Posted by: Jim Black | October 10, 2011

Christianity 101

Its Back to School time! I would hate to have to go back to school today… there is so much I’ve forgotten and would have to go back and re-learn! Especially Math! It’s been 20 yrs since I’ve had a math class. If I had to go back and take math again, I’d need to go back to the basics and re-learn everything… I’ve forgotten so much. Today I want to begin a new series of lessons… Christianity 101… and challenge us to go back and take a fresh look at some of the “basics” of the Christian faith. This is always good for us… for new Christians… to learn why we do things the way we do him… the fundamentals. It is good for our children… to instruct them in the basics… AND even for those of us who’ve been Christians for a long time… to go back and re-examine what we know (or think we know) about some of the basic doctrines of Christianity.

In the next few weeks, I want us to take a fresh look at Worship, at Prayer, at Baptism & Lord’s Supper, etc. There may be more…

Today… start with the most basic: What is Christianity? What is the Christian faith? That may be a difficult question to answer since there are so many different views out there… different definitions of Christianity. Some see it simply as a HERITAGE… the way they grew up… how they were raised. It’s the tradition that their family abided in, and so they are ‘Christian’ by virtue of the fact that momma & daddy raised them in the Christian tradition. Some see it as a PHILOSOPHY of life… a moral code or system of ethics that one ought to abide by. Live by the code, be blessed. Some see it as their IDENTITY… its what sets them apart from others. I’m not Moslem, or Jewish or Hindu… I’m Christian. Some see it as a SYSTEM of truths that must be believed… doctrines that one needs to ascribe to in order to be ‘right’ instead of ‘wrong.’

I’m wondering… WHAT did Jesus really intend to start? When he called those guys out at the sea of Galilee… what was he calling them to? Because I don’t think he was interested in starting just another religion! The world in the 1st century was FULL of religions… there was a religion for everybody! The Greeks had their pantheon of ‘gods’; the Romans largely adopted the ‘gods’ of ancient Greece and gave them Greek names… but again there was a religion for everything. There were mystery religions. There were cultic religions. There were all sorts… and I don’t think they really needed another one! The world today is full of religions! Again, there’s a religion for everything! If you want to lose weight- there’s a religion for that. If you want to feel good about yourself- there’s a religion for that. If you want to go out and kill others- there’s a religion that will tell you that’s what you need to do in the name of God in order to get to heaven! If you want to worship Elvis- there’s a religion for that. The world doesn’t need another religion! But I don’t think Jesus went out to the sea of Galilee that day thinking, “Gee, I think I’ll start a new religion today.” So, what was his intention? What is Christianity really & truly about? What is at the heart & core of the Christian faith?

Let’s look again at the text:

Matthew 4:18-20

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. NIV

Jesus called them to “follow him.” He didn’t invite them to be a part of his social network, a club, a clique, a church or a denomination! He called them to follow him. He was inviting them to discipleship. Some observations…

Christianity is about a person: Jesus

When Jesus invited them to follow him, he was inviting them to discipleship… not membership. It was about them becoming his students, his apprentices. A disciple is a student… but being a student is more than writing real neatly, turning your homework in on time and making passing grades! Being a disciple is about becoming like your teacher… taking on their trade… adopting the ways of your teacher… becoming so much like him that the products you produce can’t be differentiated from the products produced by the master. A disciple’s goal is to become like his master in every way… THAT’S what Jesus was inviting them to. We mustn’t forget that Christianity is first & foremost about Jesus.

Christians have always had a tendency to tack on other things… all sorts of traditions & interpretations… opinions & creeds… And some of those may be good and may be things we ought to do or believe… but let’s not forget that at the heart of Christianity is a REAL person… Jesus. He really lived… and he really gave us an example.

1 Peter 2:21

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. NIV

Now, this is so simple… Walk as Jesus walked. Listen to what Jesus said. Believe who Jesus is. Why do we complicate it? Why do we fuss & fight and splinter into hundreds of denominational groups… when the call to follow him seems so simple? That’s why I love the restoration plea that we’ve been screaming in churches of Christ for 200 years… let’s just go back to the Bible and to new testament Christianity and simplify! Let’s forget the opinions & interpretations & creeds of men that have separated us… and come back to the Bible (& the Bible alone) as all-sufficient for us to know God. I love that idea… if we could just go back to that… go back to simple Christianity… Jesus.

