A Basic Course in Christianity
God the Creator
Christians believe in the existence of a supernatural being known as "God" (English), "Yahweh"(Hebrew pronounciation), "YHVH" (written Hebrew), "Jehovah" (English adaptation of the Hebrew), "Deus" (Latin) or "The LORD" (all caps indicates translation of the Hebrew "YHVH" in English Bibles".
Christians believe that God created the Universe. Most believe in a literal seven days of Creation which occured about 5,000 years ago, although many Christians disagree over the age and manner of Creation and believe that when all the evidence is clarified, the Biblical account and scientific account will be in harmony. These Christians believe that the seven days of Creation may be a poetic form, or believe that the scientific evidence for an old Earth has serious systematic flaws.
Christians believe that God is separate from His Creation. God is everywhere and is standing beside you and is also found in a grove of trees, but he is not part of the room, or trees, or rocks, or people. God can be found in a church, a grove of trees, beside a waterfall, in a meadow, or even in a car on a busy 6-lane highway or in your office. But He is not a grove of trees, or a waterfall, or the sun. God created the Universe - He is NOT the Universe.
Christians believe that God has always existed, and created Time. God created "Nature", and natural laws such as E=mc2. He also created natural laws for human behavior such as "murder is wrong", and "eating sweets is bad for you".
Christians believe that God created Man. Most believe that this was done on one specific day, but other Christians believe that this could have been a poetic form, and that Man could have evolved under God's direction.
God also created a race of creatures known as "angels". Angels are seen as messengers of God, and as a group of powerful, godly man-like creatures who carry on a hidden war behind the scenes.
The enemies of the angels are the "fallen angels", led by Lucifer, alias Satan, "the devil", or "the deceiver". Satan was the most powerful and brilliant of the angels, but rebelled against God. He took one-third of the angels with him to be his army. Satan wars continually against God and the good angels to destroy mankind. It is clear from the Bible that God is totally in control and allows this warfare to continue only for His own purposes, being able to stomp Satan whenever God desires.
The Fall of Man
Christians believe that there was a couple named Adam and Eve. Most Christians believe that these were the first man and woman. Adam and Eve were placed in a beautiful garden, the "Garden of Eden", where life was easy and fruit trees were abundant. God made one rule - Don't eat from one particular tree.
Satan visited Eve in the guise of a snake and deceived her into eating from that particular tree and talking Adam into also eating from the tree.
Adam and Eve were punished for their rebellion by being kicked out of the garden. Adam was forced to work; Eve was forced to bear children. The snake was forced to crawl on his stomach and eat dirt.
Now this sounds like a neat myth to most non-Christians. Most Christians believe it to be literally true, although many Christians point out that it is at least symbolic of the rebellion of men against God.
Christians point out that all men are naturally in rebellion against God. Rather than recognize that there is a Being who is terribly more powerful than ourselves to whom we owe our existance, we choose to ignore Him or deny Him. We come up with many explanations in an attempt to justify ourselves.
In the last hundred years or so, three common explanations have been used to avoid facing the ramifications of the existance of God.
- Naturalism - We have worked very hard to find natural reasons for the existence of everything. Ultimately, we have developed an explanation for the Universe which does not need God -- a Universe which runs itself. Unfortunately, in our haste to explain HOW the Universe works, we have ignored the question of WHY it exists. Accepting for the current moment that the naturalistic explanations of the Universe are accurate, the questions still are open:
Naturalism attempts to cover up God by explaining that we don't need Him - yet naturalism simply pushes back the questions to the Big Bang. It is similar to sweeping the dirt under the rug -- the dirt still exists, we just don't have to think about it as often. Integrity demands that we remove the dirt - we research and answer the "Why" questions.
- Why does the Universe exist?
- Why did it begin?
- Why does the Universe have the physical laws that it has?
- Why am I conscious, yet my naturalistic explanation assumes that every person is simply reacting to chemical and physical reactions?
- Gnosticism - Gnosticism means "hidden knowledge". To explain God, we appeal to our vanity by finding a hidden explanation for God. The reasoning goes this way:
The next thing that happens is that someone finds a book on UFO's, or about a failed ancient religion such a Mithrasism, or encounters a mysterious Hindu teacher. Our "special" person has just found a cult.
