Why is Christianity true? Considering the language frequently used to describe what it means to be Christian, we might conclude that it is true because I believe it is true. I asked Jesus into my heart. I accepted Jesus as my personal savior. I made Jesus Lord of my life. I believe in Jesus with all my heart. But Christianity is not true because I believe it to be so. It is not just something that is true in my head or in my heart. It is not made true for me because of my belief in it. It is actual, deepest reality—whether we believe it or not. It is the cosmic narrative that is really unfolding, that we are really incorporated into, that really makes sense of everything else. The New Testament’s use of mysterion, koinonia, and kairos helps us grasp this richer picture of the reality, mystery, and enchantment that is Christianity. This more robust understanding also has fruitful potential in connecting to those inside and outside the church in our day.
The New Testament uses the word mysterion twenty-seven times, and it usually is in reference to the Gospel, the incarnation, or the sacramental mysteries of how God comes to man. The Greek root for mystery comes from “to shut the mouth” or “to cover one’s mouth.” As in awe—not mystery in the sense of unsolved crime or detective story, gnostic revelation or Eastern mysticism, but rather something that is so profound, so real, so deep, that all we can do is cover our mouths and be brought low before the mystery of God made man.
The mystery of our salvation, that prophets prophesied by the Spirit of Christ that was in them, “things into which angels long to look.”
I Pet 1:10-12
The mystery of Christ, the “wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”
I Cor 2:7
The mystery of Christ, “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
The mystery that was “hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”
I Tim 3:16
Mysterion is translated sacramentum in Latin, which connects to the sacraments and the New Testament’s language of communion and koinonia (fellowship). When the word fellowship is used or food is shared in the New Testament, there is much more going on than just filling stomachs. As Arthur Just explains in his Luke commentary and in The Ongoing Feast, fellowship, is “a manifestation of the eschatological kingdom;” it is “the table fellowship of Jesus” which is a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come, that we share together in mutual faith (1-2). As such, fellowship is at its core participation in and union with Christ, and unity with one another around his teaching. This is the thrust of much of koinonia’sNew Testament usage, where fellowship is: “in the gospel” (Phil 1:5); “of the Holy Spirit” (II Cor 13:14, Phil 2:1); “of his sufferings” (Phil 3:10); “of the faith” (Philemon 1:6); “with the Father” (I John 1:3,6); “with one another” (I John 1:7).
But perhaps most significant of all is Paul’s use of koinonia in I Corinthians 10:16, where it refers to “participation in the blood of Christ” and “participation in the body of Christ.” Christ himself instituted this koinonia with the words “take eat; this is my body” and “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:26-28). Christians find their deepest identity around the Table of the Lord in a unified confession, and in communion—koinonia—with Christ himself and with those who also partake of the same body. Individual and communal identity find their nexus in the sacramental eating of Christ, which is a participation with Christ and his living body, the Church. By means of this real, mystical union with Christ, Christians are firmly planted in a sacramental culture, liturgical tradition, and embodied community.
The unfolding of sacramental and liturgical life takes place in the context of kairos time. In Greek, two of the most common words for time are chronos and kairos. Chronos has to do with chronological time, linear time, moment by moment time. Kairos has to do with the proper time to do something, the fullness of time, the moments in time that change one’s life. Consider the birth of a child. While we could look at the birth of a child from a chronos perspective—that my first daughter was born at such and such a chronological date and time—the event is most fully understood as the life-changing event of becoming a parent; a kairos moment. But in our day, chronos takes over and consumes everything. Even the kairos moment of becoming a parent gets overshadowed, as babies are immediately placed on a chronological schedule not only with their birth down to the precise minute or second at which it occurred, but then the real checklist begins: at one month they should do this, at two-months that, and so on. And if the child doesn’t hit the chronological benchmarks, worry and anxiety sets in for the parents. This is not all bad, but it can become consuming, and easily surpasses the deeper kairos view of time and the meaning which accompanies it.
For most of human history, people experienced time more as a kairos story than a chronos timeline—we didn’t even have precise ways to measure time as we do today. Time was localized, based on the natural rhythms of the sun in relation to your specific place. Now our lives are consumed by chronos: the seconds click away, atomic clocks are more precise than ever imaginable, international time zones keep things moving on precise schedules, and social media feeds function on chronos time. But this chronos view of time fails to give deep meaning to our lives. Chronos time is flat. Life is not just an endless march of isolated moments; it is a story.
