Christians make up an estimated 2 billion people in the world (with about 1 billion Muslims and 900 million Hindus).

These statistics are from the CIA World Factbook: ( http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/country.html )

Percentage of the United States that is Christian: 84% (Protestant 56%, Roman Catholic 28%).
The United Kingdom is made up of: 37,560,000 Christians (Anglican 27 million, Roman Catholic 9 million, Presbyterian 800,000, and Methodist 760,000)
France: 92% (Roman Catholic 90%, Protestant 2%)
Canada: 65% (Roman Catholic 45%, United Church 12%, Anglican 8%)
Japan: 0.7%
Germany: 72% (Protestant 38%, Roman Catholic 34%)
China: 1% (est)
India: 2.4%
Australia: 83% (Roman Catholic 78%, Protestant 5%)
Brazil: 70% (Roman Catholic (nominal))

People were first called Christians in the Greek city of Antioch. "And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" Acts 11:26

Around the year 30 A.D., a Jewish rabbi and convicted criminal whose name is today typically rendered in English as Jesus was executed by crucifixion just outside of Jerusalem by the Roman government.

Roughly a month and a half later his small band of scattered and demoralized followers emerged from hiding to declare in the public squares and in the synagogues that Jesus had risen from the dead and was the unique Son of God and savior of the human race. His death and accompanying resurrection from the grave, they claimed, was an opportunity provided by a loving God to humanity to reconcile themselves with Him and be saved from their sins and from death - something foretold, they said, in numerous passages of the Hebrew Bible.

As might be imagined this aroused great controversy that sometimes erupted into violence. As the number of Gentile converts increased "the Way" became a religion of its own that, unlike that of the Jews, had no legal protection under Roman law. In the Roman Empire, church and state were one. Its religious rites, observances, and festivals were held on behalf of the entire community and the entire community was expected to participate either directly or through financial support. Furthermore, many Emperors declared themselves to be living gods and demanded worship and sacrifice at their statues by all subjects. Followers of Jesus refused, which led the Pagans to conclude that they were both atheistic and anti-social. Dark rumors spread about this new and mysterious cult, and being a follower quickly became a crime punishable by death -- all of the major figures in the New Testament were lynched or publicly executed within forty years of Jesus' death.

And yet, three hundred years later, this was the official religion of the Roman Empire, and its followers were called Christians.

As a religion, Christianity is divided into three main bodies: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Most Christian sects can be grouped under one of these. The division of Christianity into what would become the Catholic and Orthodox churches began with the administrative separation of the Roman Empire into a Western and an Eastern Empire, widened over the centuries due to theological, ecclesiastical, and political disputes, and culminated in 1054.

In the 1500s a Reformation movement began in Europe to counter abuses and corruption within the Catholic church. This led to many churches breaking away into what would be called Protestant denominations, which have a wide variety of beliefs and practices.

Central to becoming a Christian in any of these traditions is a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, a sincere commitment to changing one's life, and baptism -- though different Christian bodies place different emphasis on each of these. The primary source of Christian teachings is the Bible, a collection of sacred writings that is divided into two main sections:

  • The Old Testament, which describes God's dealings with humanity (especially the people of Israel) up until around 420 B.C.
  • The New Testament, which consists of four gospels relating Jesus' life, public ministry, death, and resurrection, composed (according to most scholars) between 60-125 A.D.; the book of Acts which describes the activities of Jesus' followers after his death; many letters from the Apostles and their own disciples to Christian churches providing general guidance and addressing specific issues those congregations faced (the earliest dated at around A.D. 50); and an apocalypse (a genre of prophetic Jewish writing).

Certain other Old Testament writings that were deemed to not be authoritative by later rabbinical scholars may or may not be included in a given Bible. These writings are often designated Apocrypha by Protestants; Catholics accept them as part of the canon.

Interpretations of and elaborations on these writings make up the teachings of the individual traditions. Many adherents consider these to be the result of guidance by the Holy Spirit and may give them equal authority to what is written in the Bible.

What do Christians believe? With a caveat that one or two key words have been the subject of everything from debate to schism to holy war over the centuries, the Nicene Creed provides a good summing-up of orthodox Christian belief. At its core:

