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Common Questions About Christianity

This page is authored by Brian L. Boley. The page represents my views of Christianity and may or may not be shared by the missionaries we support.

What is the basic premise of Christianity?

The basic premise of Christianity is that there is one God who shows Himself to us in three ways:

and who takes an intense interest in the individual life of each of us.

According to Christians:

God created Man, and Man walked with God in the beginning. However, Man disobeyed God and was forced away from God. God has revealed himself many times to men over the years, and made an agreement to support the Jews if they would obey him and his Laws. Many times, the Laws required a sacrifice to apologize to God for disobeying the Laws. Repeatedly, the Jews disobeyed -- both individually and as a nation. God, who is completely Just, allowed them to punish themselves by temporarily leaving them to their own devices.

After many years of this, God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world as previously predicted by many prophecies. Beginning around 30 A.D., Jesus taught heavily for three years to many people in the area of present day Israel. After three years, he was killed by the Romans for sedition after a mob (incited by the Jewish priesthood) cried for his blood. In effect, he was sacrificed! The method of death was crucifiction, or being hung upon a wooden cross until dead - again, as prophesized.

Also, as forecast by the prophecies, he rose from the dead three days after dying on the cross and taught for several weeks to many people. This resurrection was the ultimate proof that a Diety was involved. His death was taken by God as the ultimate sacrifice, in which He declared a new agreement with all of Mankind: Whoever believes that Jesus truly was the Son of God (and thus believes in God and His promises), will be given eternal life. Believers are given the Holy Spirit to guide them in becoming appropriate to associate with God during Eternity.

Finally, Christians believe that Jesus will be returning someday to claim his Kingdom and rule the world visibly and directly. This will be a time of joy for believers who will live in a land ruled by the Just and Kind God, and a time of sorrow for non-believers, who will be left to fend for themselves.

Can you put this Father, Son, Holy Spirit thing in terms I can understand?

The Father is the Creator of the Universe and has taken an interest in mankind since the beginning. He is Good, powerful and wise, capable of absolutely anything.

The Son was born to a woman named Mary who was a virgin. Since this was in the days preceeding artificial insemination, this was considered miraculous and only could be explained by the direct intervention of God. The Son grew and was called Jesus, who lived an ordinary life as a carpenter -- although he was a very bright child. In His early thirties after his cousin John the Baptizer began teaching, Jesus went to hear John and was baptized (immersed in water) by John. At this time Jesus began teaching and continued this for three years.

After Jesus rose from the dead (known as the Resurrection), He gave His Disciples (His remaining 11 closest students) and several hundred other followers the Holy Spirit into their hearts to guide them. The Holy Spirit is still present in believers.

The concept of three parts to God is called the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Are there any good modern day analogies to this Doctrine of the Trinity?

Yes. Perhaps the best one for computer-savvy readers is this:

In the Beginning, a Program existed. It consisted of three parts: a Server, an Installer, and a Client. The Server was originally on the Net. It communicated with its operator, but the operator sent the Server illegal requests which violated its Protocol. The operator was locked out by the Server.

Over time, various operators tried to communicate properly with the Server, but to no avail. Finally, the Server choose an operator to whom He published a file full of a communication Protocol for various operators and programmers to use to communicate to the Server. This key operator even published a detailed user's manual explaining the Protocol. But the chosen programmers would not stick to the Protocol or read the manual, and kept trying other protocols and sending illegal requests to the Server. The Server would not allow access because of this, and responded by crashing their systems.

Finally, the Server sent an Installer program. The Installer was sent to the programmers and operators to show them the proper way to communicate with the Server and never have system crashes, but by now the programmers and operators wouldn't listen. So they deleted the Installer, assuming that it was a malicious virus.

Shortly thereafter, the Installer re-appeared, un-deleted by the Server. The Installer went to several key programmers and operators who had listened to it and proceeded to Install the Client on their systems.

