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Christianity


Introduction:

Christianity is the religion, or religious system, instituted in Palestine, through the works of the ministry of Jesus Christ and his apostles and immediate followers. Subsequently this faith has been adopted by many nations, and by the end of the 20th century professed by over one-third of the world's population.

As described in Common beliefs, Christianity was derived from Judaism; the Jewish God Jehovah became the Christian God. In Christianity Jehovah is still believed to be the Creator of the world, or universe, and all things in it. One of the major distinctions between the two religions occurs at this point; Christians believe that God created the world through the personage of Jesus Christ (see Trinity). In this sense Christ is considered the Logos of God as described in the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God…And all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1, 3). Jesus Christ emphasized this when saying "he who has seen me, has seen the Father (God)"; "(for) I and the Father are one" (John 14:9; 10:30).

Christ's most important part in Christianity, besides being its founder, is that of redeemer; he was to reconcile humanity with God. It is believed that because of the sin of Adam, original sin, that man was separated from God and it is only through the salvation of Christ, merited by his death and resurrection, that man is reunited with God. This is the reason that Christ has been called the Second Adam; the first Adam introduced sin into the world, Christ, the second Adam, took it away. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for all have sin. That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, our Lord" (Romans 5:12, 21).

Christians feel that the death and resurrection of Christ merited them sanctifying grace from God which they were separated from by the sin of Adam; the sin that forms the basis of the religion. Without such grace there was no connection between God and man; this connection was restored through the work of Christ. It is believed that God always loved man, even when he was dead in sin; but God could not shower this love upon man until a sufficient satisfaction or restitution was provided for sin. The suffering death of Christ provided such satisfaction. It is further believed that such grace comes to man only through the merits of Christ, and not by human effort. Therefore, salvation, unity with God, requires the belief in Jesus Christ: "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you are complete in him who is the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:9-10).

Christ is believed to be the promised Messiah. Other Jewish figures have been thought to bear the marks of the messiah, but none accompanied Jesus, and since it has been determined impossible for them to possess these marks as have been made concerning Jesus in relation to God. Jesus is seen as the way to God, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; for no man comes unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6); therefore the new Christian community, which served to form the Church, believed theirs was the way to God. It was further believed that the Church became the body of Christ, "Now you are the body of Christ, and member in particular" (1 Corinthians 14:27); sometimes referred to as the Mystical Body of Christ.

Common beliefs:

The principle treatise of Christianity is embodied within the Apostles' Creed, which is generally accepted by almost all Western churches. Within the Creed are stated the fundamental beliefs composing Christianity. The initial belief pertains to God, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth." As observed, this belief is similar to, if not identical with, the belief concerning God in Judaism, as seen in the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 God made the world, universe, and everything in it in seven days and rested. The reason for this similarity of belief is because the Christian belief in God was adopted from Judaism from which Christianity emerged. There is, however, a greater emphasis on the fatherhood, principally depicting the Father as the creator of all things, which distinguishes him from Jesus, the Son. Christian belief not only affirms that God created humankind, but that he cares and provides for man as well; furthermore, man, positioned just below angels, is seen as the crowning work of God's creation.

In the Creed the second fundamental belief is in Jesus Christ as stated, "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead (see Descent into Hell). On he third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father." This belief in Jesus Christ is essential to Christianity because it conveys not just a belief in the person of Jesus, but in what he suffered, his death and resurrection as well as his ascension into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God. The belief embodies all of Christendom, and separates Christianity from all other religions.

Before proceeding to the next declarations of the Creed the various parts of this belief should be examined in order to gain a better comprehension of Christianity. First, there is the affirmation of the belief in the person of Jesus Christ, his only Son, God's only Son, our Lord. The inspiration for such affirmation is Biblical, from both the Old Testament and the New Testament: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). "And the angel said unto her, Fear not Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. And he shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father, David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:30-33).

The belief that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary also is Biblically born out. Upon hearing the angel's announcement to her, Mary asked, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" The angel explains, "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:34-35).

The next belief of the Creed is that he suffered under Pontius Pilate. Pilate, the governor of Judea, was the official to whom the Jewish chief priests and Sanhedrin brought Jesus before for conviction. The governor after questioning Jesus found him innocent (Luke 23:14). Upon announcing this to the crowd, Pilate still found himself facing the same situation for the crowd demanded Jesus be crucified. A possible way out presented itself, which was to follow a custom observed at Passover, which was to release a condemned criminal; therefore, he gave the people a choice between Barabbas, a murderer, and Jesus. He was to receive their decision seated in front of the palace. As soon as he was seated Pilate given a message, which he discovered was from his wife informing him that she had suffered many things in a dream, and urged him not to condemn the Just One. (Matthew 27:15-17).

