Baptism of Christ
by Piero della Francesca Christianity has been called the single most influence in all history as measured in its religion and spiritual impact and its affect on world events. It no accident that were record history as before Christ (B.C.) and after Christ (A.D., “Anno Domini” “Year of Our Lord”).
Christians believe that there is only one God, whom they call Father as Jesus Christ taught them. Christians recognize Jesus as the Son of God who was sent to save mankind from death and sin. They recognize Jesus as the son of God and believe God functions as a Trinity. The Bible is the basis of Christian beliefs Jesus’s teachings can be summarized, briefly as the love of God and love of one's neighbor. Jesus said that he had come to fulfil God's law rather than teach it. [Source: BBC, August 14, 2009 |::|]
According to the BBC: “Christians believe in justification by faith - that through their belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and in his death and resurrection, they can have a right relationship with God whose forgiveness was made once and for all through the death of Jesus Christ. |::|
“The Trinity: Christians believe in the Trinity - that is, in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some confuse this and think that Christians believe in three separate gods, which they don't. Christians believe that God took human form as Jesus Christ and that God is present today through the work of the Holy Spirit and evident in the actions of believers. |::|
“Life after death: Christians believe that there is a life after earthly death. While the actual nature of this life is not known, Christians believe that many spiritual experiences in this life help to give them some idea of what eternal life will be like. |::|
“The Saints: These days, the word saint is most commonly used to refer to a Christian who has lived a particularly good and holy life on earth, and with whom miracles are claimed to have been associated after their death. |The formal title of Saint is conferred by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches through a process called canonisation. |Members of these Churches also believe that Saints created in this way can intercede with God on behalf of people who are alive today. This is not accepted by most Protestants. |In the Bible, however, the word saint is used as a description of anyone who is a committed believer, particularly by St. Paul in the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians 1.1. and 1.15). |::|
Christianity grew out of Judaism and the two religions share many beliefs (See Judaism). Whether the Bible should be taken literally or not remains a contentious issue. The great 5th century Christian theologian St. Augustine is among those who argue that Genesis was not intended to be taken literally. Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ;
Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex
Christian Doctrines and Creeds
Christ in Hagia Sophia
The basic doctrines of Christianity are 1) the Incarnation, which states that God was present in Jesus throughout his life but did not interfere with his being and human being (according to Corinthians 5: 19, “God was in Christ reconciling himself.”); 2) Christology, which says that Christ was a person in which the human and divine were always present; 3) the Trinity, which holds that God reveals himself through the Father (God), Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost; and 4) Atonement, the belief that Jesus died for the sins of everyone who has faith in God.
Sins are generally regarded as breaking the commandments. Thomas Aquinas described the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth, gluttony, pride, anger, envy, greed, and lust. The possibility of grace and redemption being available for to all sinners was the essence of Jesus's teachings. The Christian version of Confucius's Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is : "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law of the prophets."
Christian doctrines have traditionally been defined by Creeds, fundamental beliefs accepted by all Christians or all members of a particularly sect, that are thus distinguished from speculations and views that are still a matter of debate. Creeds are usually expressed in succinct formulae. Some were inherited from Judaism and other were agreed upon at the ecumenical councils.
A creed (also known as a confession, symbol, or statement of faith) is a statement of the shared beliefs of a religious community in the form of a fixed formula summarizing core tenets. One of the most widely used creeds in Christianity is the Nicene Creed, first formulated in AD 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. It was based on Christian understanding of the Canonical Gospels, the letters of the New Testament and to a lesser extent the Old Testament. Affirmation of this creed, which describes the Trinity, is generally taken as a fundamental test of orthodoxy for most Christian denominations. The Apostles' Creed is also broadly accepted. Some Christian denominations and other groups have rejected the authority of those creeds. [Source: Wikipedia]
Salvation and the Conversion Process
One of the things that makes Christianity different from other religions is the emphasis on free will and the conversion process. Many saints had deeply moving conversion experiences or visions, In “Varieties of Religious Experience” . William James wrote: “A genuine first-hand religious experience...is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses: the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine proves contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if then still proves contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy, and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry: the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets on their turn.” See St. Paul, St. Augustine, St Francis.
Christ Appears by Rossakiewicz The modern concept of salvation is something that developed over time. The original notion professed by Paul was intended to free man from rigid Jewish laws, saying all that was necessary to receive the grace of God was having a willingness to follows his “Way." This was taken to mean that salvation was achieved by living a Christian life, performing good deeds and conducting oneself in a moral way. Later salvation came to mean the reward that one received after deciding to devote oneself to Christ. The key scripture here from John): Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in men. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you...that where I am, there ye may be also.” The idea here was that salvation occurs first and moral conduct will follow as a natural consequence.