  • There is only one God, eternal and uncreated, the source of all that is.
  • Though One, God's nature is also that of three persons, which in human terms may be described as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the doctrine of the Trinity and it is perhaps the most subtle and difficult to grasp. One may compare the Trinity to water, which can be ice, vapor, and liquid but is still water -- only that's not really it. Or one may compare it to a man who is at once a son to his parents, a father to his children, and a husband to his wife -- only that's not it either (and both of these examples fall into the heresy known as Modalism). The Athanasian Creed focuses on the Trinity and reads as cryptically and paradoxically as anything in the Tao Te Ching. But in some way that ultimately defies human language this is believed to be so, and that these three Persons co-exist throughout eternity in a relationship of inexpressibly powerful love.
  • God created humanity in His image -- not to say that God looks like us but that we are like God in that we can reason, create, love, and make free choices. (The word "reason" implies not only rational thought but also imagination and intuition.)
  • Humanity is no longer in harmony with God, Creation, and each other because it has used its free choice wrongly. Various schools of thought have explained this in different ways. Some have suggested that each of us is born with a clean slate but we do not make the right choices, while others believe that human nature is fundamentally broken and now we cannot make the right choices. There is also the fact that considered as a people, none of our hands are clean. From a cosmic perspective the entire human race is at any given moment engaged in neglecting, starving, abandoning, abusing, exploiting, and killing its own members.
  • Out of love for us, God has has acted several times in the arena of human history to bring us back to Him, as described in the Old and New Testaments. The culmination of this divine plan for rescue is the Incarnation: the startling notion that the eternal, almighty ruler of the universe chose to be born fully human, to fight his way amid much blood and screaming out of the birth canal like the rest of us and live life in this world as we do, with all its joys and sorrows. Even more startling, the means by which God and humanity are reconciled would involve the suffering and death of the Son, and his bodily resurrection on the third day afterward.
  • After Jesus' ascension, the Holy Spirit was sent to guide the people of God and to act through them. When the power of God breaks through into the world now, whether it's something as dramatic as a sudden healing of an illness or as small and simple as a canned food drive, it is considered to be the work of the Spirit.
  • Christianity has a strong eschatological component, which simply means that it looks to an eventual end of things as they are. Christ will return to Earth openly as the Son of God. There will be a resurrection of the dead, a final judgment, and a new Creation. This bit is difficult to talk about, because while I think we would all like to see the bastards of the world finally get their just desserts, most of us are self-aware enough to admit that when it comes down to it, we may be the bastards. This is why the Incarnation and the Cruxifixion are so important to Christians; while it is essential that we do our best to live according to Christ's teachings, God's mercy extends forgiveness to us when we inevitably screw them up.

What distinguishes Christianity from other religions past and present? For one thing, unlike most it is a historical religion. Events described in its holy book are not thought to take place in a mythical dreamtime or prehistory, in an otherwordly realm of heroes: they are tied to specific individuals, times, and places - even in the unlikely case of Adam, whose family tree is scrupulously preserved. (As an example, contrast the Gospels' presentation of Jesus with its context of geneaologies, place names, and world events, with the tales of the Egyptian god Osiris, who in mythology is also said to have died and been reborn.)

It also combines a strong ethical system with a devotion to God and a belief in eternal life through God's own initiative, not human effort. Compare Judaism, where devotion to God is combined with a strong structure of ethics and ritual but the afterlife is not a focus; Hinduism, where one may ascend through successive levels of being via the accumulation of karma through good deeds; Islam, where the keeping of God's law is necessary and sufficient to achieve eternal life in Paradise; and Buddhism, where the gods do not play a part in one's salvation, and eternal life (in the form of the cycle of reincarnation) is something to be saved from through the practice of proper thought and behavior.

(As you may be able to tell from the previous paragraph, Christians do not necessarily view their religion as the exclusive bearer of truth in the world; only that on those points where Christianity and another religion disagree, the Christian position is naturally believed to be the correct one.)

Christianity is also unusual in that it centers on a person rather than a path. Other major religious figures throughout history such as Confucius, Buddha, and Mohammed presented their disciples with a Way to follow that would lead to the desired end, whether it be social harmony, enlightenment, or God. Jesus, however, taught that he is the Way to God. Salvation comes not through following a set of teachings but through his sacrifice on the Cross. The role of the believer is to enter into a relationship of faith and trust in him, in which following his teachings then plays a part.

Christian life and ethics, then, grows out of the knowledge of one's self as a beloved child of God, the increasing knowledge of God through the person of Jesus Christ, and the recognition of Christ in others.

Sources
Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond E. Brown
A History of Heresy by David Christie-Murray
Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox
The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 edition (specifically the Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism)
A number of Web sites devoted to the issues separating the Orthodox and Catholic churches, which I foolishly did not write down.
Books and books and books. Plus church.

How to become a Christian

Christianity is a common and commonly misunderstood system of beliefs, but for those who have truly become Christians, it is more than just a set of beliefs, it is the adoption of an entire worldview and a personal relationship with their Creator. The purpose of this writeup is to provide the basic information about how to become a Christian. I will inform the reader that this is based entirely on my understanding of the Bible and more specifically, the teachings of Jesus - the central figure of Christianity. In the interests of clarity therefore, I will make statements from the Christian viewpoint without inserting "I believe" or "Christianity teaches" before each sentence, and remind the reader to understand the perspective from which these statements are being made.

The process of becoming a Christian begins with a mutual interest. God loves every person no matter what their actions or lives have been like, and regardless of their belief in or acceptance of Him. The Bible also indicates that there is a natural drawing in every person's life toward a knowledge of God. Certainly without an interest in Christianity, this information will not be applicable.

