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What is a Christian?

In short, a Christian worships and follows Jesus Christ of Nazareth because he or she believes Jesus to be God, Lord and Savior. Christians adhere to the monotheistic religion known as Christianity, founded by and based on the life and teachings Jesus Christ according to Sacred Scriptures both from the Old and New Testaments. Christians testify to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of humanity, His sacrifice on the cross paid for all the sins of mankind and only faith in Him leads to eternal life. Historic Christian Orthodoxy demonstrates these truths manifested by the significant amounts of writings available from the early Christian leaders down to present day ministers of the Word.

Etymology of the word “Christian”

‘Christian’ literally means a “follower of Christ”. The name “Christ” came from the Greek word, “kristos”, a title which means “anointed one.” Anointing serves as part of the rite of crowning a king or commissioning holy persons for service in several ancient cultures including the Hebrews. The Hebraic equivalent of kristos; messiah conveys “Christ” as a title, much like how we might say, “King Charles” or “President Lincoln.” The Christian belief surrounding the person of Jesus, namely His Divinity as the Son of God, separates Jesus among other “christs” or anointed ones  throughout history rather, He is the Christ, the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). Thus, the title of Christ emerged as the proper name to refer to Jesus of Nazareth, such that one can simply say “Christ” in order to refer to Jesus.

The suffix, –ian, a common English suffix indicating that the name derives from the subject of its stem. Much like how an Aristotelian philosopher follows closely and mainly agrees with Aristotle, Christian, then, has this in mind when they refer to themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. This carries with it the implication that Christians believe Jesus beyond merely a good and holy man, teacher, philosopher, sage, or religious and political reformer. Christians worship Jesus as the incarnate Word and Son of God, the root of His authority and worthiness.

The History of ‘Christian’

Today’s use of the term, “Christian,” carries with it a somewhat complex meaning. Different conventions vie to claim the authentic meaning of the word, imposing the term to extend to slightly different groups of people. The dictionary defines a Christian as, “One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” But many Christians find this insufficient, as ongoing debates continue as to whom the term applies to most authentically. As this next section demonstrates, the notion of ‘Christian’ developed over time as Christianity undergoes expansion and division.

The “Proto-Christians”

Sufficient Biblical evidence exists to argue that Christianity began in the year leading up to Christ’s birth through the persons and characters demonstrated by Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. These faithful Jews received the messages of the Archangel Gabriel announcing Mary as the Mother of the Messiah, the Son of God according to the prophecies of the Jewish scriptures. The unusual circumstances of Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit of the child Jesus affirms these beliefs. Their numbers slowly rose through the witness of the shepherds, the three wise magi, Simeon the priest, Anna the prophetess, and the like.

The First Christians

Jesus and all his earliest followers followed Judaism. Jesus proclaimed that He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, which were at the heart of the Jewish faith, but to fulfill them (cf. Matthew 5:17). This being the case, Christianity has its lineage in the Jewish faith, and shares several commonalities. The Jewish scriptures constitute the first part of the Christian scriptures which Christians now call the Old Testament. This common heritage means that Christians largely share the same understanding of God, God’s providence, prayer, and the inspired teachings of God as handed on, particularly through the Mosaic law of the Ten Commandments.

The term “Christian” even appeared outside the Bible around the end of the first century and beginning of the second century AD in both Jewish and secular Roman contexts. The earliest extant reference  in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews relates an abbreviated account of the Gospel narrative of the life and death of Jesus, concluding that “the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (18.3.3). While some scholars question the authenticity of this passage (Olson, “Eusebius”; Wallace-Hadrill, “Eusebius”), most believe it preserves an original usage of the term “Christian.”
Around 112 AD, Roman Governor of Bithynia-Pontus, Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan regarding the treatment of Christians in his jurisdiction (Letters X). He offered insights into early Christian practices and expressed confusion over Christian identity with regard to their Roman citizenship and the delivery of punishments. On the one hand, Christians worship God who is distinctly not the Emperor, other wise living as good Roman citizens; on the other, they engage in culturally defined scandalous ritual, but in private. Pliny’s primary question is whether bearing the epithet “Christian” is grounds enough for legal condemnation. Trajan responds to Pliny with the advice to carry out justice where necessary but do not pursue the Christians.

