Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Point of Christianity

I don't know that, on my own, I would naturally use an expression like "the point of Christianity." It's just not my style. But over on the listserv that is operated for members (and recent former members) of General Convention, somebody else did today, and it struck me as one of those rare lucid moments when a bright light is inadvertently shined on why many members of the same church frustrate one another so much, and talk past one another so much.

It's because of vastly divergent views on ... well ...  the point of Christianity.

The commenter queried, "Do we believe that the point of Christianity is to love one another, shun violence and hatred and care for the poor and needy. Or does it exist to get people to believe in Jesus so they won't go to hell?"

To be honest, if I had to choose, I would opt for the latter, though I don't think the alternatives are really quite that starkly opposed. Of course, I have no problem with love, non-violence, disavowal of hatred, and caring for the poor and needy. Those are important--yea, necessary--components of faithful Christian witness and ministry. But they are not themselves the "one thing needful", and I believe we are in error if we see them as "the point of Christianity." And while I would not choose to use language about the avoidance of hell to express "the point of Christianity" either, it is, I believe, less far from the mark. 

Using affirmative terms, I would suggest that "the point of Christianity" is to make people fit to live in heaven, to be in the unfiltered presence of God without being vaporized by the sheer weight of divine glory. This is a process called sanctification (in the west; our eastern friends are apt to say theosis--deification). The process is fueled by grace, and grace, while generally ubiquitous, is found surely and certainly in the sacraments. 

For my money, this is a lot more exciting than just trying to make the world a better place. 


Unknown said...

I concur completely. It often seems that the new model of "Christianity" has become Rotary with vestments.

Do not get me wrong, taking part in good works should be fruit of our discipleship, but is not the only or main "point."

However, if all I want to do is make the world a better place then Rotary is a superior option. It meets at a convenient time, has better food, "better" people, is less consumed with politics, has less overhead expenses (we just completed two wells and raised 20k for the local food bank, and its dues are signifiantly less than the tithe.

Undergroundpewster said...

The point is to get past the point of having to ask anyone the question for all will know the answer.

Anonymous said...

I love reading your posts and I have never commented before but honestly I am a little confused by the question.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippines (3:7-11) (or the whole chapter) he makes it clear what the “point of Christianity” is and that good works or righteousness that comes from the law is empty substitute!

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

Anonymous at 3:48pm, I'm certainly not meaning to imply anything other than what you quoted from Philippians. In brief, I suspect that where we may be talking past each other is in neglecting to articulate the distinction between forensic justification (by which God chooses to "not see" our unworthiness, "seeing" only the worthiness of Christ) and the actuality of sanctification, wherein we are changed into the image of Christ such that there is no longer anything for God to look past. We are *actually* righteous. The first is a stopgap measure, the second is permanent. Both rely utterly on grace. So, the "point" of Christianity, ultimately, is the completion of our salvation, as we sing in Wesley's great hymn: "Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be."

Robert F said...

Isn't the "point of Christianity" to render to God the worship that is due his nature? When we focus on ourselves rather than God I think we end up with a distorted idea of the purpose of Creation. And I think the "point" of all Creation, and Christianity, is to glorify the living God.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

I think that Bishop N. T. Wright's Summary of the Gospel gets to the heart of what the point of Christianity it about very well.

And I would add to this what Bishop Wright has to say about Christian Hope and the Mission of God.

Gerry Smith said...

I am usually pretty simple minded, so to me the point of Christianity is simply to reconcile us to God through Jesus Christ alone. Through reconciliation we experience true love as God intended and are then empowered to worship Him as we love and serve others as Christ did. This brings glory to God.

However, in a large part of the church today it seems that we want to reverse this concept, thinking that by loving and serving others we can be reconciled to God. It then becomes our works and not the work of Jesus that reconciles us to Him.

fs said...

The original question would seem to pose a false dilemma. These are not our only choices.

If by "Christianity," you mean the formal religion, then its point would seem to vary among those who call themselves Christians. Surely there are Christians who view the religion as anything from a personal power base, to a social club, to an exclusive clique of superior and "saved" beings, to a means of expressing one's love for Jesus and enjoying fellowship with others who feel similarly, to being genuinely nice folks who make a positive difference in the world, to...well, anything.

But if the term "Christianity" could be interpreted to mean the continual practice of accepting Jesus fully into one's heart and striving to understand and follow his example and teachings in mind, heart and soul, as well as in action and word, then the point might be something along the lines of attempting to live a life and an afterlife in as close a union as possible with the Father.

And I suppose one could call that salvation.