Christianity has nothing to offer if….

Christianity has nothing new, unique, or even helpful to offer if Jesus wasn’t transformed from a flesh and blood human being into a life-giving spirit ( 1 Corinthians 14: 14, 45).

There are four clear reasons why that transformation is so important. The first one is the simple fact that, like Jesus, we are flesh and blood humans too. We are subject to ageing, death and disappearing all together, and if that’s all there is to this life of ours, what is the point of it? We live, we die, and nothing we lived for or accomplished in this life lives on in our lives after we die. It all seems like an empty, hopeless waste of time.

It would be jolly nice to know, then, that life continues on after we die, and religion tries very hard to tell us that it does, but where is the evidence? Where is the proof that flesh and blood can be transformed into a substance that doesn’t die, decay or disappear? Christianity’s proof is Jesus, because in Jesus that transformation has already happened.

The second reason why Jesus’ transformation is so important is his bold statement while he was here that human beings can live forever. He said it many times too, but hardly anyone believed him until he died and came back to life himself. And that’s when Christianity took off, when what Jesus promised us actually happened to him. Everything he said about us living forever as well, therefore, was true.

The third reason why Jesus’ transformation into a life-giving spirit is the best news we could hear, is that he is now alive to make our eternal life happen. It was all well and good having him promise us eternal life, but how could he make it happen as a physical human being? He couldn’t. But he can as a life-giving spirit. He has the power within him now in his transformed state to produce the same life in us that he has.

And the fourth reason why Jesus’ transformation is so important is that a Being now exists with the power to change our world. Life as we’ve known it on this planet will not stay this way. All the misery and suffering we hear about and experience is only temporary. So, yes, it’s great news hearing that life continues after we die, but even better news that life as we know it doesn’t continue after we die.

And that’s the unique message Christianity offers, that Jesus has been transformed, and in his transformed state he has all the power he needs to transform our lives into the same life-giving spirit existence that he now experiences.

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The day Christianity hit the wall

One fateful day decided the future of Christianity, not long after Jesus died too. If it hadn’t happened we would have a very different Christianity today – if it could be called “Christianity” at all.

It happened in Galatians 2. Things had been going rather well to begin with; the apostles at Jerusalem had been visited by Paul, heard what he’d been up to, and in Paul’s words, verse 7, “they saw that I had been given the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been given the the task of preaching the gospel to the Jews.”

The apostles accepted that God was just as much at work in Paul’s ministry as he was in Peter’s ministry (verse 8), and in verse 9 they gave both Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.”

So far so good; everyone was in agreement, so back Paul went to Antioch to continue his ministry to the Gentiles.

Peter then came to visit Paul in Antioch, and he happily sat with Gentiles at meal times (verse 12). Peter had no trouble accepting that Jews and Gentiles were equals as Christians, and most important of all, that Christianity did not require Jews or Gentiles to follow any Jewish customs to be Christians. Again, so far so good.

But then one fateful day during Peter’s visit, a group of Jews from Jerusalem arrived, and that’s when Christianity hit the wall, because Peter immediately separated himself from the Gentile Christians, possibly right there at meal time, and left the table where he was sitting with Gentiles to sit with the visiting Jews instead.

It was a highly symbolic act, especially when the reason for Peter’s action was his fear of “those who belonged to the circumcision group,” verse 12. These were Jews stuck in Judaism, who believed Gentiles could only be Christians if they were circumcised in the custom of the Jews. And Peter by his action clearly agreed, that Gentiles must be Jews first before they could become Christians, and all Jewish and Gentile Christians must observe Jewish customs. And everyone present, including Barnabas, agreed with Peter, so Christianity would have continued on that road if Paul hadn’t stepped in.

Paul made it clear, right to Peter’s face in front of everyone, that Christianity was purely about faith in Christ, and never about observing Jewish custom or belief, verse 16. And that was the moment the future of Christianity was decided, that it would not be an offshoot of Judaism. Christianity stood on its own for the first time.

The tale of two Christianities

After Jesus died two quite different versions of Christianity developed. For the first seven years after his death a very Jewish version of Christianity ruled the roost. It began on Pentecost the year that Jesus died, the main purpose of it being to convince the Jews that Jesus really was the Messiah. Just the use of Jesus’ name caused amazing miracles, the purpose of which was to prove to the Jews that “God has glorified his servant Jesus,” Acts 3:6, 13.

But then, seven years after Jesus’ death, a very different Christianity was started by Jesus, with a very different purpose, through Paul. For the next three years Paul received direct revelations from Jesus, totally independent of the other apostles. “I did not consult any man,” Paul wrote in Galatians 1:16, “nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus,” verse 17.