- I am special.
- Since I am special, I must be smarter than everyone else.
- I know Christians who are not nearly as smart as I am.
- Christianity must be wrong, since everyone knows about it.
- I will find the right path, since I am special and smarter.
Cults appeal to this sense of specialness and rebellion. This can be seen by the conversion rate of various cults. In the 1960's, large non-Christian religions saw converts. We saw the growth of the Hari Krishna (Hindu), Zen (Buddhism), and Nation of Islam (Islam). As native Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems came to America, these cults lost their appeal. Instead, we saw the Moonies, Jim Jones and the Grape Drinkers, UFO cults, Wiccans, and similar. The key attraction was the odd nature of the cult, the hidden knowledge. When the beliefs became generally known, the hidden knowledge wasn't special anymore, and the "special" people stopped joining.
The fallacy with Gnosticism, which dates from the second century A.D., is that a loving God doesn't try to keep the knowledge of salvation secret. He does not exclude the slower in favor of the smarter. We have a mentally deficient relative who is clearly a Christian, understands all of the key points of Christianity, and can explain them to you. Our son Andrew understood the key points of Christianity, believed those points, and applied them consciously to his life when he was five years old. Yet that same religion has been the subject of countless detailed volumes by some of the greatist minds of history.
- Post-Modernism - Where the Naturalist and Gnostic are both searching for Truth in an attempt to deny Christianity, the Post-Modernist denies the existence of Truth by accepting all religions as True. A Post-Modernist claims that all religions are equally true for those who hold them. In essence, he denies that any religion is actually true in an objective sense, by essentially equating religion as a psychological crutch. His belief?
"I hold that all religions are true."
"But which one is true for you, sir?" our questioner continues.
"Well....I haven't really decided", the Post-Modernist replies.
"What conclusions have your investigations led you to?" we ask.
"That all religions are probably true", he replies.
"How many books on the subject have you read in the last year?" we probe.
"er...none", comes the hesitant reply.
And so we see that the Post-Modernist has decided to avoid God by avoiding the subject. He has become a theological chicken.
Man and Sin
Sin is a Christian concept. It is an offense toward God. Just as criminal activity is the breaking of the laws of the state - an offense to the state - Sin is an offense toward God. It is breaking of the natural laws of human behavior which God created. The first sin was Adam and Eve's disobediance in the Garden of Eden.
Christians believe that every person sins. The "short version" of God's laws are the Ten Commandments.
- You will have no other gods before Me.
- Your will not worship carved images.
- You will not take the name of the LORD lightly. ("in vain")
- Keep the Sabbath day holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You will not murder.
- You will not commit adultery.
- You will not steal
- You will not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You will not covet your neighbor's possessions.
Notice the first four commandments. Collectively, they say "Treat God as unique and very, very special". Have you ever used the name of the LORD in an unholy way? If so, you've broken Commandment Three. Have you ever worked on the Sabbath? Then you've broken Commandment Four. Have you treated a sports event, a job-related goal, or a special present as more important than prayer or attending church? Then you've broken Commandment One. Have you ever worshipped a sculpture? This one is not so common in Western countries today, but it is the core of Commandment Two.
Commandment Five - Have you ever been disrespectful to your father or your mother?
Jump to Commandment Ten - Notice that coveting (wanting very badly) your neighbor's possessions is breaking this Commandment. You don't have to actually take anything. God's Standards include your thought processes as well as your overt actions. In the Book of Matthew (5:27), Jesus further explains this by pointing out that whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery (Commandment Seven) in his heart. This is how high God's Standards of Behaviour are!
So now look at the other Commandments:
Commandment Six: Ever hated someone enough to wish they were dead? You've broken this commandment.
Commandment Eight - Have you ever taken home a pencil from work? Ever drank your college roommate's soda without asking? "Borrowed" some cosmetics?
Commandment Nine - Ever exaggerated your little sister's actions when the two of you did something wrong? Ever slanted a story to make yourself look better and another look worse? Have you ever lied? Any of these will break the Commandment.
And so we see that everyone has sinned.
God and Sin
Christians believe that God is perfect. He cannot tolerate inperfections, and thus cannot tolerate sin. He will not associate someone who is breaking His laws. So how do we, who have all sinned, approach God?