The Client remains and has become widely used throughout the world. People who use the Client and study the manual experience trouble-free communication with the Server. These people also know that the Installer will return to the Net some day with a new Version which will usher in a new and wonderful age.

All are necessary. The Father is Supreme. Belief in The Son is necessary to establish proper communications with the Father -- belief shows proper respect. The Holy Spirit is within us for guidance in life and in those communications. And the Bible is the instruction book.

Who is the leader of the Christian Church?

Christians do not agree upon a single earthly leader.

The Catholic branch of Christianity looks to the Bishop (overseer) of the Roman church as the leader. He is referred to as "the Pope".

Throughout history, Christians have argued and debated about doctrine. The early debates were over issues of the dual nature of Jesus - God and Man simultaneously. Other debates have concerned the timing and nature of the return of Jesus. These debates were settled by great church councils which debated, worked, argued, and eventually came through the detailed philosophical issues to pronounc a standard view for Christians. The relatively small percentage of people who disagreed found that their beliefs were deemed "heresy" or false teachings. Although the heresies were settled by reasonable men searching for the truth, later debates were more political and resulted in major church splits, or "schisms".

Around the year 1000, the Greek liturgy Eastern Orthodox churches and the Latin liturgy Roman Catholic churches split over several doctrinal and political issues. This split remains to the present day. Christians in Greece, Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of the Balkans are mainly Orthodox. Christians in Western Europe are mainly Catholic or Protestant.

A major debate in the 1500's was over the validity of the Pope's leadership. Catholic Christians believe that the Pope -- the Bishop of Rome -- can make pronouncements which have equal weight with the Bible -- the basic collection of early Christian writings. Protestants Christians believe that the Pope does not have this authority. This argument actually broke out into the devastating war known as The Thirty-Years War, and has resulted in a split between the mainly Protestant north of Europe, and the mainly Catholic south. Lands settled after this time also reflect this split, with former British colonies mainly Protestant, while former French, Spanish, and Portugese colonies are mainly Catholic.

Other debates have continued since that time. Protestant churches have tended to have more splits than others. For example, today, many churches argue over the types of music used in their services, while 30 years ago the big issue in the American church was the question of slacks for women.

So do Christians believe many different things?

Christian churches differ considerably over styles of worship. However, although Christians have also argued over doctrinal points and such, all of the major groupings are agreed upon the core items: Although the focus of the different groupings are on different areas, these are relatively minor differences and are best thought of as disputes within the family. (This is not to say that many Christians believe that the correct answer to these disputes is not important!) But these differences are similar to the inhouse debates which occur within any large group of people. (Some kids prefer Coke, others prefer Pepsi. But all kids like to drink soft drinks.)

Let me suggest that you don't let the disputes and minor differences in doctrine between the different groups keep you from the greater message that all of the groups agree upon:

God actually came and visited us here on earth about 2000 years ago. He is taking a very personal interest in your life, and is ready to communicate with you Right Now! if you are willing to accept His leadership in your life. Are you ready to consider that this might be true?

You should be aware that some Christians believe that only their particular church or group will be accepted by Jesus. Other Christians believe that if certain core issues are believed in, eternal life will follow. And still others believe that almost any professing Christian will achieve eternal life. This question is in itself the debate of ecumenicalism -- how many of the Christian groups are actually True Christians?

But my suggestion, once again, is to worry about the core issues now, and then later you can decide which of the family disputes are important to you. Worrying about them now is simply a distraction from the real issue: Was Jesus Christ actually God's Son? For if He was, then you we can believe everything He said. And if He wasn't, then He was just another man similar to Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Socrates, and Moses - with one exception. He must have been a lunatic and His followers -- the several hundred of them who reportedly saw Him after his Resurrection -- must also have been lunatics.

How is the Christian Church organized?

Organization depends upon the branch of Christianity with which we are dealing.

There are different styles of Christian Church organization. In general, a local church has deacons and elders who handle many of the daily aspects of church government. A pastor/minister/priest performs the services and may or may not be the executive of the local church.

