Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Versions of Christianity

If you tire of statements with "the greatest problem in Christianity," I understand.  There can't be a dozen greatests.  No.  But some level of great, close to the greatest and maybe the greatest threat to true Christianity today is the existence of various versions of Christianity.  When I evangelize, after preaching to many different assorted people, often I turn to someone with me and ask if he thinks that "Christian" is really one.

You may ask, "Well, if they believe in Jesus Christ, then they are saved, right?"  Wrong.  Many variations exist of both "believe" and "Jesus Christ."  Only one edition is true, but many exist.  A modern "Christian" requirement is to accept just any version someone expresses, but my take for the fellow evangelist is quite regularly, "no," "I don't know," "maybe," or "I don't think so."  Most people who call themselves Christians, aren't.

When I'm writing here, I've been saying for thirty years, and it's only gotten worse.  What motivates me to write it now are three factors:  (1) the question of whether people are really Christians, whom I love dearly -- I'd like to see them in heaven, (2) recent attempts to find churches for various people and even myself when I'm traveling, and then more in my face this very moment, (3) looking at the two men across from me at the airport gate with their Christian gear on.  Both are male mid to late fifties, both with Christian tattoos and black Christian tee-shirts.  There is something cultural here now, I know.

Both men talk with a strain of faux earnest street jargon and a sugary high authenticity cadence, if you know what I mean, dude.  One tattoo is a sun burst decorative lion that takes up the whole outer right calf.  That, I suppose, is "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah" pigmented onto hairy leg skin.  One black t-shirt has the decorative Andy Warhol styled ink print of Roman Catholic Jesus' head with the oversized crown of thorns, framed by two lines with the words "Reckless Love" in urban grafitti font.  The name Jesus in all caps comes on a back with candy striped circus poster font.  Both wore high top Vans and baggy skate boarder shorts.  I heard one say, "It was like, like God was talking to me."

The dictionary defines "reckless," "without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action."  Jesus didn't suffer on the cross without thinking or caring about the consequences.  And that little analysis is just. like. me., confining their creative, free expression into my little box unlike the size of God.  God is BIG, like their expressions.  Furthermore, "reckless" is a play on words!  Some plays on words shouldn't be used.  They often still are today, but they shouldn't be.

The kind of suffering Jesus endured on the cross might be considered reckless it was so extreme.  However, "reckless" activity is always associated with something like one might see on the cover of a Harlequin romance with half a man's shirt ripped off.  Teenagers need lecturing for being reckless.  A reckless behavior would be jumping off a cliff with the expectation that an angel would swoop under and deliver you.  That's what Jesus didn't do.  WJDD.

Not a single explicit verse of scripture could repudiate what I just described.  Many applied scriptures, however, do prohibit such representation of God, Jesus, or sacred things.  Almost all the Bible requires application.  Not a single explicit verse of scripture prohibits wearing a Ronald McDonald outfit with orange wig while preaching on Sunday morning.  Many verses of scripture, if applied, prohibit wearing such clown costume for such occasion.  Christian designers and marketers shouldn't be thinking of a way to get Jesus' name into the Jack Daniels logo.

Everyone understands associations today.  What do you associate with a red baseball hat with two lines of white block print?  Something about Jesus wouldn't work in the messaging there, no matter what someone thinks of Donald Trump.  Everyone today understands the ramifications of "black face."  It is as simple as kindergarten exercise in matching with the line drawn from the hammer in one column to the hammer in the second.  The hammer doesn't match with the blue balloon, and everyone knows it.

Two dangerous simultaneous contradicting propositions coincide:  just one Christianity exists and yet you can't criticize one that isn't.  A kind of consensus exists that it would be reckless to do so, and today it isn't just reckless, it is criminal.  It is hate speech.  This kind of unwillingness to judge, a paralysis, even disallowance, of discernment, characterizes an era of genderless bathrooms.  The whole world sits at a four way stop, unwilling to go.  Compliance is necessary for important issues like the material of straws and propriety of pronouns.