I’m going to be somewhat critical of churches of Christ here (even though I love them) I’m not sure we’ve always had the emphasis on the right syllable… In our zeal to restore pure & simple Christianity as it was practiced in the early church.. I wonder if we’ve missed the point? I wonder if we’ve focused too much on the pattern of the NT church to the neglect of the pattern laid out for us by Jesus. In our efforts to get church right, have we gotten Jesus right? Example: We’ve gone back and studied church leadership & try to organize our churches like they were in the 1st century. But have we had the same desire to restore Jesus’ care for the poor, the orphaned, the widow, the undesirable in our churches? We cannot forget that 1st & foremost… Christianity is about Jesus!

And so everything we do & believe as Christians ought to be firmly rooted in the person of Christ. What do I mean by that? Everything we do ought to be linked to the character & work of Jesus in some way. The doctrine of baptism? I believe in baptism not only b/c Jesus himself was baptized, but also because of the symbolism involved. It is a death/burial & resurrection… like Jesus. Ro. 6 Why do we do Lord’s Supper on Sundays? Well, Jesus commanded us to AND he gave great meaning to it… as we ‘remember’ the body & blood of Jesus. Rooted in Jesus. Why do we worship on Sundays? We DO know the early church did that… but they worshipped on Sunday because that was the day of Jesus’ resurrection! Everything we do ought to find its roots in the person of Jesus… he is the “author & perfector of our faith” the Hebrew writer would say!

Christianity is about CHANGE

Jesus said to that bunch of guys that day, “Follow me… and I will make you fishers of men.” Now look at who he’s talking to… a bunch of fishermen. I imagine them to be a rough bunch of dudes. Peter & Andrew… James & John. Maybe I just imagine that because I’ve got a stereotype in my mind of what a professional fisherman looks like. But I don’t think I’m way off. You don’t get a nickname like the “Sons of Thunder” by being a wimp or a sweet little gentleman! And Jesus says I’m going to give you a new life. You used to fish for fish… NOW you’re going to fish for men! He gave them a new job… and a new heart! Its about CHANGE!

Bill Brant spoke to us last week and mentioned Matt 5… where Jesus calls his disciples to be SALT & light. We like to think about being a light, but salt? Salt is essentially a change-agent. It’s a preservative that changes the makeup & flavor of food that it comes into contact with. Jesus is saying that Christianity is about change. Some people act as if they’re afraid of change! Talk about change as if it’s a bad thing! But following Jesus demands change… it calls us to change from who we used to be to become who God wants us to be! Sometimes that change is painful… but Christianity is about change!

Changing within ourselves… but also out in the world as agents of change in our culture. And don’t we all agree that our culture could use a few more Christian change-agents in it?

Christianity is about Pagans/Unbelievers/Non-Christians

Really, let’s be honest. Christianity isn’t about us… its about others. What does Jesus tell the disciples to do? Who are they supposed to go find? “Fishers of … ?” What kind of men? Yea… the world. He doesn’t call them to go and look out for just one another. He doesn’t call them to go create a commune somewhere where all the Christians could huddle up together and not have to deal with the outside world. NO! He calls them to ‘go into the world’ (Mk 16)… he calls them to get out there in the sea of humanity and go FISHING! Not sheep-stealing. Not member-transfers. But fishing! And if you’re like me (and not a big fisherman) you’re thinking… BUT, Jesus, fish are slippery. They’re slimy & scaly. They smell bad… and its an awful lot of trouble to get out there! But isn’t that what Jesus told the disciples to do? Isn’t that at the heart of what Christianity is all about… reconciling a broken and chaotic world with its creator? Christianity is about getting outside the walls of “Christianity” or the church… and bringing others in. Its about telling the world who Jesus is!

Jesus said…

Luke 19:10

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." NIV

Matthew 9:13

13 … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." NIV

Jesus’ focus was always squarely on the lost… on the sinners… on the pagans & the outsiders. The church is often so focused today on the saved… on its building… on the programs… that we forget… at the heart of Christianity is a love for those outside of Christ… and a desire for them to come to know him like we do. THAT’S the heart of Christianity! Having the heart of Jesus for those who don’t know him.

Towards the end of Paul’s life… in Acts 26, the worn-out, beleaguered apostle found himself standing before King Agrippa having to give a defense of his ministry. He had witnessed to his faith… he had laid out his case, made his defense and proclaimed the gospel of Christ to the unbelieving king… to all those in the court… to anybody within earshot… And Agrippa responded… “Do you think that in such a short time you can convince me to become a Christian?” (its one of only 3 times the word ‘christian’ is used in Scripture.)

Acts 26:29

29 Paul replied, "Short time or long-I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." NIV


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