God gave the Law to the Jews through the prophet Moses. They repeatedly broke the Law, and were punished for it. Those people who tried to keep the Law generally sacrificed animals as instructed to pay a fine for breaking the Law, animals being the standard of value in ancient Palestine, much as money is the standard of value today.
In approximately 4 BC, a man was born in Bethlehem, a small town close to Jerusalem in what is today Israel and the West Bank. This man was named "Yeshua", which was latinized to "Jesus". He was a brilliant child, and grew up to be a religious teacher. For three years, around 30 A.D. he taught to a thousands of people in the region of the Sea of Galilee in what is today Northern Israel and the Golan Heights area of Syria and Jordan. He had twelve particular students, known today as the 12 Disciples.
In the reign of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governer of Judea, Jesus was set upon by the Jewish authorities, delivered to the Roman occupiers, and killed by crucifiction. The crime of which He was accused? Declaring Himself to be God, which was perfectly true. His defense? He IS God.
There is no doubt today among the historical and archeological communities about the existance of Jesus. Neither is there any doubt about the basic accuracy of the four eyewitness accounts of the Life of Jesus, which we know today as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Thus, the story presented in the four Gospels accounts starts with a certain fundamental accuracy.
- No fact mentioned in the Gospels for which independent archeological or historical evidence can be found has been found to be in error.
- Fragments of the Gospels have been found and dated to within 60 years of the Crucifiction. Full copies date from before 350 A.D.
- Independent (ie non-Christian) reports dating from before 90 A.D. describe Christians.
- The science of textual criticism has determined that the Bible has been handed down to us with fundamentally the same text as the original.
The Teachings of Jesus
Jesus taught many things. The core of what He taught was:
- Worship God. It is the proper thing for the creation to worship the Creator.
- Treat all people as you would like to be treated.
- Jesus was more than a man. He was the Unique Son of God. Christian teaching holds that Jesus and God are essentially the same Being with two personalities. If this is difficult to understand, imagine a hand held up with two fingers lifted. Do you see one hand or two fingers. Both answers are true. In a spiritual sense, Jesus and God are two fingers of one hand. Remember, Jesus was accused of the crime of claiming to be God. His defense was that it was true.
- Miracles were conducted by Jesus for the express purpose of demonstrating His Dietyhood. To naturalists who say that miracles can't occur, Christians respond, "We agree -- unless God Himself, the One who created the Universe, is directly involved."
The key miracle was the Resurrection. The Four Gospels state that 3 days after the death of Jesus on the cross, He rose from the dead and appeared over ten times to a total of more than five hundred people. It is clear that the Gospels writers and the early Christians all believed this. What is more, many of these witnesses were still alive at the time the New Testament was written, between 40 and 90 A.D., and could have refuted this evidence.
- If you believe in Jesus as God, and give Him the proper place in your life (ie, as Lord and Master), then you will be given a pardon for your sins. Then, you will be given permission to joyfully enter into the beautiful presence of God after your earthly death for a pleasant eternal life. If not, then you are still in rebellion and you can fend for yourself after death. Do you have the knowledge and smarts to survive death yourself?
Many people talk about life after death as though the Universe were an impersonal thing. "I think that after death I will live...", they say. People forget that God made the Universe and as the Designer, could set the rules as He pleased.
- Jesus taught that no man is good enough to get to Heaven by himself. We all sinned. And one single sin is enough to keep us from the presence of God, without His pardon. His Pardon is only given to those who acknowledge His Son as their rightful ruler.
People must believe in Jesus, and also are commanded to two other ceremonies.
- Baptism - A believer should be baptised, which means to declare their belief by a ceremonial dipping in water. Baptism methods vary by Christian group. Some immerse you in a river, some in a pool, some pour water over your head, some sprinkle a few drops upon you. Some groups hold baptism as a vital need in the salvation process - others hold it as an announcement to the world.
- Communion - During the Last Supper before His Crucifiction, Jesus commanded believers to remember Him by breaking bread and drinking wine. The bread symbolizes His body, the wine His blood. Christian groups celebrate this in various ways. Some have Communion weekly, some monthly, some annually. Some us wine, some grape juice, some have both.