Preconditions
There are truly no preconditions to becoming a Christian other than a belief in the resurrection of Jesus after His crucifixion, and an acknowledgement of His authority over your life (in King James language that would equate to confessing Him as Lord of your life.) The voluntary acceptance of His authority is crucial, it is not enough just to believe in Jesus or in the resurrection - The Bible says that even satan believes that. The original Greek words also implicitely mean that the acknowledgement is not hidden, but public, thus "confessed" to others. Many Christians became so by reciting a simple sinner's prayer, but there isn't a certain phrase or action that is proscibed, just that the condition in Romans 10:9 be met:

...that if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved - NIV version

...that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved - NKJ version

...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved - NASB version

(extra versions added by request)
Whatever prayer, public or private, meets those conditions, along with the willingness to not hide one's faith, is enough.

Learning about Christianity
There is a wealth of information on the internet, in books, on television and that can be gained from talking to others. Unfortunately, much of this is misleading or plain wrong. Whatever you do, don't depend exclusively on other people for your information - it is too easy to get mislead this way. There are millions of people who call themselves "Christians" and have little or no idea what Jesus intended for them to live like. The public perception of Christianity, the stereotype of Christianity if you will, is based in large part on this type of person. Thus Christianity has been portrayed as rife with hypocrisy, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, misogyny, and many other negative characteristics, when in fact Jesus Christ was not any of those things.

The Bible teaches that all are seen as equals in God's eyes regardless of race, sex, or other characteristics by which others may define a person (Galatians 3:24). There is no substitute for learning from the Bible - and more specifically from the teachings of Jesus and Paul the Apostle. Paul himself implores those he writes to in his letters to check what others (even himself) say against what they know is true from Jesus' teachings. Get a translation you can understand - I recommend the New International Version or the Living Bible. The King James translation is more obscure unless you are familiar with archaic Modern English. Learn from other sources such as pastors, books, and other Christians; but always check what they say against what the Bible teaches and always side with what is written there. It was intended to protect Christians from being persuaded away from the truth.

Necessary acts
Once you become a Christian, find a church or gathering of other believers. The Bible indicates that is important to learn from others and have personal relationships with other Christians. As Christianity is a relationship, there are no actions or rituals that you must comlete in order to remain one, just as there's nothing necessary by law to remain married once you become married. The things Christians do are based on wanting to do them for God, not being required to do them. A true Christian lives a Christian life to please the God that they love, not because of fear of hell or punishment.

Preferred acts
Of course, God has set a course that He prefers us to follow. Trusting in Him, telling others about Him, putting your relationship with Him first over everything else, and living a good life all all important to God. He wants believers to be baptised as well, as a public display of their decision. The "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:19-20 implores Christians to tell others about Christianity. Christians who know the truth about Jesus and the Bible will not find it difficult to tell others what they have found. Don't exclusively trust what other people say about Christianity, find out for yourself. Read the Bible (particularly the gospel of Luke and the book of Romans) if you are interested in what Christianity teaches. As another person who is a Christian and seems to be living a good life, and perhaps they can help as well. I'd be glad to help as well.


Author's note: After many comments about the church of FOO thinks this, and this denomination says this, I would just like to clarify one point: I did not base this writeup on any certain church view - simply on the most basic of tenets that I could derive from the Bible. I understand that each denomination, church, sect, or other division has built up a structure of religion around the teachings of the Bible Some exercize these teachings selectively, believing what they wish and ignoring the rest; and some add to them rituals, sacraments, structures of authority, and other man-made devices. Some divisions believe that some or all others are not really "Christians", some are, perhaps, overly inclusive with their definition. Regardless, trying to delve into the widely disparate structures that make up modern Bible-based religion was not the intent of this writeup, nor do I have any desire to tackle it here. The resurrection was the main point most disagreed with, however this is possibly the most basic belief of Christianity. As the apostle Paul said:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. I Corinthians 15:12-19 - NKJV
I certainly would not ask you to believe this viewpoint if it were simply my personal opinion. That is why I endeavored to leave my viewpoint out of it.


Author's additional note: Some took my comment regarding man-made "devices" in the author's note above to be disparaging - it is not intended to be so. The things that people add to basic beliefs, as long as they don't contradict the Bible's teachings, are not "bad" or "good", nor are they important in the big picture. These differences actually are in many cases helpful in that they provide many different flavors of Christianity, allowing it to meet the needs of many disparate types of people. Regardless, Romans 14 instructs us not to quibble over these relatively minor differences.

Originally a NSR of "How to become a Christian" - member of E2Religion

To most Christians, the way one "becomes a Christian" is by baptism. The way one "remains" a Christian is by communion. This is the majority view of the matter.

I understand that it is not the only view. Some Christians believe you become a Christian by repentence and conversion, not by the ritual of baptism. Protestants of Anabaptist or Calvinist ancestry (that is, all the Protestant sects other than Episcopals and Lutherans, which remain close to Roman Catholic roots) reject ritual and ecclesiastical authority. In reaction to the authoritarian position of the Roman Catholic Church, such Christians typically ascribe to themselves an objective or scientific viewpoint, purporting to find the "truth" of the matter by examining "for themselves" the evidence in the Scriptures. Ritual, especially ritual which must be performed by an initiated priest of the official hierarchy, is anathema to such Christians.

