Thought Experiment: What Determines the Facts of the Christian Religion?

Interestingly, there is no passage in the Bible where one can find a deliberately-written definition of the Christian religion.  Neither are there clear definitions of the terms “Christian” or “Christianity”.   No doubt, this can lead to some “fuzzy math” for many as they seek to understand clearly that which may not be as clearly defined as they would expect.  What, therefore, was the intended nature of the Christian religion?  Is it now what it was intended to be in the beginning?  And by what method can such questions be answered?

In my view, questions like these naturally lead to the following question:

What determines the facts of the Christian religion?

Here’s a quick list of things I’ve quickly tossed together just to give some examples of the sorts of facts that may be necessary to Christianity.  I’m sure I’ve left out some good ones, but these should be enough to get the ball rolling:

  • What is the church?
  • How is it to be run?
  • What should Christians be doing?
  • What should Christians NOT be doing?
  • How does one make it to eternal life?
  • What is the purpose of Christianity?
  • How will we know if we’re doing well in the religion or not?

People may disagree as to the importance of any of these particular examples, and yet we can generally observe that it would be hard to maintain a religion with no idea of how to answer these sorts of questions.  And this brings us back to the particular question I want to consider today:

What determines the facts of the Christian religion?

So let’s hop into a brief exercise, looking at some possible examples of what might have been God’s plan (if one assumes that the religion originated with God) for how Christians are supposed to determine the facts of their own religion.  In case you’re wondering, I do not purport to conclude in this piece which of these answers may be the best answer.  Rather, this post is a mental exercise aimed at helping the reader to “do the math” a bit with regard to his view of Christianity.

So with regard to the facts, what kind of religion is Christianity?  I have selected six possibilities for your consideration.  Which (if any) of the following makes the most sense to you?

  1. A Prooftext Religion.  One in which the facts are determined by study of the approved texts and the members defer to whatever the texts say.  Such a religion will tend to be evidentiary in nature, relating to the actual evidence (the texts), as well as to matters such as the definition of words and the rules of translation and grammar.  Another issue will be deciding which texts are approved and which are not—unless the texts happen to say so themselves, of course.
  2. A Hearsay Religion.  A religion in which the facts are determined by what other members say, or by what “I’ve always heard”, which may or may not agree with what other members are currently saying.  A difficulty will naturally arise when there is conflict between what the others say, as well as when individual members do not have access to the same body of hearsay.
  3. A Direct Download Religion.  A religion in which the facts are downloaded directly from God to the member.  Since the member is his or her own person already, a regular feature of such a religion may be the ever-present debate over whether the member’s belief on a certain fact was indeed downloaded directly by God, as he believes, or whether it has been altered or even created in whole by the member himself.  A difficulty will naturally arise when different members believe they have downloaded contradictory facts from God.
  4. A Self-Generated Religion.  A religion in which the facts are determined by each member, by use of whatever internal devices he or she wishes to use.  These devices may include (or not) such things as:  common sense, intuition, imagination, logic, moods, feelings, opinion, bias, and so forth.
  5. A Tradition-Based Religion.  Similar to the hearsay religion, a tradition-based religion is one in which the member gets his facts from whatever is the current state of the religion at the time he comes into it.   Theoretically, therefore, the religion would never change, even in a thousand years, unless the members strayed at some given point in time (whether deliberately or accidentally).
  6. An Aggregate Religion.  A religion in which any two or more of the five previously-listed methods of determining fact are employed.

So which of these types (if any) does Christianity fall under?   As you ponder the question, here are some useful questions for your consideration:

  • Can any of the six types above be strictly ruled out on logic or principle?
  • If so, is the one (or more) you ruled out still assumed to be valid by believers today?
  • What would happen—or what would it mean—if you choose an aggregate model for Christianity, and yet the various aspects of it sometimes contradict one another?  For instance, suppose that you chose a mixture of Prooftexting and Direct Download.  What would happen if a member perceived that he had been given facts through direct download that contradicted facts from the approved texts, or vice versa?
  • Should the correct answer to this exercise change back and forth over time?  Or is the nature of the Christian religion set in stone, once for all?
  • What if someone picks an answer today but then reveals by his behavior tomorrow that his personal understanding of the nature of Christianity differs with this formal answer?
  • What would be the implications of each of the answers above?  What would you need to change?  What would your church need to change?  Simulate in your mind how each of the 6 possibilities would play out and what it would mean for you.

So there’s the exercise.  Please feel free to discuss your answers or your ponderings in the comments below.

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