This 1800 word post constitutes the 4th section of seven for the Pamphlet 21st Century Tract
Pure Christianity has rarely been practised. The pure faith recorded in the New Testament of the Bible is compelling. It is moral, spiritual and totally pertinent to the condition of human beings in any and every age.
Jesus Christ’s teaching can be summed up in 7 words: Love God and love others as yourself.
Those words would not be disputed by any of the three major monotheistic religions. But what would be disputed, however, is the claim of Christ to be “I AM” – the claim which distinguishes the Christian God among the monotheistic religions.
Pure Christianity prioritises the dignity of every individual human life. It teaches that God came in human form to live and teach the perfect life; that the perfect God provided the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of imperfect human beings in order to restore relationship between God and fallen humanity. That restoration must be responded to by the believer, individually. Each of us is called to submit to our lives to Jesus Christ.
The Christian God therefore places the highest dignity possible on individual human life. God places inestimable value on the individual soul. The spiritual relationship of harmony is restored individually. And that relationship of harmony is a God given example for human beings to emulate.
If restoration of relationship and harmony for individuals is the priority of God, then the hightest priority for human beings is to follow Christ’s example and live for others, not just for self, by the power and grace God supplies.
Human egocentricity is therefore immoral and undesirable. Instead, obedience to God and harmony with others by God’s enabling is ethical, desirable and practicable.
The impact of this thinking on society down the centuries is immeasurable. Not just in the conception of charitable works, but in the elevation of human dignity in, for example, jurisprudence and the exercise of judicial power. It impacts society in the conception of what a gentleman should be – chivalrous and courteous, considering the needs of the weak and refraining from the abuse of power over the powerless and poor. It is a thoroughly civilising influence in society.
The impact is incalculable, yet qualititative and real. And we can identify the difference when we look at the outworking of today’s prevalent religion, Materialism.
Would any civilised person disagree with the essential teaching of Christianity as a thoroughly moral basis for society ?
Love the God who is love and so love others as yourself
Remember that in Christianity especially, the God to be worshipped is defined as love, both in doctrine and in action. Christians are called to live out the example of Jesus Christ: they are called to make the message of the God who is love real in their own lives; a process called sanctification.
That is the model, the example. It is the standard and the theory. But history reveals that it has not always been the case.
All human beings wilfully defy and deny moral standards. That itself is proof of the existence of sin in human beings – an analysis of the human condition which all 3 monotheistic religions recognise.
The particular teaching and power of Christianity is that the disciple is called to overcome the spiritual operation of sin by choosing to obey the presence and power of God the Holy Spirit in their lives. That is the central struggle, yet the one which the disciple all too often fails embrace.
The non Christian of course cannot help but fail to obey God. In Christian teaching, the non Christian is enslaved by sin, and so unable to obey God.
It should hardly be surprising, then, that human beings repeatedly and notoriously fail. And indeed, the organisation called to represent Christ on earth has manifestly failed time and again.
That manifest failure has given unbelievers cause to question, doubt and deny the reality of God – and especially the claim of Jesus Christ to be God. It is hardly surprising, then, that western society now is largely atheistic.
But the failings of the professing Church cannot logically cancel out the existence of “I AM”.
The shortcomings of practical Christianity by professing Churches and individual believers must be acknowledged for two vital reasons.
One is obvious. A civilised human being learns from past mistakes and corrects their bahaviour for the future.
The other is this. That the honour and reputation of our common Creator should not be stained and tarnished by the evil committed by those who claim to honour God.
We could recount a catalogue of terrible events in history. We could talk of wars of religion and Crusades; we could talk about people executed for heresy in the most horrific ways. We could talk about the sickening hypocrisy of religious organisations. But I want to get at the underlying roots rather than rehearse all the evil symptoms.
A particularly serious problem is Churchianity. Placing the worldly existence and perceived interests of the organisation before the reason for that organisation’s existence.
Every Christian is called to obey Christ the Head of the Church and on that basis to love and co-operate with others. But in reality, Church organisations manifest the values and thinking of this sinful world – and fail to implement the pure teaching of Christ.