Fundamentalists, in particular, frequently invoke Romans 10:9 as a method whereby one "becomes" a Christian. It requires neither priest nor church to confess Jesus as one's personal savior. Please note, however, that even fundamentalists do not mean that uttering the incantation "Jesus is Lord" has any magical properties. Confessing that "Jesus is Lord" is the outward manifestation of a inner conversion experience. Blaise Pascal, a Jansenist, for example, recorded his own conversion experience in rushed, incoherent phrases. He had the writeup sown into his coat, to keep it literally next to his heart. Clearly this was a powerful and significant event in his life, much more sincere, deep and passionate than the rhetorical arguments for which Pascal is remembered (i.e. "the Wager)".

Christians to whom a conversion experience is important, and synonymous with Christian spirituality, find it absurd to think that a ritual baptism performed on an infant can make you a Christian. The truth of the Gospel, these Christians believe, can only be apprehended by an adult, or at the very least, a child who has reached the age of reason. Christians who rejected infant baptism were labeled "anabaptists" (re-baptisers) because they favored an adult baptism after a conversion experience, as manifested or confirmed by a public expression (or "confession") of faith. Nowadays, no sects identify themselves as Anabaptists because "Anabaptism" became notorious for the radical political agendas and communism of certain 16th century German Anabaptists. Nonetheless, many Protestants are in fact "Anabaptist" in the sense that they reject infant baptism in favor of adult conversion.

I'm not one of them. I believe that I became a Christian when I was baptised as an infant less than a month after I was born. It doesn't matter that I didn't understand what was going on, and lacked the capacity to discuss the matter with my parents and my pastor. I am a traditional Lutheran, and so believe the truth of Christianity is apprehended by faith, not by reason. Credo ut intelligam: (I believe in order to understand). If the baby Jesus can be God, why can't a baby become a Christian? Faith and grace operate through the sacraments, whether or not we understand or agree with them.

Contrary to simplistic understandings of Christianity, there are major differences between the various Christian faiths about a number of core beliefs such as . . .

. . . the meaning of the Eucharist in communion.

. . . the importance of faith vs. works in both Christian duties and in salvation.

. . . whether Scripture is inerrant OR fallible, and whether tradition functions as a source of spiritual truth.

. . . whether Original Sin is a literal spiritual tainting OR a metaphor for the loss of innocence.

. . . whether God is best understood as a Trinitarian deity OR as a Unitarian deity.

. . . whether saints should be venerated.

. . . infant baptism OR adult baptism.

. . . whether clergy must be men OR may be men and women, whether clergy must remain celibate, and whether clergy must all be heterosexual.

. . . the place of women in the church and home, and the place of gays in God's plan (damned? misled? a blessed sexual orientation of which Paul was ignorant?).

. . . the status of The Virgin Mary in her relationship to God through bearing Jesus Christ.

. . . whether one should relate to God as Lawgiver and Judge OR as Liberator and Lover.

. . . whether the Sacraments are the means of grace OR the symbols of grace.

. . . whether other religions can provide useful perspectives for understanding one's faith OR instead are threats, temptations, and/or abominations.

. . . whether conversion of the Jews is a Christian mandate OR is an abhorrent act of disrespect against a Great World Religion.

. . . whether Judaism is a great world religion OR the belief of a people abandoned by God for rejecting Jesus.

. . . whether there is Universal Salvation OR Select Salvation for an elite few who repent in accordance with certain invariable protocols involving Jesus Christ.

. . . whether Satan is a literal entity of evil OR a metaphor for human evil.

. . . whether Hell is a literal location OR a metaphoric place.

. . . whether God is a merciful God who eventually will redeem even those in Hell OR a lawful God who abandons the damned to eternal torment.

. . . whether one should follow a literal interpretation OR a figurative interpretation of The Christian Bible OR some combination thereof.

. . . whether ALL Scripture is useful OR some must be rejected as unethical, such as those passages advocating slavery or child abuse or leaving one's parents unburied.

. . . which is greater -- the Great Commission to evangelize OR the Great Commandment to love God and one's fellow humans.

. . . whether belief or disbelief in evolution bears any relevance to one's Christianity.

. . . whether the gathering of Scriptures into The Christian Bible was inerrantly inspired by God OR was a fallible act by human beings who could not completely avoid their ethnocentric biases.

Christianity has been a constantly evolving religion since its inception. It has been full of new ideas and thoughts that have molded modern Christianity into what it has become today. These thinkers have created themes and moods that have been picked up on and modified for 2000 years. In this paper, I will discuss seven of these important thinkers and their impact on Christian thought through the ages. I will also discuss how and in what ways has Christianity been both an influence on and a consequence of the social and intellectual history of the West.

