By Frank Raj
BROTHER BILLY GRAHAM BEFORE YOU GO HOME, CAN YOU DECLARE CHRIST AND CHRISTIANITY ARE POLES APART?
I am an individual who by God’s grace has tasted the incredible freedom that comes to anyone who discovers the Maker is a just, forgiving, loving parent and a dependable friend and shield.
On March 20, 2011, I wrote the following appeal to Billy Graham as an online column in the Communities at the Washington Times.
I was the least qualified person on earth to address Billy Graham in such a column – I am just an unknown upstart, probing and rocking the world’s most powerful religious idol, this splendid craft called Christianity.
But the thought of trying to get Mr. Graham’s attention wouldn’t go away, knowing Billy Graham was the kind of person who wouldn’t misunderstand, although many fundamental Christians probably would.
Their reactions were predictable; I wondered what his would be.
I stated my main question to Billy Graham as simply as I could.
Brother Billy, would you find any merit in denouncing Christianity as a religion Christ did not establish?
In telling the world that it is a historical aberration that must be corrected? That a falsehood like Christianity can never be an authentic worldview – only the mind of Christ can?
That all Christian authors and the media should stop promoting and using the word Christianity. That a commendable magazine like Christianity Today should change its title? That the term should not be used to describe the followers of Christ?
Since no one seems to know who coined the term have you ever considered how “Christianity” made faith in Christ secondary and became the world’s most popular religion? Nowhere is it referred to in the Bible; so how did Christianity take dominion over two billion plus people?
The way I see it, down the ages this cleverly devised word has circumvented the simplicity of genuine faith in Christ.
So far no scholar has identified the source of the word, “Christianity.”
Who was behind it? Who devised a religion that has to a huge extent replaced personal faith in Christ? Millions of people today are left in despair because someone tampered with what God was pleased to make known – “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Collosians 1: 27)
For me the term Christianity is highly contrived, I cannot accept that such a religion was founded by Jesus or that it appropriately designates what his followers believe. We can speculate which of the emperors Constantine or Theodosius was responsible for officially launching it perhaps, but we should stop speculating or promoting the idea that Christ had anything to do with it.
If Jesus intended for people to join a new religion, why did he say, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life?” He was not recommending Christianity to his followers, or he wouldn’t go on to say that no one can serve two masters in Matthew 6: 24.
The word “Christian” is used only twice in the Bible, in Acts 26:28, and again in I Peter 4:16. In Acts 11:26 the word “Christians” is used in the plural.
Nonetheless scholars argue that it was a derogatory term used to put down followers of, “The Way.” That’s what the early Disciples of Christ were called.
That’s good enough for me.
A neutral term placing no barriers for anyone interested in knowing him.
God is not a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu a Buddhist or any other classification. Yes, Jesus came to earth as a Jew, single minded about doing his Father’s will; it is unlikely his aim was to establish a new religious enterprise called Christianity.
Knowing the Creator is man’s supreme quest. From what one can gather in the scriptures, it’s also God’s greatest desire.
Would you agree people should clearly understand the difference between following Christ and Christianity? It’s quite obvious there are people who know Christ and there are people who have signed up for something impotent called Christianity.
Many proud individuals stoutly uphold the edifice of Christianity because of tradition, or because it provides a good livelihood or it somehow serves their purpose. Noble endeavors are pursued by people unthinking, unaware or unconcerned how Christ is diminished by Christianity.
Christianity has caused millions of people to miss the wood for the trees.
Did God come in person into human history 2,000 years ago? Is Jesus “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” as he audaciously claimed? If he is ‘The Way,’ some distance and travel is implied. If he is ‘The Truth,’ there must be evidence. If he is ‘The Life,’ are there people who can confirm this?
These are questions that require scrutiny by anyone investigating the guarantee of eternal salvation Christ singularly extends.
Not surprisingly, power brokers quickly seized that incredible divine pledge and Bethlehem’s historical epiphany to invent a religion he did not authorize.
After twenty centuries all that can be said of Christianity is that it is the world’s largest religion. Its influence on men’s hearts and minds as the Truth is highly debatable.
