In the first Century, there were a lot of fake forms of Christianity doing their rounds.
The Apostle John wrote 1 John to say that those beliefs are false, but what his readers had was true, authentic Christianity.
We too are inundated with fake Christianity.
I’m not referring to the easily-identifiable wrong ideologies of Islam, Buddhism or New Age spirituality, but false teaching spreading in the name of Christianity.
For example, on the extreme side, you have Pastor Mboro.
He has a huge church in South Africa and is constantly surrounded by AK47-carrying bodyguards. Last year, according to Mboro, he went to heaven and took selfies on his smartphone. He sold the heavenly pictures for R5 000 each. He also claimed to have access to the Pearly Gates and could get people in – at a heavenly price of R10 000 – guaranteed access. Mboro claims he is so blessed that God sent him a BMW i8 valued at R2 million for helping the poor.
Of course, he is on the extreme side.
But there are many other false teachers who are not so outwardly extreme. They still talk about Jesus and the Bible, but are promoting a fake Christianity.
Note what the false teachers in John’s day were saying:
- They claimed special fellowship with God, apart from the Bible. (1:3)
- They denied the reality and guilt of sin. They wanted to talk about victory, not sin. Talking about sin and confession was considered too negative. (1:6, 8, 10)
- They denied the centrality of the death of Jesus. (1:1-2)
- They were not very loving towards each other. (2:9)
- They loved the world and the things of the world. (2:15)
- They had departed from the simple, apostolic gospel and the church – probably claiming to have new insight and that the church was to old-fashioned. (2:19)
- They claimed a special anointing from God (2:27)
Does this not sound all too familiar?
The promoters of fake Christianity made very bold claims, but were leading people down a very dangerous road.
In response, John wrote:
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
1. Only through Authentic Christianity can we have fellowship with God
John knew that what we believe about God has major eternal consequences. John knew that believing the right thing and having your theology correct is of vital importance because it enables us to have joyful, eternal, fellowship with God.
2. Authentic Christianity is grounded in the Jesus of history
John went overboard to emphasize that he really did meet Jesus. He and the Apostles were eye and ear witnesses. They had seen Jesus, touched Jesus and heard Jesus.
Christianity is not an abstract philosophy, like Buddhism, but based on the real live, death, resurrection and teaching of Jesus.
Authentic Christianity is not grounded in the Jesus of your own imagination, or the Jesus you would like to believe in, or the Jesus that makes you feel better about yourself, but grounded in the Jesus of history that the Apostles tell us about.
3. Authentic Christianity is based on the Apostolic witness
V3 is a surprising verse. The “us” in v3 refers to the original Apostles.
We didn’t see Jesus, touch Jesus or hear Jesus teaching. If we want fellowship with this Jesus, we need to have fellowship with those who did see him, touch him and hear him – the Apostles.
We have fellowship with the Apostles through what they have written in the Bible.
The false teachers of John’s time were teaching a fake Jesus, not the Jesus of the Apostles.
They taught a Jesus who loves you, wants the best for you and a Jesus you must invite into your heart.
However, this Jesus was not too concerned about sin, nor did his death turn away the wrath of a holy God.
The Jesus of the false teachers was only concerned about victory, conquering and power, but unconcerned about sin, confession and repentance.
It was a fake Jesus and because it was a fake Jesus, it was a fake Christianity that could not bring fellowship with the Father.
It’s like buying fake Adidas shoes. After a few months they break because they’re not the authentic article, but a cheap rip off.
John wrote to the churches and said: don’t be misled, the Jesus you follow is the real Jesus. Don’t feel like a second-rate Christian. You have the real thing because you follow the Bible, the Apostolic witness.
By implication, this means that your church may not have smoke machines or the latest strobe worship lights, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that they explain the Bible and point people to the Apostolic, real Jesus.
If you lose the Apostolic witness, no matter how many miracles, energy or emotions you may have, you do not have Christianity.
Authentic Christianity acknowledges our sin and failings and looks to the cross for forgiveness and new life.