I say unwillingness to judge, rather than inability.  People judge.  Memes right now run wild judging the folks in Wuhan for wearing masks but then also eating bats and rats for their magical properties.  The emperor with no clothes still works as a metaphor.  Labeling not Christianity as Christianity leaves people with a false sense of security.  They are the very ones that will brag about their version of Christianity at the Great White Throne before Jesus says, depart from me.  It would be better for them to know about it now.  Jesus won't say, I'm going to have to agree to disagree.

What are the varied versions of Christianity?  How many versions are there?  The acceptance of disagreeable doctrine is so rampant today within the broad parameters of what it means to be a Christian, that it has become commonplace to have at least four views of about everything.  There are actually far more than four, but attempts are made to reduce the number of views to representative ones and the views are argued in a way to indicate that any one of the four won't exclude someone from Christianity.  Perhaps a four view book on exclusivity could be written for the purposes of including every exclusivist.

Christians themselves know there are multiple versions of the Bible.  A chief argument for Moslems with Christianity is that only one version of the Koran exists, evidence that their religion lacks corruption.  That's a laugher -- one version of Islam!  We Christians have many!  We coexist.  Christians could argue back and probably should to be honest, multiple versions of the Bible go along with multiple versions of Christianity.  Christians are proud of their diversity of doctrine.  "We don't stress over the details!"  However, it's not just details anymore.  There are vast chasms of difference between acceptable versions.  This only promotes further assent to doctrinal divergence, which reproduces apostasy like possums.

A one Christianity can't exist in the compulsion of many.  I understand the pressure to capitulate.  Let's not and say we did, is very powerful.  Someone gets to have his own version.  Anyone who confronts that version as false thwarts "freedom."  Human choice is sovereign.  This has spawned a variation on grace and sanctification where Jesus will cover for all the behavior outside the lines.  Jesus gives that freedom.  I can be me, and wherever that clashes with Jesus, He's already atoned on the cross.  This results in less judgment, and that feeling of freedom from judgment is a new version of love.  Everyone is nice to everyone no matter what the lifestyle, except for one that judges someone else for doing something wrong.  This leaves the only unacceptable version of Christianity to be actual Christianity.


Tyler Robbins said...

A common question - "why are there so many different denominations?" It must be very confusing for outsiders. It's even confusing for Christians, too!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Tyler,

Scripture provides good explanations for different denominations and even for different views of Christianity, but I don't know of a scriptural explanation for accepting that there is more than one. Scripture also provides a basis for not accepting that there is more than one. Can someone do both, that is, recognize why there are several versions and yet reject all but the one, as if someone can really know what the one is?


Tyler Robbins said...

The early church had different flavors of Christianity. You see this in Acts, as Peter and Paul both drew criticism from the more hard-line Jewish Christian's over the nature (and even fact of!) Gentile inclusion. Paul accommodated himself to Jerusalem preferences out of respect. Paul could totally walk away from Old Covenant ceremonial law, depending on circumstances

Andrew said...

That's an interesting question, Kent.

"Scripture provides good explanations for different denominations and even for different views of Christianity,"

Good in whose eyes, though, God's? How can there be an objectively good explanation for two separate things being true, which, by definition cannot both be true. And conversely if two things are both true at the same time, how are they still "different views"? So then two different views could not both have good explanations for why each is true. At least one must not have one.

For this reason I question if we should agree with this opening premise.

Someone therefore is misjudging a bad explanation as a "good explanation." Even though it's not. That's where the supposed contradiction comes from. So, the takeaway is we shouldn't believe someone just because they say they know a good explanation on anything. When the rubber meets the road, and there is that one split-second choice between good and bad, those who believe in subjective realities will be faced with one real reality. Only God's assessment of correct will matter then.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Tyler,

I taught through Ephesians again last year in my Bible class for our school and I'm preaching through Acts on Sunday AM, presently in Acts 11. The division between Gentile and Jew was totally unacceptable, as seen in Ephesians, and then you see Eph 4 -- one faith. I think of 1 Cor 1:10 as definitional. The oneness is all that reads in the NT, fitting with one Lord, one Spirit, etc. In Acts 11, it's obvious that Gentile exclusion was unacceptable. The church at Jerusalem accepted it 11:18, and then as seen by sending of Barnabas there. Yes, it took awhile for them to get up to speed, but the division was unacceptable, which is why Acts 15 occurred and Peter was confronted to his face. I see the few rules in Acts 15 as related to liberties, doing what Paul talked about at the end of 1 Cor 9. Paul was there in Antioch with Barnabas, leaving Tarsus.

