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Christianity

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Various Christian icons and symbols

Christianity is the largest religion in the world with approximately 2.14 billion adherents (though other estimates show the numbers could be quite higher). A Christian is someone who follows the precepts of Jesus Christ. The foundation and principles of Christianity come from the New Testament of the Bible, along with its early history. During the life of Jesus, his disciples were exclusively Jews. After Christ's death, Gentiles or non-Jews were brought into service, which now dominate Christianity. His disciples were known among themselves simply as "brethren", "the faithful", "elect", "saints", or "believers." The name "Christians" was first given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers of Jesus ("little Christs").

The name "Christ" is derived from the Greek noun Χριστός, Christōs which means "anointed one," which is itself a translation of the Hebrew word משיח, Māshīakh ("Messiah"). The name "Christian" appears only three times in the New Testament. In Acts 11:26 it says that "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch". Other mentions can be found in Acts 26:28 and 1_Peter 4:16 . "Christians" are now universally known by this name that characterizes them as followers of Jesus Christ, and distinguishes them from the multitudes without.

Any candidate for conversion should believe that (1) God exists as a holy being before whom all humans are held morally accountable for their transgressions (sins); (2) the malady of sin is so deep and pervasive that any rectification of the problem must come from outside of our wounded and rebellious beings; (3) God, the loving and just author of salvation, sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to live the prefect life we cannot live and to make atonement for our sin in order to provide the way of reconciliation between us and God; (4) the reality of this work was vindicated by Christ's unflinching obedience to the Father, his death on the cross and his death-defeating, life-affirming resurrection from the dead. The path of forgiveness and restoration is open to all, but only by faith alone and only through the finished work of Jesus Christ alone.[1]

Contents

Jesus Christ

Jesus on the Cross´ by Rembrandt. Canvas on panel, 1631. Le Mas d´Agenais, parish church.
Main Article: Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth (Hebrew: יהושע, Yehōshūaʻ; Aramaic: ישוע, Yēshūaʻ; Greek: Ίησους, Iēsous; Latin: Iesus; "YHWH is Salvation") is the Hebrew Messiah and the physical incarnation of God—the Son of God (meaning that he is God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, of the same essence of and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, but distinct in Person), who came to earth as a man, yet being both fully Man and fully God, to provide salvation and reconciliation by His death for the sins of mankind. He was born in the reign of Augustus Caesar (about 5 BC) in Bethlehem, Judea to the virgin Mary and was raised in Nazareth in Galilee by his mother and foster-father, Joseph, whom He followed in becoming a carpenter. He was executed by crucifixion in about April 34 AD, after condemnation by Pontius Pilate, the fifth procurator of Judea. Through Jesus' incarnation, life, death and resurrection He began what is now the largest religion in the world, Christianity.

John 1 refers to Jesus Christ as "The Word", as in "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us".

  • Jesus is the Christ
  • Jesus is the Son of God
  • Jesus is the Creator

Doctrine

Jesus

Christianity is founded upon the belief that Jesus Christ was sent to Earth by God, and that faith in His life, death and resurrection is where salvation lives. He suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified for the sins of the world.

Redemption / Atonement

Repentance

Jesus is considered to be God Himself who not only suffered and was crucified, but that He also rose from the dead to atone for all the sins of mankind, thus making it possible for people, by accepting the free gift of salvation He offers, to gain eternal life. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6 ), and that only by accepting His offering of salvation can one be accepted into heaven.

Eternal life in Heaven is the promise of the Crucifixion of Christ, and its testimony is found in the Resurrection. That event sparked a raging fire in the Apostles, that began a worldwide spiritual revolution, exploding in the events of the Upper Room (Acts 2 ).

God

Christianity, like all monotheistic religions holds to one sacred doctrine: God is one and there is only one God. During Biblical times, this view was in stark contrast to the polytheistic religions (many Gods) practiced by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.

The covenant established between God and Israel is reliant upon the recognition by His people that He is the one and only God, and strong warnings were given in the Old Testament against making and worshipping idols (a practice which was common at the time even among the Israelites) Leviticus 19:4 . The importance of this law is illustrated by it being the first command of the Ten Commandments given to Moses.

"You shall have no other gods before me." - Exodus 20:3

The New Testament echoes this central theme within Corinthians.

"we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one." - 1Corinthians 8:4

It should be noted that the, "other gods" warned against here are not gods at all, but substitutes for God, or simply mythological beliefs that have been adopted by the Israelites from the surrounding pagan cultures.