Many Christian Churches are totally independent and self-governing. Others are part of a hierarchy.

Most of the heirarchial churches have Bishops as the manager of a group of churches in a medium-size city or province. A group of Bishops may report to an Archbishop or Metropolitan. Above these are various Patriarches who rule all of the churches in a given country or region. The names of these Patriarches vary according to the Branch of Christianity to which they belong.

What are the Major Branches of Christianity?

Christianity has several major branches or styles of worship.

Roman Catholic

The largest organized group, the Roman Catholic Church is based at The Vatican (Vatican City), which is an independent country of less than 200 acres (hectares) located in Rome, Italy. The head of the Roman Catholic Church is the Pope. This occured because two thousand years ago, the most important city in the Western World was Rome. Naturally, the Bishop of Rome would be accorded a large degree of respect, especially since tradition has it that the first Pope was Saint Peter, who was the leader of the original 12 disciples of Jesus.

Catholics believe that because Peter was chosen by Jesus to lead the church, the Bishops who follow in Peter's office are also to lead the church.

Today, the Roman Catholic Church is the dominant religion in Italy, Eire, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, South America, Mexico, the Northern USA, the Phillipines, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and is strong but not dominant in many former French colonies in Africa. Archbishops rule the church in a country or region. Cardinals are Archbishops with particular respect who are approved by the Pope. The approximately 130 Cardinals select the new Pope. Bishops rule under the Archbishops and local churches generally have priests who have been educated specifically for the job.

Catholic Schools are found throughout the world and are generally known for a high level of education.

Beliefs

Strict Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible, God's spokesman on Earth, and must be obeyed. The Doctrine of the Trinity is fully accepted. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is highly venerated, as are other "Saints", who are deceased men and women who have been verified to have performed several miracles, or who have become maryrs for Christ. Catholics will offer prayers to Mary and/or the Saints requesting intercession and assistence.

The Pope sees no contradiction between evolution and Christianity.

Although church services (Mass) were conducted in Latin for many years, this rule was relaxed in the 1960's, and today most Masses are conducted in the local language.

To Catholics, entrance into Heaven is nearly impossible without the assistance of a priest who must intercede at specific key events in the life of a Catholic. This is a major difference between Catholics and Protestants, the other major branch of Western Christianity.

Social beliefs include prohibitions against contraception and abortion. Although homosexuality has been exposed repeatedly in the priesthood, it is officially prohibited and is denounced by the Catholic Church. Priests do not marry in most countries, and must be men.

Men who wish to become priests must take vows of poverty, obediance, and celebacy. Men may also join one of several orders of monks, all of which have strict behavioural guidelines. Women may join various orders of nuns, with similar strictures.

Worship services are very formal, with a well specified liturgy (program of worship). Catholic services are 90 percent identical from church to church, and from service to service. Although the service may contain a homily (short sermon), this is not the focus of the service.

Eastern Orthodox

In the first half of the first millenium A.D., the Roman Empire split into two associated empires. The Western Empire was ruled from Rome, while the Eastern Empire was ruled from Constantinople, present day Istanbul, Turkey. The dividing line was roughly the present day division between Croatia and Serbia. The Western Empire spoke Latin, while the Eastern Empire spoke Greek.

The Church began to divide at this time and finally split in the 10th century. The Eastern Church, unlike the West, never fully acknowledged one city as supreme. In the East, several important cities had Patriarches (senior Bishops), including Constantinople (later known as Byzantium), Antioch, Jerusalem, Ephesus, Damascus, Alexandria, and others. Later, Kiev and Moscow became important centers in Russia. In their areas of influence, these churches are as independent as the Roman Catholic church.

Today, under these Patriarches are Metropolitans, followed by Bishops and Priests.

Today, the Eastern Orthodox church is the dominant religion in Greece, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, and Rumania. Adherents are also found throughout Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as small contingents in the larger cities of North America.