Christians regard Resurrection as a fate that awaits all Christian faithful. They believe that the crucified Jesus was resurrected by God, and that by submitting to death, Jesus destroyed death’s power and made eternal life available to everyone, unlike other religions which said immortality was something that was available only to Gods. Consequently, death became a phase that people passed through rather than something that was feared.
Christianity introduced “eternal life,” something that clearly appealed to new converts. Instead of worshiping the spirit of a dead hero, Christians worship a living Christ that was resurrected in the flesh and ascended to heaven as a living person. The burial rite and safekeeping of the tomb for early Christians was important because it was believed the soul would rise to heaven just as Jesus's had done during resurrection.
Paul wrote in Corinthians: “If Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is empty.” This seems say in part that one reason the Resurrection is important is that Jesus said he would rise from the dead. If he didn’t he would have been branded a liar and his credibilty on other issues would be questioned.
No other Biblical figures rose from the dead. The prophets Elijah and Enoch ascended to heaven (presumably while alive) but Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David and Solomon all died. After the Maccabean revolt in 167 B.C. is when the concept of resurrection surfaced among the Jews. The belief in the Resurrection is what is believed to have been what motivated early Christians to keep their faith against the persecution of the Romans.
The idea of a resurrection was somewhat new. In other religions such as Hinduism and Greek paganism, the soul and the body were viewed as distinct and the afterlife was seen in terms of separation of the soul and body rather than resurrection of the dead.
Explanations for the Resurrection of Jesus
Resurrection by Rembrandt The evidence for Christ's resurrection are the empty tomb and the appearances to the disciples. Some scholars claim that Jesus's may have been stolen in the night by his disciples. They also suggest that appearance to the disciples were actually dreams, visions or hallucinations brought on in part over guilt for abandoning Jesus.
No bones were found in the tomb. Paul went to great lengths to list specific, living witnesses to answer those who doubted the veracity of the accounts. Scholars then went back to the Old Testament and Jesus’s own saying and found prophecies for the events that took place. Arguably the least convincing argument for the resurrection made the Gospels was the reaction of the apostle to the reborn Christ. Some didn’t even realize they talking to Christ until he identified himself.
Some have suggested the sheer implausibility of the story is perhaps the primary reason it should be believed: no one it has been argued could make up such a story and convince people it is true unless it really took place. There was no precedent for the events that unfolded. According to Jewish beliefs the Messiah who was supposed to usher in the New Kingdom was supposed to warrior ready to fight battles against evil not a dead man who went benignly to his death and awoke from the dead.
There are also some imaginative explanations. Australian author and historian Barbara Thiering believes he was crucified near the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. He was buried in a cave and only appeared to be dead after taking a poison similar that used in zombie rituals in Haiti that allow people to awake from the dead.
Many have doubts about the story. Some scholars believe that Mark made up the empty tomb episode. Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens that listened to Paul said “the Resurrection was too much out of a reach for them.” The 2nd century Greek philosopher and Christian critic Celsus called the Resurrection a “cock-and bull story.”
Redemption, Atonement and the Meaning of Death of Jesus
Atonement and redemption represent the belief that Jesus died for the sins of everyone who has faith in God. It holds that Jesus died for the sins of humanity so the faithful, people who accepted Jesus into their hearts, could ascend to heaven and have eternal life, despite their sins. The Apostle Paul wrote: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us...We are now justified by his blood.”
Lament the Dead Christ by Rembrandt Atonement essentially means that Jesus accepted the pain of death to show, through his Resurrection, that God and his love are not defeated by death. His sacrifice was a kind of compensation for all the sins that have ever been committed by humankind, allowing sinners — which is more or less everyone — to achieve salvation and have a relationship with God. According to I John 3:16: “This is the proof of love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
The word Atonement essentially means oneness with god (“at-one-ment”) and describes the desire by humans to have a relationship with God and achieve this by reaching a sinless state often by suffering or offering penitence. According to John, Jesus was aware of his atonement when he said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Redemption describes the process — through Christ’s death — that atonement can be achieved by absolving oneself of one’s sins. Both concepts have their roots in Jewish sacrifices. According to Hebrews in the New Testament, Jesus killed “not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.”
Some believe that Jesus’s death took place the way it did because the burden of human sin was so great that humanity could never possibly pay it back and only God, through Jesus, could do so through the pain of the Crucifixion. Others have argued it was a “divine bait-and-switch scheme” to fool the devil, by getting devil was focus his energy on trying to tempt Jesus and in the process dropped his guard, allowing all of humanity the opportunity to find salvation.