When the three years were up, now ten years after Jesus’ death, “I (Paul) went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother,”verses 18-19. This was the first time Paul had met with any of the original apostles (or James), and he didn’t meet with them again for another fourteen years (2:1), so for at least that amount of time there were two Christianities in operation that had little contact with, or influence on, each other.

Paul wasn’t impressed with the hierarchy at Jerusalem either: “As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me – those men added nothing to my message,” Galatians 2:6. To Paul the reputation of “James, Peter and John” as “pillars” of the church (verse 9) meant nothing. What the heavenly Jesus had taught him, Paul, by revelation (1:12) was far superior to anything the earthly Jesus had taught them. Jesus had given him an entirely new revelation, and to him alone, that totally separated Christianity from Judaism, and from the Jewish version of Christianity that Peter and the other apostles were preaching – witness the clash between Peter and Paul in Galatians 2:11.

The clash highlighted the fact that twenty four years after Jesus’ death it was a tale of two Christianities. But as far as Paul was concerned, the apostles’ version of Christianity was at best “hypocrisy” (2:13), and at worst heresy, because they “were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (verse 14). Paul, therefore, “opposed Peter to his face, because he (Peter) was in the wrong” (verse 11).

It’s not surprising, then, that most of our present Christianity came from Paul.

Who was the first man to teach and explain Christianity?

If I was seeking an understanding of Christianity, who would I turn to first of all? The simple answer to that would be to list the basic doctrines of Christianity and see who was the first person to teach and explain them. So, who would that be?

Was it Jesus? But how could it be, when no Christians existed while he was alive? He wasn’t explaining the doctrines of Christianity to Christians anyway, he was fulfilling his role of Messiah to the Jews, which included teaching and obeying all that they had never managed to obey from the Old Testament. But is that the role of a Christian, to obey every command given to Israel? If so, then Christians had better be keeping the Sabbath on Saturday, which most Christians don’t.

Was it Peter, then? To multiple millions of Christians the answer to that is Yes, because in Matthew 16:18 Jesus told Peter, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” So, surely Peter was the first to teach and explain the doctrines of Christianity – and wasn’t it Peter who did the first teaching sermon in Acts 2, resulting in thousands of people being baptized (verse 41)?

But was Peter talking to Christians? No, verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: that God has made this Jesus, whom you (Jews) crucified, both Lord and Christ.” That was Peter’s message: It was confirming Jesus as the Messiah to his fellow Jews, not laying out the doctrines of Christianity to Christians.

So if it wasn’t Jesus and it wasn’t Peter who laid out the doctrines of Christianity, who was it instead? It was the person to whom Jesus said in Acts 26:16-18, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

It was Paul whom Jesus revealed Christianity to, and through Paul’s teaching that many would become “sanctified,” or set apart, as Christians (those with faith in Jesus). Paul himself then backed that up in Galatians 1:12, when he wrote, “I did not receive it (the gospel I preached, verse 11) from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Paul, therefore, was the first man to teach and explain Christianity.

Did Christianity come from Christ?

Can Christianity be traced back to the doctrines and teachings of Christ? The answer is No, because Jesus didn’t come as a Christian to set up Christianity, he came as a Jew in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies to Israel and his fellow Jews.

Jesus came as their Messiah and Lord. He came to forgive their sins, heal their diseases, cast out their demons, and establish the kingdom of God in their nation, just as predicted in Matthew 2:6 (quoting Micah 5:2), “for out of you (Judah) will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”

All through Jesus’ life there is no evidence of Jesus teaching – or celebrating – any Christian tradition like Christmas, Easter or meeting on Sundays. He didn’t even celebrate communion. Instead, he kept the Passover like all his fellow Jews. He also attended the synagogue on Saturdays, he respected the laws given to Israel, went to the temple on Jewish high days, and accepted the official requirements of the Jewish priesthood.

No one celebrated his birthday at any time during his earthly life, and none of his disciples accepted his predictions about his death either. They totally missed Jesus’ references to his resurrection back from the dead too, so as Christians the disciples were a total washout. We certainly can’t look to them for the source of our Christian traditions either.

So where did our Christian doctrines and teachings come from? Where, for instance, did the understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection come from, the two most basic doctrines of Christianity? From Jesus? No. Jesus only gave a brief explanation of his death at his last Passover meal with his disciples in Matthew 26:26-28, and he focused only on the forgiveness of sins. There was no mention of the basic Christian doctrine of us being crucified with him.