Beliefs

Compared to the Western Church, the Orthodox church is a more personal religion and emphasizes mystic experience more. Since there is no overall ruler equivalent to the Pope, individual groups have varying beliefs. Most Orthodox households have a small icon of Jesus, perhaps with Mary. In addition, the last centuries under Communist and Islamic rule had put the Church underground in many regions. The Church is now coming forth with strength in many of those areas.

Worship services are generally conducted in Greek or Russian, although the local language is used in some areas. In general, few core doctrinal differences exist between the Eastern and Western churches. Services are very formal and follow a strict program.

Protestant

In the early sixteenth century, Martin Luther, a German-Speaking Swiss Priest, nailed a list of objections to the doctrines and behaviors of the Catholic Church on his Church door. This set in motion the Protestant Reformation and split the Western Church.

Protestants are the dominant religion in Northern Europe and North America, particularly in the countries of Germany, England, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Scandanavia, Canada (except Quebec), Australia, South Africa, and in the Southern USA.

Protestants are agreed on their rejection of the Pope as supreme. After this point, it depends upon the sect.

Major Protestant groups include Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican/Episcopalean, Presbyterian, Evangelical, AME, Pentecostal, and many other smaller groups, particularly in the USA.

Beliefs

As mentioned above, Protestants are united in belief by their antipathy toward the Pope. Most groups point to the Bible and particularly the New Testament for beliefs. In fact, the key difference between Protestants and Catholics is one of ultimate authority. Protestants believe that where church tradition and the Bible differ, the Bible is the ultimate authority. Catholics believe that the Popes have received direct revelation from God to interpret the Bible which takes prescendence. From this difference in authority flows the other issues.

After these points of agreement, everything diverges. However, certain points are likely to be found.

Protestants tend toward regular teaching sermons during services as well as additional teaching services during the week. Protestant church services are generally not as formal as Catholic services. Services are almost invariably held in the local language. Almost all ministers/priests/pastors are allowed and encouraged to marry. There is not as much emphasis placed upon reverence of Saints as in the Catholic tradition, and very little icon worship compared to Orthodox views. Some groups maintain that all church members are ministers. Others adhere to very strict ordination requirements.

Protestant groups range from formal Episcopalean and Anglican services, which are virtually carbon copies of Catholic services, to the informal services of certain Bible Study groups. Some groups, such as Unitarians are relatively relaxed about lifstyles, allowing almost anything, while certain Holiness groups are extremely rigid, even to the point of specifying women's dress and hairstyles.

Some groups believe in strict, literal readings of the Bible. Most Protestants believe that the Bible was written by men who were inspired by God. A few groups believe the Bible to be little more than a historical document.

The most important thing to understand about Protestant churches is that they are varied -- you can likely find a group of people in some Protestant church with whom you feel comfortable. However, this doesn't mean that all Protestant groups are equally valid in their beliefs.

(Author's note: I belong to a Protestant group known as "evangelicals", which encourages bringing the Good News of Jesus to all the world. Let me describe two of the churches to which we have belonged.

Cornerstone Bible Church in Lilburn, Georgia

We are a "Bible Church", which means that we concentrate upon intensive study of the Bible. Our sermons are typically a detailed study explaining the original intent and meaning of a particular Biblical passage. Often, our pastor will explain the shades of meaning of key words as they appeared in the original Greek or Aramaic. Dress at our Sunday morning meetings is semi-formal, which means that you will find men dressed in suits -- or blue jeans. Women generally wear dresses, but many will wear slacks on colder days. Although most people have a neat, conservative appearance, an occasional pierced eyebrow or green hair is found.

Other parts of our church life include singing of hymns, some of which are centuries old, and some of which are only a couple of years old. Our singing is normally accompanied by a piano and/or organ, although occasionally an acoustic guitar is used. We have a choir and often have special music performed by a soloist or small group.

