into the Church, and it is time to put Christ back into Christianity.
“If we died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
If we are faithless, he will remain faithful,
For he cannot disown himself.”
II Timothy 2:11-13