The 20-something year-old new employee bravely asked her new coworker, “Are you a Christian?” She had bee taught to be strong in her faith and to not have fear in asking such questions. The coworker replied, “No, I’m not a Christian. I’m Catholic.” To this answer, the young female apostolate had not been prepared with a response. She returned home that evening confused and questioning the understanding she had of Christianity.
The word ‘Christian’ means Christ-like, or having to do with the Christ (Random, 2006). The larger umbrella of Christianity centers on a faith which follows the life, practices, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who is also called Jesus Christ; meaning Jesus ‘The Messiah’ or anointed one (Rutgers, 2005). Unlike Judaism, which is segregated only by Orthodox Jews and non-orthodox Jews, Christianity has grown to be segregated into many denominations; all which follow the teachings of Jesus. Some of these denominations include Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and many others. Because Christianity has been divided by denominations which each practice their faith in some differential manner, there has been many occasion for confusion or misconception.
The history of the Christian faith traces its beginnings back to the creation of the world in the same manner as Judaism. Both these faith traditions, as well as Islam, are monotheistic religions acknowledging one supreme being or deity. The historical background of Christianity is a shared history with Judaism. Many biblical scholars contend that Christianity began as a Jewish sect. Later, the followers of Christ became so numerous that the two faith followings completely severed connection to each other.
The two main reasons for this separation are 1) Christianity came to regard Jesus as in some sense God’s presence in human form; a concept that was unacceptable to the Jewish law, and 2) Judaism is defined by a covenant made between God and the Jewish people. This covenant was solidified through the law. Jesus stated that he came to abolish the old law. Jewish faith believes that following the law is what leads to eternal redemption. Abolishing this set of laws would negate the entire foundation of the Jewish faith. In the New Testament scriptures, Jesus says that there is a new law; to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. You should love your neighbor as yourself” (NRSV, 2006). This is the law to which the Christian faith adheres.
God, The Creator
Being a monotheistic faith, Christians believe there is one supreme deity; being God the Creator. The Genesis story of creation has taken on many interpretations including a very literal interpretation, as well as metaphoric interpretations. In either sense, Christianity believes God created all life. There are vast differences between how faiths view the concept of God. Some envision God as being omnipotent and omniscient and not requiring interaction with human beings. The other end of this perception spectrum would be revealed in pantheism; which does not make any distinction between God and the world. Christianity holds a middle ground in maintaining a necessary connection with the Creator. Another large distinction between Christianity and other faith traditions is the concept of the Trinity.
While Christianity holds that there is one God, there is the belief that this one God is represented in the triune presence of God the Creator, Jesus the savior who is God in the physical flesh, and God the Holy Spirit represented as God with the human heart. This triune nature of God has been a concept of controversy for many years. There are believers who wholeheartedly believe in the Creator God, yet have difficulty understanding and accepting the Trinity. One scholar best explains this concept through the analogy of a human being. “An individual, being one person, can be the child of their parents, sibling to their siblings, and parent to their own children. In this sense, the individual is parent, sibling and child, being only one person with three identities” (Corkland, 2004).
Jesus was born into the family lineage of the house of David; which is documented in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The first five books of the Christian Bible, the Pentateuch, and the first half of the Christian Bible known as the Old Testament, are the same writings that make up the Jewish Torah. However, this is where the two faiths divide. While Judaism acknowledges the Jewish background of the man named Jesus, the Jewish religion does not acknowledge this man to be the messiah.
The birth of Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Prophets from many years and ages had told of one who would be the promised one, the messiah, the Christ. Purportedly born in a stable because there was no room in the inn, and born of an immaculate conception, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament.
Little is mentioned of the young years of the life of Jesus. The scriptures make reference to the virgin birth, Jesus at an early age of around 12 years old, then the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. This event takes place when Jesus was beginning his earthly ministry; which lasted only 3 years. During this ministry, Jesus called 12 men to follow him and be his disciples. According to the scriptures, these men left their jobs, their homes, and their families and followed Jesus as he taught, until the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
There are many incidents and occurrences within the Christian faith which create opportunity for conflict. Much of this conflict arises from the sacred texts of the Christian faith. Conflicts arise in determining the authenticity of the books of the Christian Bible as well as the authorship of the books. In addition to these conflicts, there is much controversy over the translations and transliterations of the sacred texts. Many scholars of the Bible texts have indicated that the translations from the original text into contemporary verbiage have created inaccuracies and inconsistencies which have allowed these sacred texts to be a source of love and support, as well as hurt, hatred and destruction.
Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong writes, “I had to face openly and admit honestly those things about which most Christians are neither knowledgeable nor aware. I had to document the evil that Christians have so frequently tendered to others in the name of our religion, including the way we have justified violence with biblical quotations” (Spong, 2005). Generations have misquoted the Biblical texts to persecute people of specific groups in the name of Christianity and with the Bible being the supporting documentation. In the sermon words of Rev. Kenneth L. Martin, “Any text taken out of context becomes someone’s pretext.”
There are numerous religious traditions celebrated and practiced across the globe. Followers of each religious tradition, regardless of how old the tradition is, have specific foundations and guidelines being adhered to. The followers of each faith tradition believe their tradition is ‘right’ and beneficial. While the sacred texts of a particular faith, such as Judaism or Christianity, can be back-dated for many years, there remains a contention of the validity of these texts in modern comprehension. There exists no person alive today who heard the spoken words of Jesus of Nazareth. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NRSV, 2006). This is the basis of all faith traditions, and certainly is inclusive of the tradition of Christianity.
Corkland, J., 2004, The Nature of God, Bantam Publishing, Ch. 7, pg. 148
NRSV, 2006, Mark 12: 28-34, electronically retrieved on October 19, 2007 from http://www.biblebb.com/files/mac/sg2358.htm
NRSV, 2006, Hebrews 11: 1, electronically retrieved on October 19, 2007 from http://www.biblebb.com/files/mac/sg2358.htm
Random House, 2006, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, electronically retrieved on October 18, 2007 from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/christian
Rutgers, 2005, What is Christianity, electronically retrieved on October, 19, 2007 from http://geneva.rutgers.edu/src/christianity/major.html
Spong, J., 2005, The Sins of Scripture; Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love, Harper Collins, Ch. 1, pg. 13