Origen (185 - 254) is the most important theologian prior to Augustine. Much to his fame, he had the misfortune of doing a great deal of scholarship prior to Nicea. Doctrine passed down at Nicaea went against Origen. His works are condemned as heretical, but not him. His works are studied through the medieval period up to Aquinas. Origen was one of the most controversial scholars of his time, saying that even the devil could be saved.(1) Origen began his theological career at age eighteen when he assumed control of the catechetical school of Alexandria. He first began to raise the ire of the church bureaucracy while in Egypt, where he preached as a layman.(2) The bishop there was trying to get church control of the area and was not too happy that Origen was "spiritualizing biblical interpretation."(3) Origen responded to those who took the Bible literally by saying that the Bible was an allegory. This was a new system of Biblical theology, where the word of the Bible was inspected for hidden meanings, and metaphors. Before then, most theologians took the Bible literally. Origen said in First Principles that it was possible to get explanations for every aspect of the world.(4) The Bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea welcomed his interpretations, and he spent his last 18 years there.

Origen felt that it was important to have an accurate Biblical text because it would help him with his discussions with Jewish and Gnostic scholars. (5) To this end, he created the Hexapla. This book consisted of an outline of six books of the Old Testament in Hebrew, then from Hebrew to Greek, and then four other Greek translations of four other important texts. In this same text were also commentaries where he explained parts of the Bible in 3 ways, literal, moral and allegorical. In his lifetime, he produced 2,000 works. Most of these were commentaries on the Bible. One of his other important works is called On First Principles. In this book, he was defending the principle of exegesis. He uses Scripture both as example and explanation. (6) Origen's First Principles was a summary of everything that the apostles taught. He talks about the soul, free will, the creation of the universe and other important topics.(7) He also admitted though, that nothing was said about how the sun and the moon were created. Origen said that the world did not begin as an accident, but as God's way of getting back lost souls. God would do this by education and training.(8) Souls got lost by letting their love for God lapse. These souls began as astral bodies, whom God gave free will. A whole hierarchy developed as the souls developed. The world, then, was an intermediate place where the trial and judgement took place.

Origen believed that God manifested himself in three ways: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This is a concept today known as the Trinity. He also believed that the Father and the Son were coequals, because he thought that to be a Father, one must have a Son. He believed also that the Son did not just temporarily exist; he just manifested himself from the Father. In these ways, he solves the Number and Duration problems that existed at that time. These two problems were two of the things that were addressed at Nicea. The number problem was important because it addressed the problem: was Jesus a manifestation of God, or a separate entity from God? The Duration problem described how in a linear time model, did the son always exist? If there is a father, there must be a time where the son was not, as the son must come after the father. There are two answers to that. The first answer given is that God made Jesus, the second is that Jesus is part of God, who is eternal. Origen does not believe in reincarnation, but he did philosophize about souls existing before birth. He also said that it was the love of God that would provide salvation. (9). This is close to the predestination concept for Luther and Calvin.

Ambrose told Origen to write the Contra Celsus, a response to Celsus' attack on Christianity. (Triumphant, 85) Origen liked to use philosophy, geometry, physics, astronomy and the words of the prophets to bring his students to God. Origen also wrote a paper on the defense of martyrdom, the Exhortation to Martyrdom, where he said to be baptized in blood was more important than to be baptized in water. He argued that you could be baptized and sin again, but if you are martyred, you cannot sin again.(10) This gives many people incentive later to die in the Crusades when the church tells them if they die in battle, all their sins will be forgiven.

Origen's teachings become the basis for many future Christian thinkers, especially for another Christian thinker known as Augustine. Augustine (354 - 430) was born in Tagaste, in northern Africa. He had a pagan father Patricius and a Christian mother by the name of Monica, who exhorted him constantly to become a Christian. He has a mistress by 17 and a son by 18. He was a lecturer, a very good one, which helped him in his future theological career. His mother wanted him to convert to Christianity, but he choose a life of hedonism. Augustine was seduced by the rhetoric of Ambrose, according to Augustine.(11) He met with Ambrose in Milan, where Ambrose had been the governor and was now the bishop. Ambrose was a big fan of Origen. Origen tells Augustine not to take the Bible literally, but to use it allegorically. <(12) Augustine became ashamed of all the hedonistic things he had done, and went to a garden to sort it all out. He heard a voice telling him to read the Scriptures. He opened the book to a random page, a common divination process known as bibliomancy, and happened across a passage from Romans 13:13ff that says "let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify his desires." Augustine wrote his book Confessions about his sinful life and his relationship with his mother Monica. It also talks about how he wrestled with his sinfulness and turned to Christianity. It also talks about his efforts to avoid the sexual impulse.

He had been following Manicheeism up to the time that he listened to Ambrose. He had been a Manichee for about nine years at this point, although not a very serious one. (13) He liked Manicheeism because it said to take nothing on faith.(14) Manicheeism taught that the body was evil, and was a prison that the soul was put in by an evil demiurge. Augustine could not understand how there could be evil in a place that a good God created. To explain this, he developed the concept of original sin.(15) The Nicene Creed does not mention it, although other authors of and before the time developed the concept. Augustine was the first to bring it into standard Christian thought. Augustine thought that evil was a lack of knowledge.(16) He believed that the first evil act was a rejection of God's will and an approval of the will of the individual person. He saw himself in this description, especially his earlier years, where he followed his own will and not the will of God. (17) He wrote City of God. This was a social model that took into account all his beliefs, especially where the will of the human struggles with the city of God.