Children attend Sunday School, which is Bible-centered education which is age-appropriate. Teen-agers join our Youth Group, which mixes Bible-based education with fun group activities such as a ski trip, swimming at the lake, parties, and an annual Missions Trip, where the young people go to a distant place such as Central America or South-Central Los Angeles, and usually assist a local church group in a construction project or similar event.

Wednesday night is meeting night. Men, Women, and Mixed-Couples Bible Study groups meet, as do the Youth Group, and a College/Young Adult group. Fellowship suppers are often held.

Since our church is located next to a large high school, our church is very involved in attempting to reach troubled kids at the school. In addition, we support missionaries around the world, particularly with the Wycliffe Organization, which is attempting to translate the Bible into every language and dialect in the world.

If you belong to our church or visit it regularly, you will suddenly find yourself with many friends. If you are sick, we bring you meals. When we were starting our business and had a rough time, one night a couple came over and gave us $300. When we had to move once, the youth group moved us. A couple of times a year, a group of families goes camping together. This is what you can expect from Christians.)

St Paul's Church in Marietta, Ohio

This is a much older church, founded as a German Evangelwische Kirk (Evangelistic Church) in the 1840's. Today, this church is mostly Lutheran, with an interesting mix of conservative and liberal influences. We are conservative on many issues -- we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and should be treated as such. We are pro-life and believe that leaders in our church should meet certain Biblical qualifications. We believe that certain leadership qualifications are clearly spelled out in the New Testament and should be followed stringently by the church. Our liberal influence is our belief that all people who accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour -- with all that that means -- will have eternal life, regardless of the local church denomination which they attend, or their previous sins. All sins confessed to God are forgiven when a person becomes a Christian. A person can be welcomed into our congregation without being qualified for the leadership. And a person can grow to become qualified for the leadership over time.

Our church went through a major internal fight in the early 1990's, which resulted in a split in the congregation. A new pastor came to the church about 1996, who has healed many of the wounds. In the last year, a large number of new people of all ages have joined the church and many new programs are being added. There is no dress code at our church. Most men wear casual shirts and slacks. Some of the women wear dresses -- others wear jeans.

Our worship is liturgical, which means that we follow a 3 year cycle of Bible readings. The sermons are based upon the readings, but are developed by Pastor Steve Dennis.

Worship starts with a classical organ prelude. Then, we sing along with a popular praise song broadcast over the loudspeakers. This is followed by a welcome, a prayer, a hymn, and two scripture readings. The Pastor's sermon usually includes a focus on the children, and comes next. After the sermon, we recite the Apostle's Creed, and follow this with a pastoral prayer, which ends with the Lord's Prayer. About once a month, we have Communion, which offers both wine and grape juice. The service ends with an offering collection, a hymn, and a prayer.

After the service, we go into the parish hall and have a desert snack together.

Other meetings that we have during the week include Sunday evening "Basics of Christianity", Tuesday evening Women's Bible Study, Wednesday Evening College Group, and Friday Evening Cookouts.

Major Protestant Groups

Other Major Branches

Other Branches of Christianity are:

Coptic Church -- located principly in Egypt and Ethiopia. The kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from David.

Nestorian Church -- remnants may exist in Central Asia

Jacobite Church -- found mainly in Syria

Southern Indian Church -- founded in the 1st Century by Thomas the Apostle. The church has since unified with the Roman Catholic Church.

How does Christianity relate to other religions?

Zorasterism

Zorasterism (a religion of Persia) share some similar ideas with Christianity. In particular, the concept of a single, all powerful God. However, Zorasterism allows for a co-equal evil force -- Christianity believes that Satan exists only because of God's tolerance.

Judaism

Judaism is the direct ancestor of Christianity. The Jewish God is the Christian God. However, most Christians believe that non-Jewish Christians do not have to follow the Mosaic Law.

Christianity diverged from Judaism in approximately 30 A.D. Christians consider most of the Jewish writings to this time as the Christian Old Testament. The collection of writings about Jesus Christ and his disciples are known as the New Testament.

