Teachings of Jesus vs. Modern Christianity

One may notice many differences between the teachings of Jesus in the Bible and the practices of modern Christianity.
... Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

“They are so unlike your Christ,” Mahatma Gandhi once remarked about modern Christians. Theologians, social scientists and politicians have observed the discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus and what has become modern Christianity, and those differences have caused cultural division among many in the Christian community. Many scholars agree that the chapters written by Paul of Tarsus in the New Testament form the basis for much of modern Christianity, and those writings often differ from the values and teachings of Jesus.

1 The Path to Salvation

Modern Christianity teaches that salvation is possible through faith alone. For instance, in Ephesians 2: 8-9, Paul states that "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." However, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus instructed that faith and good works that demonstrated love, charity and compassion were required for salvation, and that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

2 Institutional Authority and Other Practices

Many modern Christian practices, particularly regarding institutional authority, are not reflected anywhere in Jesus' teachings. Among those practices are tithing; wearing specific clothing in church; ordaining ministers, deacons and pastors; and other customs that enforce separation and hierarchy. In addition, Jesus criticized religious institutions as seats of hypocrisy, stating: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Matthew 23:8)

Paul, however, emphasized respect for such institutional authority. In Romans 13:1-7, for instance, he says: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

3 The Holy Trinity

Another belief of modern Christianity that differs from Jesus' teachings is that of the Holy Trinity -- the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus often emphasized the existence of one God. In but one example, Mark 12:28-29, when a scribe asks Jesus, “'Which commandment is the most important of all,'" Jesus answers: "The most important is, 'Here o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'"

Paul, on the other hand, for reasons scholars theorize were mostly political, professed the idea of a Holy Trinity in passages such as Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witness to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Having been rejected by the Jews, Paul turned his efforts to preaching to gentiles who worshiped many gods. Thus, the creation of a Holy Trinity is believed by some to be a cultural adaptation by Paul in order to gain a wider audience. Today the idea of the Holy Trinity is widely accepted by modern Christians, though it was never taught by Jesus.

4 Missionary Efforts

The modern Christian practice of conversion through proselytizing and missionary efforts throughout the world does not find support in the teachings of Jesus. Rather, Jesus believed that his purpose was specifically to fulfill the prophecy of the Jews of Israel.

For instance, from Matthew 15:24-26: "He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' [...] 'It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.'" And, in Matthew 10:5-6: "These twelve that Jesus sent out, instructing them, 'Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans. But rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'"

Although in Mark 16:9-20 it is written that Jesus says, "...Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation...", scholars have been unable to find proof of these lines in the original texts, and many believe these final instructions to be fabrications.

However, modern Christianity, backed by these passages and others written by Paul, teach that it is the will of God and the mission of Jesus to spread Christianity throughout the world by propagating the idea that Jesus was sacrificed in order to atone for humanity's sins.

Lynn Blanch is a writer, translator and educator. She is the co-founder of an educational/cultural nonprofit in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese and has published a travel blog. She holds a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College.