Assumption of Mary
According to the BBC: Roman Catholics believe the doctrine of the Assumption, which teaches that at the end of her life, Mary, the mother of Christ, was taken body and soul (i.e. both physically and spiritually) into heaven to live with her son (Jesus Christ) for ever. Human beings have to wait until the end of time for their bodily resurrection, but Mary's body was able to go straight to heaven because her soul hadn't been tainted by original sin. [Source: July 21, 2011, BBC |::|]
“Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on August 15th each year. Eastern Orthodox Christians, following the Julian calendar, mark the event as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or the Dormition of the the Most Holy Mother of God on 28th August. |::|
“This is an ancient teaching, first found in the 5th century, but it remains controversial to Protestants because it is not explicitly referred to in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church bases the doctrine on other valid authority. |::|
“A report in 2005 by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians found common ground (but not common authority) for belief in the Assumption: ...we can affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture and that it can, indeed, only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize that this teaching about Mary is contained in the dogma. [Source: 2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians] |::|
“The doctrine of the Assumption was proclaimed as infallible by Pope Pius XII on All Saints Day 1950 in the bull (formal proclamation) Munificentissimus Deus. We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. — Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950 |::|
“This made it an important article of faith for Roman Catholics. This was only the second time that a Pope had proclaimed a doctrine to be infallible. The first was the Immaculate Conception, another doctrine that concerns Mary. The Pope justified the Assumption not on Biblical authority but largely on: 1) the "universal consensus of the Church"; 2) the theological "suitability" of the doctrine.
According to the BBC: “The immaculate conception of Mary has no historical basis at all. This is something that was invented by later Christians to extend the idea of her holiness. The purity, the perpetual virginity, all of those kind of themes end up with Mary (as well as Jesus) having to be conceived immaculately. One of the difficulties that many people today have with the virgin birth is not so much historical, the idea that it couldn't happen, but theological; the idea that it must have happened in order for Jesus not to have had any sin. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]
“Early Christians like Augustine tended to think that Adam's original sin was passed on in the act of sex and that therefore in order for Jesus to be holy and sinless it was necessary for him not to have been born from parents who had had sex. Theologically people now have more problems with the Virgin Birth than they would have done in the past. In the past it was almost necessary to have a virgin birth in order to get Jesus out of this rather sticky difficulty of having been born with ordinary human parents who'd had sex. |::|
“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary, the mother of Christ, was conceived without sin and her conception was thus immaculate. Mary's sinless conception is the reason why Catholics refer to Mary as "full of grace". The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by Catholics on December 8th each year. |::| “There are two mistakes that people often make about the Immaculate Conception: 1) Many people confuse the Immaculate Conception with the "virgin birth"; the belief that Mary gave birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin. They are not the same thing. 2) A less common mistake is to think that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was conceived without sexual intercourse. In fact Mary had ordinary human parents who conceived her in the usual manner.” |::|
Theology according to historian Daniel Boorstein was "a Western creation nurtured in Hellenist Alexandria" and was "both a producer and a by-product of Christianity." Whereas the myth of the Gods and philosophy were separated under the Greeks. They were united in theology as Moses was made into a philosopher as well religious leader.
Philo of Alexandria (late first century B.C. to first century A.D.) is considered the father of theology. A rich Jewish nobleman, who was regarded a quite a fun-loving guy, he was one of the first to scrutinize Jewish-Christian doctrine using Platonic philosophical reasoning.
Another influential thinker was Origen (185?-254), an Alexandrian Greek who castrated himself to ensure his purity and became head of the leading Christ theological academy at the age of 18. He is credited with giving Christianity some analytical credibility by incorporating elements of Greek philosophy but was unsuccessful making it hold up to the scrutiny of history.
Violence, Suffering and the Crucifixion
Flagellation by Caravaggio Morbidity and violence are a central themes of Christianity as well as peace and compassion — especially among Catholics — at least as representations of some famous paintings and images of Christ and Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion” . These are tied to the violent nature of Jesus’s death.
The Passion as a source of lurid iconography blossomed in Europe the 1300s, when much of the continent suffered through the Great Plague, Mogul invasions and other ills. Paintings and sculptures of a suffering Christ appeared in great numbers; cults grew about relics associated with the crucifixion; and people came to believe that meditating on it could help redeem the human race.
Christianity was one of the first religions to make suffering a virtue rather something that was pathetic. Christ’s suffering on the cross was something to be admired rather than pitied. There was a prevailing view in medieval times that no matter how much people suffered, Christ suffered even more. One mystic reported that Christ came to her in a vison and told her, “I was beaten on the body 6,666 times; beaten on the head 110 times; pricks of thorns in the head, 110..mortal thorns in the head, 3...the drops of blood that I lost were 28,430.” Violent depictions of Christ returned un the 16th and 17th centuries during the Counter-Reformation when Catholic painters in Italy and Spain used graphic images of violence to stir up the masses to fight the upstart Protestants. Images of suffering Christ remain particularly common today in Latin American churches.
