Tuesday, 1 November 2016

What Is the Christian Faith Really All About?

In the United Kingdom where I live, there are a great many people who don’t know what the Christian faith is really all about.

One reason for this is that most of the prominent Christian leaders who appear in the media here present a very distorted version of our faith.  Instead of teaching what the Bible teaches, they teach a man-made version of the faith that fits in with modern Western values so as to avoid offending people.

Another reason for people’s misunderstanding about Christianity is that the media itself tends to be very selective in what it reports.  It chooses to focus on aspects of the Christian faith that mainstream Western culture is most sympathetic to, although these things are in reality much less central to our faith than most people think.

For these two reasons, large numbers of people in the UK seem to think that the Christian faith is essentially about treating people well, motivated in part by the fact that Jesus treated people well. 

In fact, this is a caricature of our faith.  And it bears little resemblance to the Christian faith that is found in the Bible and that has been believed down through the centuries.  Of course, it is very important for Christians to treat people well.  And the desire to follow Jesus’ example should be some of our motivation for this.  But doing good to people is only a small part of what Christianity is all about.

The heart of the Christian faith

In reality, the heart of the Christian faith is about being saved from sin and hell by what Jesus accomplished on the cross:

First, we human beings have all done things that are morally wrong, what the Bible refers to as sinning.  The seriousness of sinning cannot be overstated.  It basically involves rejecting the created order of almighty God to do things in a different way.  And this is a kind of infinite insult to him.

Second, the fact that we have sinned means that we deserve punishment.  This punishment will be enacted by God after death, and it will involve everlasting torment in hell. 

Third, in some mysterious way that we can’t properly understand, God clothed himself in humanity to become the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  Motivated by his great love for us, Christ then died on the cross to pay the price for our sins.  And he confirmed that he had succeeded in doing this by rising from the dead.  The crucifixion and resurrection therefore made it possible for us to be saved from going to hell.

Fourth, to take advantage of this salvation, people need to personally accept it by faith in Christ.  Only a minority of people actually do this. 

Fifth, those who accept salvation come immediately into a relationship with God.  This involves, among many other things, living much more uprightly than previously and doing good to people.

I think these five points form a reasonable summary of what the core of the Christian faith is all about, except that the fifth point would really need to be expanded at length in many important ways.  However, many people in the UK seem to think that being a Christian is just about part of the fifth point.  And I am sure that this misconception is common in many other countries too.

Biblical Christianity and modern impressions compared

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he said:

‘When I came to you, brothers . . . I resolved to know nothing when I was with you except Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus Christ crucified.’ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2) 

Of course, this shouldn’t be taken strictly literally.  When Paul was with the Corinthians, he surely thought and spoke about a great many issues.  But his point is clear.  His thinking and teaching were full of the cross of Jesus.

The contrast between Paul’s outlook and the impression given of Christianity by the media in the UK really is remarkable. 

For example, every Easter Sunday news networks here spend a little time covering what some prominent Christian leaders have said in their Easter messages.  The messages of the archbishop of Canterbury and the pope are usually referred to.

However, year after year the networks never report that either of these men’s Easter messages said anything about what the cross of Christ accomplished.  Likewise, there is never any reference to the need of people to be saved from hell, despite the fact that the New Testament is full of teaching on this.

In fact, I cannot ever recall even hearing a news item say that the archbishop or pope mentioned the crucifixion or resurrection of Jesus at all in their Easter messages.  Yet the whole point of Easter is to celebrate these events.

The truth of the matter is that in order to fit in with modern Western values and so as not to offend people, the archbishop and pope always present a terribly distorted version of the Christian faith in their Easter messages.  And, even if they do say anything about what the cross accomplished, the news networks never report this in their summaries anyway. 

The result is that the impression given of Christianity in the media is a grossly disfigured one.  And people watching or reading the news come away with a very faulty view of what our faith is all about.  The same thing happens at Christmas and at almost any other time that the Christian faith is referred to by news networks.

Preferring a biblical understanding

If you are a non-Christian reading this, I would encourage you not to simply assume that what you see and hear about Christianity in the mainstream media is an accurate portrait.  Read the Bible yourself.  Go to the source documents of the Christian faith so that you are not so reliant on what other people think.

If you are a Christian reading this, make sure that you follow the example of Paul in letting the cross of Christ fill your vision day after day.  Nothing has ever happened in our universe that was more significant than Jesus’ crucifixion.

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