Questions about Christianity
What is Christianity?
The power of God to salvation for all who believe in Jesus Christ. It is God reconciling the world unto Himself through Jesus Christ. These are summaries of Christian faith found in the Bible.
Is Christianity a “western” religion?
Not if you define the “West” as North America and Europe, and “western” in terms of origins.
Historically, Christianity began in Roman Palestine, in what we now know as Israel, among Jesus’ Jewish disciples. In the Bible, the Book of Acts, chapter 2, records its earliest non-Jewish expansion—not into Europe but into what we now know as “the Middle East.” Paul, an ethnic Jew, first took the gospel into what we now know as Europe. At that time, the western nations as we know them did not exist, but were pagan tribal regions under the control of the Roman Empire whose government was not Christian at all. Depending upon the emperor at the time, the Roman government could become strongly anti-Christian. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe disintegrated into many tiny kingdoms that were becoming Christian but were too divided and lacking in resources to send missionaries to faraway places. Western missionaries did not appear in India until the 16th century, almost 1,200 years after the end of the Roman Empire.
Christianity began in India centuries before western missionaries arrived. The Greek historian, Eusebius (3rd century), records that there were already Christians in India before 200 AD, having been taught by Syriac-speaking missionaries from the region we know now as “the Middle East.” The Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala, India, traditionally traces its roots to the Apostle Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ, who, it is said, first brought the gospel to the coast of Kerala in 52 AD, long before any western missionary could possibly do so.
From the beginning, Jesus Christ conceived of His church as spreading to the ends of the earth, among all peoples, and he welcomed personal relationships with people of every ethnic and social background. But during his earthly ministry of the 1st century, Jesus lived and worked only among his Jewish people.
As the years go by, the Christian church is becoming less western. Today, Africa, Asia and Latin America are rapidly becoming major hubs of Christianity. China is becoming a major center of Christianity despite expulsion of western missionaries in 1949 and heavy persecution of Christians by the Communist government. South Korea has the largest church in the world (nearly one million). The number of non-western missionaries is increasing rapidly.
In short, the Christian church has its origins outside of Europe and the West, as does the Christian church in India. A growing majority of Christians in the world today live outside the West. This trend reflects exactly what Jesus intended.
Does one become a Christian by adhering to the doctrines of the church?
No. A person becomes a Christian through faith in Jesus Christ.
But isn’t faith a matter of believing certain church doctrines about Jesus Christ?
No. The Bible is the primary source for Christian faith, and in the Bible, “faith” is never described as believing certain church doctrines about Jesus Christ. Rather, it is presented as trust in a person, Jesus Christ, his claims for himself, who he is, and what he has done for you and me personally, and how all of this relates to our relationships with God and one another.
In other words, “faith” in the Bible is presented in relational terms. Jesus Christ is presented as a living person we can know and experience, not a set of doctrines about someone who lived centuries ago. To be sure, doctrines are necessary guidelines to understand the Bible, but they must lead to a dynamic relationship with God through Jesus Christ, or else true faith is dead. Many people who claim to adhere to church doctrines about Jesus Christ are not necessarily true Christians at all.
Isn’t Jesus another prophet or moral teacher like other religious leaders?
No. Unlike other prophets or religious leaders, Jesus never saw himself as a moral teacher. Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed that moral living alone can never fulfill the righteous demands of a holy God. The Sermon on the Mount, thought by many as the epitome of Jesus’ moral teaching, actually portrays what a Holy God requires and what you and I cannot attain, no matter how hard we try. Even the best religious leaders of his day could not fulfill the basic requirements of their own law. The moral teachers of Jesus’ day hated him because he showed them how far short they fell of God’s righteous demands.
Jesus Christ does not just present a way for us to follow. He does not just talk about abstract truth, and he does not just teach the good life like a philosopher. Instead, he says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father [God] but by me.” In other words, he invites us to a daily relationship with him to make us right with God, and it can be done no other way.
Isn’t Jesus being narrow minded, talking like this?
If Jesus offers only what other prophets and teachers offer, that might be true, but Jesus offers something completely different from the others which requires us to make a choice to accept or reject. He purposely does it this way.
What makes Jesus Christ different from the other prophets and teachers?
Jesus claimed to be God in human flesh, the incarnation of God. He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” and “I and the Father are one.”
Does what Jesus said make him one of the yogis? A yogi claims to have achieved oneness with God.
Jesus also said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The Jewish people of his day understood from this and the other statements that Jesus did not claim mystical oneness with God, but claimed to be God Himself in human flesh. This was widely understood and provoked explosive reactions. Yet even his strongest critics could find nothing unrighteous about him. He acted and spoke with an authority like no other person, something recognized by all, including those who liked him least. A major reason why religious authorities wanted him crucified was because he claimed to be God. At his trial, when the question came up, he accepted this designation, which infuriated Jewish religious authorities. No, Jesus was not a yogi.