I don't see that as a basis of acceptance of two versions of Christianity, but just the opposite, two versions was unacceptable, which is why Peter made the long argument from Acts 11:3 to 17, and they believed him. Not everybody in Jerusalem was up to speed, because when they were scattered due to persecution, not everyone preached to Gentiles, but those Jews from Cyrene and Cyprus did preach to Gentiles, and that was the will of God. People need time to grow, but their false doctrine isn't accepted.

It's a good try though. I think that's the best someone can do to justify it multiple versions of Christianity.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I think it is worth clarifying. False teachers and the spread of false doctrine, wrestling against principalities, powers, the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, pride of life, vain philosophy, and evil communications are among many reasons in the NT for the divergence or versions of Christianity. Christ, of course, came in and said in Revelation 2 and 3, I have only one church, and the variations are unacceptable and they need to cease or I'll come and deal with you.

Just because there are multipled versions of Christianity in practice doesn't mean that there are multiple versions. Scripture teaches one. If there weren't the acceptance of multiple versions, then there would be less versions as there are, but the acceptance guarantees multiple versions and a growing number of them.

Tyler Robbins said...

Kent, my point isn't about two different versions of the faith, as if the Gospel were play dough. I'm more speaking about different flavors. Look at Acts 21:20f, where James asks Paul to accommodate himself publically for the sake of the hard-line Jewish Christian's in the Jerusalem church. Even after Acts 11 and 15, the different flavor persisted. This wasn't an issue in Antoich (a largely Gentile church), but it was in Jerusalem. Same Gospel, different expressions of the truth.

Andrew said...

Tyler, in an earlier post, you mentioned that several "hard-line" Jewish Christians criticized the apostles. But now you say that this was simply a different expression of the one truth by the same "hard-line" group. But how are these the same when clearly, as you said, they were criticizing the apostles.

Exclusion and holding to the laws of the scribes and pharisees (see Mark 7:7-13) are not different flavors of one Gospel. However it is clear from how the epistle to Galatians describes these, namely, as false brethren unawares brought in who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage. These are the same faction that desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, by circumcision and other things, and that they may glory in your flesh.

Paul was not bound to obey nor bound to oppose them. He was free to be made all things, that he "might by all means save some." Thus we find that he refused to allow Titus to be circumcised in Galatians 2:3, but he consented for Timothy to do so in Acts 16:3. This, and that which you mention in Acts 21, was not a giving place by subjection, according to what Paul said by inspiration in Galatians 2:5. "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour."

Recall what Paul said regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:8. "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak."

So we see that these supposed "hard-liners" were weak, or, even worse, false brethren. And this makes sense since they don't seem to understand the doctrine spelled out for us today in the epistle to Hebrews chapter 7 and 8. They possibly still believed in the temple and Levites, despite what we hear in God's word, saying "And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood." And so on. They didn't seem to believe that.

Paul also knew in advance he was going to be set upon, according to Acts 20:23-25. He let it happen anyway.

Tyler Robbins said...

You paint the scenario in cardboard hues, as if the issue was black and white. Some of the former Pharisees in the Jerusalem church were real believers (Acts 15:5). The situation and tensions between these different flavors of Christianity is more nuanced than you present it.

Andrew said...

"Some of the former Pharisees in the Jerusalem church were real believers (Acts 15:5)."

Yes, some believers were affected by the Judaizers. They were believers in need of correction. As the apostle Paul said by inspiration in Galatians 4, "They zealously affect you, but not well." They were in need of correction.

And the Judaizers were in need of being exposed as being against the word of God. As Paul once wrote: "What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."

So then clearly some believers are presented as negative, bad examples, which were at times corrected by the apostles, and their teachers exposed. This is one of those examples, the Judaizers, in particular, were nothing more than that. Just as we still have Judaizers around here today, still not believers, still equally not able to deal with the word of God.

Thus, we can kill two birds with one stone. Both provide correction in Scripture into the correct position on this issue and expose the sneaking in false teachers at the same time. Those that continue to disagree must be the false prophets.