And then after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, when he met with his disciples in Luke 24, he only explains his death and resurrection as confirmation that he truly was the Anointed One, the Messiah, or Christ of the Old Testament (verses 27, 45-47). He gave no explanation about humans joining him in his resurrection, or what joining him in both his death and resurrection meant. Left with just Jesus’ teaching, we’d be none the wiser as to what baptism means, or that we’re members of Christ’s body, or that we’re now the temple.

There was no further explanation at Pentecost in Acts 2, either. It was mainly focused on assuring “Israel” that Jesus really was the Messiah (verse 36).

But the book of Acts soon makes clear after that where our Christian doctrines came from. They came from the apostle Paul.

And the next trend in Christianity is….

As the next new trend sweeps through Christianity, with its gurus, books, conferences and marketing machine, I feel heartsick.

Heartsick for two reasons: first, it’s “here we go again,” another panacea, another great solution to church attendance going down, another exciting novelty that will only last until the next new exciting trend comes along. And, secondly, I think, “Oh no, is this going to be something else I’m going to have to deal with, requiring another long study trying to figure out if it’s good, bad or ugly, creating yet another situation where people get offended if I don’t go along with it?”

I remember all the excitement that swept the churches about the Purpose-driven Church book. Then it was Spiritual Formation. Then The Shack. Then Heaven is for Real, then – well, I’ve forgotten what came next because it’s the same old routine – more excitement, more conferences, more peer pressure to comply, more people making a name for themselves, more arguments for and against, and more enthusiasts lifting up their gurus like mini-gods.

I admit I’ve been just as susceptible. I got so excited after reading a Christian book that I immediately did a sermon on it, and wrote two articles. Someone then pointed out a problem, and he was right. Down I went in flames, flagellating myself for getting caught up so easily.

It brought me down to earth with a crunch, because I realized why I’d been taken in so easily. It was the title of the book and the blurb on the inside cover. It promised “new” knowledge and a “new” way of looking at familiar scriptures that other Christians had missed. This was new territory, new understanding no one else had discovered. It was heady stuff.

But it also made me think of Paul when he toured Athens in Acts 17. The Athenians were like that too, always on the lookout for anything new (verse 21). But they also had an altar “To an Unknown God.” All that new knowledge pouring in but God was still an unknown. Is that why they couldn’t stop grabbing onto anything that sounded new and intriguing, then? Was it some inner hope they had, that maybe, one day, they’d hear something that would make their unknown God suddenly come alive and real to them?

It made me wonder, “Is that why I’m still such a pushover for a new, exciting book, too? Is it because I really don’t know God yet, and I’m hoping some book, some trend, some new exciting program will suddenly make God real to me?” Horror of horrors: Do I still have an altar to an unknown God too?

The amazing parallel between cats and religion

I don’t know how cats do it. They are the most efficient killing machines on the planet for an animal their size. They are cunning, predatory and equipped to kill, with huge swivel ears, eyes that can see in the dark, retractable claws they can sharpen to a needle point, fangs that can rip a bird to shreds, and a body that can flatten, bend and twist into the most amazing contortions to enable it to catch and slaughter its prey. And what do humans do with this monstrous creature? Take it into their homes by the million and give it names like Fluffy!

But cats are so cute! Their fur is so soft. They look like they’re smiling. They cuddle without resisting, purr when stroked, close their eyes in pleasure, rub against our legs – and who can resist a cat’s miaow?! A cat’s no trouble, either; in only minutes it has us meekly meeting its every wish!

What an amazing parallel there is between cats and religion. Religion, with all its rules, rituals, expectations and threats, is the most ruthless, predatory killer of human joy on the planet. And it too weasels its way into our affections while enslaving us into fulfilling its every wish and command.

But religion’s so cute, too! It has all these intriguing rituals that make a person feel spiritual. It has structure and a set system of worship that removes the need to think. You can give yourself credit for good works done, and earn your way into the afterlife on your own strength. And it’s so easy; just follow the rules, do the rituals, and a place in the afterlife is guaranteed.

It’s rubbish, of course, as Paul pointed out in Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ.” Steer clear of all that man-made tripe pretending to be spiritual, Paul warns, because it totally removes the need for Christ. But it takes people captive with ease anyway – just like cats do!

There is an antidote, however, and cats have that too, because cats are the freest creatures alive. They can live with humans and not be influenced by us one tiny bit. They ignore all human rules, all human attempts to train them and all our ridiculous human customs. They are cats and stay as cats, no matter what human environment is pressed on them. Thanks to cats, then, we also have the antidote to joy-killing religion – ignore it with total disdain.