In 10 Things Christianity Doesn’t Mean, I looked at things that are often mistakenly associated with biblical Christianity. I hope you will go back and read that if you haven’t done so already.
In this offering, I endeavor to take a look at 10 things that actually are definitively and foundationally “Christian” that have been either forgotten, ignored, or purposefully buried. Not everything that is passed off as Christian actually is (see the previous blog), and there is much more to Christianity than many care to know about.
10 Things That Are Central to Biblical Christianity That Are Often Missing
I might as well start with the most glaring omission in many churches and churchgoers’ lives. For many, the idea of Jesus is more important than the reality of the Man. They mistakenly (and naïvely) believe that His main purpose was to teach people how to live better and more societally productive lives. That’s why a rather large segment of today’s church doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, the ascension, or the second coming of Christ. Those things aren’t really essential to a religion of self-improvement. This certainly isn’t anything new. In the first of the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 Jesus said to the Ephesian church that they had already fallen because “you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). No Christian martyr ever died for a cause. They died (and continue to die) for their first love…Jesus. When Jesus is not preeminent in the life of the church or the churchgoer, there is only meaningless ritual and hurt from the emptiness it cannot assuage.
The gospel is not the story of how mankind discovered the means to create a utopian paradise through kindness, generosity, and altruism. Yet, in many denominations and churches that seems to be the core message. However, biblical Christianity always has been and always will be scandalous. It begins with the assumption that every single human being’s heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) with no way or hope of self-improvement. It asserts that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). There is no inherent goodness in anyone. Because of this, Paul wrote, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1Corinthians 1:18). If everyone’s heart is deceitful and wicked then that means everyone is perishing. Yet in today’s faux Christianity (churchianity) we’re all inherently good and just need a little guidance. Perhaps the most scandalous statement Jesus ever made was when He told a highly respected religious leader “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Tell someone today that he/she is in need of complete rebirth to even see God’s kingdom and behold the response. Scandalous.
I mentioned in the previous blog that “Comfort” was one of the things that has come to be associated with Christianity that shouldn’t be. It is certainly what the vast majority of churchgoers believe should be theirs. What is the first thing almost all of us do when evil comes knocking on our door? We pray that God would take it away so we won’t have to endure stress, difficulty, hardship, and/or suffering. We convince ourselves that there are dozens of scriptures that promise deliverance from everything from financial hardship to physical disease. I mean, God doesn’t want anyone to actually go through suffering does He? There are a thousand ways to address this but let me just mention two. Jesus repeatedly said that “A servant is not greater than his master” (Matthew 10:24; John 13:16 & 15:20). Did Jesus suffer? I think you know the answer. Not only that but He promised suffering for those who became His disciples (Matthew 5:11; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 5:10 to name only a few passages).
Secondly, the Bible makes it absolutely clear that the just[ified] shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Can anyone explain what need of faith any would have without suffering? James said to “Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). There is no such thing as a trial without suffering. Faith is the ability to withstand and overcome the despair that suffering has the tendency to produce. Consequently, both are central to biblical Christianity.
This one is near to my heart. It played a large part in my doctoral dissertation. In Exodus 23:15 God tells Moses that when the people observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “None shall appear before me empty-handed.” It is repeated again in 34:20 and again in Deuteronomy 16:16. The obvious point being made is that the people were expected to be grateful for God’s provision in their departure from a life of slavery. Then in Leviticus 19:5 we read, “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted.” Being accepted by God is the aim of the sacrifice. In the New Testament, we see those two themes (grateful appreciation and acceptance) in Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you…by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Is this humble expression of a personal grateful sacrifice found in today’s average church? Not really. Most people go to church empty-handed. By that I mean they don’t go to offer themselves to God. They go with the attitude that they are owed something. I know this by the reasons so many people give for leaving a church. They don’t like the pastor, the worship leader, or the Sunday school teacher. The youth program isn’t up to snuff (in their opinion). They weren’t asked to serve on an important committee. On and on it goes. Sacrifice is what the church should do for them; not the other way around.
That is just a fancy word for knowing our proper place within the framework of God’s kingdom.
Human nature (fallen) craves attention and promotion. We expect our hard work to pay off in promotions and climbing the rungs of the social status ladder. Jesus addressed this in Matthew 20:1-16 in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The expectations of those who worked all day dramatically increased as other laborers continued to be hired throughout the day (despite being told when they were hired what to expect in remuneration). Christ’s conclusion? “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). How many people in the church actually get that? You’ll find out very quickly when you offer their leadership position to someone else. The heart and soul of the genuine disciple is best described by the greatest man ever born (prior to Jesus; see Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28), John the Baptist. When John’s disciples expressed their concern that Jesus was beginning to surpass John in importance and popularity, John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Diminution. Not exactly a big item being promoted from today’s pulpits is it? No, we tell people the sun rises and sets on them in order to get them to join our churches and then wonder why they take the church hostage through their expectations and demands. Though the kingdom of God is being prepared for you…it is not about you.
