There is no bigger tent than Christianity. Jesus made the astonishing claim that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). That was a revolutionary thought at the time. Most Jews sincerely believed God had no feelings for anyone on the planet but them. The Apostle Paul reaffirmed that startling declaration when he wrote that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Christianity knows no national boundaries, racial boundaries, or even cultural boundaries. You cannot get a bigger tent.
However, just because the tent is big doesn’t mean that everyone will enter it or that there are no standards within. For instance, anyone can become a Christian but no one can dictate their own terms on doing so. And while there is great leeway in interpreting Scripture and applying doctrine, that doesn’t mean that “anything goes” when it comes to morals, ethics, beliefs, and behavior under the Christian tent. Holiness, not tolerance, is the gold standard of Christianity.
Much that is being passed off as “Christian” these days is anything but. The propensity that many have to broaden the appeal of Christianity doesn’t save more souls. Actually, it makes it more difficult to save a lost soul for those few who are laboring in the Lord’s vineyard (which is the point being made in the New Testament with the letter to the Galatians). Consequently, things can get very confusing for those seeking what Jesus has to offer as well as for those who became Christians in an “anything goes” kind of denomination or church. There will always be pushback from the Holy Spirit (that’s called conviction) when God’s holiness is being twisted and manipulated by those who are either ignorant or devious.
What follows is a list of 10 things that are often put forth as being closely associated with (if not self-identifying) Christianity. Study your Bible and you will discover that none of them are sure-fire marks of what it means to be a Christian.
10 Things That Are Often Falsely Associated With Biblical Christianity
Were you told you would be happier if you became a Christian or that in order to be a faithful Christian, you must be happy? That is patently false. The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Study the context. He was grieving. Paul got angry with Peter (Galatians 2:11-14), John advocated a measure of suspicion (1 John 4:1), and Jesus cried out that His “soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Do a biblical word study on “joy.” There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Jesus offers the former, not the latter (John 15:11).
Some people have the ridiculous idea that being a Christian means that everybody will both like and respect them. How many times have you ever heard the phrase “he’s a good Christian man” as a means of communicating how acceptable and even enviable a person is? The idea that accepting Christ makes one more palatable to society and culture is laughable. There is a reason why the cross is the worldwide symbol of Christianity. But in this day where a church is on nearly every street corner producing incredible competitiveness for parishioners, it is not deemed good salesmanship to remind those turning to Christ that He said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
Having your worldly needs met becomes quite the selling point among many in Christian circles. Whether its prosperity, healing of any sickness, or a perfect family and a golden retirement, promises are routinely made about how God favors good Christians with a myriad of “blessings.” But the reality is once again a bloody and painful cross. While the cross aptly communicates God’s love it also connotes pain, suffering, destitution, and death. How quickly we forget the cross and that every single one of Jesus’ apostles was tortured or martyred. Comfort? Are you kidding?
People have the insane idea that becoming a Christian somehow puts them in some kind of socio-economic religious political majority. Everybody is a Christian right? All that’s left in the world are a few holdouts. This one really gets under my skin since my undergraduate degree was in history. There has never been a time when Christianity has been the majority! Becoming a Christian does not put you in step with everybody else. In the parable of the sower and the seed, only 25% of the seed the sower sowed produced the intended fruit. That means 75% did not become “Christian.” Not to mention that Jesus said the path to eternal life was narrow and few would ever make it while the path to destruction was wide and heavily traveled (Matthew 7:13-14). Most scholars believe that the word “Christian” was coined as a term of derision. That hardly makes it the comfortable majority.
The idea that Christians are more protected by God than non-Christians from calamity and evil, abounds. That is why so many books and articles have been written about when bad things happen to good people. The kind of protection that God offers has little to do with the things of this world. There is an entire book of the Bible devoted to this. It’s called “Job.” Yes God protected Daniel in the lion’s den but it’s also true that He permitted His own Son to be tortured by Roman authorities. Moreover, Jesus frequently reminded His followers that they would be persecuted. That wouldn’t be true if God offered the kind of bodyguard type of protection many claim that is provided to Christians, would it?
One of the things that has mystified me most in my more than three decades as a pastor is how many “Christians” take umbrage at not being properly recognized. I’ve had parishioners threaten to quit church and/or stir up trouble in the congregation over not speaking to them at the grocery store or not saying “hello” as they walked by my office. Apparently, it never occurred to them that I may not have seen them while out shopping or that I might have been deep in thought (or even prayer) while in my office. And it’s not just parishioners. I’ve been chewed out for not publicly recognizing a visiting minister who attended the worship service. I mean, after all, the service was all about them, right?
Human nature yearns (more aptly put: demands) affirmation. All of us want a pat on the back, an award, and the approval of those around us. From our perspective, it’s not something we want as much as deserve. Just look at the LGBT movement. It wasn’t enough that they managed to change the very definition of marriage (that had been established for millennia). They want affirmation. They demand that everybody affirm their lifestyle. And so if you are a Christian baker, florist, or tee-shirt maker they want you to be required to affirm their sexuality. Interestingly, a fairly large segment of the church seems to agree with them. But isn’t forcing someone to affirm you kind of like insisting that your significant other say “I love you”? In Christianity, the only affirmation that means anything is “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
How many times have you heard that preachers should stay out of politics? Should doctors? Teachers? Firefighters or law enforcers? In a democratic republic, all the eligible citizens are encouraged to participate in the political process. Everyone has a right to lobby their government to craft and pass legislation that reflects their values (and that is precisely what every law is: a reflection of someone’s values). If they can drum up enough support (votes) they shape the laws of the country. And Christians aren’t supposed to get involved with this process? What kind of ignorant thinking is that? It is truly telling and sad that so many preachers in this country believe it is their duty to steer clear of politics while those in repressive communist nations (like China) believe just the opposite and are willing to be jailed to do just that!
“The Bible is an ancient book written almost exclusively by men in patriarchal cultures and so has no bearing or relevance in modernity.” Ever heard that (or something close)? That’s interesting given that the things that are crippling this nation all find their remedy in the Bible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sexually transmitted diseases are at an all-time high. If the Bible’s prescription for sexuality (sex exclusively within the confines of a marriage between a man and a woman) were adhered to there would be no STD crisis…anywhere. And that is an irrefutable fact. The crime, narcissism, substance abuse, national debt, immigration, etc. issues that are destroying this nation all find their remedies in the Bible. The Bible is antiquated and irrelevant? Tell that to all the people worldwide whose lives have been completely altered because the Bible’s admonitions have been unheeded.
Everyone is a child of God
There seems to be a great deal of confusion on this one. There is a difference between owing one’s existence to God and being a member of His family. Every human being has been created in the image and likeness of God. There are no exceptions to that. That is precisely why Jesus said, “God so loved the world…” However, the Apostle John understood that being privileged to be His child was contingent upon a couple of things:
But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…(John 1:12).
No one is a child of God by virtue of being born no matter how many times it is repeated or how many misled churchgoers say it. Believing and receiving Jesus Christ is the only way to become a child of God. Period. No exceptions.
Be on the lookout for the follow-up to this blog: 10 Things Christianity Does Mean