WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN BELIEF?
What do Christians believe in? This question does not have a direct answer. Christianity generally encompasses a wide range of denominations and faith groups. Thus, within the general context of Christianity as a religion, Christian values differ widely as each denomination subscribes to its collection of doctrines and practices.
The most commonly practiced religion in the world is Christianity, with more than two billion followers. The Christian faith centers its belief on the birth, earthly ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. It began with a small gathering of followers. Many historians view the adoption and spread of Christianity across the world as one of the most successful spiritual missions in human history.
Christianity remains culturally diverse in its western and eastern branches and its doctrines on justification and the nature of salvation, ecclesiology, ordination, and Christology. Their creeds generally hold in common — Jesus Christ, the Son of God — who ministered, suffered, and died on the cross but rose from the dead on the third day for the salvation of mankind; which is the Gospel, in the Bible. The four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with the Jewish Old Testament as the revered history of the Gospel explain Jesus’ life and teachings.
Early Jewish Christians referred to themselves as ‘The Way,’ probably coming from Isaiah 40:3, ‘…prepare ye the way of the Lord….’ According to Acts 11:26, the term ‘Christian’ was first used in reference to the disciples of Jesus in the city of Antioch, meaning ‘Christ’s followers,’ by the non-Jewish inhabitants of the city.
DEFINITION OF DOCTRINE
Doctrine is something that is taught, a principle or creed of principles presented for acceptance or a belief system. In the Scripture, doctrine has a broader meaning. This explanation of doctrine is given in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: “Christianity is a religion based on a message of good news grounded in the context of the life of Jesus Christ.”
In the Scripture, however, doctrine refers to the whole body of fundamental biblical realities that define and describe the message that incorporates historical facts, such as those surrounding the events of the life of Jesus Christ. Still, it is broader than the biographical facts alone.
The three main Christian creeds, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, constitute a relatively detailed summary of traditional Christian doctrine, reflecting the fundamental beliefs in a wide range of Christian churches. However, many churches oppose the custom of professing faith, even though they may agree with the creeds’ contents. They refuse to follow or acknowledge the creeds except that which is written in the Bible.
Some basic Christian concepts include:
• Christians are monotheistic; that is, they believe that there is only one God and that He is the creator of the heavens and the earth. The divine Godhead comprises of three parts: the Father (God himself), the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.
• The purpose of Christianity revolves around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christians believe that God sent his only begotten son, the Messiah, to save the world, and conclude that Christ was crucified on the cross to grant forgiveness of sins and that he resurrected three days after his death before ascending into Heaven.
• Christians believe that Jesus will come to earth again in what is known as the Second Coming.
• The Holy Bible contains the teachings of Jesus when He lived on earth, and the teachings of the great prophets and disciples, and how Christians should live.
• Both Christians and Jews follow the Old Testament of the Bible, but Christians also embrace the New Testament.
• The cross is a symbol of Christian.
• The most important Christian holidays are Christmas (which marks the birth of Jesus) and Easter (which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus).
WHO IS JESUS?
Some historians believe that Jesus is a real person born between 2 B.C and 7 B.C. Most of what historians know about Jesus is from the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
According to the Holy Bible, Jesus was born to a young Jewish virgin called Mary, in Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, in modern-day Palestine. Christians believe the birth was a supernatural occurrence “…for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20)
A little is known about the upbringing of Jesus. The Scriptures show that he grew up in Nazareth, that he and his family fled the persecution of King Herod and moved to Egypt, and that his “earthly” father, Joseph, was a carpenter.
Jesus was raised as a Jew, and according to most historians, he was trying to reform Judaism — not to establish a new religion.
When he was about 30 years old, Jesus began his public ministry after being baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.
For around three years, Jesus traveled with 12 appointed disciples (also known as the Twelve Apostles), teaching large numbers of people and performing what the witnesses described as miracles. Some of the most prominent miracle incidents included raising the dead man called Lazarus from the grave, walking on water, healing the blind, e.t.c.
Jesus used parables— short stories with hidden messages — in his teachings.
Some of the central themes that Jesus taught, later embraced by Christians, include:
• Love the Lord thy God.
• Love the neighbor as yourself.
• Forgive those who have wronged you.
• Love your enemies.
• Ask God to forgive you of your sins.
• Jesus is the Lord and has been given the authority to forgive others.
• Repentance of sins is necessary.
• Don’t be hypocritical.
• Do not judge others.
• The Kingdom of God is near. It is not the rich and powerful — but the weak and the poor — who will inherit the kingdom of God.
During one of Jesus’ most famous teachings, known as the Sermon on the Mount, he summarized many of his moral instructions to his followers.
DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS
Most historians agree that Jesus died between 30 A.D. And 33 A.D., even though the exact date is transpiring debate among theologians.
According to the Bible, Jesus was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. Roman governor Pontius Pilate issued an order to crucify Jesus, under pressure from Jewish leaders who believed that Jesus was guilty of several crimes, including blasphemy.
Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem by Roman soldiers, and his body was laid in a tomb. According to the Scriptures, three days after His crucifixion, He resurrected from the death.
In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, several people reported sightings and having an encounter with him. The authors of the Bible say that the resurrected Jesus ascended to Heaven.
THE HOLY BIBLE
The Holy Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written by different authors. It is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament, which is also accepted by the adherents of Judaism, describes the history of the Jewish people, outlines the specific laws to be observed, discusses the lives of many prophets, and predicts the coming of the Messiah.
The New Testament was written after the death of Jesus Christ. The first four books — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — are known as the “Gospels,” which means “good news.” These texts were written sometime between 70 A.D. And 100 A.D. they give an account of Jesus’ birth, earthly ministration, death and resurrection, and the giving of the great commission.
The next book in the New Testament is the Acts of the Apostles, which gives an account of the apostles’ ministry after the death of Jesus. The author of the Acts of Apostles is the same author as one of the Gospels—it is also “part two” of the Gospels.
It is followed by the letters which were written by early Christian leaders. It is also known as “epistles,” which make up a large part of the New Testament. These letters provide instructions on how the Church should operate.
The last book of the New Testament is Revelation. It describes the signs and prophecies that will happen when the world is about to end and the metaphors that will explain the state of the world.
HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
According to the Bible, the first Church organized itself 50 days after the death of Christ on the Day of Pentecost — when the Holy Spirit was believed to descend upon the followers of Jesus.
Many of the first Christians were Jewish converts, and the Church was centered in Jerusalem. Shortly after the founding of the Church, many Gentiles (non-Jews) adopted Christianity.
Early Christians felt it was their duty to spread and teach the Gospel. Apostle Paul, a former Christian persecutor, was one of the most prominent missionaries.
Paul’s conversion to Christianity, after a divine experience with Jesus, is outlined in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul preached the Gospel, and he founded churches in the Roman Empire, Europe, and Africa.
Most historians agree that Christianity would not have been widely spread without Paul’s ministration. In addition to preaching, 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament are believed to have been written by Apostle Paul.
PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS
The early Christians were persecuted by the Jewish and Roman leaders for their religion.
In 64 A.D., Emperor Nero accused Christians of a fire that broke out in Rome. During this time, several Christians were brutally tortured and killed.
Christianity was illegal under Emperor Domitian. During His reign, anyone who professes Christianity will be executed.
Beginning in 303 A.D., Christians have endured the most severe persecutions under the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius. It was known as the Great Persecution.
CONSTANTINE EMBRACES CHRISTIANITY
The period the Roman emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity; religious tolerance shifted to the Roman Empire.
At that time, there were many groups of Christians with various ideas about how to view the Bible and the position of the Church.
In 313 A.D., Constantine, with the Edict of Milan, ended the ban on Christianity. A time went by, he sought to unify Christianity and resolve issues that divided the Church by creating the Nicene Creed.
Most historians agree that the conversion of Constantine was a turning point in the history of Christianity.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
In 380 A.D., Emperor Theodosius, the first, declared Catholicism to be the Roman Empire’s state religion. The Pope, or the Bishop of Rome, served as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholics expressed a sincere devotion to the Virgin Mary, recognized the seven sacraments, and honored the relics and sacred sites.
After the Roman Empire collapsed in 476 A.D., there were differences between Eastern and Western Christians.
In 1054 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church were divided into two classes.
Between 1095 A.D. and 1230 A.D., the Crusades, a campaign of holy wars, took place. In these wars, Christians fought against Islamic rulers and their Muslim soldiers to recover the Holy Land of Jerusalem.
The Christians succeeded in capturing Jerusalem during some of the Crusades, but eventually, they were defeated.
After the Crusades, the power and wealth of the Catholic Church increased.
In 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther published 95 Theses — a document that condemned the Pope’s actions and argued against some of the policies and goals of the Roman Catholic Church.
Later, Luther publicly declared that the Bible did not grant the Pope the exclusive right to read and interpret the Scriptures.
Luther’s teachings then gave rise to the Reformation — a movement aimed at reforming the Catholic Church. As a result, Protestantism was founded, and different Christian denominations gradually began to develop.
TYPES OF CHRISTIANITY
Christianity is generally divided into three branches: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
The Catholic branch is governed by the Pope and by Catholic Bishops around the world. The Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox is divided into separate divisions, each governed by the Holy Synod; there is no overarching governing structure comparable to that of the Pope.
There are various sects within Protestant Christianity, all of which vary in their interpretation of the Bible and in their view of the Church.
Several of the other sects that fall under the category of Protestant Christianity include:
• The Baptist;
• Pentecostal / Charismatic
• The Lutherans
• The Anglicans
• Assemblies of God
• Christian Reform/Dutch Reform
• Church of the Nazarene
• Disciples of Christ
• The United Church of Christ;
• Christian Science
• The Seventh Day Adventist
While many Christian denominations have different beliefs, separate traditions, and worship in various ways, the core of their faith is based on the life and teachings of Jesus.