Christianity at its Core
Christianity at its core is not about subscription to a theological system or the authority of a sacred text or ethical perspectives, although they are all important. Christianity at its core is about the self-referenced claim by a person who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
That person calls us into relationship with himself, which means communion with God. He showed and taught us that his way is love and mercy and forgiveness. His truth is not just his teaching but his person. His life is life indeed because in union with him we have communion with God.
The Christian claim is that at the end of the day, at the end of life, you and I have to deal with Jesus. Christianity is about a person and therefore it is about personhood. That means a great deal when we deal with other people, especially people who differ from us in their faiths, ethics, political ideas and worldviews.
Christianity Revitalized Roman Cities
Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments.
To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violence and ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.
The Christian Symbols of the Early Church
At the same time Church historian Philip Schaff was writing his 8-volume history of the Church, the Roman catacombs were being discovered. Schaff had this to say about symbols Christians used to adorn their tombs:
Roman Catholic cemeteries are easily recognized by crosses, crucifixes and reference to purgatory and prayers for the dead; Protestant cemeteries by the frequency of Scripture passages in the epitaphs, and expressions of hope and joy in prospect of the immediate transition of the pious dead to the presence of Christ.
The catacombs have a character of their own, which distinguishes them from Roman Catholic as well as Protestant cemeteries. Their most characteristic symbols and pictures are the Good Shepherd, the Fish, and the Vine.
These symbols almost wholly disappeared after the fourth century, but to the mind of the early Christians they vividly expressed, in childlike simplicity, what is essential to Christians of all creeds, the idea of Christ and his salvation, as the only comfort in life and in death. The Shepherd, whether from the Sabine or the Galilean hills, suggested the recovery of the lost sheep, the tender care and protection, the green pasture and fresh fountain, the sacrifice of life: in a word, the whole picture of a Saviour.
The Crucial Thing
In a journal entry by the Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the great existentialist philosopher describes the importance not simply of grasping the truth of the Christian faith, but having the truth of the Christian faith manifest itself in his everyday life:
What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, excerpt insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die…
What use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points- if it had no deeper meaning for my life?…I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all. This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water.
Søren Kierkegaard, Journal Entry Dated August 1, 1835.
The Governing Center of our Faith
That which distinguishes Christianity has not been stolen. For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God.
I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. The Trinity is the cockpit of all Christian thinking.
On the whole, though, Catholics (and Protestants) aren’t identifiable at first glance. Yet, on Ash Wednesday I’m always surprised by the number of people I see on the streets and in the subways sporting black smudges on their foreheads. And sometimes, despite the tacit but rarely broken code of not making eye contact on the subway, someone will notice your ashes and you’ll exchange The Nod, a kind of half-smile and tilt of the head that acknowledges that we’re not as distant from each other as we think.
Not Found Wanting
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and not tried.
J.C. Ryle on True Christianity
True Christianity is a fight. . . .There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster; it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. . . . There are thousands of men and women who go to churches every Sunday . . . but you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all.
Pursuing the Common Good Throughout History
Pursuing the common good has been a strong marker of the Christian church from the very beginning. The early church had many habits that they became known for, of course—including meeting frequently, eating together, and memorizing texts. But they also became known for their relentless pursuit of the common good of their local communities: visiting the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned; receiving and feeding travelers; generously contributing to common funds that went toward caring for the poor, replenishing stocks of food and clothing, and feeding needy people.
Christians in the early church busied themselves pursuing the common good of their communities. Throughout the centuries the church kept talking about this core calling. In The Epistle of Barnabas, an early Christian writing from the end of the first century, we read these words: “Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already [fully] justified, but gather instead to seek together the common good.”
John Chrysostom, the famed preacher in Constantinople, preached about the common good in the early 400s: “This is the rule of the most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.”
From Augustine to Aquinas, from Catholics to Protestants, Christians across the ages and denominations have repeated this call to pursue the common good. As a result, Christians throughout the centuries have stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of humanity, leaving an enduring positive mark on their world.
Any objective historian investigating the effects of Christians throughout history will be overwhelmed with this enduring legacy of shared work throughout society: in the arts, literacy, education, human rights, health care, literature, science, justice, rule of law, and more.
Taken from The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good by Don Everts Copyright (c) 2020 by Don Everts. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
A Rescue Religion
Christianity is a rescue religion. It declares that God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins. This is the main theme of the Bible. You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.
Sometimes Easy, Sometimes Hard
You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, “Take up your Cross”—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” He means both . . .
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time to be “good” . . . If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Christianity. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!