Still hesitant, Pilate then asked them why, what evil has he done? And the crowd cried out more intensely, Crucify him. The situation became clear to Pilate, the priests had stirred up the crowd, and he had only one way out, which was to release Barabbas. Then he ordered Jesus scourged before being crucified (Mark 15:14-15).

Jesus was crucified at the place known as Golgotha, place of a skull. He was nailed, in his hands and feet, to the cross and raised. A sign was placed over his head reading, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." Many mocked him as he hung there, even the two thieves crucified beside him. There came darkness upon the area from the sixth to the ninth hour. It was then Jesus uttered, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some heard this, they said, "This man calls for Elijah. A man held up vinegar on a sponge for Jesus to drink. Others said, "Let him be, let us see if Elijah will come to save him." Jesus cried once more, and yielded up the spirit (Matthew 27:33-50).

The belief that Christ descended into hell to the dead is surrounded with much uncertainty, especially for modern Christians who vision hell as a place of everlasting fire and torment. The analysis of such uncertainty reveals it has both Biblical and cultural basis. The Biblical basis include such verses as "And I say unto you that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11). "And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:22-23). "And the graves were opened; and the many bodies of the saints that slept were raised, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many" (Matthew 27:52-53). Paul speaks of Jesus descending "into lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9) before he ascended into heaven. "For Christ did once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also he went and preached unto spirits in prison, who at one time were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water" (1 Peter 3:18-20).

From reading the above verse one sees that the existed a belief in the existence of a place where the spirits of the dead resided. Particularly, when reading the passages concerning Abraham's bosom, one sees there also a belief that both the good and bad spirits of the dead resided in separate places after death. It was generally assumed this or these places were beneath the earth. It is significant that Paul, a Roman citizen and certainly acquainted with Roman and Greek mythology, states that Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth. Also significance is the mentioning of Hades, where the rich man resided after death, in contrast to Abraham's bosom. In Greek mythology Hades was known as the habitation of the dead, or shades; and it was subterranean, also people came out of Hades. The Greeks were not the only culture to believe the spirits of the dead resided beneath the earth, the Hebrews had their Sheol. In Hebrew Sheol means a grave or pit, underground, perhaps beneath mountains, a place where the dead gathered to lead a conscious shadowy existence. It was thought the dead did not suffer torment, but had neither hope nor satisfaction, and were separated from God. These statements offer proof that concepts from former religious ideologies were syncretized into early Christianity. Also, they show that the modern concept of the Christian hell was derived from previous concepts.

It is believed that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. According to the Bible that after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God (Mark 16:19).

Next is the affirmation of the belief in the Holy Spirit. It is believed that the Holy Spirit is God, the Third person of the holy Trinity, who is equal to and proceeds from the Father and the Son, and they operate through him.

Following is the profession of the belief in the holy catholic, universal, Church (Holy catholic Church), which includes all churches, institutions, and doctrines which claim as their basis a continuous tradition of faith and practice extending from the apostles--the claim is contrasted with the Protestant appeals to the Bible alone. Hence, the term "catholic" also refers to Christians who accept the traditional doctrines and practices, for example, devotion to Mary and the sacraments.

The next professed belief is the communion of saints affirming the unity of the faithful, both the living and the dead, in union with Jesus Christ and with each other. The Latin communio sanctorum could also mean "communion of holy things," especially sharing in the sacraments.

In affirming his belief in the forgiveness of sins the Christian is expressing the fundamental truth held by every believer in relationship to his sins is the fact that his salvation comprehends the forgiveness of all of his trespasses past, present, and future so far as condemnation is concerned (Romans 3:1; Colossians 2:13; John 3:18; John 5:24). This is believed because Christ vicariously borne all sin and since the believer's standing in Christ is complete, he is perfected forever in Christ.

The resurrection of the body is an important Christian belief that the body is reunited with the soul after it has been separated by death. The body shall rise again. The integrity of man's being, a creature of soul and body, shall be restored. This is believed because of the belief in Christ's resurrection, for he said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).

Life everlasting, or eternal life, is believed to be a gift from God as a result of having faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). . Christ said, "I have come that you may have life, and they might have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

It is by the affirmation of the beliefs within this creed that the Christian religion has withstood through the centuries; the Catholics maintain since the days of Christ and St. Peter, the first Pope. Some often overlook its past and present seeking to present a picture of a religion which has dignified and cared for people by perpetuating agape love among people in order to assure unity with their God. However, this picture is not always discernable when considering certain scriptures. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:14). Jesus further taught when comparing himself to the vine, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in me, I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth fruit; for without me, you can do nothing. If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into fire, and they are burned" (John 15:4-6).
This seems to sum up the basic belief of Christianity: everything rests on the belief in Jesus, without it nothing is possible, the person and everything is lost. A.G.H.


Sources:

The Encyclopedia Americana, International Edition. Danbury, CT, Grolier, 2000, 6, 647-649
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 216-218
Unger, Merrill F., Unger's Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, pp. 196