- In the last days, there will be a great war between the forces of Good and Evil. Jesus will return to rule the entire earth directly.
The Bible is a collection of some sixty books written over a period of more than 1500 years. The first two-thirds is the collection of Hebrew scriptures still in use by modern Jews. This is known by Christians as the Old Testament, and constitutes significant background material about the Jewish nation, as well as many prophecies concerning a Messiah who would come later to rescue the Jewish nation and all people from bondage. The Old Testament narrative ends about 400 B.C. Key portions were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Scrolls which dates from about 100 BC found in the late 1940's near the Dead Sea.
The last third is a collection of books known as the New Testament. The New Testament books were written between 40 and 90 A.D. by men who knew Jesus personally. The first four books are historical narratives of the Life of Jesus. The 5th book (Acts) is a narrative of the actions of the Disciples and a key player named Paul, who received a direct vision from Jesus about three years after the crucifiction. Most of the remaining New Testament are letters sent to various churches or groups dealing with how Christians should live, should organize, and understand the events of Jesus' life. The final book (Revelation) is a prediction of the events of the far future when Jesus returns.
Christians meet at a building known as a church. The Church also refers to the collection of Christian believers. Christians argue among themselves over matters of worship style and minor doctrinal points. For example, what type of music is appropriate for a worship service, should the leader be dressed in robes, a business suit, or in blue jeans, should a person be baptized before taking communion, or after. Should baptism be by sprinkling, or by total immersion? Should young children be baptized? Should women wear pants, dresses, or both?
When groups of churches that believe similar things about these peripheral matters associate, the association is known as a denomination.
Most Christians meet twice a week - the main service on Sunday morning, and a mid-week Bible study on Wednesday or Thursday evening. Many churches also hold services at other times. A few churches have Saturday services unstead of Sunday services.
Why did Jesus Have to Die?
Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for us. By His Death, all of our sin fines were paid for all time. By Belief in Him, we can now approach God.
How do I find out more about Christianity?
Visit a Church on Sunday morning. Non-Christians who are respectful are always welcome. Here's how to visit:
- Dress in your cleanest, nicest clothes. If blue jeans is your most formal attire, that's ok! If a business suit or long dress is available, wear it.
- Take a few dollars with you. It is common for churches to collect an offering for funds which supports the operation of the church. For a visitor, it is common to deposit a couple of dollars if alone, or five dollars if a family.
- Find out the time of services, often printed on a sign at the church. If you can't find out the time, arrive at about 10:00 AM.
- Enter through the main door and take a seat near the rear of the church, but not in the last aisle. (Sometimes these are reserved for members with disabilities, or for the ushers.)
- In many churches you will be greeted by an individual who is assigned for the purpose of greeting visitors. Make sure that he understands that this is your first visit, so that he can provide you with special assistance. In many churches, he will provide you with a program.
- Observe your neighbors. In some churches, the prelude time is a time of talking with friends. In others, it is a time of respectful silence.
- During the service, observe your neighbors for proper action. At different times, you will stand, sit, perhaps kneel.
- Until you accept Jesus as your Lord, you should not take Communion. It is proper to allow the communion plate to pass by, or to remain seated in churches that go to the front for Communion.
- Don't be disturbed if you don't know the words for certain recitations that many churches use. If you decide to join the church, someone will be happy to teach you.
- In front of you will likely be the following items:
Feel free to look at them while waiting for the service to begin.
- A Bible
- A hymnal (collection of songs)
- Various cards
- In most American churches, the service will be in English.
- At the end of the service in most churches, the leader, who is known as either pastor, minister, or priest, will go to the entrance door to meet you as you leave. Be sure to tell him you are visiting, and to request a phone call or visit to clarify questions that you may have. He will be happy to call you or visit you.
- In some churches, there is a lunch or reception following the service. If this is offered, be sure to stay to meet the leaders of the church, who will be very happy to see you and meet you.
For more detailed information on Christianity, finding a church, or similar issues, feel free to call me tollfree at 1-888-728-2465. Either Saundra or I will be happy to help you clarify any points, or help you with any other questions about Christianity you may have.
Copyright © 2003 by Brian L. Boley All Rights Reserved. www.oddparts.com