A little heads up: this article may be unsettling. Here’s the whole purpose of the article, stated right up front. It is important to realize that not everything we toss in the Christianity bag is really and necessarily Christian. When we come to an understanding of the essential components of true faith, it frees us up to love and minister to people who are different from us, learn and benefit from settings that are different from ours, and knock the barnacles from our own ministry and life that may not need to be there. These are non-essentials. Good, perhaps, but non-essential.
Six Features of Christianity Which Aren’t Absolutely Necessary
- Church buildings. The church is not a building. It’s just that simple. A local church does not need a building, let alone a stand-alone, brick-and-mortar construction with a steeple on top, in order to be a church. Think about this the next time you say, “I’m going to church.”
- Pastor’s study materials. Most people in ministry love their books, commentaries, and Logos Bible Software. I am among them. Yet these tools, wonderful as they are, aren’t essential to ministry. Neither is a seminary training. Neither are full-time pastors. Are these things important and helpful in our culture? Definitely yes. But are they necessary? Definitely not. Consider a Christian pastor who is also a nomadic herdsman. His situation in life and lack of access to an M.Div is not a weakness or shortcoming in his faith. It is part of his culture and setting, just as seminary-trained pastors are part of our own culture and setting.
- Your brand of politics. Christianity does not prefer one mode or model of politics. It’s just that simple. Do not think that Christianity equals any particular type of political viewpoint or economic model. It doesn’t. Take a glance at Israel, for example. What you read in the Pentateuch was the economic and political system that God instated for them (but which is not prescribed for Christians today). Was it a free market economy? Not by a chance, especially when property reverted to its original ownership every fifty years, and when charging interest was against the law. Were they communists? Not exactly. Were there taxes? Definitely. What about the early church? Should we follow their model to form a biblical economic policy? You are welcome to do so, keeping in mind that the Christians “had all things in common.” Private property may have been anomalous to many early Christians. Importing our contemporary politico-economic preference into Christianity is neither right nor wise.
- Money. The more prosperous one becomes, the more they think about (and think they need) money. This goes for churches, too. Realize, however, that churches don’t run on money. This is not an exhortation to stop giving and tithing. The Bible has plenty of information regarding giving and generosity. But nowhere do we see that Christianity requires money to survive and thrive.
- Peace. If you are reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re living in a peaceful setting. Some churches, on the other hand, may be existing in a situation of absolute turmoil. Persecution may await them. Their pastor may be imprisoned. Christianity is not a peacetime religion. It originated in a country that was under the occupation of a foreign military. Those who allege that the spread of Christianity was due to the peace of the Roman empire do not realize that the Roman Empire underwent violent leadership transitions during the rapid spread of Christianity. The gospel was also coursing upward through the European continent, which was overrun by feuding factions and dominated by dark paganism. The gospel also rushed eastward, expanding into areas that were anything but peaceful and stable. Christianity does not depend upon peace, nor does it depend upon persecution, nor does it depend upon any manmade construct for its prosperity. Christianity depends only upon Christ, its head. We pray for peace, we seek peace, we love peace. We are peaceful people. But Christianity does not need peace to thrive.
- Freedom of religion. Closely related to this is the idea of freedom of religion. I am grateful that I live in a country where I am free to practice my faith without fear of persecution. This also means, of course, that my Islamic neighbor is free to practice her faith, and my Buddhist acquaintance can engage in Zen meditation all he wants. Freedom of religion is good, but it is not necessary to Christianity.
The list could go on. The second amendment. iPhones. Facebook. Boycotting Disney. Sunday dinner. When we tend to cherish our cultural accretions beyond the biblical revelation, we’ve done something wrong. It’s time to remind ourselves of the basics, the essentials. This can be a healthy thing.
The point here is not to toss these above-mentioned things out of your church ministry or life. No indeed! The point is to take a close look at the features in your life that you have equated with Christianity and analyze them in the light of God’s Word.
When it comes right down to it, there are really very few things that Christianity is comprised of. Keep in mind, there is an essential kernel. It is found in the Bible. Don’t forsake it. At the same time, don’t import your own cultural idée fixe into what you think Christianity is.