If you are Jewish and have studied the Talmuud, you should read the Book of Matthew in the Christian New Testament for an excellent introduction to the visit of Jesus. The Book of Hebrews gives additional information intended for Jews. Click Here to go directly to the Book of Matthew, which is the best introduction to Jesus if you have read extensively in the Torah.

If your "Torah" knowledge is weak, reread the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. Then read the book of Matthew. You will see that the Jewish prophets foretold the coming of Jesus very precisely.

Islam

Islam takes elements of Jewish and Christian history and adds the writings of Mohammed - The Koran. Christians and Jews are considered People of the Book, and are considered far above the rest of humanity (spiritually) by most Moslems. Moslems consider The Koran to be the spiritual document intended for the Arab speakers, and the Old Testament to be the spiritual document intended for Hebrew speakers.

In many ways, Islam appears to be a divergence or mis-understanding of an early Christian group which Mohammed encountered. For more details on a Christian view of Islam, click here

Mormons

Mormons (such as the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints) take the Christian writings and add the Book of Mormon, which was delivered to their founder, Joseph Smith, in the mid-1800's. Although most Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, most Christians consider the Mormons to be merely a related group. The Mormons started in Western New York and moved to Illinois in the USA. Many migrated to Utah, USA, where they form the bulk of the population. Their headquarters is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. A separate group is found in the Midwestern USA, and there are many Mormons in Latin America.

(By the way, LDS Mormons prefer to be called "LDS" rather than "Mormons". This article uses the common term not out of disrespect, but to assist people in understanding which group we are referring to. The LDS is only the largest of a group of Mormon denominations.)

Mormons believe that additional revelation was delivered to Joseph Smith regarding pre-Columbian American civilization. Mormons believe in both a male god and a female goddess. Mormons believe that it is their duty to bring as many souls into the world as possible as children so that they can be saved for eternity. Men and women can also save deceased ancestors if certain conditions are fulfilled, which explains the Mormon interest in genealogy. If a man is particularly good at keeping Mormon practices, upon death he will become a god ruling another universe (or perhaps assisting in the rule of this Universe) - just as our God rules our universe.

Official Mormon belief is controlled by a ruling board of "Apostles" and has changed over time. Early Mormons prohibited blacks from leadership -- this has changed in recent years. Another early Mormon belief was in the permissibility of polygamy. Although this is no longer officially promoted by the dominate LDS Mormon church, many non-LDS Mormons still practice polygamy.

Mormons are distinctive in that they have large families, abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea, and send young adults as missionaries around the world.

How does Christianity relate to Eastern Religions?

The Christian outlook is directly set against Buddhism and Hinduism. The key concepts which cause conflict are as follows:

Buddhism

Buddhism teaches that life is suffering and to eliminate suffering, you must eliminate your desires which are the root of suffering. Christianity agrees with this -- to a point. Christians do not accept that life must mean suffering.

Buddhism also has the concept that multiple resurrections result in a very good soul which has learned to eliminate its desires and is finally allowed to attain Nirvana. Nirvana roughly translates as "nothingness". Christians look forward to a single resurrected and joyful eternal life during which they will be with Jesus and the Father. We see the void of Nirvana as something reserved for those who will not acknowledge the Father.

Hinduism and "New Age" Religions

The dominant concept of Hinduism is that there are many Gods and many ways to God. See my essay Are There Many Paths to God?.

What are key life teachings of Christianity?

Besides the beliefs in an afterlife and a single, tri-partitite God, Christianity has some strong guidelines for every day life:

In short, devout Christians are rarely the shouting and controlling Preachers that Hollywood would have us believe. Real Christians are usually nice people who make excellent babysitters -- and Presidents -- because they have a strong sense of right and wrong.

Good Links for further information


Copyright 2001, 2002 by Brian L. Boley. acsi2@bellsouth.net