Two other examples of early usage of the term are notable for both their age and textual discrepancies. The Roman historian Tacitus uses the term “Chrestians” in his Annals (ca.116 AD) during his account surrounding the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. He notes how they recieved blame and tortured for the fire, suffering similar fates as “Chrestus”, from whom the name had its origin” (15.44). Interestingly, the misspelling may refer to “Christians” and “Christus” (Andresen, Wochenschrift, 780). Scholarly consensus states that both spellings were in use at the time and considered acceptable. Second, Roman historian Suetonius remarks on Christians in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars, composed around 121 AD during Emperor  Hadrian’s reign. Like Tacitus, he also commented on Nero’s persecution of Christians following the fire (Nero 16), but he also mentioned religious agitation in Rome during the reign of Claudius (Claudius 25). This unrest, over “disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus,” led to the displacement of the Jews from Rome and the event Luke referenced in Acts 18:2. Scholarly consensus agree that Christianity must be in Suetonius’ purview, regardless of the spelling (Van Voorst, Jesus, 31–32).
These secular accounts of Christianity’s early existence indicate that while Christian self-identity was fairly stable in regard to its relation to and distinction from Judaism, the Romans were unable to make such clear distinctions.

Jesus: A Different Kind of Rabbi

A ‘rabbi’ is a Jewish word for a religious master and teacher. In Jesus’ time, it was common for there to be teachers of the Law. Commoners might ask to live with and learn from rabbis to develop into good followers of the Law of God. The rabbi’s house would double as a “boarding school” whereby closeness between the rabbi and disciples would facilitate learning the lifestyle. Jesus, however, differed in several key ways.

Through scripture, we know that Jesus was an itinerant rabbi. In reverse of the norm, He often stayed in disciples’ houses in the cities and towns He visited. Relatedly, Jesus did not personally own a house or property. He only carried money together in common with the core group of the Twelve disciples. Despite not owning anything himself it was still necessary to pay taxes or satisfy whatever other legal requirements laid upon them by the laws of the land at the time. The last notable difference was Jesus’ acceptance of women as disciples. While the Twelve, the closest disciples of Jesus who became leaders of the community after Jesus ascended into heaven, were men; it was clear that among the disciples were women. This was unusual or maybe even unheard of at the time. Rabbis typically only took on male disciples. Women usually go to the temple to learn the ways of Jewish women. Some women disciples included Mary of Magdala, Martha, and Mary the wife of Cleopas, among others.

Christianity as the New Israel

For Christians, Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises and their authoritative interpreter. After Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven, the disciples of Jesus distinguished themselves from other sects of Judaism by referring to themselves as followers of “the way” (cf. Acts 9:2). In doing so, Paul affirms one of Jesus’ self-given titles, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He also indicates that their way of life was distinct from those of temple Jews of which Paul was formerly a part. It was after conflict with other Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, and the acceptance of Gentiles (non-Jews) as followers of Jesus that Christianity began to define itself separately from Judaism. Scripture records the first use of the term, “Christian,” at the ancient Church of Antioch shortly following its establishment (Acts 11:26). It would not be until the second century A.D. when the term ‘Christian’ was conventionally and commonly used.

