What Is Christianity?

By Greg Koukl

How do you make sense of the different denominations with everybody saying their way is right? Some distinctions to help you avoid quarreling about non-essentials.

There are two different issues. First, if Christianity happens to be true in the broader sense, how do you make sense of the different denominations with everybody saying their way is right? Second, what are the basics of Christianity?

With regards to the first question, some people like to overplay this issue. “Five thousand different denominations and everybody claims their way is right.” It is true that those who belong to a particular denomination do so because they think the details of the teachings in that denomination are accurate. Who would want to belong to a denomination they thought was teaching falsehood? But this question over-emphasizes the differences.

I found a very helpful metaphor for the person who likes to complain about all the denominations. There are many different baseball teams and each team has a coach. Each coach coaches according to a certain set of principles. Those principles are the ones he thinks are the best for producing the best team. He differs with many coaches with regards to that. He could say that his way is right, but the others think their way is right. The fact is, they are all still playing baseball and they are playing with the same set of fundamental rules. Within the context of those rules, there are a number of variations in emphases and strategies that can be expressed in the way the game is played, but the fundamental game is still the same. Christianity is much like that. There is a fundamental core of beliefs and teachings that identify any particular denomination as being Christian. That is why we call them Christian denominations. It may be that these denominations differ in regards to the finer points–points that may be moot or debatable.

For instance, how do you baptize a person? Do you dip them, do you sprinkle them, or do you fully immerse them? There are different points of view. People have an idea about what is right and they follow that in their particular denomination. Few would say that it really makes a critical difference whether you are dipped, sprinkled or immersed. Most would say that Christianity teaches baptism and that is something we all agree on. Even if you are baptized in a slightly different way, it doesn’t mean the baptism doesn’t count.

Most of the differences in denominations are similar to this kind of thing. Do you worship on Saturday or on Sunday? In the morning or the evening? Do you use instruments or no instruments? Should you have a choir? Should you teach topically or verse by verse? How do you baptize? What are your particular views about the way salvation is mediated by God? How about the Holy Spirit? Do you speak in tongues or not? These are more peripheral issues to the fundamental superstructure of what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.”

When it gets to mere Christianity, the basics and fundamentals are rather few. All Christians agree on the basics and fundamentals. If they don’t, they are not called Christians.

By the way, this is what separates Mormons from Christians. Mormons disagree on those fundamental issues and that is why they have to be called something other than Christian.

My point simply is that the variations that people point to are somewhat smaller and incidental and are debatable issues. They aren’t the kinds of things that undermine the basic truth claims of Christianity as a whole. The fundamental truth claims of Christianity as a whole are rather basic. Christianity stands or falls on those things, and not on the parochial particulars.

What are the fundamental truth claims of Christianity? The particulars of mere Christianity entail four basic things…


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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:  Basic Christianity (by John Stott) / C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, A Grief Observed, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and The Great Divorce (Boxed Set) / More apologetics resources >>>