Every great “awakening” in Christian history was identified by a wave of repentance (starting with Pentecost in Acts 2:14-38). Repentance is the very first action Jesus called people to engage in (Mark 1:15). Have you ever heard of a “mourner’s bench”? They used to be prevalent in our churches. Have you seen one is church lately? Very subtlely over the years, the emphasis has changed from personal repentance and believing and receiving Jesus to joining the church. The need to get rid of something (sin and the sin nature) has been replaced with the need to add something (religiosity). So the mourner’s benches (which symbolized where we offloaded our guilt and sin in order to embrace salvation) were simply removed because today’s churchianity is not about what needs to be removed but what needs to be added. No one ever became a Christian without repentance. How has it become a missing element in today’s Christianity?
At its core, Christianity is based upon a decision to move from disobedience to obedience. The entire Old Testament is nothing but the story of God’s people (Israelites) drifting back and forth between obedience and disobedience to the law, will, and command of God. Good or even noble intentions that circumvent God’s will are never deemed acceptable (Remember the phrase “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” from 1 Samuel 15:22?). In the New Testament, Jesus was unequivocal about His expectation of obedience from His followers: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). There is no gray area here. Yet today, in much of what goes under the banner of Christendom, acceptance and tolerance is touted and deemed more essential to Christian faith and practice than obeying the revealed will of God. One of the most uncomfortable realities of biblical Christianity is that no one is allowed to circumvent obedience to God for any reason. Not even Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Read the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount if you need more. Some of the scariest words in Scripture are recorded in Matthew 7:24-27…and they’re all about obedience; not tolerance.
One of my top 5 C.S. Lewis quotes comes from a paper he wrote and delivered to a crowd of Anglican priests and youth leaders in 1945 called “Christian Apologetics.” He said,
One of the greatest difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good…You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point [truth].
More than seven decades later, we are still wrestling with the trap of altruism and benevolence attempting to subvert the truth. Christianity is not an attempt to create Utopia. Today’s Christian seems to be both afraid and ashamed of the truth because some (many) will be offended by it. So, many think it is in the best interests of the Great Commission if we skirt the truth. Don’t tell people what the truth is. Rather, tell them what you think they want to hear in hopes that they will eventually be ready for the truth. It’s a good thing Peter didn’t think that way. On the day of Pentecost he stood up and proceeded to tell everyone in downtown Jerusalem that “you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men [Jesus]” and “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:23;36). Christianity means truth. Period. Didn’t Jesus say that it was His middle name (John 14:6)?
Do you wonder why anger, bitterness, resentment, despair, and depression are so prevalent in today’s society and culture? The loss of hope. It is when hope is lost and/or abandoned that futility, desperation, hedonism, and ultimately narcissism takes firm control. There is a reason why Dante envisioned the gate to hell emblazoned with the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Hell is truly the absence of hope.
The greatest news of all time is that things can change. No one has to remain on the pathway to hell and destruction. No one. The worse things are in the world, the more fertile the ground is for the hope of the gospel. When the church tells people that God is willing to affirm them as they are (children of disobedience) it robs them of the hope for change. Christians have no right to steal hope from those caught in the web of lies and bondage. All of us need to be delivered from something or someone. The power in the shed blood of Jesus Christ can deliver anyone and everyone from their sin(s). How dare we rob them of that hope by conveying that people have to stay in the bondage their souls cry out to be delivered from. God is a God of hope (Romans 15:13).
Christianity means salvation. Specifically, from the wages (penalty) of our sin which is eternal damnation apart from God in hell. Whatever happened to the message of salvation from damnation? This isn’t about learning how to feel comfortable in your own skin, or becoming a contributing member of society, or even establishing the kingdom of God on Earth. Everyone seems to know John 3:16 but seems to ignore the part about not perishing but instead having eternal life. Where did we get lost about this? Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that anyone could live a life of ease, be socially admired and accepted, or ensure that no one was mistreated in this world. He died (and rose) to save us from hell. So how can those who know that sit on our hands while watching people drive down a road where the bridge is out? Have we forgotten what is at stake? Eternity is what is on the line. How can the church sit back withdrawn into its cloistered sanctuaries praying for the Second Coming of Christ without first going into the highways and byways trying our best to help people leave the broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14)? We can’t and we shouldn’t until we have. This isn’t about a better life. It's about eternal life.