Over the past few months I have been having conversations with some who believe Christianity has been changed significantly since the time of Jesus. The premise has been, a sort of "cultural drift" regarding the Church that presumably has tainted the original intent and establishment of the Church. A popular thought is that through the years the teachings of Jesus, or at least the functionality of His purpose, has changed significantly resulting in a Church that is hardly recognizable when compared side-by-side with the First Century Church. Indeed, the multi-cultural influence coupled with the passage of time with its incremental change has diluted the Church teachings to say the least, and at most, has changed the Church entirely from its foundational teachings from Jesus.
Offered are the examples beginning with the changes that started taking place even with the Apostles in the First Century. The entire discussion of the Jewish Christians who maintained the obedience to the law plus the faith in the Messiah. The Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time and effort writing his epistles outlining his reasoning for not depending on the law (works) in regard to salvation and sanctification. Even though this was addressed in the first century by the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter at the time, it is very evident in religions around the world today that followers depend on works more than faith in what Jesus did on the cross once, for all. If it started that early in the Church, so goes the reasoning, then it is reasonable to assume that changes will continue throughout the ages.
Throughout history we have seen the influence of culture on the Church. With each impending influence it appears there is yet another incremental change that either adds to or takes away from a fundamental teaching of Christ. Even in great moments of history we see significant shifts in the message and the Gospel. From the politicalization of secular Rome with Constantine, to Christianity becoming the state religion of Rome, and the establishment of the "Vicar of Christ" with total power of Christ centered in the "Rock of St. Peter" as the Pope over the "Universal Church" through Catholicism, all the way to the "Reformation" with Martin Luther protesting what the Church had become through years of change. Even in the nineteenth century we experienced the "Restoration Movement" even then sometimes referred to by a few as "Campbell-ites." From the establishment of the Restoration Movement to now we have splinters, many of whom continue to preach "unity", even though that has not always been achieved. Indeed, other great "movements" have ensued in the past 150 years that have tried to return the Church to the original, or at least reawaken the spirit of the Church. "The Great Awakening, the second Great Awakening, the Restoration Movement, the Spiritual Renewal movement, and the Third Wave movement of church fellowship." (Steven Chapman)
Beyond even those few examples we see hundreds or thousands of variations of denominational practice even to the point of disassociation with each other. That doesn't even count for the thousands of sects that are culturally relative throughout the world.
In order to marginalize the authenticity of the Church, some would like for us to believe that the church has been subverted throughout history by cultural change and the different arguments from various factions that have contributed altering, and somewhat, contradictory interpretations of doctrine. By having such altering movements through history and cultures the Truth established by Jesus is said by some to have been altered to such an extent that it is difficult, if not impossible, to unravel the current Christian world view from what it is now back to the original founder of the Church. So the conclusion of that thought is that we have incrementally moved from the true representation of Christ beginning with the time He was waving at His disciples as He ascended, and each subsequent year afterward.
To many it has the sound and logic of relative truth. In some people's mind it sort of makes sense given all the arguments and doubts the early church had as recorded in The Acts. Jew verses Gentile; circumcision verses non-circumcision; speaking in different languages as a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit; miraculous healing with the touch of a hand, or even having a shadow fall over you; or eating/not eating clean/un-clean food. Even the very debate that the Apostle Paul so eloquently presents in relation to the law (works) versus faith in the work that Jesus alone did on the cross. If we have been so fully corrupted by the subsequent years and the multiple cultures in which men have created and lived, then there would be no way to uncover the real representation of Christ since it would have been so far removed.
One thing in the above analysis has been omitted: God's Power! I believe that God’s power and timeless message will stand firm until He decides to return and claim His own. God looks at mankind and our having fallen in love with our sin nature. Knowing that we cannot do anything to save ourselves from our own sin, we are still in need of salvation. God knew that if redemption was going to be completed at all He was going to have to do it Himself. He gave the first clue as recorded in Genesis 3:15. So here comes Jesus who presents Himself as a perfect sacrifice and does His work on the cross. God judged it and counted it perfect; accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and raised Him from the dead. Satan was defeated, death was cheated, and we, covered by the blood of Jesus, now can walk across that once-deadly chasm that separated us from God and stand directly in front of His Throne because we are covered by the blood of Jesus.
Now as we stand in Jesus, covered by His blood, saved by His Grace our faith in Him urges us to walk in Him. How do we do it? We follow the Apostle Paul’s example and declaration: “Live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17) Find a Bible and read the entire book of Galatians to discover that you can be free in Christ, led by His Holy Spirit, and grow to maturity in Him.
I believe that we can truly know what God wants from us. He wants us to worship Him, accept Him and seek Him. I believe that God transcends all cultures and even our time-line that controls generations. He uses the power of His Word to convict us of His Truth and our simple job is to accept it or reject it. It is our “Free Will” that hinders us. We choose to hide ourselves in everything else, including our respective cultures, to refrain from submitting to Him. But when we do finally see Him and accept His grace and become obedient to Him, He gives us His Spirit, along with power, to live in the reflection of Jesus. We must, however, continue throughout our entire lives to exercise our “Free Will” and submit to Jesus and have faith in the work He did on the cross and His work saves us; as we continue to submit to Him He gives us His Spirit to grow us through the power that comes from the Holy Spirit.
So, what I am trying to say with this little piece is even with such variances and incremental changes throughout the past twenty-one centuries, the Church has stayed in tack through the power of the Holy Spirit pointing to the Grace of God and the work that Jesus did on the cross. I believe that has survived through the ages and we can still be called "Christians" because the power of God's Holy Spirit has protected the Word through the ages and continues to testify of Jesus and His work on the cross relative to our salvation and growth. Even with the incremental changes passing through various cultures, God has not, nor will He, allow His Church to be destroyed or buried under cultural relativism even though the modern church of various religions have built the "broad" road through their front doors.