What do we mean by ‘Christianity’?

Without busying ourselves, then, in curious, needless inquiries, touching those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, let us take a nearer view of these his ordinary fruits, which we are assured will remain throughout all ages; –of that great work of God among the children of men, which we are used to express by one word, “Christianity;” not as it implies a set of opinions, a system of doctrines, but as it refers to men’s hearts and lives.

— John Wesley, “Scriptural Christianity

Can we define terms?

What do we mean by the word “Christianity”?

For John Wesley, the term did not refer to a set of doctrines or opinions. It did not refer to a  system of church government. It did not refer to a set of outward actions and behaviors. It certainly did not refer to voting for a particular party. It did not refer to a particular kind of worship.

For him Christianity was defined by what happened to people’s hearts and lives. A changed heart and new life were the necessary and sufficient markers of Christianity. Everything else was support for this essential thing.

If our eyes are not opened to God, if we are not aware of our sin, if we do not see with faith, if we do not know pardon and assurance, if we do not grow in grace, if our lives do not bear the marks of these changes, then our church membership and regular attendance and knowledge of theology do not make us Christians.

This is my understanding of John Wesley’s definition of the terms “Christian” and “Christianity.”

If we asked the Council of Bishops or the General Conference or our Boards of Ordained Ministry would they share this definition? Would they have a different one? Shouldn’t they —  shouldn’t we — share the definition if we are all claiming to be working together to advance and promote this thing we call Christianity?


2 thoughts on “What do we mean by ‘Christianity’?

  1. John, I think you’ve nailed it here. I’ve been reading Wesley’s journals this past year, and over and over again he remarks to the effect that he encounters many who supposed that their baptism as a child in the Church of England made them a Christian, yet they were lost in their sin unaware of the Savior.

  2. I hope Christianity in 2013 would become a Christ entity. That the characteristics of Christ be demonstrated in us, as we walk the world. Where we see need, we strive to meet it, We need discernment to realize we cannot feed everyone, heal everyone, nor in our own strength create God’s Kingdom. We need to be one authentic entity, in imitation of Christ, not pseudo messiahs.
    We do not have the divine vision that guided Christ to know when to shake the dust of some situations from our feet and move on. We must step out, one step at a time, in faith .

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