If Christians Were Christians

(Mostly from "The Sensible Man’s View Of Religion", by John Haynes Holmes)

1) If Christians were Christians, there would be no Churches, in the theological and ecclesiastical sense of the word. There would be no popes, cardinals, etc., sitting on the seats of power and ruling the consciences of men. There would be no council meetings to formulate rules and regulations for the control of human thought and conduct. There would be no canon law imposed by puny prelates upon men better than themselves. Can you imagine Jesus coming back to the world today and recognizing, for a single moment, the lordly men who presume to exercise authority in the Christian world in His Holy Name?

The doctrine of the "Apostolic Succession" is nothing more than a legend, a part of the vast mythology of Christian history. Jesus was apart from, and above, these matters of worldly interest; he was not concerned with institutions and societies, offices and officials, rules and laws. The only Church he ever knew was the synagogue, which, at the very opening of his public ministry, cast him out from its so called sacred precincts (Luke 4:28-29). Dictatorial authority, ecclesiastical systems, and organization of any kind was unknown to the apostles who first followed in the footsteps of Jesus (Matthew 20:25-27, Mark 10:42-44, Luke 22:25-26).

2) If Christians were Christians, there would be no creeds or dogmas. If Jesus were to return to earth and read the "Apostles Creed", he would ask, "What does this mean?" If he were to ponder the "Athanasian Creed", his mind would be thrown into confusion and dismay. If he were to encounter the "Thirty-nine Articles", he would declare either that he did not understand them, or else that they were not true. As for the "Westminster Confession", his sensitive spirit would be horrified by one of the most abominable statements of theology ever conceived by the mind of man. Jesus was not a theologian. He interpreted religion as something, not primarily to be believed, but to be lived. Christianity was not a system of theology, but a way of life. His one demand upon his disciples was that they should "do the will of God" (Matthew 7:21, Mark 3:35).

3) If Christians were Christians, there would be no denominations in the Christian world. If Christians were really Christians, they would not quarrel with one another, nor separate from one another, but rather would be members together in the "one body of Christ". Can you picture Jesus coming back to earth today and seeking out the fellowship of his own, walking the streets and looking at its Churches?

"This Church", his guide would say, "is a Baptist Church." "Baptist?" Jesus would ask, "What is a Baptist Church?"

"This Church", his guide would say, "is a Presbyterian Church." Jesus would ask, "What do you mean by a Presbyterian Church?"

"This Church", his guide would say, "is a Catholic Church." Jesus would say, "I have never heard of a Catholic Church before".

Etc, etc, etc. After a time, Jesus, weary and confused, would ask feebly of his guide, "Where is the church of God?" The Christian world today is torn into fragments (John 13:35).

4) If Christians were Christians, there would be no anti-Semitism. Jesus was a Jew (John 4:9,22, Galatians 4:4). There is nothing that the ordinary Christian so dislikes as to remember this awkward fact. His disciples were Jews. His early followers were Jews. The meetings of these followers were held in Jewish synagogues.

5) If Christians were Christians, there would be no prejudice, for the essence of Christianity is brotherhood. The early Christians met the challenge of race prejudice and overcame it. Jesus met it in his friendly relations with Samaritans, who were despised by the Jews of his day. Philip met it when an Ethiopian, a black man, asked to be received into the Christian company and was baptized in honor as one of the brethren. Peter met the test when he received the Roman centurion, Cornelius, with the unforgettable words, "God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:35). Paul met the test when he went to Rome and preached to all the people without distinction that they should accept the gospel of the risen Christ. Why should the races anywhere be separated, and the worship of God thus be divided in the Christian Churches which do there so-called Christian work in this so-called Christian country? If Christianity means brotherhood, it means brotherhood of all men as children of God (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35).

6) If Christians were Christians, there would be no such thing as nationalism. Jesus was not a nationalist; he never said a word about patriotism; he never organized a nationalist movement, or led a patriotic cause. Patriotism was rife in his day. His country was in the hands of a foreign conqueror, and its soil thus overrun by alien invaders. Roman legionaries guarded the sacred places and a Roman governor exercised authority over helpless citizens. Again and again, in various parts of Palestine, heroic patriots arose in the spirit of the Macabees, to declare revolt against the Roman conqueror and thus precipitate wars of nationalistic independence. The age of Jesus was a feverishly patriotic age, yet Jesus never had anything to do with movements of this sort.

