I visited the Holy Land in 2011 and was amazed by the history, culture and stories that took place there. The Bible came alive for me. I’ve been on multiple missions trips, and have attended three years of bible college. I mention this because I want to be clear that this is not a post to bash the Church or Christians.
In this article I will argue that much of the Church and its followers have lost their way. Some organizations are getting it right or partially right, but many have lost touch with their congregations, and the purpose of why they exist. Most no longer understand the true purpose of Christianity. Most seek to appeal to the masses, making church more about entertainment rather than a moment for individuals to connect with God and fellow believers. Christians were called to be in the world, not of the world, but these days many seem to be of the world, as well.
A Brief History
Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its followers, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. Christianity is the world’s largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.
Christianity began as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the 1st century in the Roman province of Judea. Jesus’ apostles and their followers spread to the Levant countries (Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey), Europe, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Transcaucasia, and Ethiopia, despite persecution. It soon attracted gentiles after the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD which ended the Temple-based Judaism, and Christianity slowly began to separate from Judaism.
But Christianity didn’t exactly get a free ride at the beginning. Christians were regularly martyred for their beliefs in the Roman Empire. Being a follower of Christ meant you were considered an enemy of the state, punishable by death. Under miraculous circumstances Emperor Constantine the Great decriminalized Christianity through the Edict of Milan. This began a radical transformation of the Rome itself. Pagan temples were dismantled and churches were built with their stones. Social chaos had so threatened the order of the empire, that the emperor sought a way to bring back order by any means necessary, even if that meant displacing the ancient beliefs. Constantine saw they Christianity offered a means of stability through the foundations of its teachings. He remained agnostic until the time of his death in 337 AD when he converted to Christianity.
Once Rome adopted Christianity as the state religion there was hope that some form of morality could be restored, something that was desperately needed at the time. Constantine later convening the First Council of Nicaea where early Christianity was consolidated into what would become the State church of the Roman Empire. Eventually the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church would separate after the East–West Schism in 1054, specifically over the authority of the bishop of Rome. Similarly, Protestantism split in numerous denominations from the Latin Catholic Church in the Reformation era (16th century) over theological and ecclesiological disputes, most predominantly on the issue of justification and the primacy of the bishop of Rome. Following the Age of Discovery in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries Christianity spread into the Americas, Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa, and the rest of the world through missionary work.
The Message of Christianity
Jesus came to reverse the effects of Adam’s sin, and destroy the impact of sin. He was the promised ‘seed’ who would destroy the effects of sin (Genesis 3:15). The seed of the woman would be the opposite to the seed of the serpent that was sent to destroy mankind. The seed of the serpent is figurative of all those who are motivated by the animal thinking of the serpent, or what is termed in scripture “the flesh”. The seed of the woman is the opposite to the seed of the serpent. This, in the wider sense, denotes a class of people who were trying to walk in God’s ways. This promise in Eden shows that this class of people will eventually destroy the seed of the woman. This seed being the focal point of the promises which God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – that he would have victory over enemies and bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth (Genesis 22:17-18). This hope of a ‘promised seed’ was known to the Jewish people as “The Messiah” – the saviour.
Many prophecies were given by the prophets concerning this one who would come to bring men back to God. The Bible speaks of how the people of Israel were chosen by God and that he established a Kingdom for them in the past. However, because of their disobedience this Kingdom was destroyed. The Bible teaches that the Messiah would be the one who would restore the Kingdom once again to Israel – but this future establishment would be everlasting and the rule of the Messiah would be righteous. As a reward for following the example of the Messiah the Bible teaches that we too can be given eternal life to rule in this Kingdom. Jesus emphasized 5 key principles that were of vital importance to being a Christian:
- Love. Jesus emphasized the importance of loving one another (Matthew 22:36-40). Christians are called to replace hate with love and anger with kindness. In doing this they can experience a better life.
- Live the Golden Rule. Jesus called us to treat others as we ourselves wanted to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
- Have a relationship with God. Jesus encouraged us to have a relationship with the Father.
- Have faith. Jesus asked that we trust Him, remember Him and follow His teachings (John 6:29).
- Freely forgive. Jesus called us to forgive others
The Age of Liberty and Freedom
We have come a long ways since the American Revolution, the beheading of Louis XVI and the dismantling of the feudal system in Europe. These events changed the course of human history, and the foundations of Western Civilization. Liberty, freedom and equality are now on the lips of every man and woman. It’s what we all hold onto and desire for the world, but we must consider there are consequences or side effects to any movement.
The introduction of liberty and freedom create a new paradigm for humans. They now have the choice to choose, but that decision is not necessarily the correct one. We are often tempted to choose temporal and fleshly things over what is eternal and meaningful. That very freedom that Christ sought for us to have to choose Him, is the very same one that can have us not choose Him. After the French Revolution, liberalism began to flood through Europe, but so did distrust for the Church and all that Christianity stood for. This would start the rise of the secular state which would eventually lead to Communist Russia and China. Both Napoleon and Stalin used Christianity as a tool to control the populations, but they knew a secular state would be the only way to exercise absolute power over people. Napoleon’s France and Communist Russia have since been absolved, but this movement continues in China and even nations founded under God like the United States.