Christians view all of the events of chronos time in relation to kairos time, which centers on Christ who came in the fullness of time—the kairos moment. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:7-10). All events are understood through this redemptive lens of creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Christians live by kairos time in a chronos world.
This means that our life in Christ takes on a daily baptismal rhythm as we drown our sins and rise to new life. So too, life in Christ has a weekly eucharistic rhythm as we return to Word and Supper which all strengthen and confirm our union with Christ as deepest reality. A yearly redemptive rhythm also takes shape around Christ’s historical life, recounted in the celebration of the events surrounding Christmas, Easter, and in other feasts and holy days. Sacred time overshadows secular time, as our routines are punctuated and interrupted with the deeper reality of God’s action in space and time through Christ’s ministry, the history of salvation, and the history of the church as recounted in the church calendar. Together all of this forms a lifelong sacred rhythm, that frames the passage of life as structured by the church and marked by the milestones of God’s work in Word and Sacrament. We live by sacred time, not secular time, not sporting time, not work time, not school time. Allowing sacred time to permeate into all of life keeps us properly anchored to the reality that is Christianity. These three New Testament concepts of mysterion, koinonia, and kairos offer connection points to those in the church and outside the church today.
Connecting to Those in the Church
Christianity tends to follow one of two trajectories today, both of which miss out on the deeper New Testament reality of life in Christ. For some it is mostly in their heads—a series of intellectual ideas to which they give mental assent. For others it is mostly in their hearts—a series of emotional experiences which give them the proper emotional feelings about God. But in neither form is Christianity a complete and compelling reality. It just seems to be another identity-category among many that make up one’s true self. It is not seen as reality, but an aspect of life one chooses to include, almost like a life accessory. This is far from the biblical picture and fails to inspire and sustain Christian fidelity in a fragmenting world. Recapturing Christianity’s enchantment with biblical concepts like mysterion, koinonia, and kairos might re-awaken us to the reality that the world is more than just a glob of material stuff; it is a cosmic dance.
Connecting to Those Outside the Church
Not only does this rich sacramental view of the world provide springs of living water in the desert of contemporary Christianity, it also offers important connection points to a variety of people who find themselves outside the church today. For the large and growing “spiritual but not religious” crowd the reality of an enchanted universe is intriguing and can be an entryway into further discussions. For those longing for a sense of transcendence and other-worldliness in a materialist world, Christianity offers the transcendent one who descends to us through Word and Sacrament. For those who have been captivated by the possibilities of spiritual forces beyond us in everything from witchcraft, satanism, New Age spirituality, and subtler forms of spiritism, we have the Christ, who has defeated the powers of darkness. For those jaded by the church—chewed up and spit out by churches that were legalistic, authoritarian, or even abusive—we have the true and free Gospel of Christ and the full forgiveness of all sins. For those exhausted and burned out by churches that were emotionalistic, subjective, and manipulative, we have a sure and certain objective Word that comes from outside of us and is always for us. For those postmodernists fascinated by the power of story and narrative, we have the story of stories, the True Myth, which makes sense of all the others. All of the symbolic patterns of the world, past, present, and future, converge in the Logos, the one who took on flesh in the great mystery of the Incarnation.
The apostolic witness in the New Testament and the church’s rich sacramental and liturgical heritage reveal an enchanted, God-soaked, Christ-permeated world. Many people inside the church are looking elsewhere to find such enchantment. Many people outside the church are open to all sorts of spiritual practices and fringe religious beliefs that give them a sense of mystery, sacredness, and transcendence. Christianity has the real version of all these things. Christianity is not just my personal beliefs about reality. It is reality. Christianity is not just true. It is real.
Joshua Pauling taught high school history for thirteen years and is now a classical educator and furniture-maker. He is head elder at All Saints Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Charlotte, North Carolina and studied at Messiah College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Winthrop University. In addition to Modern Reformation, Josh has written for Areo, FORMA, Front Porch Republic, Mere Orthodoxy, Public Discourse, Quillette, Salvo, The Imaginative Conservative, Touchstone, and is a frequent guest on Issues, Etc. Radio Show/Podcast.