Gandhi it is reported, was shrewd enough to tell missionaries, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” When asked why he did not embrace Christianity, Gandhi said it offered nothing he could not get from his own religion, observing, “…to be a good Hindu also meant that I would be a good Christian. There is no need for me to join your creed to be a believer in the beauty of the teachings of Jesus or try to follow His example.”
The Mahatma is perhaps the best example of someone who rejected Christianity not Christ. Unlike Gandhi however, millions have been unable to see the Christ obscured by Christianity.
Among the religious ‘isms’ of the world Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Catholicism etc., are notable. Islam does not have a suffix but Islamism is associated with extremists.
To what purpose was the name of Christ extended? Does Christianity distance or draw people to Jesus?
In a hopelessly muddled world of religiosity, theology may have obscured the basic good news of eternal salvation. Entrusted mainly to illiterate fishermen at first, the gospel was never meant to be veiled or enhanced by man’s religious knowledge.
The finest theological minds could have been divinely employed for that purpose if their learned input was required by Jesus. Instead he scorned the Pharisees.
Christianity asks people to follow wise men in a hierarchy; Christ asks us to follow him in Spirit and in Truth; Christianity requires institutional membership; Christ has promised to be anywhere two or three gather in his name; Christianity binds people with ritual and tradition; Christ warns that tradition makes God’s Word void in people’s hearts. Christianity has blood on its hands, it is guilty of untold depravity; in John 8: 46 Christ demands, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”
Because Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam etc., were founded by one individual, it is assumed that Christianity falls in the same category. Jesus was not the founder – it was actually legalized as Rome’s state religion in 317 by the emperor Constantine.
The fact remains knowing Christ need have nothing to do with Christianity.
Down the ages with its violent history of power and politics, perverted clergy and widespread division, Christ has in fact consistently been sullied and concealed by what the world accepts as “Christianity.” Often it displays no resemblance to the name it bears. It is man-made and increasingly Christians do not consider it authentic or desirable in its current institutional model.
Many are concluding that a choice must be made, and following Christ authentically and simply as he showed how, is the growing preference.
Even the uninitiated in their hearts know that Christ brings peace and unity, all else has been tried and found wanting.
I believe, no one can induce people to believe it is Christ who waits at the end of man’s spiritual quest – there is enough evidence God uniquely dialogues with each one of us individually. It’s a mystery most people ignore or dismiss. Only a few accept the divine invitation for an incomparable, lifelong relational adventure.
Profound theological arguments may refute this, but anyone who has glimpsed the hope of eternal salvation is soon unimpressed by the knowledge and piety of man, clergy or otherwise.
When people surrender their hearts to Christ and discover sin’s grip can be broken, they will not settle for a lofty religion that complicates life and brings no deliverance. Freedom does not always come instantly without trials, but people know it surely comes to broken hearts longing for their Maker.
Alternatively some folks prefer to feel safe in the groupthink of organized belief, and uniformly follow something called Christianity or any other religion. One way demands death to pride, the other offers the standard feel-good-about-myself religious experience and self-gratification with group membership in a club of sorts.
The idea that the God of the universe can be bribed with good works, piety, rituals and traditions has widespread acceptance, and millions are shackled and controlled by the idea, which the clergy easily manipulates.
But the scriptures mysteriously indicate that it is God who chooses us, (John 15: 16), offering the free gift of himself; we don’t choose him, we can accept or reject him but we cannot bribe our way to him by using religion.
That pretty much describes his authentic, agape love.
So what is of greater worth – the truth that sets people free or the experience of being stuck in a lifelong religious rut?
Competing religious vested interests have made the divinity of Christ a major controversy, but one can also see it as a pilgrimage – the greatest individual quest for anyone trying to figure out who God is.
An irreverent world casually abuses the name of Christ, yet it watches for real answers and keenly observes lives that are transformed.
Isn’t it intriguing that every country honors its great men and women, but Christ has no official standing in the land of his birth? He came unto his own and his own received him not. That refers to mankind not just to Israel.
But why is that so? Is there not enough cause to recognize the work and uniqueness of Jesus?
For the uninitiated there are so many questions that demand answers.
How could one man’s death on a cheap, wooden cross reconcile mankind to God? Why does our perplexed, religiously diverse world struggle with such a possibility?
