People have all kinds of ideas as to what Christianity is about. Some have better developed ideas than others. Sometimes people do not have a very nuanced understanding of Christianity at all. Some people think that Christianity is a religion. Others say that it is a relationship. Some think it is about serving God. Others think it is about being servile and weak. Some think it is about the person of Jesus. Others think it is about being a good person.
Christianity is the teaching of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus teaches about a lot of different things, perhaps there is no one single thing that Christianity is about. But there are certain themes and ideas which are more prominent than others. Thinking about Christianity from the point of view one idea in particular can, I think, prove helpful for Christians and non-Christians to understand better what the teachings of Jesus mean to suggest to us.
Many times, you will hear Christians talk about “fellowship” or “communion.” For example, we might speak about the “fellowship” or “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:13). Most Christians may have some idea of what these terms mean, but they are not very commonly used in ordinary language. Some non-Christians might have a hard time grasping exactly what these religious, “Christianese” words mean. I think the same idea can be communicated in a more easily understood way by the word friendship. My suggestion here is that Christianity is about friendship.
But what does that mean? In what sense is Christianity about friendship? Aren’t there plenty of people who love friendship and who are not Christians? On the other hand, aren’t Christians always fighting with each other about apparently unimportant things? Isn’t friendship just an ordinary human phenomenon? What is so Christian about it?
Christianity is about friendship in the following ways. In the first place, God created human beings in order that they live in friendship with Him. Thus, we see in Genesis the following image: God did not keep a far distance from Adam and Eve but rather walked about in the garden of Eden with them and was concerned for what they were doing and how they were faring (Gen. 3:8). It is also said that God spoke with Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exod. 33:11). So also, God calls Abraham “my friend” through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 41:8; cf. Jas 2:23). And of course there is an entire psalm that is dedicated to the goodness and beauty of friendship (Ps. 133). The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible picks up on this theme, translating many more neutral words such as “man” or “beloved” by “friend.” Thus, Jesus tells the paralytic man who sought healing from Him: “Friend, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). He also teaches His disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). The disciples themselves, after the ascension of the Lord into heaven, refer to each other as brothers and beloved — in other words, as friends (Acts 6:3). They even refer to strangers whom they are evangelizing as friends (Acts 14:15).
Paul also says in His letter to the Ephesians that “the mystery of God’s will,” which was hidden in previous times but revealed in Christ, is precisely “to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10). And he says that Christ brings reconciliation of all things (Col. 1:20). Thus, it is open to us to understand that the goal of God is to establish a universal friendship which includes all people, indeed all spheres of reality. Traditional theologians might speak about this in terms of “communion” or “fellowship,” but the word “friendship” is also perfectly appropriate. What God wishes to accomplish is the friendship: not just among people, but among the entire created order. If we can speak philosophically for a moment, God wishes to accomplish a friendship that encompasses all of being. This is why Jesus teaches His followers to forgive those who sin against them and to seek reconciliation with others (Matt. 5:25-26, 43-48, 6:14-15). This is also why the Epistle to the Hebrews calls its audience to “pursue peace with everyone” (Heb. 12:14). Christians are to forgive and to seek reconciliation because the goal of God for the entire cosmos is a universal friendship and living in peace.
Friendship is also a useful lens for understanding various Christian practices. For example, why do Christians gather together every Sunday, if not more often? The Bible reminds us to be aware, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25). The Bible encourages the gathering of believers. In this sense, going to church on Sundays is also an expression of Christian friendship. What kind of friends are those who never meet together, even though they have the opportunity? Spending time together with each other is an essential part of all friendships. In the same way, Christians gather together every Sunday (and perhaps other days as well) because we are learning how to be friends with one another and with God and His Son Jesus Christ, just as the apostles were (cf. 1 John 1:3).
Friendship can also help us understand the Christian practice of commemorating the Lord’s Supper (also called the Eucharist). The Bible teaches that when Christians gather together, they are to share in a meal of bread and wine. In doing this, they are remembering the death of Christ on their behalf, as well as looking forward to His return (1 Cor. 11:26). Why do they do this? Because it is through the death of Christ that the prospect of friendship with God was made possible — or, as Paul says, God reconciled us to Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18). The Lord’s Supper is an act whereby Christians turn to the death of Christ as that which made their friendship with God and with each other to be possible. This same act also strengthens their friendship with one another. God sends Christ into the world in order to destroy all separating walls and to establish a friendship among all human beings on the basis of Christ’s love for them (cf. Eph. 2:13-14).
Christianity is therefore a religion of friendship. It is about friendship with God and friendship among all human beings. It calls us to live in friendship with one another and with our Creator. And if we think about things in these terms, I think Christianity will seem much more attractive. Too many think that Christianity is about the threat of hell. They think and speak as if the only reason to be a Christian is to avoid suffering punishment for sins. But Christ offers something much more positive than that. His teachings are not about avoiding Hell or escaping from the flames. They are about something that all of us recognize as good and desirable in itself. Who doesn’t enjoy friendship? Is there anything more wonderful than having friends? And this is exactly what Christ offers us, indeed it is what He offers all people: friendship with Him, with God His Father, and with each other.