Who Are Genuine Christians?

“CHRISTIANITY exists only where the memory of Jesus Christ is activated in theory and practice.” (On Being a Christian) With those words, Swiss theologian Hans Küng states a self-evident truth: Genuine Christianity exists only where sincere individuals put Jesus’ teachings into practice.

What, then, if individuals or institutions claim to be followers of Christ but do not, in fact, practice what Jesus taught? Jesus himself said that many would claim to be Christians. They would point to various activities to prove that they had served him, saying: “Did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?” How, though, would Jesus react? His dramatic words express his judgment: “I never knew  you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”​—Matthew 7:22, 23.

What a stark warning for “workers of lawlessness” who claim to follow Jesus! Consider two fundamental conditions that Jesus sets if he is to recognize people as genuine Christians rather than reject them as workers of lawlessness.

“If You Have Love Among Yourselves”

One condition Jesus sets is this: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”​John 13:34, 35.

Jesus requires his followers to have genuine love for one another and for the rest of mankind. Many individual Christians have fulfilled that condition during the centuries since Jesus walked the earth. But what about most of the religious organizations that have claimed to represent Christ? Has their history been marked by love? Certainly not. Instead, they have been in the forefront of countless wars and conflicts in which innocent blood has been spilled.​—Revelation 18:24.

That has been true right up to modern times. Nations claiming to be Christian took the lead in the slaughter that marked the two world wars of the 20th century. More recently, members of so-called Christian churches were in the forefront of the savage atrocities and attempted genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. “Those who had turned against one another in this gory fashion,” writes former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, “espoused the same faith. Most were Christian.”

“If You Remain in My Word”

A second fundamental requirement for genuine Christianity was spelled out by Jesus when he said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”​—John 8:31, 32.

Jesus expects his followers to remain in his word​—that is, to stick to his teachings. Instead, religious teachers claiming to follow Christ have “increasingly adopted Greek concepts,” notes theologian Küng. They have replaced Jesus’ teachings with, among others, ideas like the immortality of the soul, a belief in purgatory, worship of Mary, and a clergy class​—ideas borrowed from pagan religions and philosophers.​—1 Corinthians 1:19-21; 3:18-20.

Religious teachers also introduced the incomprehensible doctrine of the Trinity, elevating Jesus to a position he never claimed for himself. In the process, they distracted people from worshipping the one to whom Jesus always directed attention​—his Father, Jehovah. (Matthew 5:16; 6:9; John 14:28; 20:17) “When Jesus speaks of God,” writes Hans  Küng, “he means the ancient God of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: Yahweh . . . For him this is the one and sole God.” How many people today immediately associate Jesus’ God and Father with Yahweh, or Jehovah, as his name is commonly written in the English language?

Religious leaders have completely departed from Jesus’ command to stay neutral in political affairs. In Jesus’ day, Galilee “was the heartland of ethnic nationalism,” states writer Trevor Morrow. Many Jewish patriots took up arms to gain political and religious freedom. Did Jesus tell his disciples to get involved in such struggles? No. On the contrary, he told them: “You are no part of the world.” (John 15:19; 17:14) Instead of remaining neutral, however, church leaders developed what Irish writer Hubert Butler describes as “militant and political ecclesiasticism.” “Political Christianity,” he writes, “is almost always also militarist Christianity and when statesmen and ecclesiastics come to terms it always happens that, in return for certain privileges, the Church gives its blessing to the military forces of the state.”

False Teachers Disown Jesus

The apostle Paul warned of a falling away from genuine Christianity. He said that after his death, “oppressive wolves” from among professed Christians would “speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) They would “publicly declare they know God,” but in reality they would “disown him by their works.” (Titus 1:16) The apostle Peter likewise warned that false teachers would “quietly bring in destructive sects and [would] disown even the owner that bought them.” Their bad conduct, he said, would cause people to speak “abusively” about “the way of the truth.” (2 Peter 2:1, 2) To disown Christ in this way, says Greek scholar W. E. Vine, means to “deny the Father and the Son, by apostatizing and by disseminating pernicious teachings.”

How would Jesus react if professed disciples deliberately failed to “remain in [his] word” and to meet other requirements that he set out? He warned: “Whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 10:33) Of course, Jesus does not disown someone who makes a mistake despite his earnest desire to be faithful. For example, although the apostle Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter repented and was forgiven. (Matthew 26:69-75) However, Jesus disowns individuals or institutions that turn out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing​—pretending to follow Christ but willfully and persistently rejecting his teachings. Of such false teachers, Jesus said: “By their fruits you will recognize those men.”​—Matthew 7:15-20.

Apostles Die, and Apostasy Develops

When did false Christians begin to disown Christ? Very shortly after Jesus’ death. He himself warned that Satan the Devil would quickly oversow “weeds,” or false Christians, among the “fine seed,” or genuine Christians, that Jesus planted during his ministry. (Matthew 13:24, 25, 37-39) The apostle Paul warned that deceptive teachers were already at work in his day. The fundamental reason for their deviation from the teachings of Jesus Christ, he said, was that they had no real “love of the truth.”​—2 Thessalonians 2:10.

The apostles of Jesus Christ acted as a restraint against this apostasy for as long as they lived. After the death of the apostles, however, religious leaders using “every powerful work and lying signs and portents and . . . every unrighteous deception” in order to mislead many turned more and more people away from the truths taught by Jesus and his apostles. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6-12) In  time, writes English philosopher Bertrand Russell, the original Christian congregation was changed into a religious organization that “would astonish Jesus, and even Paul.”

Genuine Christianity Restored

The record is clear. Since the death of the apostles, Christ has not been in much of what has taken place in the name of Christianity. However, that does not mean that Jesus has failed to keep his promise to be with his followers “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20) We can be sure that ever since he said those words, there have been faithful individuals among whom “the memory of Jesus Christ [has been] activated in theory and practice.” Jesus Christ has kept his promise to support such ones as they have endeavored to show the love that marks true Christians and to remain loyal to the truths that he taught.

Even better, Jesus promised that in the last days of this system of things, he would gather his faithful disciples into a clearly identifiable Christian congregation that he would use to accomplish his will. (Matthew 24:14, 45-47) He is right now using that congregation to gather together “a great crowd” of men, women, and children “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” and he is uniting them under his headship into “one flock” under “one shepherd.”​—Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:16; Ephesians 4:11-16.

Turn away, then, from any institutions or organizations that have besmirched the name of Christ and defamed Christianity over the past two thousand years. Otherwise, as Jesus Christ told the apostle John, you could “receive part of [their] plagues” when God executes his judgment on them in the near future. (Revelation 1:1; 18:4, 5) Make it your resolve to be among those spoken about by the prophet Micah when he said that “in the final part of the days,” true worshippers​—adherents of true Christianity—​would listen to God’s instructions and “walk in his paths” of restored pure worship. (Micah 4:1-4) The publishers of this magazine will be happy to help you identify those true worshippers.

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Why do genuine Christians not participate in warfare?

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Soldiers, left: U.S. National Archives photo; flamethrower, right: U.S. Army Photo

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“Have love among yourselves” and “remain in my word” are fundamental conditions that Jesus sets for genuine Christians