Modern Christianity—How Much Is Genuine?
DURING World War II Dutchman Hans van Meegeren sold to a German what was purported to be the earliest known work of the 17th-century Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. It was hailed as a masterpiece. At the close of the war van Meegeren was arrested for having sold this art treasure to the enemy. Imagine the surprise of his accusers when he confessed that he had forged the “Vermeer masterpiece.” He then proved it by painting another “Vermeer” while in prison!
What does this illustrate? That a signature or a label does not necessarily mean that something is genuine. It might be a forgery. In the case of artwork this is discovered by carefully checking the technique and the materials against authenticated originals, comparing the doubtful painting with a genuine work.
Today hundreds of millions of people use the Christian “label” or “signature.” Maybe you are one of them. But how can you tell if you are a genuine Christian, the real thing? First, check your conduct and beliefs against the Bible record of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles. Next, examine how early Christians applied those teachings. Thirdly, analyze your own form of religion to see if it fits the mold that Christ set. Now ask yourself, Is my religion genuine Christianity? Do I practice it?
To assist in your analysis, let us review a few basic fields of conduct to establish what is genuine Christianity.
WARFARE: Jesus Christ said: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”—Matthew 26:52.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” “Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor.” (Romans 12:17, 18; 13:10) Also, he said: “We do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.”—2 Corinthians 10:3, 4.
Tertullian, a Christian writer born more than 100 years after Christ’s death, helps us to see how many early Christians viewed warfare and participation in it: “I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. . . . Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?”
What is Christendom’s record as far as being a peacemaker and a peacekeeper? How does the religion in which you were raised stand on this issue? Ask yourself: Which nations initiated the two world wars that caused so much slaughter and suffering in this century? Were they Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist? No, they were the so-called Christian nations of Europe, urged on by Catholic and Protestant politicians and clergy. How appropriate, therefore, is the comment of the British broadcaster and writer Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote: “In the various wars of our time the Church has been insistent that God was on our side, and has given its unqualified blessing to whatever methods of waging them the generals and politicians might consider expedient. . . . One of the wisest of the sayings of the founder of the Christian religion was that His kingdom was not of this world.”
CRIME AND DELINQUENCY: Christ taught: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22:39.
What normal person wants to be robbed, beaten or murdered? On this basis no genuine Christian can commit such crimes against his fellowman, for Christ said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
The apostle Peter was specific in his counsel: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer.”—1 Peter 4:15.
What does Tertullian have to say about Christian conduct in his day? “In your long lists of those accused of many and various atrocities, has any assassin, any cutpurse [pickpocket], any man guilty of . . . seduction, or stealing bathers’ clothes, [had] his name entered as being a Christian? . . . It is always with your folk the prison is steaming . . . You find no Christian there, except simply as being such; or if one is there as something else, a Christian he is no longer.”
What is the present crime situation in the “Christian” nations? Soaring crime rates, overcrowded prisons and people afraid to go out on the streets in many cities because of the threat of falling victim to criminals. Is it not true that many of these thugs and delinquents still bear the “Christian label” as evidenced by the fact that they receive the Mass, or Communion? Even High Masses have been celebrated for known mobsters. Virtually no disciplinary action is taken to keep the ranks clean. Are these the evidences of authentic Christianity?
ABORTION: Here again we can apply Jesus’ maxim: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.”—Matthew 7:12, The New English Bible.
Do you want to die? During World War II the Nazis killed millions of victims in their concentration camps. Looking back, would you have chosen to be one of them? Like those victims, aborted fetuses have no choice, and they die by the tens of millions every year. To this situation the apostle Peter’s injunction applies: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer.”—1 Peter 4:15.
In this respect the comments of second-century Christians, Tertullian and Athenagoras, are to the point: “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb.” (Tertullian) “And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principles should we commit murder?” (Athenagoras)
Staggering figures are presented for procured abortions in most Western “Christian” nations. For example, the official figure for abortions in the U.S.A. for 1978 alone was 1,157,776! In the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany it is calculated that 25 percent of pregnancies end in legal or illegal procured abortion. The figure for Catholic France is 50 percent. When we compare the previous quotations from early Christians with such chilling statistics, we are entitled to ask, Are modern-day “Christians” who procure abortions, and the churches that condone the practice, really Christian?
SEXUAL MORALITY: Christianity’s founder declared: “From inside, out of the heart of men, injurious reasonings issue forth: fornications, . . . adulteries, . . . loose conduct. . . . All these wicked things . . . defile a man.”—Mark 7:21, 22.