Augustine says we are all damned anyway, but God chooses to save a few, and decides to pour his grace down on certain ones. Augustine believes in salvation through grace. God decides who is saved, but we aren't going to know. You'll see it in how their life goes. Pelagius said that there are no sinful people, just sinful acts. He was excommunicated for this. This same concept of predestination and visible signs was picked up on by Luther, and helped to found capitalism and secularization in the West.

The Donatists at this time were complaining that any priest who fell rendered his future actions invalid. The Donatists were saying that some priests who have been ordained gave some holy books to the persecutors of the Christians, and wanted those priests' ordinations declared invalid. Augustine strongly disagreed with the Donatists. Augustine said it only mattered that the fundamental nature of the religion is intact, and because the sacraments do not belong to the priest to give, but to Christ himself, therefore the sacraments are still pure. The Donatists were causing a problem at this time, and the state was in a quandary as to what to do with them. Augustine says that the state has the right to come in and control the Donatists. If the intentions are pure, there is a right to use force. This is the Just War theory. Augustine said that the church could use force because the state did, and since the church's problems were greater, the church had the prerogative to use force. He used as one of his arguments for this a phrase from Luke 14:23 saying "compel them to come in." (18)

Augustine lived to see the sack of Rome. The Romans said this sack happened because they let the Christians in and did not perform the sacrifices. Attila the Hun also came in, as did the Goths. The Pope could have raised an army to stop the Huns and the Goths, but refused to sell the gold in the treasury to get mercenaries to fight the war. Augustine started to answer the people who are complaining about Rome. Augustin said that it was not the Christians' fault, and wrote 22 apologetic books with arguments as to why the Christians did not do this. Augustin said everyone deserves their nation. Christians should tolerate imperfect governments and obey those governments.

Augustine helped to shape the social history of the West in that his just war theory was carried out by many church fathers and theologians. They would use this theory for the next 400 or so years to justify the killings of millions of people. Hitler himself would even base his killings on some of this theory, saying that he was only finishing what the churches started with their wars of religion.

Thomas Aquinas ( 1224-1274) helped shape the medieval doctrines of the Church. Aquinas came from a noble household in Italy.(19) His mother came from an aristocratic Neapolitan family and his father was a baron under Frederick II. He had 3 brothers and 5 sisters. In 1231 he was sent to a Benedictine monastery to learn. He used to annoy his teachers by asking "What is God?"(20) At that time, the tradition of the monasteries was to have biblical commentary and ask questions. This is much like rabbinic teaching. In 1239, Aquinas went to the University of Naples. This was a unique university at the time in that it was independent of the church. During this time, he became exposed to the writings of Aristotle. In 1242, he joined the Dominicans. The study of Aristotle to the full extent of his teachings was forbidden until 1252. Around this period, Aquinas decided that he was going to merge Aristotle with Christian philosophy.

When they discuss his dialectic today, they call it Thomist. He brings up 5 arguments for God's existence. These 5 arguments are as follows:(21)

  1. Since the world moves, and there is cause and effect, there has be someone doing the moving and the changing.
  2. There also has to be a first cause.
  3. There has to be something non-changing or nothing in the world would exist.
  4. Since we decide things are good, better, and best, the best thing must be God.
  5. Last, since all ends have a means, the means must be God.

Aristotelian logic says one can defend God through reason and one can define reason through faith. He also asks what is real, and what is truth, and how are faith and reason related. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas also says that reason can lead to faith. This has been a debate through many traditions. The Scholastic answers to these arguments is that reason can lead to faith. Scholastics defended the faith through reason rather than through authorities.

Aquinas says that one cannot argue with a person who makes a faith claim. This is a good policy that should be followed even today; however, the Christian church argued with and killed anyone with a different faith claim for many more years. To a believer, the beliefs are truer than true, so Aquinas sees no point in arguing. For Aquinas, faith and reason were not mutually exclusive. Reason deals with natural knowledge through sense, perception and intellection. Faith deals with revealed knowledge through feeling and will.(22)

Aquinas's ideas are still used today. He says existence and essence are one in God. Things exist; so it is truer of God to say that he exists than he does not exist. He sees philosophy like religion without God. Aquinas sees God as the "First Cause." He is the cause of everything else, and is present everywhere. He is the ground of being. However, Aquinas does not say that God is responsible for sin.