The "Shield of the Trinity", which portrays the components of God as a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit.

Trinity

Main Article: Trinity

The Trinity of God is central to Christianity. The word "Trinity" is from the Latin Trinitas, meaning "threeness". Neither that word nor any equivalent occurs in the Bible, but the doctrine is logically derived from many statements spread throughout the scripture. It is used to describe a basic Christian belief based on the biblical teachings that one God is manifested as a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit.

Christian Apologetics

Main Article: Christian Apologetics

Christian apologetics is a branch of Christian studies dealing with the defense of the Christian faith which is a Biblical activity as advised and demonstrated in the Bible. For example, Peter wrote: "Always be prepared to make defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" 1_Peter 3:15 . Making a defense of one's faith is a part of a Christian's spiritual duty. The word "Apologetics" comes from the Greek word απολογία, apologia translated as "defense". Apologetics is a defending of the faith, not the making of apologies as might be wrongly concluded from the English word "apologetics".

A good definition of the character and function of Christian apologetics can be found when Paul says: "We live in the flesh, of course, but the muscles that we fight with are not flesh. Our war is not fought with weapons of flesh, yet are strong enough, in God's cause, to demolish sophistries, and the arrogance that tries to resist the knowledge of God; every thought is our prisoner, captured to be brought into obedience to Christ." (2_Corinthians 10:3-6 )

The book of Job is an apologetics justifying God's dealings with man. In the face of opposition from his friends and family, Job shares the reasons for his loyalty and confidence in the Lord. He makes it very clear that the Lord of Israel was not like the gods of pagans around them; rather, the Lord of Israel is a faithful God who would never fail those who trust in Him.

Psalms 14 and 19 are also apologetic in character. Romans 1:20 adds apologetic confirmation by saying that the marvels of nature are enough to indicate the existence of an intelligent and all-powerful God. In Acts 17 Paul’s message is another example of apologetics being used to preach the gospel to skeptical unbelievers.

Historical Context

Main Article: History of Christianity

The Time of Jesus

When Jesus was born, the land of Israel had seen tremendous upheavals for hundreds of years. The Jews had surrendered to Alexander the Great without a fight in 332 BC. At first, life as part of the Greco-Macedonian Empire had been relatively pleasant, because Alexander had allowed the Jews to continue to live under their own laws. But with Alexander's death and the partitioning of his empire, the Seleucid kings began to impose Greek values on the people, a process called "Hellenization." The culmination of this was the disgraceful sacrifice of a pig in the Temple of Jerusalem by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This prompted the revolt against Antiochus and all things Greek by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 BC.

But the political life of the Holy Land was far from settled. The arrival of the Idumaeans, and especially the family of the Herods, prompted a dispute between two priestly families. This left the land vulnerable to conquest when another great empire-building general, Pompey the Great, arrived in the Middle East, initially on another mission. Pompey captured the Holy Land and settled the disputes—his way. Naturally the people resented this imposition.

Rome itself would suffer its own upheavals that would affect the Holy Land as well, if only peripherally. Julius Caesar conquered Western Europe for Rome, and then in Rome's Civil Wars he destroyed all of his meaningful opposition and stood at Rome's head. Then in 44 BC he prepared to march in what would have been his greatest war of conquest—against the Kingdom of the Parthians, the successors to the Persian Empire. But on March 15 of that year, twenty-four Senators assassinated him. The Roman Empire plunged into renewed civil war for fifteen years. Herod initially made an alliance with Marcus Antonius but eventually pledged his loyalty to Augustus when the latter had defeated Antonius in battle and chased him to Alexandria, Egypt, where Antonius and Cleopatra VII committed suicide.

Social background

The Holy Land, now under Roman rule for six decades, was a restive and miserable place. The Romans did not collect their taxes directly; instead they hired local collectors, called publicani, to collect the taxes for them. These men had license to collect whatever they could and keep whatever the Romans did not command them to remit to Rome, and "tax collector" became a by-phrase for larceny and ethnic treason.

As bad as this was the festering ethnic rivalry between actual Jews and Samaritans, descendants of the peoples whom Shalmaneser V and his successors had relocated into the Northern Kingdom after conquering it many centuries before. The heightened nationalistic sentiment prevailing at the time led the Jews to despise the Samaritans even more and regard them as interlopers.

