There is a saying that contains an important insight: “In Jerusalem, Christianity became a religion. In Greece, it became a philosophy. In Rome, it became an institution. In Britain, it became a tradition, and in America, it became an enterprise.” Richard Halverson, a former chaplain of the United States Senate.
In Jerusalem: Christianity as a Religion
Jerusalem is where the journey of Christianity began. It was in this city that Jesus carried out his ministry, was crucified, and was resurrected. Here, Christianity was not just a set of beliefs but an intimate connection with God. The early followers, or the first church, were a community deeply rooted in faith, prayer, and the teachings of Jesus. The church met in houses, and would come together in the colonnades to have public meetings and others feared coming among them because of the fear of the Lord was upon the Church. Acts 5:1, Acts 8:3
In Greece: Christianity as a Philosophy
When Christianity reached the shores of Greece, it found a society deeply rooted in intellectual discourse and philosophy. Thinkers like Plato and Aristotle had already established a platform for philosophical debates. The Apostle Paul, in his address at the Areopagus in Athens, presents Christian beliefs in a philosophical context. Over time, Christianity and Greek philosophy intermingled, leading to interpretations of faith through the lens of reason and logic.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8
For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. … But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Corinthians 1:19-21, 27-29
In Rome: Christianity as an Institution
The growth of Christianity in Rome was noteworthy. Starting with persecuted believers who secretly met in catacombs, the faith blossomed into the state religion under Emperor Constantine. As Christianity spread, the church in Rome, propelled by Constantine’s open embrace of the faith and his endorsement of religious structures, recognized the need for more organized systems. Consequently, the church transitioned into an institution with a well-defined hierarchy, doctrines, and liturgical practices. This shift in structure pulled the church away from its foundational relational essence, prioritizing man-made establishments over the spiritual family’s core concept. It marked a significant turn from the church as “God’s Building” to “man’s buildings,” structures crafted by human hands. This evolution saw the emergence of the papacy and the Vatican’s foundation, deeply rooted in Rome’s institutionalization of the faith.
However, humanity, with its inherent frailties, often succumbs to worldly temptations. After enduring decades of rejection, persecution, and a litany of injustices – including being ostracized, marginalized, shunned, and victimized – it’s easy for one to seek refuge under a seemingly benevolent government’s wing. This governmental embrace can offer an enticing illusion of legitimacy, acceptance, and cultural integration, potentially alleviating past sufferings. This man-made attempt to halt the adversities Christ warned believers about – of being like lambs in a world of wolves, destined for persecution and injustice – often comes at a cost. Thinking institutions and worldly acceptance will prevent persecution of the church.
Yet, we’re still faced with the truth Jesus Himself told us, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:16-28
Institutionalization often carries the risk of the entity becoming more protective of its own existence than the principles or values that originally birthed it. This phenomenon, almost inevitable in its occurrence, sees the institution prioritize its survival and maintenance over its founding ideals. The Church in Rome provides a telling example of this. Initially founded on the tenets of faith, love, and community, as it grew and became institutionalized, its primary focus seemed to shift towards preserving its newfound status and structures. Consequently, the church’s original mission was overshadowed by its drive to uphold and defend the institution itself.
Ironically, once institutionalized, the church itself became an oppressor. As evidenced in the 12th century, the church, particularly the Roman Catholic Institutionalize Church, engaged in a horrifying chapter of history known as the Inquisition. Spanning roughly 350 years, this grim period saw the church torture countless individuals, coercing them into pledging allegiance to their institution. The Inquisition had various branches, including the Medieval, Spanish, Portuguese, and Roman Inquisitions. It took John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Martin Luther to break out of this institution by making the word of God available once again to all mankind. It was John Wycliffe, whose remains were exhumed from their burial place in Lutterworth, England, burned, and then the ashes were thrown into the River Swift which flows through Lutterworth by the institution. William Tyndale was captured, found guilty of heresy, and executed by strangulation, followed by burning at the stake by the institution. It was also Martin Luther who broke free from this institution, or better said, was excommunicated from the institution by the institution itself, because of his bold stand for God’s truth, which paved the way for the freedom the world has experienced up to now, because of adherence to the full word and ways of God, through the authority of scripture.
No More Bosting About Human Leaders, or Structures
“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”
So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
- God’s Building vs. Man’s Buildings: What does it mean to “build a church”?
- The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Church
In Britain: Christianity as a Tradition
By the time Christianity reached Britain, it had undergone numerous transformations. Here, it intertwined with local Celtic practices and traditions. Over the centuries, events like the Synod of Whitby solidified Roman practices, but local traditions persisted. Christianity became deeply embedded in British culture, shaping festivals, art, and even governance. It wasn’t just a faith; it was a way of life handed down through generations.
“Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” Jesus Mark 7:13
In America: Christianity as an Enterprise
The birth of the United States was based on the principles of freedom, including religious freedom. This allowed for a plethora of denominations and interpretations of Christianity. Over time, with the rise of televangelism and the mega-church movement, parts of Christianity took on an entrepreneurial spirit. The faith was, in some sectors, marketed, and commercialized, aligning it with the American spirit of enterprise and innovation.