Aquinas says that even though humans are less than perfect, one can develop oneself into either habitual virtues or habitual vices. This is very similar to what Pelagius says. There is no predestination in Aquinas' theories; in fact, he is trying to get away from predestination. He does say that one has a will and that one can choose to do or not to do these things. Aquinas says that the church is the vehicle of grace and the means to grace are the sacraments. The Seven Sacraments are Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, and Extreme Unction. Why seven sacraments? There are seven virtues and seven vices. The seven virtues are truth, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope, and love. The seven vices are pride, sloth, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony and lechery. Grace is a force from God. It makes one light and pleasing to God. Aquinas stresses that grace makes you do good things and meritorious works. One can earn more meritorious grace than one needs. The church gives the excess back through indulgences. Aquinas was a Dominican monk, and according to Aquinas, the best way to get merit is to be a monk. Like Augustine, Aquinas agrees with the just war theory.

Aquinas believed that the scriptures were divinely inspired by God. However, he believed that with all the heresy going around, it was necessary to supplement the scriptures. This is how the councils, creeds, and the Pope became necessary. It is the Pope's job to be the final authority and decide the final definition of faith. (23)

From all Aquinas' work, there were two books created. The first was called Summary of the True Catholic Faith Against the Gentiles. This was meant as a handbook for missionaries. The second was the Summa Theologica. This was a synthesis of all of his theories. This book was not finished at his death, and had to be finished by another person, Reginald of Piperno.

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) posted his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. At a superficial level, Luther's work was influenced by a religious practice known as indulgences. Luther saw this practice as an example of excesses of the church. Indulgences were a check written on the excess grace and good works of the church. At the time, the church believed that one could store grace and give it to others. This theory was from Aquinas, who believed that grace brought one closer to God and that one could get excess grace.

Luther believed that the church had strayed from the Bible. This is a common statement of most of the philosophers in Christianity. Luther feels that the church was organized in a way that prohibited lay people from participating in religious life. In the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, the priests are intermediaries between God and man. At the time, it was forbidden to translate the Bible into a vernacular language. This kept the peasantry from getting the text and ministering to the laity. Luther was very concerned about where the laity fit in and why the Bible could not be translated into a language that the common man might understand. Luther felt that the church prevented full participation in religious life unless one were a priest. What Luther wanted was a priesthood of all believers instead of a select clergy. In the time of Paul, everyone participated in the religious services, and that is what Luther wanted. In a famous assertion, he promised to take back all he had said if they could prove him wrong by the Scripture. He never took it back.

Luther preferred faith and visible signs over the reason and knowledge of the Scholastics. (24) Luther believed that they only two real authorities should be the Bible and one's conscience. He said that one's conscience was necessary to interpret the Bible correctly. Luther believed that only faith would save, as God would give forgiveness in faith, not in good works done throughout life. He believed one should do good works to say thanks to God instead of to save oneself from Hell.

Unlike Aquinas, Luther believed the Pope was unnecessary. He believed that the Bible itself was the only source for information, and the Pope and the whole church hierarchy was completely unnecessary. He was furious at the practice of indulgence, and believed that it circumvented God's authority. (25) This is why he started to write the 95 Theses. The 95 Theses were a listing of everything that he saw as being wrong with the church. He nailed the theses to the Wittenberg door because it had many relics of the church that the church said would heal and forgive, again, circumventing God.

The church was furious with Luther for criticizing its choice of funding. The only reason that Luther did not get killed was that he had the protection of the German princes. The princes liked the idea that they did not have to give money up to Rome. It also gave the princes more power and took it away from the church. The Pope tried multiple ways to silence Luther, but none of them worked.

With previous theologians, being a monk or an ascetic was the most important and sacred thing one could do. Luther said that every profession is sacred, and that no one is more important than another, because everyone contributes to the good of the community. Luther's two sacraments were Baptism and Communion. He said these were the only ones that Christ did. The others were created by the church, so they were invalid.

The Lutherans were also an innovative religion as they were the first to ordain women. They ordained Barbara Andrews in 1870.(26) This set a precedent for the ordination of women in other religions as well.

John Calvin (1509 - 1564) was a lawyer. Calvin took Luther and his principles of the Reformation and used them for a system of government in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin uses the principle of representative democracy to run Geneva. Geneva became very prosperous from this venture. Calvin was a very strict ruler. If one didn't show up for church, they came over to find out why. He also killed people for falling asleep in church. However, he did sanction private economic enterprise, which made this branch of Calvinism very successful.

Calvin said that God saves through grace alone. Like Augustine, he believes that all humans are sinful and deserve to burn. However, God selects a few people, who he calls the elect, and saves them. Election even comes before faith.(27) The main question for Calvin and his followers was how to tell if one was elect. Calvin said that one could tell through visible signs. Visible signs meant that an elect person would be more financially successful if he were elect. However, he admitted, there was no way to truly know, so everyone had to hear the word of God.

What began in 1517 kept going. The Amish, Mennonites, Anglican, Baptists, and other religions all got their start here. In 1648, the Thirty Years' War ended. The Thirty Years' War was fought over religion, and when it was over, people believed that it was not worth it to fight over religion. This, as well as Luther and Calvin's principles, ended the domination of religion in Europe. Christianity was no longer the center of life in Europe. Secularization took the place of religion. There was more of an emphasis placed on economics and education. It was the economic institution that was the driving force. Calvinism's principle of visible signs was instrumental in this as well, because the need to be successful drove people to go into business to make money.