The priests of the Jews had divided into three prominent sects. The Pharisees were the "conservatives" of the era, strict observers of Jewish law and custom. The Sadducees were the "liberals" of their era, thoroughly Hellenized and no longer believing even in any spiritual concepts central to Judaism. The Essenes were a dedicated and sequestered community of archivists, and modern man has them to thank for the preservation of many Old Testament manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes retired from political debate, but the disputes between the Pharisees and the Sadducees were habitual and rancorous.

But by far the most salient sentiment of the era was Jewish nationalism. The Jews had been looking for their promised Messiah since Isaiah and Daniel made their prophecies. But they looked for this Messiah to be a political leader, one who would lead another Maccabee-like revolt, this time against Rome.

Life of Jesus

Jesus was born during the reign of Emperor Augustus, and in fact during one of three occasions when Augustus took a systematic census of all the Roman world. When Jesus was perhaps eighteen years of age, Augustus died of poison in his bed, and Tiberius succeeded to the headship of the Roman Senate and thus to the headship of state of the Roman Empire. Tiberius had been in office for fifteen years when Jesus was baptized and began His public ministry.

Jesus did not conform to the expectations of the people. He befriended tax collectors, and though He inspired them to abandon their dishonorable careers, the people still regarded Jesus' actions with suspicion. (One of those tax collectors, however, wrote the longest of the Gospels and the one most directly addressed to the Jews. His name was Matthew.) More to the point, Jesus gave no indication of planning to stir the people to revolt.

The Pharisees considered Jesus a direct Threat to their position of power and privilege. For that reason they were determined to destroy His credibility. Thus they instigated the chain of events that culminated in the Crucifixion.

The Resurrection caught the Pharisees completely off guard—so much so that they actually bribed Roman guards to confess to their superiors that they had been asleep on watch on the night that Jesus "disappeared"—an offense that would normally have been punishable by swift execution.

History After Jesus

Christianity Branches.png

The twelve apostles met with martyrdom in scattered parts of the ancient world, reaching India, China, and many other places. This, and the writings of church fathers that followed them that refer to official Roman records, attest to the reality of the events as related in what is now the New Testament.

Throughout the first three centuries there were many waves of persecution, under which Christianity spread, based on the eyewitness testimony of the Resurrection of Christ as reported by the apostles and five hundred others, and subsequently other miracles that followed them as promised signs.

These persecutions against all Christians ended with the ascendancy of Constantine to Emperor of Rome, which he credited to bearing the sign of the cross. Later centuries of course brought a mixed history of persecutions of some groups of Christians by others, but almost none reaching the scale of the Roman ones.

Saint Patrick, a Romano-British youth captured into slavery in Ireland, escaped after a vision of the boat that later returned him to his native Britain. After studying some years as a priest in France, he brought the message of salvation to Ireland. In one generation, the entire island abandoned its Druid practices of witchcraft, human sacrifice, and slavery, and turned to Christianity. This was typical of a history that was to be repeated many times again in later centuries.

Saint Patrick also brought literacy to the Irish, and with it an avid enthusiastic love for books that later reverberated back into Britain and then Europe, where waves of tribes from the east had devastated libraries and monasteries and burned books everywhere. These scribes saved many Greek and Roman writings which we still have today, and Charlemagne and other French rulers used their students to establish the centers of learning that became the universities of today. Groups of Christians also began ministries of care and healing in later centuries, which became the modern clinics and hospitals of today.

World map of religions.
Christian percentages by country.

With Gutenberg's invention of the printing press making the Bible much more available to all, there built up a momentum of learning fed by a larger population of people writing and reading, that later provided a fertile base for the blooming of scientific inquiry. The best known example of this movement today is Isaac Newton, generally regarded even today as the foremost scientist who ever lived. There have been a great many other scientists, well known today, founders of fields of scientific inquiry, and creationists in the sense of a literal reading of Genesis One. See - historical creation scientists, for a list of other scientists from the time of the beginnings of modern science up to today who profess belief in the Genesis One account as the true story of the beginnings of the world.

Christianity followed European expansion throughout most of the second millennium. Where it went its influence generally meant an end to the immoral practices of many native groups, such as infant sacrifices, cannibalism, infanticide for convenience, and other behaviors now counted as taboo. In general, the establishment of the church by Jesus Christ facilitates the unified outcry against evil in the world by Christians. This can be seen throughout history, that Christians are a vital part in fighting for what is good. William Wilberforce, for example, dedicated his life to biblical principles and became one of the chief proponents for the abolishment of slavery. Such is the legacy with which Jesus Christ and Christianity has gifted the world.

References

  1. Douglass Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic 2011), pg. 40
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