Socrates believed liberty was the very thing that could unravel civilization, “All things are ready to burst with liberty… the excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction. Excessive liberty whether in the state or individuals seems to only pass to slavery, and the most aggravated form of tyranny arises from the most extreme form of liberty.”
The New Human
For some Christians, elitism has become the new norm. It’s cultish and about as different as an apple is from an orange. Many base their positions, opinions and beliefs on a preposterous attitude rooted in ego, loathing and fear, rather than peace, humility and love. It’s an attitude that has become so common that it’s mainstream. It’s absurd and unbiblical. In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul describes Jesus, the only one who rightly deserves elite status, as one whom, “though in the form of God, did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself.” Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, fellowshipped with sinners, tax collectors and the racially “unclean,” and was the first to stand for equality of women, slaves, and lepers.
How is it that the majority of Christians have strayed so far from the example that was left to them?
Most Christians find it easier to look down and judge others. This type of behaviour is eerily simialr to the Pharisees that sought to have Jesus crucified. Being Christlike is no easy task though. It’s a daily process — it’s not a one time decision. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that had been struggling with conceding to the ways of Christ as many of the churches across Asia were at the time, to attempt to give them some forthright encouragment as Paul so often would. “‘But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24).
Where does our salvation really come from?
Today it seems that the majority of Christians believe salvation comes through right belief rather than right practice. But this is contrary to the message of Jesus. Jesus said, if anyone is a follower of God, but fails to serve the poor, needy, oppressed, marginalized, sick, diseased, and sinful, then they do not have a relationship with God (Luke 12:33-34; Luke 18:22; Matthew 19:21). James said who, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). What this means is no matter what someone proclaims with their lips, no matter how holy they may appear, if they do not give back their faith is essentially worthless. Jesus says those who don’t participate will have no part in His Kingdom. He makes it very clear that the way to “inherit eternal life” is through loving God, but perhaps as equally important, through loving our neighbor.
In my travels to countries around the world, I have noticed countries that despise and reject the message of Christianity have fallen into disrepair. Not only do their economies struggle, but there is a sense of hopelessness. Countries that embrace the fundamentals of Christianity such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea and Australia thrive. It’s as though it’s supernatural, but I think it’s simpler than that. In countries that put God and Christianity at the center of their governments, institutions and culture function differently. Although they aren’t perfect, they trust their neighbours and generosity thrives. In secular, Hindu and Buddhist nations they seem to lack faith in humanity and their fellow man. Yes, these are vital for healthy functioning economies.
They year is 2021 and Christianity around the world looks to be a dichotomy. It’s divided between two contradicting ideas. It’s supposed to be the same thing, but they are opposed. Many who claim to be Christians are not following the code that was set before them, and they justify their ways as biblical. Privilege and wealth for example. “God, blessed me with this car.” But aren’t we blessed so that we can bless others? Or boasting about what they have. But worst is demonizing one political party while aligning with another. Jesus was apolitical, and Christians are called to be the same.
Christianity has become a divisive and justified means to attack others, affiliations and entities. Something as wrong as feeding your neighbours arsenic because of a disagreement. Christianity used to be about helping the poor, the needy, fighting for equality, freedom from all forms of slavery, and human rights. And yet a fight against homosexuality, abortion and liberalism have become a focus for many Christians. It appears many feel that condemnation and speaking out against someone or something they don’t agree with will stop it from happening. Condemnation will not solve or generate positive awareness. It’s like protesting the harmful effects of fossil fuiles, but failing to promote better means of producing energy or transportation. Christians are called to sacrifice and speak blessings over those they disagree with. To be the bridge a broken world needs.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” -John 3:17 ESV
Being a Christian is no easy task. In a world of Instagram, TikTok and other narcissistic behaviour, there are more distractions than ever that seek to take our attention and take us off the path of righteousness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our life will be one with peace. Although Christ’s message was one of love, trust, generosity, it was also one of disruption. Jesus said He did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34-39). His message would disrupt the ways and mindsets of the world.
Christians must be vigilant and wary of the ways of he world more than ever. Looking at the trajectory of their lives, their motives and their core beliefs and aligning with the Word of God is essential. Christianity is not about flashing what you’ve got or condemning the world of their shortcomings. It’s about looking at our own life, making corrections and seeking ways to make a difference in the lives and communities around us.
There was a purpose in Christ coming to earth. He came to show us there was a better way to live. But the task is incredibly difficult even for the most disciplined and devout believers. Jesus came to show us that anyone could walk this out. We could be better versions of ourselves for the purpose of not serving ourselves, but serving others and building a better world for our children and our children’s children. Jesus left an example for all of us to follow. And that’s why we call him Saviour. He came to save us from ourselves, showing us the way, the truth and the life.