Many times we speak of “New Testament Christianity” or hear others speak of it. What is “New Testament Christianity?” Of what value is it? How could it be misunderstood?
Many who speak of “New Testament Christianity” refer to the desire to follow Jesus of Nazareth as Lord according to the testimony about Him and His Kingdom enshrined in the pages of the New Testament. In truth, “New Testament Christianity” ought to be redundant; the New Testament is to be the standard of faith and practice for Christians (2 Timothy 3:15-17, Jude 1:3). The term has only become necessary on account of the development of other forms of Christianity over the years: Catholic Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Evangelical Christianity, etc. New Testament Christianity involves the desire to practice simple Christianity, grounded in what God accomplished in Jesus, looking to the witness of the Apostles for guidance and direction in serving Christ as Lord (Romans 1:16, 1 John 1:1-4, 2:3-6).
Christians do well to remain firmly committed to grounding their faith and practice in the New Testament. What Paul warned has come to pass: many have been led astray by the doctrines of demons and have introduced all sorts of teachings and practices which did not originate in the witness of the Apostles (1 Timothy 4:1). Some introduced beliefs and practices from the covenant between God and Israel: while the Old Testament is profitable for our learning, and Christians are to maintain continuity with Israel of old as the people of God, the Apostles and their associates recognized the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel in Christ and insisted on a distinction between the covenants (Romans 15:3, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Galatians 1:1-5:15, Colossians 2:14-17, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Hebrews 7:1-9:28). Others have introduced beliefs and practices from the pagan and/or secular world, seeking compromise between what God made known in Jesus and the prevailing cultural paradigm of the day. Paul warned about falling prey to deceptive claims of the philosophy of the world, no longer remaining rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:1-9); whereas all cultures have certain commendable commitments, Christians must always be on guard lest their faith conform to the ways of this world, and no longer transformed in Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Throughout all of these trends the New Testament has remained the constant witness of what God accomplished in Jesus and in His Kingdom, and the standard by which the Christian can test all the spirits, doctrines, and practices, to see whether they are of God or not (1 John 4:1).
Therefore, New Testament Christianity maintains great value, even in the twenty-first century: Jesus is still Lord; God still has His eternal purpose in Jesus which He is accomplishing in the church, the body of Christ; the means by which people can be redeemed from the world and transformed to conform to the ways of Jesus remain unaltered; God still cares for His creation and actively seeks for all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (Ephesians 3:10-21, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). God’s work continues on in Christ, but the standard by which we come to know about Jesus also has not changed. All that was necessary to trust in Jesus and follow His purposes in His Kingdom was made known by the Apostles and their associates (Jude 1:3). We thus can practice New Testament Christianity to this day.
New Testament Christianity might easily be misunderstood as an uncritical or fundamentalist obsession with the New Testament, and disparaged as vaunting a mythic past. The goal of New Testament Christianity is not to recreate the first century world, acting as if everything were perfect while Apostles still lived, nor is it to enshrine a particular cultural expression of Christianity as superior to all others. The New Testament is full of examples which should not be followed: dividing into factions based on cults of personality, taking Christians to court over trivial matters, incest, and denial of the resurrection of the dead, and that is just discussing some of the issues among the Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1-15:58)! In that Corinthian correspondence Paul explained how events described in the Old Testament relating to Israel were written for our instruction and warning (1 Corinthians 10:1-13), and so it is for us with these events, ideas, and practices in the New Testament. It is therefore not enough for a belief or practice to be found in the New Testament: Christians are to believe and do that which the Apostles and their associates commended, and be on guard against all which they warned about or condemned.
Likewise, New Testament Christianity does not demand a return to wearing togas and speaking Koine Greek. The New Testament is itself a model of how God worked to communicate to people regarding what He accomplished in Jesus in their language, in their culture, so they could understand (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:18-23). The Lord Jesus made it known to Simon Peter how God would accept anyone from any nation who would trust in Him (Acts 10:1-48): Christians do not cease being “from the nations” in order to serve Jesus, but are called to serve Jesus faithfully in their specific nation, place, and time (1 Peter 1:13-19, 2:3-9, Revelation 7:9-10). All Christians, therefore, must set themselves to the task of applying the faith and practice made known in the New Testament to their specific context: we have seen in Jesus the way of life and truth, and we must discern how to most effectively embody the life and message of Jesus in our time and place (Matthew 5:13-16, Romans 8:29). We must cling to what is good and abhor what is evil (Romans 12:9); whatever is commendable and good in any time and place is only so because it conforms to what is good according to Jesus, and we perceive that from what has been made known about Him in the New Testament (John 14:6-9).
Christians from all across the world and time may not look exactly the same; the challenges they face and the points of agreement with their cultures may vary; yet they all may still practice New Testament Christianity. In a world full of questions, doubt, and insecurity, we can maintain great confidence in the witness regarding what God has accomplished in Jesus in the New Testament, and ground our faith and trust in God in Christ on that witness. May we seek God in Christ as revealed in the New Testament so that we may obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry