Difference between revisions of "Christianity"
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== Main Christian groups ==
== Main Christian groups ==
The three largest self-governing bodies of Christians are:
The three largest self-governing bodies of Christians are:
Revision as of 17:45, 25 October 2008
Christianity is the world's largest religion, having over 2 billion adherents, and takes its name from Jesus Christ meaning "Jesus the Savior" and "Jesus the Anointed One". Adherents are called Christians, meaning "of Christ" or "belonging to Christ". It seems that at first the religion was called "The Way" and the adherents were called Nazarenes (after the city of Nazareth where Jesus lived). The name Christian arose in Antioch in the first century A. D. and its use spread, probably closer to mid-century since it is recorded in the Book of Acts (Acts:11:26)
- 1 Main Christian groups
- 2 Christian beliefs
- 3 Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- 4 Evangelism
- 5 Problems in society
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External Links
Main Christian groups
The three largest self-governing bodies of Christians are:
- the Roman Catholic Church (approx. 1.1 billion baptized members) traces its roots back to Saint Peter who Catholic believed established the Church and the succession of the Popes as the spiritual authority over the Christian body of believers.
- the Orthodox Churches (approx. 300 million baptized members) also trace their roots back to the beginnings of Christianity, but do not believe in the Primacy of the Pope. Different theological perspectives led to the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches in A.D. 1054.
- Protestantism, the largest Communions are the Anglicans (approx. 77 million baptized members) and the Lutheran World Federation (approx. 68 million baptized members). Protestantism has its origins in the European Reformation. It first broke away from the Roman Catholic Church under Martin Luther when differences over the nature of faith and works in the role of salvation could not be adequately reconciled with Papal prescriptions as well as other practices that Luther saw in the Catholic Church at that time that he did not agree with. Other preachers and movements then followed Luther's example and also left the Catholic fold.
Theologians, over two millennia, have debated a definitive summary of the Christian faith. While its interpretations vary drastically, probably the most commonly accepted statement of faith is the Nicea-Constantinopolitan Creed below:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Christians and Christian denominations agree on many points of doctrine and disagree on others. According to an online Harris poll from 2003 99% of all American Christians believe in God, 96% in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 93% in Heaven, 93% in the virgin birth, 92% in the survival of the soul after death, 82% in Hell, 50% in ghosts, 27% in astrology and 21% in reincarnation.  Note that the latter two beliefs are in opposition to the religious dogma of most Christian denominations.
Nonetheless, the Nicea-Constantinopolitan Creed offers a general overall picture of what Christian theology looks like, and serves as a useful outline.
The God of the Christians is a triune being. Though there is only one Divine nature there are three Divine Persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three Persons are collectively called the Trinity or the Holy Trinity. Christians reject the idea that they are polytheists because of the oneness of the divine nature (or essence). Though to non-Christians and even many Christians, it might seem like an inconsequential dogma, the doctrine of the Trinity is central to all of Christian theology and life. This is especially true in the relationship between God and human beings. The major theme of the Bible is love. In the Hebrew Old Testament the idea is expressed in the Hebrew word hessed, which is variously translated as loyal love, tender mercy, steadfast love, mercy, goodness, etc. in the New Testament the same idea is expressed in the Greek word agape, which is variously translated as love, compassion, charity, etc. The picture that the Biblical writers draw with these words is of a lover (God) who is entirely self-sufficient, needing nothing, and a beloved (human beings) in desperate need of salvation but unable to obtain it for himself. But God the lover is willing to suffer, knows He is going to suffer, even endure death to save the beloved human beings. This love of God for human beings is an extension of the love the Three Persons in the Trinity have for each other. Each loves the others infinitely. Their love for each other and for their creation is such that the Apostle John equates God and love, in an almost mathematical way saying, "God is love."
Additionally, the God of the Christians is the creator of all things, is everywhere present, exists in all times, is transcendent, all-knowing (omniscient), just, all-powerful (omnipotent).
Christians hold that during the reign of Caeser Augustus the Son (e.g. the second Person of the Trinity) took flesh from a virgin woman and was incarnate as a man. He was born in the town of Bethlehem and was given the name Jesus. At the age of thirty he was baptized by his cousin, the Prophet John, and began to preach in the area Palestine. About three years after his baptism, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, prompting the Jewish power establishment to plot Jesus death. Jesus was crucified. He came back from the dead and was seen by over 500 people. He ascended to heaven. The four Gospels contain the records of some of what Jesus did and said, but he did much more than those four books relate, as the Apostle John admitted in his Gospel.
Jesus' Self Consciousness
Jesus, conceived of the Holy Spirit, presented a disturbing surprise to his earthly father, Joseph, knowing he had not impregnated his fiancee, Mary. She would ponder the meaning of this miracle all the days Jesus would grow and finally she would behold her son expire on the cross. But Joseph, told by the Lord who his son really was, and how he had come about, and being warned by the Lord to flee the murderous Herod, took his family to Egypt - until the death of Herod made it safe ("Out of Egypt have I called My Son") to return to Israel. The family settled in Nazareth on the elevated rim of the Jezre'el Valley where he grew well and observably no different from the other youth. But when he was about 12 years old, he was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem, and displayed his consciousness that His real Father was God rather than Joseph ("Didn't you know that I must be here about the matters of My Father?".
They returned to Nazereth in Galilee and it wasn't until 28 years later that He began to publicly show His consciousness as to who he was. This was at his baptism at the Jordan River by John, when the voice came, to him, to John, and to the people privileged to be around, "This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen (Shma'a) to Him!" Here and now, against even the desire of John the Baptizer, Jesus, knowing that sin was not in him, chose to identify with sinful mankind in this baptism of John for repentance of sin, knowing that at the end of his time on earth, he would then be giving this sinless life of his on the cross, bearing the sins of the world upon himself.
Back, now, in Galilee, he would begin to do works of mercy, miracles of compassion, healings of deliverance, and overthrowing the devastaions of Satan upon the people of God's compassion - in short, bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven and of God and supplanting the Kingdom of Darkness. He began to gather around him his followers, simple fishing folk and others, spending most of his time in the area around the north shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). among the Jews of this Jewish area. He was bringing in the Messianic Kingdom to those who would understand it best, the Jews. But all the time, there was burning within him the knowledge that the blessings of Abraham would be extended, according to the promise, to all the peoples of the earth, the Gentiles, and there would be a new Kingdom, a new nation, transcending both Jews and Gentiles, the Kingdom of the people of God the Heavenly Father. He began his forays then into gentile areas, Phoenecia, the Decapolis, and other locales, and finding faith there such as he had not found "even in Israel".
A crossroads occurred, then, in the choice of Jesus, and consequently in the options of his disciples. It occurred in the Tetrarchy of Philip, at the foothills of Mt. Hermon, at the town of Caesarea Philipi. He knowing who he was, would force the question upon others - "Who do people say Me to be?". From the lips of Shim'on, whom he would call Peter, as leader of the others, He would hear - "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!" It was enough. Jesus would then begin imparting to them what the nature of His mission to be - not to expel the Romans from the Holy Land, but to go to Jerusalem, to be betrayed, to be spurned and rejected by the High Priests and the Elders of the People, to be hung on a Roman cross at the hands of the Gentiles, to die. Casesarea Philipi was in between, on one hand, Gentile pervaded Roman Tiberius to the southwest of the Sea, and on the other hand, anti-Roman nationalistic and zealotic Gamla to the north east of the Sea. (This latter would end their rebellion against Rome by suicide on Matzada in 73 A.D). Those two polarities were present in the minds of the disciples and Jesus began, on one hand, to divest from their minds the one, the warrior role of the Messiah against the Romans, and the other, to renew their thinking and their commitment to Him as the self sacrificing Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace and the true Messiah of Israel, on the other hand.
This took place on the long 3 or 4 day journey by foot from Galilee to Jerusalem, along the Jordan River valley, coming to Jericho, ascending to Jerusalem from the east. It was in Jerusalem that he prepared and settled the matter for the perpetuation of the Church at the Lord's last supper of the Passover, to be made palpable later by the descent of the Holy Spirit. It was in Jerusalem, in the Garden of the Oil Press, that what He had been lead to believe about his mission and the meaning and manner of his death was fully embraced and accepted with no reservation or turning back. "Your will be done, Father, if there is no other way", and "There is no other way, Your will be done Father!" It was a perfect decision and commitment, perfecting his life to be a perfect sacrifice. And it was to the west just outside Jerusalem that His teachings came to a concretization and realization on the cross. And just outside of Jerusalem that His Father would vindicate him by raising him from the dead.
"No man takes my life from me. I have power to take it and I have power to lay it down... I lay down my life for the sheep." 
"Though He was in the form of God, He did not think equality with God something to grasp onto. But He emptied Himself and took to Himself the form of a servant and was made man, And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. For this reason, God has exalted Him..."
The fundamental principle in Christian moral teaching is love and forgiveness, as expressed by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Jesus summarized his teachings in two commandments from the Old Testament:
"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-39; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18)
Constant debate has resulted as to how a person should express love for God in their moral behavior. This moral dialogue found expression in the New Testament, where the Apostle Paul addressed such controversies as circumcision (Romans 2:25-29), eating meat that was sacrificed to pagan deities (1 Corinthians 8), speculating about myths and genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3-5), and observing ceremonial dates and seasons (Galatians 4:9-11).Regardless of a person's ethical interpretations, adherents commonly point to New Testament passages John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 as scriptural depictions of love. The former states that
"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."The latter characterizes love, saying
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Jesus Christ affirmed, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
The Atonement of Jesus on the Cross
All Christians believe with the New Testament that the death of Jesus, along with His resurrection, is an indispensable proclamation of a crucial event for the reconciliation of lost sinners with God. There are three elements they see to understanding His death on the cross.
- Jesus having the knowledge that His path would lead to his own death, desired and willed that that take place, and persevered in that path though there was opportunity for Him to avoid it. Though there is ample recognition in the New Testament that others desired Him to die, and that the circumstances in which His path took him would bring Him to His end on earth, the mover of all these things was Himself and the will of the Father. "I have power to take my life and I have power to lay down my life. I lay down my life for the sheep."
- Jesus saw that in His death there would be a way for people to be brought back to the God from whom they were alienated and lost because of their sins. This would involve a substitution of Himself to effect that way. "For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many." How this would take place was not new to the Jews of His day from their understanding of contemporary everyday practice of substitute payment - as in redemption of the first-born (Pidyon Ha Ben), or in the understanding of what aggadic stories such as the Binding of Isaac implied (see Midrash), but it was not the prevalent view that the Messiah was to be that payment. Though while alive on earth, he had hinted at it in sayings such as "unless a seed falls and dies, it remains alone, but when it dies, it brings forth..", it was only after He had risen from the dead that He explained Scripture (the Old Testament) clearly about the necessity of His death to have taken place. The disciples would henceforth preach, and Peter among them, that the death of Jesus the Messiah and His resurrection was for-planned and for-ordained by God the Father, and foretold in the Scripture (Isaiah 53). And so, "The Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God".
- It was the belief in Scripture, that in His death a way back to God was made possible for those that were near to God—the Jews. And a way back to God for those that were far away—the Gentiles. That is why the New Testament saw in the requirements of God for Israel a fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. He was the perfect Israel, taken out of Egypt, to redeem Israel. And that is why the New Testament saw in Jesus, a deepness to the incarnation of the Son of God, deeper than just a Jew of His time of a certain tribe. He was the "Second Adam" to redeem the sons of Adam. This encompassing perspective had further implications.
Christians of all generations have looked to the perfect Atonement, and the hope for reconciliation, accomplished by Jesus on the cross, to provide the means of understanding the solution to the vexing problems of the mind and of life itself - How can I make reconciliation with my enemies, with even the members of my own family, of race with race and people with people?; Does His death for the sins of the world include those who only partially understand, for the baby aborted, the feeble minded, and severely retarded?; For those who have never heard of Jesus, never been "enlightened", distant and remote in place and time?; Does His death for the sins of the world also include a remedy for the ills that have come as a result of those sins—certain sicknesses, ills of the mind, body and the soul? Do they "hold" for today?; Does His death make good, turn to the better, show the way, effect the way, of the illnesses that have befallen the world, not only by sin, but simply by the circumstances of life, of degeneration, of compounded dysfunction? How does the fruit of His death bring in somehow the Kingdom "among us"?
The death of the Son of God on the cross has provided the solution for sin, and it still holds its sway over the imagination and aspirations for the people of our generation.
The Bible teaches that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). This is often interpreted to mean that everyone has displeased God and is now separated from him in a kind of alienation and enmity that results from the fundamental conflict between selfish human interests and God's interests (Romans 8:5-8; James 4:4).
However, Jesus offered a solution to this Biblical dilemma in that by repentance of sins and faith in him (Jesus), their sins would be forgiven. He said that "...the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins." (Mark 2:10) Jesus also said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mark 2:17, and "Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men" (Mark 2:28)
Jesus Christ taught that "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Protestant Evangelical Christianity often use the terms "saved" and "born again" interchangeably. Other Christians, notably the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church use the phrase born again as a synonym for baptized. "Jesus answered, Amen, amen, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
Christians are expected to continue living by Christ's teachings (John 8:31), as is appropriate for "children of Light" (Ephesians 5:8-10). Some believe that this is necessary in order to stay saved. However, this is a common misconception of the text. It is rather referring to proving that one is a child of God by their "fruit" (things that they do and how they behave). Christians in the Reformed tradition (following the teaching of the 16th century French lawyer John Calvin, as well as the faith outlined in the Belgic and Heidleberg Confessions) say that salvation is irrevocable and that it cannot be lost, if it were genuinely part of one's life to begin with. Reformed Christians (often called Calvinists) often point to Romans 8:38-39 as validation of their belief: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39; NASB). According to Calvinists, the reason it cannot be lost by natural things is because salvation was obtained through a supernatural being, namely Jesus Christ. This does not negate Jesus' human side, only that he was both one-hundred percent God and one-hundred percent man, according to the Council of Chalcedon (A. D. 451). The Bible also makes it clear that mankind cannot earn their salvation, and that it is a free gift.
Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is critical to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul wrote, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (I Cor:15:14). Traditionally, Christianity has believed in a physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In recent history Gary Habermas is considered the foremost Christian apologist for defending the resurrection of Jesus. Other notable defenders of the resurrection include: William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Edwin M. Yamauchi, N.T. Wright and Michael Horner.
The Meaning of the Resurrection for Christians
The Fact of the Resurrection of Christ is a key element of the preaching of the message about Jesus and an essential of Christian belief. But there are also certain effects that this belief has on the lives of believers.
1. It is because Jesus rose from the dead, that believers now can resort to a living Savior to help and deliver them from sin and from situations overwhelming for them by their own powers.
2. The New Testament sees in the resurrection of Christ a certain vindication of what apparently to the world and to all beings was a failure and an overcoming of Him by His crucifixion. He was "declared to be the Son of God" by His resurrection. This brings believers in Him to a strong confidence in the determined power of God to both vindicate in their own lives and to bring His reign upon earth.
3. The coming of Jesus back to life means to the believer that, indeed, their sins are totally forgiven. This is because believers know that His death was as a payment for sins - a "wage of death" for our sins that He received in our stead. If He remained dead, believers would know that the wage had not been fully paid. His resurrection, carries with it our knowledge that our sin with its attendant death has been totally and finally paid for.
4. It is a now living Savior that Christians know can go before them, can closely lead them through life - as He did when He was on earth. This makes following Him practical and real.
5. The New Testament reveals that it is the Risen Christ who received from the Father the Holy Spirit and He, through Himself ascended to the Father, has given the Holy Spirit to us. This gives the believer in Christ both the knowledge and the power to live a godly life, and live a life that can be an intimately and personally directed one.
6. The resurrected Christ was no mere reassembling of the molecules and particles of the Body that had been crucified. It was, indeed, a physical body, but one that was fully under the Spirit's control, guidance, and empowerment. It was a "spiritual body". Christians know that likewise, they will one day be granted the nature of a spiritual body, and full of health. They therefore are full of hope and consolations, and consider that even now in this life, there is an overcoming through Him, a restoration, and that tears, even now, are wiped away.
In what is called the Great Commission, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to preach the Gospel (literally "good news") and make disciples.
- Great Commission
- But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." --Matthew 28:16-20 NASB
It should be noted, however, that Jesus said it was the Holy Spirit, not man, who was sent to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness (John 16:8). This relieves Christians of needing to worry when they evangelize. God is the one who gets the credit with the growth and maturity of the Church: "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Problems in society
Christians believe that, ultimately, all of society's problems are due to the presence of sin. The original creation was of a paradise, in which there were no problems, suffering, or death, but that these were introduced as a result of the Fall of man. Consequently, although humanity will never return to a sinless state on Earth, adoption of God's standards is expected to minimise problems on society.
Denominations or branches of Christianity
- Roman Catholic Church
- Orthodox Church
- Church of England or Anglican Church
- Episcopal Church in the United States of America (or Episcopal Church or Episcopalians) (Non-UK branch of the Anglican Church)
- Evangelical Christianity
- Liberal Christianity
- Plymouth Brethren
- Seventh-day Adventist
- Christian apologetics (Defense of Christianity)
- Christianity and Science
- Conservative Christianity
- Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America (Syro-Chaldean)
- Jesus Christ
- New Testament understanding through the Jewish perspective
- Passover Seder
- Persecution of Christians
- Red-letter Christian
- Sign of the Cross
- Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
- Bible, Gospel of John, 10:18,15 http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=KjvJohn.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=10&division=div1
- Bible, Philippians 2:6-9a, http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=KjvPhil.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=2&division=div1
- Habermas, Gary, Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection, Dialog: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 45; No. 3 (Fall, 2006), pp. 288-297.
- "Wildcat" and Holding, J.P., Book review of "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus", 22nd June, 2004 (Tektonics)
- Habermas, Gary, Jesus' Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism: An Apologetic Criswell Theological Review 4.1 (1989) 159-74.
- Habermas, Gary, [http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/crj_explainingaway/crj_explainingaway.htm Explaining Away Jesus' Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories], Christian Research Journal / vol. 23, no. 4, 2001.
- Habermas, Gary, Why I Believe The New Testament Is Historically Reliable (Apologetics.com)
- Craig, William Lane, Articles: Historical Jesus
- McDowell, Josh, Evidence for the Resurrection, 1992.
- Jamauchi, Edwin M., Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History?
- Wright, N.T., Early Traditions and the Origins of Christianity, Sewanee Theological Review 41.2, 1998.
- Horner, Michael, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?