Jesus was not a patriot, or at least in our modern sense of the word. He loved his country and reverenced its people. He abhorred the tyranny which degraded and oppressed his land. But, even so, his spirit could not be confined within nationalist borders, or his heart imprisoned behind the bars of patriotic causes. He was not opposed to nationalism, he simply transcended and transfigured it. For his supreme interest was not his country, or any country, but men. He loved men, wherever they were, under whatever flag they lived, to; and he sought to unite them in one kinship of spirit (Mark 16:15).

7) If Christians were Christians, there would be no private wealth. No accumulation of vast fortunes in the hands of individuals. Jesus denounced great possessions as alien to his gospel, and fatal to his religion. Jesus saw that private wealth meant an unfair distribution of the world’s goods, and a separation between men since the rich man cannot associate with the poor man on a plane of equality and mutual good-will. Above all, he saw the influences of riches upon the soul of the individual is inevitably corruptive. In all the teachings of Jesus there is nothing so emphatic, so clear-cut, so drastic, so terrible, as his denunciation of riches (Matthew 6:20-24).

8) If Christians were Christians, there would be no poverty. Nothing was more remarkable in Jesus than his love for the poor and his care for their interests. What caught and held his attention was the tragic fact that the poor were hungry, cold, and homeless, and had been robbed. And he desired to restore to the poor their earthly heritage. If Christians were Christians, they would provide in justice that each man should enjoy the fruits of his own labor, and thus possess his share of the wealth and power of the world (Matthew 5:3).

9) If Christians were Christians, there would be no war. They would not fight. "Resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39) involved a refusal to draw the sword and slay a fellowman. The early Christians, like the Master whom they sought to follow, became known everywhere as non-resistance. Rather than fight and kill, even in defense of the only country that they knew, they preferred to be imprisoned and executed as traitors (John 18:36).

10) If Christians were Christians, there would be no violence, no force, no brute authority, no police and prisons, no military. Jesus bade men to love one another, to forgive one another, to pity and help one another. To do this requires the highest degree of courage that the human heart can muster, for it means to trust in the spirit and not in the flesh. The trouble with Christians today is that they are afraid; and because they are afraid they seize weapons and resort to violence. If Christians were Christians, they would live in love and, therefore, at peace with all mankind (Matthew 5:44-48, Luke 6:27-38).


Christianity is not a Church, for it has often had to flee the Church, as Jesus fled the synagogue in order to survive (Luke 4:14-30), and others had to flee the Roman Catholic Church to avoid being burned at the stake, or others had to flee the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity is not Priesthood, for priests are no more necessary to Christianity than politicians to Patriotism.

It is difficult to believe that Jesus would have forcibly imposed his opinions on other people or that he would have suppressed ideas which differed from his own beliefs. His method was to permit the wheat and tares to grow together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). He taught that the goal of freedom is to be attained by the pursuit of Truth. And yet, the history of the Church, since it acquired power, is one long story of suppression and persecution. Each Church contributes to the vast paganism of our time; and our rituals and traditions become not the means to realize God, but to blind us to His truth.

Faber, in one of his hymns, complains - "We make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own." He might have said the very same thing about the Church. We make the Church too narrow by false limits of our own. The Church has great convictions about little problems, and little convictions about great problems.

Jesus saw what happened to those who sat in the seats of authority and understood that redemption could never come from them. Compromising with temporal powers can never lead to redemption. The Churches have accepted the immoral code of the state, instead of insisting that the state follow the ethical principles of Jesus.

In the days of her power, the Church insisted upon absolute obedience in matters of faith and doctrine. She reduced, or tried to reduce, her people to the kind of mental slavery that causes one to say, "I will believe anything the Church affirms, no matter how it shocks my reason." Some Churches still make this demand, and many people are willing to undergo the indignity of intellectual enslavement. But the Churches and peoples who reject this blind obedience either forsake vital religion, or they assume the most exacting discipline - the discipline of the free, responsible mind and life. Christianity has always been a disciplined way of thought, feeling, and living.


Calling ourselves "Christian" should automatically entail a commitment to excellence. Sadly, this is not always the case. Far too often we use being "Christian" as an excuse for being less than excellent. This is tragic and reflects poorly on the One we love and serve.

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