Proselytizing and Missionaries
an early Christian missionary Christianity has traditionally been a proselytizing religion spread around the world by missionaries. This is based at least partly on the belief that the message of salvation was offered to everyone and this “Good News” (the meaning of “Gospels”) should be spread by everyone who has experienced it. Missionaries respond to the plea in Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” They also follow the example of St. Paul and St, Francis.
Nearly all branches of Christianity have utilized missionaries in one form or another. These days most mainstream Protestant and Catholic missionary groups stick to operating social programs and helping the poor. Generally the groups that most actively proselytize are evangelicals. Many of the Evangelical get day jobs as engineers, English teachers and nurses and evangelize in their spare time.
Christian missionaries have helped bring education and medical care to remote parts of the world, helped preserve some culture that might have been swallowed up economic forces and assimilation and brought written languages to places that didn’t have one.
For a long time most missionaries were active in Latin America, where the battle for primacy was fought between evangelicals and Catholics, with the more adventurous going to Africa and the Communist world. In the last few decades there has been more of an emphases on reaching “unreached people groups” that include tribes in remote areas and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists who have never been exposed to Christianity.
Modern technology, wealth, globalization and an endless supply of enthusiastic missionaries willing to travel to the ends of the earth and find those who have not heard the word have helped spread Christianity at an unprecedented rate. There is a wealth of material available on the Internet as well as was “Godcasting” sites for iPods.
Christianity, Individuality and Democracy
Saint Patrick, another
early Christian missionary Early Christianity stressed equality and democracy. Jesus denounced anyone who attempted to usurp the moral authority of God. Catholics introduced a Roman-like hierarchy. Some Protestant denominations tried to revive the early egalitarian, democratic model.
Modern democracy is a secularized version of the Christian doctrine of universal human equality. The notions of individual rights, the rule of law and prosperity based on economic freedom also have their roots in Christian thought.
Jesus individualized the relationship between humans and God. Within Christian thinking, each individual forms a personal relation with God based on their own personal faith (this contrasts with Judaism where an individual relationship with God is based on covenants made between God of people like Abraham, Moses and David). Christ often did his work one person at a time.
The adoption of a particular set of beliefs or doctrines has often been made more for political reasons than religious ones as was the case when Constantine converted the Roman Empire and Catholic or Protestant were pressured and killed in the Reformation and Counter-reformation.
Miracles and Christianity
Miracles have always played a big part in winning converts to Christianity. They have come in the form of bleeding paintings of the Virgin Mary, talking images, miracle-working icons and saint's bones and frescoes that have been scraped off the wall and mixed with water and oils poured through the coffins of dead saints and drunk as a medicine.
British historian Robin Cormack wrote in the New York Times, "What could better demonstrate Christ's life on earth than a picture that shared all his powers of healing? Who needed to listen to theological quibbling over the nature of Christ if an icon could speak a thousand words?"
walking on water In the early church miracles were performed by saints while they were alive. Later on, beginning in medieval times, most miracles were attributed to saints and others after they died.
Miracles and Christianity Today
On miracles, Biblical scholar Reynold Price wrote in Time: “I am one who believes himself a direct recipient of such care. Fifteen years ago, as I was about to undergo five weeks of withering radiation for a 10-inch-long cancer inside my spinal chord, I found myself — an outlaw Christian who had, and has, no active tie with a church — transported, thoroughly awake, to another entirely credible time and place. I was lying on the shore of the Lake of Galilee and Jesus’s disciples asleep around me.” [Source: Time, December 6, 1999] “Then Jesus came forward and silently indicated that I should follow him into the lake. Waist deep in the water, I felt him pour handfuls down the long fresh scar on my back — the relic of unsuccessful surgery a month before. Jesus suddenly told me, “Your sins are forgiven.” Appalled by dire physical outlook, I thought, “That’s the last thing I need.”; so I asked him, “Am I also cured? He said, “That too.” Then, as though I’d forced his hand, he turned and climbed ashore with me well behind.”
Price was cured his cancer but underwent further surgeries that left him paralyzed. Looking back in his miracle, he said, “I’ve experienced no similar encounter. That fact tends to validate, for me, an objective core to the experience. If I manufactured one visionary self-consultation, why wouldn’t I have repeated theat solace in ensuing years of even worse trouble?”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Symbols of Catholicism” by Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (Barnes & Noble, 2000); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Newsweek, Time and National Geographic articles about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018