What Is Christianity?
Christianity is a religion, a system of beliefs. However, being a Christian does not simply mean you believe a certain way, or even that you are a follower of Christ. Ideally, it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-23). Otherwise, it does nothing for us to study the religion without the relationship. We become converted (aka saved) and go to heaven because of a relationship with Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:21-23), not because of some mental ascent, the church we go to (e.g. the Catholic Church), or trying to be a good person, which is impossible from God's perspective (e.g. read Isaiah 64:6; Galatians 2:12; Eph 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).
Within Christianity, there are a wide variety of churches and beliefs. Beside the Catholic churches, these churches are all considered Protestant, named from Martin Luther's protest of the Catholic Church. These churches are further broken down into denominations while some churches are non-denominational and independent. The Catholic church is controversial within Christianity because they have many beliefs which are not Biblical, which is why the Reformation happened and there are so many Protestant churches. In fact, the Catholics say you have to go to their church to go to heaven, which is obviously heresy. Unfortunately the Catholic church continues to cling onto a majority of these beiefs which is why many consider Catholicism a false religion/cult. This is also why it is commonly asked whether or not someone is a Catholic or Christian. I am asked that a lot and reply that I used to be a Catholic but now I am a Christian. I may further specify that I go to a Protestant church but since all other churches are protestant, it's somewhat redundant. However, many people don't realize this.
There are some terms within Christianity which have been widely misunderstood like "Evangelical" and "Fundamentalist." "Evangelical" is defined as the following:Evangelical
1. Also, e·van·gel·ic. pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings.
2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.
3. designating Christians, especially of the late 1970s, eschewing the designation of fundamentalist but holding to a conservative interpretation of the Bible.
4. pertaining to certain movements in the Protestant churches in the 18th and 19th centuries that stressed the importance of personal experience of guilt for sin, and of reconciliation to God through Christ.
5. marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause.
It's very clear from the Bible and this definition that a Christian would want to be evangelical, and it clearly contrasts with the Catholic church.
It's interesting that in the third definition, it designates "Christians, especially in the late 1970's, eschewing the definition of fundamentalist." However, lets look at the definition of a Fundamentalist:Fundamentalism
1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming. 2. the beliefs held by those in this movement. 3. strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles: the fundamentalism of the extreme conservatives.
A quick check of other dictionary definitions yield similar results. So why does the term "fundamentalist" have such a negative connotation? Why would evangelicals eschew (or avoid) this designation? Well, there were several factors involved. Mainly because Fundamentalist groups became very legalistic and the media has relentlessly tarnished the term. They have also applied this term to radical Muslim extremists (i.e. terrorists) and political extremists. Doctrinally and fundamentally we shouldn't have a problem with being fundamentalist. However, those who have been characterized as being fundamentalist are viewed as sometimes going into Biblical error, lacking love and grace, focussing too much on non-essential doctrines, being divisive, etc.Essential Beliefs/Doctrines
Let me very clear that ALL of the Bible is essential, for it is all the Word of God. Here are some verses which speak to this truth:
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) Please also note the following verses:
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:21-22)
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth . . . (1 Peter 1:22)
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Matthew 7:24-27)
If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)
He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. (John 8:47)
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; (John 14:23-24)
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Billy Graham said in his book Answers To Life's Problems, "There are things about the Christian faith which are essential; there are others which are important in varying degrees but which have no bearing on one's personal salvation... If we agree on the things about which the Bible is very clear, we can agree to disagree on many minor points." (Answers To Life's Problems, p. 113-114) This is clearly true in one sense, there are things which are "essential," and as Billy clarifies, "which the Bible is very clear." However, there are many things which the Bible is not clear about, for example, those things which Christians commonly call "convictions." Another term for this is "Adiaphora," or literally, "matters of indifference." Adiaphora referred to beliefs or practices which the sixteenth-century Reformers regarded as being tolerable, in that they were neither explicitly rejected nor stipulated by Scripture. Some examples of these are drinking alcohol, listening/dancing to secular music, and the list goes on and on. The Holy Spirit reveals to the converted how they should handle these issues and people will have differnet convictions based upon their maturity, weaknesses, etc. One person may be convicted by the Holy Spirit about drinking alcohol, much like the Nazarite vow found in Scripture. However others will not be convicted about drinking alcohol and will have it in moderation. For example, Paul talked about convictions in Romans 14 and gives the examples of sacred days and eating meat. More on the topic of convictions can be found on my morals/convictions page here. There are also beliefs which are controversial non-essentials and cause much division within the body of Christ. One such example is the debate between the Reformed/Calvinists/Monergists and the Wesleyans/Arminians/Remonstrants/Free Willers/Synergists. Some other debated non-essential beliefs/doctrines are listed under "controversial" on my writings page and include things such as spiritual gifts (e.g. tongues, prophecy, or healing) or whether or not babies automatically go to heaven. When we speak about essential beliefs or doctrines, we are not speaking about issues like this. We are attempting to identify those beliefs/doctrines which the Bible appears to identify as an essential belief. This is not always clear cut and some beliefs and doctrines are unfortunately controversial.
This website exhaustively addresses this issue and I encourage you to read my other writings which attest to the fact that Christianity, which is founded on Jesus Christ, is the authentic truth. Often imitated but never duplicated, Christianity is the only religion which is completely founded on the Holy Bible, the Word of God. I encourage you to read more about the authenticity of the Bible, a collection of 66 books which are all in agreement and attest to the same Truth.FOOTNOTES:
1. evangelical. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/evangelical (accessed: March 09, 2011).
2. fundamentalist. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fundamentalist (accessed: March 09, 2011).
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