What’s the point of Christianity?

July 21, 2021

Christianity is a practice, and a group of very diverse institutions, that is seen as irrelevant in today’s technology-led, busy, noisy world. It is ignored by many and maligned by a significant number. But in this modern age it seems to have few adherents. If it is bundled together with other religions, it attracts even more critics, and sometimes haters.

How did we get to this point? Maybe it’s continuing ‘revelations’ of the excesses of false religious leaders, from Jim Jones in Jonestown to the abuses suffered by children in certain church-sponsored orphanages. Maybe it’s the effect of a hostile media that looks with suspicion on anything religious and generates negative press. Maybe it’s the relentless attacks from passionate atheists who see Christianity – and other religions – as the source of all human problems.

In many ways nothing has changed since Jesus Christ challenged the established religion of his day – culminating in his own death by crucifixion. It hasn’t changed since the time of the Apostle Paul, one of the early church teachers who closely followed the life and death of Christ. He challenged the pagan rituals of the Greek and Roman world of his day, and ended up imprisoned.

But in many ways, everything has changed. Christianity became the dominant belief system across Europe after the efforts of Charlamagne to find a unifying formula for his divided empire.

In a damning indictment of the muddying of the waters of what Christianity is actually about, The Rev. Halverson, who was Chaplain to the US Senate until 1995, is credited with the comment:

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise”.

It pictures a movement seemingly without real purpose, other than surviving in whatever environment it found itself in; sometimes intent on maintaining whatever power and influence it had. And now it finds itself in a ‘post-God’ world. Does it have any purpose – did it ever have any purpose? Hasn’t science brought us to the point where we don’t need to put our trust in an all-powerful deity? In a comfortable and wealthy state, we don’t need God. We have vaccines for disease, air conditioning to keep us cool as temperatures soar, space travel to take us away from the planet we are destroying. But not everyone is wealthy and not everyone has access to these things – many do not even have access to enough water or food.

Our leaders claim that their policies can solve the world’s problems – but the world is burning; the world is suffering with disease and the same leaders seem powerless. They are confronting problems that are a long way beyond their ‘pay scale’.

It’s worth noting an observation that many voluntary workers, or workers in caring professions, are Christians. Is there a link other than pure chance? Is there something about Christianity – or at least some Christians – that points to something beyond our commerce-led societies? Christianity, as preached by the man who gave his name to it, and by the early church leaders, generates a framework for giving, for tolerance, for forgiveness. These are unifying characteristics, qualities that heal, and create communities of compassion.

If the foundations of Christianity have the power to work towards this kind of world, then the world makes more sense with Christianity’s God in it – rather than a long way off in somewhere called heaven, or no God at all. Having God in the world doesn’t have to be in the ringing of bells on a Sunday morning or the chanted prayers of a gathered congregation, or any of the other expressions we have come to associate with religion. But it does provide us with a different way of being human.

The Apostle Paul wrote a long letter to a church in Rome, and it has become an important part of the New Testament. Chapter 12 of this letter is worth reading if you want to get some sort of picture of what Paul sees as a Christian world. Is that a hopeless ambition? We certainly have some way to go, but it is a work in progress and that progress is directed by a God who is still very much involved with his world, working with people with a mistaken view of Christianity, who either dismiss it or else struggle to live up to following in Jesus’ footsteps, unaware that the living Christ has designs on them for glorious living, because it is in him alone – without the baggage of religion! – that we find out who we are and what we are living for.1 Perhaps we need to go back to the start – as expressed by Halverson:

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centring on the living Christ. … ”

Jesus is the point of Christianity. And more than ever, the world today is crying out to hear his radical message of love in action.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an Editor at Because.

1The Bible – Romans 12:3