Returning to God’s Original Intent: A Family United by Love
While Christianity’s journey across continents and epochs has seen many interpretations and transformations, its core remains unchanged. The church, as envisioned by God, is a family – a body where Jesus is the head, and every believer is a part. At its heart, Christianity is about the love of God, exemplified by the life and teachings of Jesus. As believers, our calling is to return to this original intent, to be a community bound not by rituals, philosophies, institutions, traditions, or enterprises, but by unconditional love.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” John 2:13-16
This is My Family: Jesus
As Jesus was meeting with His Building, His Church, in a house, He clarified for all of us that we are family, we are God’s family, we are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in Christ Jesus, and Jesus, our Elder Brother and Lord is the head of the family and Father God is our Father.
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'”
Jesus didn’t say ‘Here is my religion, here is my philosophy, here is my institution, here is my tradition, or here is my enterprise.’ No, He said, ‘Here is My Family!’ – who are “The Building of God.” He didn’t say whoever does the will of My Father is my philosophy, institution, tradition, or enterprise, no, He said they are family!
This scripture underscores the idea that spiritual family, based on faith and obedience to the will of God, is binding and meaningful, actually more binding and lasting than biological family. Jesus emphasizes the importance of spiritual relationships within the community of believers.
Removing Everything that Hinders Love: Religion, Philosophy, Institution, Tradition, or Enterprise
Jesus commanded us, as His family saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
“Put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14b
The church is family, God’s family, of which Jesus is the Head, God is our Father, and both rule over the church by Holy Spirit.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Our prayer should be “Dear Lord, help me to love You and Your church as my family, as brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. Remove everything in me that hinders love in my life and the life of Your church. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and lead me to be a part of the Family of God You intended me and us to be so that the world will see it and know, supernaturally, by Your Spirit, that they are loved as much as the Father loves You Jesus.” John 17:23
God’s Glorious Church, Jesus’ Bride
Throughout the many seasons of the incredible journey that the Church has embarked upon since its wondrous inception, all thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who offered the ultimate sacrifice for its birth and existence, it remains unequivocally His Church. Amid most every congregation, there are those who are the remnant who embody the essence of “The Church, The Building” of God, a reality that becomes evident as we are shown into the prophetic revelations within the Letters to the Churches in the Book of Revelation. My affection for the Church knows no boundaries, irrespective of the varied locations it may gather. It stands as the very Body of Christ, an exquisite bride, a divine body of saints, and God’s sacred field. I cherish the moments spent in communion with fellow believers on this earthly part of our journey, eagerly anticipating the eternal fellowship where we shall gather to worship our Lord, Savior, and Father God in an unending era of holiness, divine splendor, and atmosphere filled with His glory.
Rick Joyner, of MorningStar Ministries, writes, consider the following important barometers of spiritual health for a body of believers:
- Do we have the Lord’s manifest presence? What good is the most glorious temple if the Lord is not in it? If the Lord is in the temple, people will care much more about the Lord than the temple itself, even if it is a great one. Do people leave our gatherings having been drawn closer to the Lord or to the temple, to a particular truth or person, or to something else that may be from God but notGod. It is not wrong for people to be drawn to other things, but nothing should eclipse our devotion to the Lord.
- Are people being drawn to the Lord on all levels? In a healthy body that is abiding in the Vine, fruit should be sprouting and maturing, new believers should be born again regularly, and all should be maturing in their faith, calling, and relationship to God.
- Are the members equipped to do the work of the ministry? Are a few doing all the ministry and the rest only spectating? That is not operating according to the Ephesians 4 model.
- Are the members being built together as living stones into the temple of the Lord? (see I Peter 2:5) Most church bodies are more like piles of living stones than a house in which the Lord can dwell. If they are not joined together, they can easily be lost or stolen. However, if they have been properly joined, like cemented stones, they will be difficult to separate.
- Are the people growing in their love for the Lord? The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, and this is the “main thing” for which we were created. To love God and to bring Him pleasure are the two main reasons for which we were created; therefore, these are the “main things” that determine our success as human beings.
- Is our love for one another growing? Biology teaches us that when any living thing stops growing, it starts dying. After our love for God, our love for one another is the second most important thing for which we were created.
- Do we love the truth? We may want the truth for many reasons other than love (fear, ambition, etc.). However, it is not those who have the truth who will not be deceived in the end times, but those who have “the love of the truth” (see II Thessalonians 2:10).
Other important things may be added, but it’s best not to get too complicated. When operating in alignment with scripture as God’s church, we need to examine ourselves from time to time—though not too often due to our tendency to focus on ourselves—to see if we are in the faith with regard to being a healthy body of believers, i.e., the Church.
10 Things We Learned:
- Christianity began in Jerusalem as a deeply personal relationship with God.
- When it spread to Greece, Christianity merged with prevailing philosophical concepts.
- Rome saw Christianity’s evolution from a persecuted faith to an institutionalized religion.
- This institutionalization in Rome sometimes distanced the church from its foundational teachings.
- During certain eras, the church became an oppressor, with the Inquisition being a notable example.
- In Britain, Christianity adapted and merged with local traditions.
- The United States, with its principle of religious freedom, saw a rise in various Christian denominations.
- In the US, parts of Christianity adopted a commercial approach, seen in televangelism and mega-churches.
- At its heart, Christianity is about God’s love and the teachings of Jesus, emphasizing spiritual relationships over biological ties.
- God’s true intent of His church is family, His Family who is to embody love and unity, away from external debates and commercial interests.