Why does the Quran confirm his exclusive virgin birth and call Jesus Kalimuttullah – the true Word of God? Was he just a man? Was he just a prophet?
Why does the Bible declare that everyone who calls upon the name of Christ shall be saved? Why is he called the Messiah?
Why does the Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, place so much emphasis on the “Naam”? (Name) Why do the biblical scriptures refer to a “name above all names?”
When the Hindu scriptures speak of “twice born” individuals referring to Brahmins does the priestly class automatically qualify? Who does?
Does our eternal salvation come from membership in a select, closed group, or in an individual, renewed, rebirthed, direct relationship with God?
Is the call of Christ universal and his name one to be revered and cherished by all? Or just by those who adhere to a dubious worldwide religious venture called Christianity?
Paradox is a strategic component of divine response and the biblical scriptures contain startling, profound contradictions – Could God really have died to save man? Does rebirth happen in the afterlife or are we twice born when God invites us to let him enter our hearts? How can a man be born again? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb or is the new birth a spiritual one?
The religious establishment will not let go of Christianity – it has too much invested in it. Vatican City and all the mega churches in America and beyond are just a reflection of the Christian edifice. The idol of religion is deeply ingrained in men’s hearts and a huge clerical army earns its paycheck from pious, faithful sheep who should know better.
But Christianity must be dismantled just like Communism was in the USSR. A major tsunami is needed to revive a totally misled church.
A great opportunity was lost at the Lausanne Congress, held in Cape Town, South Africa, October 17 – 24, 2010 – evangelical Christianity’s greatest show on earth held every decade and a half.
By sheer coincidence if there is any such thing, I had an informal dinner in Dubai with the former Executive Chairman of Lausanne 2010 at the idyllic Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, on one of his fundraising trips to the Middle East.
We talked among other things a concern for communicating to the world that Christ and Christianity are poles apart.
I urged him to consider making that the theme of the 2010 Lausanne Congress. To tell the world that Christians made a horrible mistake when at some point in history, probably after Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, they chose to be yoked with the Goliath of religion instead of allegiance to Christ alone.
We discussed how a bold announcement at Lausanne could alter mistakes in church history and shake the world if the church really meant it and started all over again.
But I forgot I was a nobody, talking to a high priest of Christianity.
The Executive Chairman promised to discuss it with the powers that be, his Lausanne team and I suppose their benefactors who finance various American Christianity initiatives. I thought he really took my radical views seriously!
But he never contacted me after that meeting. Not until he sent an appeal for more funds after the big Cape Town convention; apparently Lausanne 2010 had exceeded its $ 16.5 million budget and needed about two million dollars more to pay overdue bills.
Like its precursor in Manila 1989, Lausanne 2010 had nothing new to tell a weary world hungry for the Truth. It was more likely a mutual admiration society of Christianity’s leaders who gathered to discuss unity and church mission. It probably used up a great deal of money that could have been used to make a real difference.
Having set no concrete objectives, it was quickly declared a huge success.
Simon Cozens, a blogger and missionary in Japan assessed it well, “The hype coming out of Lausanne was that even if we couldn’t be there in person, we should still “participate” in this conversation on-line. How arrogant; how backwards. Lausanne should see itself as a small, limited participator in the global conversation, not its instigator.”
My closing Note To Billy Graham:
Brother Billy, once during your younger days in the crusade evangelism ministry, a religion professor told an LA Times reporter that your evangelism methods would set the church back 200 years. When the reporter shared that with you, you replied, “I’m sorry to hear that! I am trying to set the church back 2,000 years!”
Are you ready to do that again Mr. Graham?
2,000 years ago, Christ declared “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
He did not point to a new religion called Christianity.
That was a clever, deceitful, highly successful diversion by a master liar.
Please, won’t you tell the world before you go home?
(Sadly, I never got a response.)
Frank Raj belongs to an extended Indian-American family; raised in India he lived in the Middle East for nearly four decades. He was the founding editor and publisher of ‘The International Indian’ (www.theinternationalindian.com) the 25-year old Indian Diaspora magazine. Frank is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘World Book of the Scriptures,’ and author of ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ (https://deshaurdiaspora.com)