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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Christianity



Word and Sacrament, by Norma Boeckler

Christianity

Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.



The Christian Faith is a continuation of Judaism, in worship, in beliefs, and in the Scriptures. Some try to divide the Bible into Law (Old Testament) and Gospel (New Testament). In fact, the Old Testament is filled with Gospel promises and the New Testament contains God’s Law.

From a Christian perspective, the first Gospel promise was Genesis 3:15, when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise but promised a Savior Who would crush the head of the Serpent, Satan. All the passages in the Old Testament concerning the promised Messiah and all the messages of hope, comfort, and love are considered Gospel passages by the Christian community.

Jesus was born into a Jewish family and observed Jewish customs. He called the disciples from among the Jews and first taught the Jewish people. Therefore, it is not surprising to find so much of Judaism in the Christian Faith.

If I had to explain the Christian faith to someone from another planet, I would say this:

Christianity emphasizes salvation through God’s grace, apart from works of the Law. God gave man the Law, but frail human beings could not keep the Ten Commandments even when they tried their best. God sent His Son, Jesus, born of a Virgin, to live among, to teach us, to serve as an example, and to die for our sins in our place. Jesus rose from the dead to show that He was free of sin and not subject to the power of death. He rose from the dead because God pronounced Him innocent. When we speak of the Atonement, it means that Jesus atoned for our sins, that He suffered and died in our place.

Believing in the atoning death of Christ and His resurrection means receiving the promise of forgiveness and eternal life offered by God. This is called justification by faith, apart from the works of the Law. God forgives our sins, not because we have earned that forgiveness, but because Jesus has earned it for us. Since death is the penalty for sin, we receive eternal life instead of eternal death through this forgiveness earned by the Savior.

Christianity is centered upon the Word of God in the Scriptures. We include the 27 books of the New Testament along with the 39 books of the Old Testament. Preserving the truth of the Scriptures is very important to traditional Christians.

Christianity now has many branches. The chief branches are: the liturgical (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox), the Protestant (Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite, Methodist), and the Pentecostal (Assemblies of God, as well as denominational influence through the charismatic movement). The sacraments are very important to the liturgical churches. Each denomination has a different emphasis, but all base their doctrines upon the Scriptures.

The Christian Faith is moving in another direction. The established denominations have become quite liberal. The Third World churches remain quite traditional. It remains to be seen where this will head. Already in Europe the old cathedrals are empty, except for tourists gawking. The Moslem worship centers are packed with faithful followers of Islam. If this trend continues, then Europe will be defined by Islam rather than by Christianity and Judaism.

In America there is a massive aging trend. The denominations are getting quite elderly. Many people confess they only see grey and white hair on Sunday. Worship attendance and giving is largely from the oldest age group. When that is stopped by death, the complexion of American Christianity will change quickly. The demographic trends include large increases in the Hispanic populations. This change may turn the American Roman Catholic Church into a Hispanic denomination.

Discussion Questions

1. Based on your studies, which are the key differences between Judaism and Christianity.
2. What trends do you see developing in Christianity, in America and in Europe?
Optional
3. Who are the only religious leaders known by name in the world? Why do you think this is so?

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