The true Church is organic, not organisational. It is a living vibrant spiritual entity, not a hierarchy with titles, budgets and buildings. Christ commissioned the apostles to go forth and preach the word, baptise and train disciples.
Christ did not tell the apostles to go and accummulate this world’s goods and property; to make ornate buildings; to create different denominational structures around esoteric emphases in doctrine; to worship and follow gifted charismatic leaders; to create hierarchies of talented people according to this world’s values and priorities; to give people positions and titles to differentiate themselves as more important than everyone else.
The rot began centuries ago and the Emperor Constantine’s conversion served simply to precipitate that process dramatically.
But that is not the only problem. Another major cause of deviation is in ideas. The idolising of ideas giving rise to faction. In short Ideology, indeed Theology. An emphasis on the sort of rigid, rational logic we associate with philosophy rather than a rounded, holistic view of the whole conception of what actually constitutes a human being ie spirit, soul and body – not just a rational brain in a material body.
The New Testament is not just another Ideologial Manifesto. It is in reality, a practical guide for living a lifestyle of obedience to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. God being real, God requires reality in his disciples. God provides the power to live out the reality of the distinctive spiritual life to which the believer is called.
The Bible, the holy book of Christianity, is not meant to be a source of contention and faction. But more often than not, that is how it is used. Or should I say, abused.
The essence of Christian instruction is: Love God and love others. Simple. But intellectuals love ideas more than the God who is love. They are too easily tempted to elevate fine doctrinal distinctions above the obligation to love and forgive others. The acrimony in the debate about Predestination and Freewill is a disgrace. It reflects the very mindset which the apostle Paul identifies in first Corinthians chapter 3 – spiritual immaturity.
The result is that believers remain in their respective Ideological camps, and the world sees a bitter and senseless division.
My own view of that Question has evolved over the years. I know what I think and why. I am prepared to explain it to anyone willing to listen. I am not prepared, however, to brow beat any one with it, especially as I understand the process of development I have experienced over the years. Patience and understanding of the ongoing development of others is vital. Attitude; growing in grace and the knowledge of God are what the apostles commend. Not bitter division and hatred generated by the need to show how right we are.
If God has managed to put up with my attitudes and opinions all these years, then I owe it to others to behave in the way he has behaved to me. Jesus does not require me to impose my beliefs on others – he calls me to live them and thereby witness their validity. Jesus calls disciples – willing learners or followers; he does not conscript or press gang anyone !
But there is another root problem. We have looked at Churchianity – the corruption of a faith into an institutionalised religion. We have just mentioned theology and intellectualism negating the obligation to love others truly.
That does not mean, however, that doctrine can be lax and loose. A proper understanding is essental. The insidious infiltration of alien ideas into Christianity has not just corrupted, it has debilitated. I will cite just one critical example. The annihilation of the true meaning of the word ‘spiritual’. The idea that there is no dimension beyond the physical which our senses perceive. The idea we can only know God via feelings about God, or even that God is merely a projection of our feelings and of our own identity; so, God ceases to be an objective presence beyond us. Such thinking makes God dependant on man centred thoughts and feelings; it denies the objective reality.
Such thinking was advanced in the 19th century, and has born its fruit today. That thinking arose because intellectuals missed the fundamental point about the faith described in the Bible: i.e.. it is a living faith in a living Person with a real purpose to change our thinking and our lifestyles from sinful worldliness to obedient holiness. The Bible is a practical manual for a vibrant faith, not a political manifesto or text book of academic theology.
Christian faith is not fundamentally a religion with institutional rules and regulations, a hierarchy etc. Nor is it an ideological football for kicking around, chopping logic and splitting hairs – Jesus characterised this mindset as straining gnats while swallowing camels.
Christianity is about an individual living the life described in the Bible some 2000 years later. The God and faith of the first century AD are the same God and the same faith today, in the 21st century. Neither theology nor church history are entitled to alter or take precedence over the living reality described in the Bible about the first Christians in the first century church. That is a fundamental error made by believers, churches, academics, thinkers and theologians down the ages. It is a particularly prevalent error in today’s Materialistic intellectual climate in a society which idolises sensual stimuation and accumulation above all.