What is Christianity?
Christianity is a major world religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ. Christianity teaches both propositional and relational concepts.
Christianity is a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ. Christianity teaches doctrines that can be affirmed or denied (propositions) and is also a plan for reconciliation between God and people (relational).
Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah or Christ (Greek: Christos / Χρίστος). He fulfilled Old Testament laws and prophecies, died on a Roman cross in 1st century Palestine, and was resurrected on the third day. Over 500 witnesses saw Jesus after his resurrection and then he ascended into heaven (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).
In this post, I will explore Christianity as one of the world’s major religions. It consists of both propositional and relational aspects. Christianity teaches doctrines that can be affirmed or denied (propositions) and is also a plan for reconciliation between God and people (relational).
Let’s review the relational part first.
More Than A Religion: Christianity Is Relational
Christianity is often confused by many non-Christians as being a moral code. It’s true that Christianity contains an ethical system, but it is much more than that. A few years ago, someone asked theologian and pastor John Piper “Is Christianity just a bunch of rules for how to live?” Piper responded…
“I suppose there is an element in religion of telling people how to live, but it isn’t men telling people how to live. It is God telling people how to get right with him. Christianity is not first and foremost a religion. It is first and foremost news. It’s news.
It’s like we’re in a war, in a concentration camp, and suddenly you’re hearing on the smuggled-in radio that the troops of deliverance have landed in helicopters five miles away. They’re conquering everything in their path and they’re just about to get to the gate and open the doors. And having lived all your life in this concentration camp, you’re now going to be set free.
That’s Christianity. It’s news that God sent rescue troops into the world, namely Jesus Christ, and that at great cost to himself he has conquered our enemy the Devil, opened the gates of the concentration camp, and welcomed us home.”
Piper is right. Christianity may contain a series of moral pronouncements, but that’s not the core message. The essential element of Christianity is good news or “gospel”. It is the message that God the Father planned when “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 2:15).
Reconciliation between God and people is the relational part of Christianity.
The Apostle’s Creed: Christianity is Propositional
However, the Christian faith is also propositional. In other words, specific beliefs can be affirmed or denied. Sets of beliefs are often summarized in creeds throughout church history and more recently in statements of faith. The goal of those statements and creeds is to summarize the Bible’s teachings on particular subjects.
“Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
The Apostle’s Creed is a 4th century creed and is still a helpful, succinct description of basic Christian teaching. The Apostle’s Creed was not written by the original Apostles, but summarizes the teachings of the early Christian Church and is (mostly) affirmed in all major divisions of the Christian church. The Apostle’s Creed states…
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
As a Reformed Baptist, I would affirm all of these lines with a couple reservations. For one, it is uncertain if Christ “descended into hell” after the crucifixion. Jesus certainly died, but where he went before the resurrection is debatable in the Scriptures. Secondly, the “holy catholic church” is not to be understood as the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants and Catholics understand that line differently. Aside from those qualifications, the Apostles Creed stands as an excellent overview of basic Christian doctrine which is the propositional part of Christianity.
A Major World Religion: How Many Christians There Are
Christianity is a major world religion. But as for how many Christians there are, there are two ways to answer that question.
For one, there is a statistical answer based on population research and the most liberal definitions of “Christian”. According to the International Business Times, quoting Pew Research, in 2010 there were 2.2 billion professing Christians around the world. That was roughly ⅓ of the total population on the globe.
But these are the most generous estimates and also count 78% of the US population as Christian. This figure is hard to reconcile with the fact that only 43% attended church on a weekly basis in the same year (Gallup). So the statistical answer of how many Christians there are is what theologians refer to as the “visible church”.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
The second way to answer the question on how many actual Christians there are. That is, how many people are genuine followers of Jesus. Jesus himself said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
The Scriptures warn us that many who say they are Christians are not actually Christians. They have not been reconciled to God, but somehow think they are fine by virtue of their family heritage, country of origin, or other factors. But they are wrong. How many actual Christians there are is what theologians refer to as the “invisible church”. Only God knows that number (2 Timothy 2:19).
In Summary: Christianity Is About Salvation & Reconciliation
Despite some of the difficulties of counting genuine Christians, Christianity is still one of the major religions on earth. And it’s message resonates with a large swath of the earth’s population. Matt Slick at carm.org summed up the answer to “What is Christianity” by saying…
“‘What is Christianity’ is best answered by saying that it is a relationship with the true and living God through the person of Jesus Christ by whom we are forgiven of our sins and escape the righteous judgment of God.”