Some people nowadays are asking, What is Christianity? What is church? Good questions!
If you seriously read the Book of Acts, the Biblical record of the early church’s experience and impact, it is obvious that our present day presentations of Christianity and church are far afield from the original. So how’d we get from there to here?
As Christianity began to spread it passed through various cultures and was changed in the process. Here is my take; a quick run through of the history of Western Christianity.
The Greeks turned Christianity into a creed — a statement of beliefs — what we might call a philosophy. They thought about it and systematized it. Thinking is very good, but intellect without vital revelation can squeeze the spiritual life out of Christianity.
The Romans turned it into a chain-of-command hierarchy – from Pope to paupers. They added human structure and positional authority to what had originated as a Spirit-led, grass-roots movement.
The Europeans turned their Christianity into a cohesive culture called Christendom — more about form and appearances than about heart-felt spirituality. Society set the rules for Christianity rather than Christianity for society. They celebrated the divine right of kings and sought to force others in line with crusades and inquisitions.
The Americans turned it into a corporation – marketing religion like a product. Churches developed business plans with the pastor as CEO and focused on cash flow.
So which approach is correct? Perhaps it is best to look to the Book of Acts as our model for church and Christianity. As you read through the chapters you observe that the early believers focused on deed more than creed. They had humility and service more than a heavy-handed chain-of-command. They sought to change the world’s culture rather than to protect and promote it. And they sought to give their lives and money away rather than to accumulate prosperity.
Christianity in the Book of Acts is a costly calling — a passion to follow and obey Jesus whatever happens. However, this costly calling is not only in the Book of Acts. Through out church history there have been people who have gone against the popular model of Christianity promoted by their generation and given their all to Jesus. These costly calling Christians have paid the price of rejection and persecution, sometimes even resulting in death.
And still today, many believers are living out this costly calling. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this type of Christianity in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. Christianity is illegal or restricted in many countries. To follow Christ there, can cost it all. In fact, to really follow and obey Christ rather than conforming to popular culture, even in countries that allow Christians freedom, is still a costly calling.
Perhaps it’s time for all who are serious about Christ to the price to make Jesus our Lord and to begin to actually live like strangers and pilgrims in this world.