Jesus must have come as an avatar, an incarnation of God, a righteous man. There are numerous avatars in Hinduism. Why not worship Jesus along with other avatars?
Because Jesus does not resemble any of the other avatars.
In what ways is Jesus not like other avatars?
Hindu avatars are myths and symbols, products of philosophy, gods who have left no footprints. There is no evidence that they ever lived on this earth among men.
In contrast, Jesus Christ has left many footprints. He is a figure of history, not only mentioned in the Bible, but in contemporary non-Bible sources, even by people unfriendly to Christians. The writers of the gospels, and of the whole Bible, in fact, take great pains to root the entire story of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection in history. They portray him as “God with us” who faced temptation, but without sin, who loved men, women and children so much, he was willing to die on their behalf, even allowing himself to be stripped naked and put on a cross. Then he rose again. What Hindu avatar makes this claim?
There is an important reason why the Bible takes pains to root Jesus in history. Paul the apostle says very bluntly, “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” If Jesus Christ is not part of real human history, living in time, all of Christianity is a dream, and we cannot trust Jesus at all. These words come from Jesus’ most vocal apostle. The historical nature of Christianity is absolutely essential for it to stand. Regarding another difference...
In reference to the avatars of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita says, “When goodness grows weak, when evil increases, I make myself a body. In every age, I come back to deliver the holy, to destroy the sin of the sinner, to establish the righteous.”
This leaves one with an obvious question: how much holiness is necessary to become acceptable? How much righteousness will win the favor of the gods? How good is good enough? We are never given a plain and clear answer to this. This leaves the average person without any assurance of whether they will be looked upon favorably or not. They cannot have true peace if they do not know for sure what will happen to them after death. In contrast, Jesus Christ offers that assurance.
Why is this? Because Jesus Christ did not come for the holy and righteous, but for the unrighteous. He came for troubled people who lack peace in life, who are lost, who suffer from bad habits, worry, uncertainty over their destiny. He comes to pay the price for people who long for forgiveness but know they have no right to ask for it or even conceive of it. He tells all uncertain people, “A bruised reed I will not crush.” We are those “bruised reeds.” He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden [with unrighteousness] and I will give you rest.” He refers to himself as The Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. He gives no special favors to holy men or the rich, but to all who trust him. He lifts up even the most wretched and gives them dignity when they come to him. He comes for all regardless of their circumstances in life. You can have a personal relationship with Him. He calls himself the Door through whom anyone can enter for access to a holy and righteous God. It only takes trust in him to bear our burdens and cleanse us from unrighteousness. He makes us part of his heavenly family beginning now and for all eternity. He does this out of his holy, infinite and eternal love.
Can’t you still worship Jesus along with other avatars?
That is like trying to mix oil and water. Hindu avatars and Jesus Christ are diametrically opposed to one another in what they are trying to accomplish. You can try to worship Jesus along with other avatars, as if they are indistinguishable, but you will only be substituting your ideas about Jesus with what Jesus says about himself. It is a gross insult to Jesus, and will not be worshipping him at all.
If you know for sure you are good enough to become enlightened and know you have overcome all bad karma, then you don’t need Jesus anyway. However, if you lack peace and assurance of your salvation, and need forgiveness for unrighteousness in your life that you can never erase, then consider making Jesus Christ your one and only avatar.
Besides the Bible, what other sources are there to understand Christianity?
What we have presented here is merely an introduction to stimulate your thinking about Jesus Christ. If you want to learn more, please begin with the sources suggested below. Just remember that true Christianity is more profound than any philosophy, but simple enough for a child to accept.
- Kreeft, Peter, and Tacelli, Ronald K., Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press, 1994. (available online as a PDF)
- Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. (various publishers) (available online as a PDF)
- Maharaj, Rabindranath, with Dave Hunt, Death of a Guru. New York: A.J. Holman Co., 1977.
- McDowell, Josh, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
- Morrison, Dr. Frank, Who Moved the Stone? (available online as a PDF)
- Orr, Dr. Edwin, Faith That Persuades.
- Sairsingh, Krister, A Hindu's Quest for the Holy. Colorado Springs, CO: International Students, Inc., 1987.
- Stott, John, The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1986.
- Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ: a Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.
- Zacharias, Dr. Ravi, Jesus Among Other Gods. (available online as a PDF)
- Zacharias, Dr. Ravi, The Lotus and the Cross. Multnomah Publishers, Portland, OR,