What is Christianity:
The essence of Christianity is following the teachings
of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth (or Yeshua ben Yosef). He claimed to
be the long-awaited "Messiah" of Israel, the “son”
of God, whose death would inaugurate God's rule on earth, a kingdom in
which he is king and which anyone (not just the religious) can enter if
they seek God's forgiveness.
Christians meet in many different ways, and have many different peripheral
beliefs, but most believe:
· Jesus' death was the means by which God's forgiveness can now
be received by all who ask for it;
· following Jesus requires a new way of living, based on love and
serving others, and assisted by God's Spirit who lives within all believers;
· Jesus is the "Son of God" and equal with God - the
Father, Son and Spirit share the same nature and make up the "Trinity",
three "persons" of the one being God (a difficult concept!);
· the Christian scriptures are the Bible, which consists of the
Old Testament (basically the Jewish scriptures) and the New Testament
(writings about Jesus) - "testament" means covenant or agreement,
so the New Testament supersedes the Old in many ways;
· all of us will have to give an account of our lives to God; those
who trust in Jesus for their forgiveness receive life in the age to come.
Therefore Christians believe all people must:
· recognise who Jesus was (and is),
· be willing to accept and live by his teachings and God's authority
· seek God's forgiveness when we fail to do so, and to trust that
his death is sufficent for us to receive that forgiveness (we don't need
to earn it), and
· through prayer and obedience, to place our lives at his disposal
and be willing to forgive even our enemies, seek to meet the needs of
those who are doing it tough, and represent Jesus on earth.
Christians don't always fulfil these ideals, hence the need to for continued
forgiveness and renewal. Nevertheless, Christians find joy and peace in
together serving people and the living God.
How Christianity began:
Jesus lived in Israel between about 4 BCE and 30 CE and was an itinerant
preacher and healer for the last couple of years of his life.
· He began his public teaching by announcing the coming of God
's kingdom on earth.
· He supported common people and the marginalised (which included
women, non Jews, lepers, etc) against the religious establishment.
· He gave new twists to old ethical and religious teachings.
· He gained fame (and notoriety) as a healer and exorcist.
· He taught that forgiveness of sins could be received from him,
not just via theJewish temple rituals.
· Increasingly he challenged the authority of the Jewish religious
leaders, and his claim to be a king was an implicit threat to Roman rule.
· Jesus was executed for sedition, but his followers claimed he
was resurrected and was seen alive by them for a period before returning
Jesus's followers believed he had left them to carry on his mission, first
to the Jewish nation, and then right throughout the Roman Empire. At first
the new teachings were suppressed, sometimes by violent persection, because
the early christians recognised Jesus, and not Caesar, as “Lord”.
(Because they didn't worship all the Roman gods, the Romans called them
“atheists”!) But the early christians were so committed that
within 3 centuries they were the majority belief.
Who is a christian:
Most christians would say that those who choose to follow Jesus and allow
him to renew their lives are “christians”. This is clearly
an internal thing with outward actions following, so we cannot always
know who is truly a christian. Statistically, people living in so-called
christian countries, born into christian famiies or attending a church
may be counted as christians, but obviously they may not in fact be actually
How is Christianity different from other religious views:
Christianity is different to most other religions in several ways:
· Most other religions see their founder as a messenger of a truth
greater than themselves, but Christians see Jesus as the embodiment of
their faith. Christianity is based on God coming to earth in the form
of Jesus to seek and to save lost people. In most other religions (e.g.
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism), the founder is considered to be a prophet,
a guru or an exemplar, but not a divine person – they would find
· While God's mercy is a feature of most religions, believers still
have to earn that mercy by obeying certain teachings or laws. But in Christianity,
God's mercy is freely given to all who trust in Jesus, regardless of their
obedience; however following Jesus's teachings is expected as part of
· Christians believe God's Spirit (the third person in the Trinity)
is active in the life of each believer to empower, guide, convict and
enlighten. No other religion has a similar belief.
· Christianity depends on the historical truth of Jesus's life,
death and resurrection. The New Testament can, in principle, be verified
by normal historical methods.
· Christianity is the world's largest religion in terms of nominal
adherents – 2.1 billion, or about one third of the world's population.
A few misconceptions:
Probably the biggest misconception about Christianity (even among some
believers) is that we need to be “good” to earn God's favour.
It is natural for people to think this, but Christianity is unquestionably
a religion of “grace” - God's undeserved but unwavering favour
An associated misconception is that Christians consider themselves better
than other people. Some may do so, but generally christians believe that
all of us fall short of the standards God sets for us.
Non-believers often characterise Christianity as being based on faith,
which is the opposite of reason. But facts and reason are important for
Christians, who have always been interested in the philosophical “proofs”
for God's existence, and believe the ministry of Jesus is based on the
evidence of history. Most Christians use faith to build on reason.
Many people blame Christianity for evil committed by the church or by
apparent christians. Christians believe that any action contrary to Jesus's
teaching should not be blamed on him, but on the person who committed
it. It is unfortunately true that for a long period when the church was
one of the most powerful organisations in Europe, it attracted many people
who do not appear to have had genuine christian belief, but used the church
for personal gain.
Michael Grant: “Jesus, an Historian's Review of the Gospels”.
The conclusions of an eminent historian and non-believer.
John Dickson: “A Spectator's Guide to Jesus”. The conclusions
of a historian who is a believer.
Rodney Stark: “The Rise of Christianity”. An analysis of how
Chrstianity converted the Roman world.