We were talking in the Christians usergroup about some of the difficulties we encounter when a question is asked of the group, and the answers we give are based on different assumptions that not all Christians share in common. Tiefling suggested--I don't know how seriously--that we all make our basic assumptions clear before we go any further with a given topic. Frankly I think my Message Inbox couldn't stand the strain; but maybe it would be helpful if we all know where each of us is coming from. Mainly though it gives me an excuse to rattle on about myself. Hooray!
I am a born again Christian whose conversion was fairly sudden and dramatic, and followed a life of agnosticism. I am a baptized member of the Episcopal Church USA. My exposure to Christianity up until my conversion was mostly through the Southern Baptist denomination, to which much of my family belongs.
I believe the affirmations in the Nicene Creed are true, not only spiritually but factually and universally. I believe the Bible is divinely inspired and contains everything necessary to salvation. I also believe it is a collection of books of many types: histories, legends, folk tales, sermons, wisdom texts, poems, songs, written in different times and places by different people for different reasons and for different audiences. I believe that the Gospels provide a substantially accurate account of Jesus' words and deeds (inluding his miracles and the resurrection). The authors were likely not eyewitnesses and may have been limited by incomplete knowledge of some of the places and events described by their sources. (For example, one Gospel describes a miracle taking place as Jesus enters a city, while another describes it as taking place as he leaves the same city. Obviously--to me--both authors received accounts of Jesus performing this act somewhere in or around the city, and wove it into their narratives in different ways.) Also, they chose their material and presented it the way they did in order to convey to us that Jesus was the Son of God and the Christ. The Gospels aren't history texts, biographies, or newspaper reports; but this does not make them fiction, either.
I believe that some of the things in the Epistles are intended for the whole Church at all times, and some for a particular church at a particular time. We don't always know which is which, but then again I don't expect Truth to be handed to us on a paper plate with a side of cole slaw and a slice of Wonder bread.
I believe that Christians of different stripes must make an effort to trust one another, and treat each other with kindness. I would say "love", but Christian love has so often been twisted to include cruelties supposedly done to help the sufferer see the error of his ways that I feel another word is necessary to make my meaning clear. "Charity" also works.
I believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians are not, strictly speaking, Christian because they deny the existence of the Trinity. I believe that this doesn't mean that there are no saved people among them. (How could one possibly be saved, then? I think Jesus' words to Peter after He rose made his priorities pretty clear: he asked, "Do you love me?". For many reasons a person may have some strange ideas in his head about Christ, but may still love Him in his heart. As much as I might care about intellectual assent to what I believe are sound doctrines, I suspect God cares more about that, and expects us to just do the best we can with what we're given regarding the rest.)
I believe Satan exists as an objectively real supernatural being who wishes pain and death on all living things in God's creation, and works in this world by temptation and corruption. He cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or prayed to. We can offer him nothing he desires except our own misery. However, I feel that his existence is not necessary in the Christian scheme, so it's not one of the Big Issues for me.
I kneel in church. I cross myself when I need to feel grounded in God. I prefer worship services with candles, bells, stained glass, robes, organ music, chalices, hymns, and all the other elements of ritual that briefly transport us out of this world and into the Heavenly kingdom. I believe laughter and good cheer, creativity, healthy sexuality, and an awake and searching mind are gifts of God. An occasional irreverent joke, a drink with friends, some good-natured cussing and admiration of the human body are not bad things. I believe that ease and prosperity are not by-products of faith; the Apostles went to cruel deaths as penniless outcasts, yet who of us is more blessed than they?
I don't know for certain that any given person is going to Hell. When people say that someone is going to Hell, or is there now, it implies a God-like knowledge that we don't possess. I think it's more than enough to say that each and every one of us is in danger of that eternal separation from God, and that only Jesus offers an assurance of salvation. If my choice in the face of drowning in the mid-Atlantic is to grab the life ring of the rescue boat or strike out swimming on my own, dude, I'm taking the life ring. If someone else wants to swim, I highly discourage it but I wish them the best of luck if they feel they must try.
I believe I need forgiveness, and saving. I believe the human race needs forgiveness and saving, and that in the end only God can manage it.