After Calvin came the period of the Enlightenment. Philosophers of this time were saying that religion was not important. Also, with the Industrial Revolution, religion went to the wayside as the pursuit of money became important. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 - 1834) believed that feeling, rather than the dogma of the church, was the basis of religion. He believed that religion was one of the most important things that humans could study. Schleiermacher was a hospital chaplain in Berlin and later became a professor at the University. Schleiermacher wrote his books responding to those from the Enlightenment period who thought that religion was a waste of time. The first book that he wrote was On Religion, Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. The book was to dispute those who thought that religion should have been put away as if it were something old and outdated. The next book he wrote was called The Christian Faith. In this book, he developed his beliefs and dogma. In this, he postulated that there was a dependence on a higher power. He called this the God-Conciousness.

Schleiermacher was arguing for religion in a time when people were just getting out from under the terror of enforced religion. Schleiermacher argues that religion is not a philosophy, nor an abstract thought, nor a science, nor an adherence to dogma. He said that it is a sense and taste for the infinite. He made a point that was antithetical. He said that belief and action are secondary. He said to transcend religion. One does not need an organized structure to do that. This was a compromise to those who were still wary of organized religion.

Schleiermacher said that knowledge of the soul and knowledge of God are inseparable. Human blessedness means strengthening the God consciousness. Sin is the obscuring of the consciousness. He said that through one's experience of the finite, one begins to depend on the infinite ground of all things. Human blessedness comes through the God consciousness. Jesus was unique in the strength of his God consciousness. He believed that sin was allowing oneself to break one's relationship with God. He also said that a church was a group of people working to build the God consciousness in each other. He agreed with the election theory of Calvin, but did not see it as necessary to ignore a part of the country. (28) This allowed more people to come into the religion.

Each of these theologians influenced the next with their ideas and philosophies; like a pyramid, each theologian built upon each other in some way to develop their philosophies. In some cases, this was built on agreement and in other instances, complete distaste.

Works Cited

Manschrek, Clyde; A History of Christianity in the world, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1985

Ferguson, Everett. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1990

Evans, G.R. The Medieval Theologians. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001

Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995

www.alabaster-jars.com (12/5/2001)

Hinson, Glenn. The Church Triumphant, Macon, Georgia: Mercer Press, 1995

Class Notes for History of Christianity Class, Fall 2001 Semester, University of South Florida.


(1) Clyde L.Manschreck, A History of Christianity in the world,( Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice-Hall Inc, 1985) 49

(2) Ibid

 

(3) Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity,( New York, Garland Publishing, Inc, 1990) 667

(4) Johnson, 59

(5)Manshreck, 49

(6)Ferguson, 668

(7)Glenn Hinson, The Church Triumphant, (Macon, Georgia, Mercer Press, 1995), 137

(8) Manschrek, 50

(9) Ferguson, 668

(10) Hinson, 155

(11) Ferguson, 121

(12) G.R. Evans, The Medieval Theologians (Oxford, England, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001), 4

(13) Ferguson, 121

(14) Evans, 4

(15) Ferguson, 122

(16) Ferguson, 122

(17) Ferguson, 123

(18) Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity,;(New York, Simon and Schuster, 1995), 121

(19) Evans, 201

(20) Ibid

(21) Manschrek, 156

(22) Manschrek, 136

(23) Manschrek, 139

(24) Manschrek, 166

(25) Manschrek, 169

(26) www.alabaster-jars.com

(27) Manschrek, 189

(28) Johnson, 375


Linked and reformatted by Lord Brawl and mirv, 22/03/03

Christianity

Key Concepts

Groups and Denominations

Writings

Prayers

Calendar and Festivals

Positions

People

Places

Earthly

Otherworldly

Debates and Movements

History

Spiritual Beings

Misc

A quick addition to mention that this first article has at least one big inaccuracy, and should be approached with caution. Australia is not 83% Christian, nor is the breakdown "(Roman Catholic 78%, Protestant 5%)" even remotely accurate. In fact, a quick look at the https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/as.html quoted as the source shows very different figures. Approximately one-third of all Australians are descended from Irish immigrants, most of whom were forced migrants sent to Australia in the early 18th century during religious and political protests and attempts by the Irish to reclaim home rule; even if all of these Australians retained their Irish Catholic identity, along with the smaller proportion of Italian-Australians from Catholic backgrounds - it would still be surprising if they had convinced another third of the country to convert to their beliefs. Just a reminder to check figures you see online, and carefully follow up on the source used.

Chris*tian"i*ty (?), n. [OE. cristiente, OF. cristienté, F. chrétienté, fr. L. christianitas. ]

1.

The religion of Christians; the system of doctrines and precepts taught by Christ.

2.

Practical conformity of one's inward and outward life to the spirit of the Christian religion

3.

The body of Christian believers. [Obs.]

To Walys fled the christianitee
Of olde Britons.
Chaucer.

 

© Webster 1913

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.