The Christian missionary Paul agrees that such things defile one, for he writes: “Neither fornicators, . . . nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
Now let us turn again to the second-century Christian practices: “We are so far from practising promiscuous intercourse, that it is not lawful among us to indulge even a lustful look.” (Athenagoras) “The Christian confines himself to the female sex. . . . The Christian husband has nothing to do with any but his own wife.” (Tertullian)
Has modern Christendom followed the early Christian model of conduct regarding morality? Are the ‘technique and materials’ the same as the original version? In this respect the previously quoted Malcolm Muggeridge was prompted to write: “In matters like divorce, homosexuality and the so-called New Morality the tide is flowing strongly against the traditional Christian position; often with the connivance of eminent churchmen.”
In Christendom’s domain fornication, adultery and homosexuality are rife everywhere. The consequent crop of venereal diseases is now reaching pandemic proportions. Does that portray the genuine Christian picture? Or is it evidence that we are dealing with a fake, a sordid imitation?
POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT: Christ said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” He also stated before Pilate: “My kingdom is no part of this world. . . . My kingdom is not from this source.”—John 17:16; 18:36.
In ancient Rome political office and the state religion were closely entwined. How did the early Christians react toward that situation? The Encyclopædia Britannica explains: “Christians of the first three centuries turned decisively against the state religion of Rome . . . Christians viewed themselves as citizens of the coming heavenly city and as pilgrims and strangers on earth . . . as members of the Kingdom of God . . . which was dissolving its ties to this passing world and thereby also to the political order.”
How does modern “Christianity” stand in regard to politics? Divided from top to bottom. There are clergy identified with just about every political party that exists, ranging from Catholic priests who support Communism in Spain and Latin America to Protestant pastors who serve in the British parliament or identify themselves with the political right wing in the United States. The clergy’s record of abject submission, with few exceptions, to Nazism and Fascism during recent decades in Germany, Italy and Spain is well known to informed persons.
Christendom’s ranks are divided and the faithful are split as to political loyalties. The 20th-century Spanish writer and scholar Miguel de Unamuno was absolutely correct when he wrote: “A Christian’s fatherland is not of this world.” “Christianity is apolitical.” In contrast, the British journalist Anthony Lejeune was moved to write: “The political priest is rampant. . . . If the Church has nothing more than the world to offer, why go to the Church?”
Also, what about the flattering titles applied to the clergy in so many of the churches? Jesus told his disciples: “Do not you be called Rabbi [“My great one; My excellent one”—reminiscent of such ecclesiastical titles as “Reverend,” “Most Reverend,” etc.], for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One.” (Matthew 23:8, 9) This makes it evident that no clergy-laity distinction was intended in genuine Christianity.
PREACHING THE “GOOD NEWS”: In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matthew 5:14-16.
This encouragement to shine in word and deed is echoed in the apostle Paul’s words: “Through him [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15) The privilege and duty to preach the Christian “good news” is incumbent upon every follower of Christ.
Did the early Christians as a body “make public declaration to his name”? Or were they immediately stifled after the death of the apostles by the imposition of a clergy class? The following quotation from Dr. Neander’s History of the Christian Religion and Church During the Three First Centuries should answer that question:
“Celsus [2nd century C.E.], the first writer against Christianity, makes it a matter of mockery, that labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men, should be zealous preachers of the Gospel.”
Ask yourself now these probing questions: Does my religion encourage and prepare me actively to preach my Christian beliefs? Does the spirit of my Christianity impel me to go to the homes of other people to find those in need of real Christianity? If not, which Christian religion really does carry out that Christ-given command?—Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 9:16.
ARE YOU A GENUINE CHRISTIAN?
It is vital for each person who claims to be a Christian to answer this question positively. Why? Because God’s approval depends thereon. Christianity is not merely a belief or a label, but a way of life. Does your way of life reflect Christ’s example? Does your religious practice match the Biblical quality of the early Christians that we have just considered?
The apostle Paul invites us: “Put yourselves to the proof, to see whether you are holding the Faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5, The Twentieth Century New Testament) To this end, we invite you to check the following short list, while looking up the cited scriptures in your own Bible.
2. How do you define Christian love?—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
6. Are you inclined to think that sexual morality is of minor importance?—Mark 7:20-23.
At what conclusion do you arrive? Do true Christians really exist today? Do you know of any who earnestly try to live like Christ and at the same time make a real effort to communicate their Christian belief and way of life to their neighbors? Does your own religion in fact teach and practice genuine Christianity? Or is this just an attractive label or impressive signature?
If you do not already know them personally, we suggest you take a closer look at Jehovah’s Witnesses in your vicinity and see if they are conscientiously endeavoring to measure up to the Bible standards considered above. If you do not know where they are located, we will be glad to help you to get in touch with them.—Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 11:26.
[Blurb on page 6]
In Christendom today, “the tide of morality is flowing strongly against the traditional Christian position, often with the connivance of eminent churchmen”
[Blurb on page 7]
A British journalist writes: “The political priest is rampant . . . If the Church has nothing more than the world to offer, why go to the church?”