What is Christianity Really?

By | October 27, 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Christianity and things that bug me. I hesitate somewhat to expound here, because I’m not sure I’m correct in all of my thinking. Take it into consideration that this is my working through my thoughts.

There was a social science professor speaking the other day in one of my classes. He was talking about religion in a twentieth century American town (nearly all religion in that time and place was Christianity). He said the most important idea was consolation—that the main function of Christianity for the majority of people was consolation. I know this is still a popular thing. Many people seem to find the purpose of Christianity in it bringing them comfort.

This sits ill at ease with me for a couple of reasons. First, if you say that comfort is the function of Christianity, you run into a problem when you or someone else doesn’t feel comforted. Now a great plethora of reasons are given as to why a person who doesn’t feel comforted feels such, many of them which put some kind of blame on the person for doing something wrong or not doing something right. Whether or not there is any truth to these claims, they generally don’t help in providing comfort.

But the main problem I have with the idea that Christianity is primarily about comfort, is that Christianity is hardly unique in it’s offer of providing comfort. People find comfort in many different things. It seems that Christ wouldn’t have to have died if comfort was to be the only function of Christianity. I have the same problem with the idea that Christianity is primarily a moral code. Again, that’s not exclusive to Christianity, and it doesn’t seem that Christ would have to have died to set that up.

I don’t think it’s a big secret to say that the death and resurrection of Christ is the center, the core of Christianity. Therefore I’m wary of ideas which seem to center Christianity on something else. I’m not saying that Christianity can be comforting, or that it may not have something to say about right and wrong, I’m just saying I don’t think it can hinge on those things. I also don’t think that Christianity is simply following a liturgy, not just a provider of spiritual inspiration, not simply a belief or ascent to some kind of postulation.

I also believe, whatever it is that is at the core of Christianity must be exclusive to Christianity. Otherwise, as mentioned, it minimizes the death of Christ, for why would Christ have to die if there are other ways to core function of Christianity? The thing is, Christianity may provide all of the things mentioned, but it that is all there is to it, then I don’t believe it is true and I don’t really care. Stated in another way, if all Christianity is about is spiritual inspiration for instance, there are other things which can provide spiritual inspiration so that it is not exclusive to Christianity. Therefore you would have to say much of what Christianity says about itself, much of the bible, indeed much of the essence of Christianity, isn’t in fact true.

Herein I run into a big problem though. The problem is that it seems that for many if not a majority of people who have claimed Christianity throughout time, it has been about one of these things I am suggesting are peripheral. That begs the question, are/were they really Christians? I’m not about judging anyone’s faith or salvation. The problem to me is simply in suggesting that perhaps a large share of “Christians” have gotten Christianity wrong. If I diverge in my definition of Christianity from a large share of “Christians”, then it brings my definition in doubt. Similarly, one can ask, is Christianity what it is supposed to be in theory (and who determines that?), or is Christianity what a majority of people do in practice? Also, if I persist in saying that I think a large part of “Christians” have been wrong, I must ask why that is. And I think that it is a small step from making that statement and saying that God must have made a mistake in founding a church (if the church and Christians aren’t what they’re supposed to be).

So these are some of the things I’ve been wrestling with. I wrestle with them because if the answers go one way, then they bring Christianity into doubt. Additionally, I feel a need to understand what Christianity is if I’m to ever share it or even to effectively encourage others in their faith. The one potential answer I have come back to though is the idea of community. I think that it is quite possible that Christianity can’t be understood outside the context of community, and trying to do so causes much confusion. But I don’t feel as though I have it all figured out yet. I think and hope that this is a step in the right direction though.

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