Early Christians

Between the time of Christ and the 200s, Christianity and the early church spread throughout the Mediterranean, through the apostolic activity of the Twelve and their successors. Though their members included people of many nations and languages they understood themselves to be a single Church. To help avoid confusion among all of its members concerning what they believe with respect to God, their practices, and about themselves as a Church, they developed a creed or symbol (symbolon) of the Christian faith. The creed served as a kind of identification and defining summary of faith among Christians. While the rituals of initiation, principally baptism, formally made a person a member of the Christian church, maintaining such an identity carried with it an obligation. Genuine Christianity meant to believe certain doctrines and live a certain way. In other words, unless a Christian generally accepted the doctrines enumerated in the creed, they were in danger of being a Christian “in name only,” as we might say today, which is not a true Christian. Part of the earlier Apostle’s Creed includes the line to believe “in the Holy Catholic Church.”

The need for the careful identification of Christians was quite important in those first three centuries of the Church. As Christianity spread within and beyond the Roman Empire, there was also widespread hostility against Christians. Until the Edict of Milan in 313 granted freedom of religious expression, most Christians operate and evangelize “underground,” both literally and figuratively in order to try to avoid detection and spies.

The Patristic Era Christians

Following the Edict of Milan, Christianity continued to spread well throughout the Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Russia. Church government came under the leadership of the successors to the apostles called bishops. The Christian Church, though strained by the diversity of people of many different languages and cultural-linguistic paradigms, considered itself to be a single Church for the next seven hundred years. However, the strain would prove too great resulting in the Great Schism in the year 1054.

Eastern and Western Christians

Prior to 1054, there were no denominations of Christians since they were all considered to be members of what the Nicene-Creed calls, “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The two major cultures composing the Church were the Latin-speaking Western part and the Greek-speaking Eastern part. Because of certain semantic differences in their use of language and the concepts to which they referred, there came about some deep theological conflicts between the Christians of the East and Christians of the West, particularly concerning understanding the nature of God as a Trinity. This became known as the filioque dispute.

The Filioque Dispute

Filioque in Latin means, “and from the Son.” In the creed, as the Church was working out what it means to “believe in the Holy Spirit”, the Eastern and Western churches came to a seeming impasse. The Western church wanted the creed to say the Holy Spirit, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Eastern church, however, wanted to exclude the filioque and say the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father. The exact details of the dispute are beyond the scope of this article. But, in short, since they were unable to reconcile their understandings of the relationship between the persons of the Trinity and the Divine essence, the Church split more or less along the cultural-linguistic lines. The split consisted of the Eastern, Greek-speaking Christians, and Western, Latin-speaking Christians. The Western Christians came to call themselves the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Christians called themselves the Eastern Orthodox Church. To modern ears, this may sound like theological “hair-splitting.”

Church or Churches?

The Great Schism happened and so coined because the split involved the highest authorities in the Church. Neither side had the authority to deny the authenticity of the other’s Christianity. Further, they largely believed many of the same things. Christians in the West claimed Peter to be the leader of all the disciples of Christ after Jesus and, thus, Peter’s successor to be the leader of the entire Church. The Orthodox Church, however, did not see authority over the church proceeding in the same way.

While history often points out  the filioque dispute as the reason for the schism, several major issues that the Medieval Church had as it continued to grow really led to its rupture. These issues included the failure to communicate well among its members, especially among bishops, the questions of authority and structure within the Church, and the relationship between the formulae of faith and the understanding of them proper to Christianity from within different cultures, languages, and philosophical outlooks. Despite resulting in two distinct religious communities, everyone regards both as Christian and largely continue in this way today.

Protestant/Reformation Christians

The Minor Schism

The Roman Catholic Church carried on the Christian tradition in the West until the next major rupture, the catalyst of the Reformation in Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 theses to the doors of his Church on October 31, 1517. Europe as a whole was facing much strife at the time, having difficulties navigating the relationship between Church and state, fighting the crusades, managing the implications of discovering the Americas, and answering new questions brought about by revolutionary philosophical and scientific paradigm shifts. The Roman Catholic Church had, yet again, to face questions of authority although under a different set of parameters.

The Question of Authority: Faith and Morals

The Church would go on to declare that it had the teaching authority and competence over questions related to faith and morals. This was in response to the Enlightenment era developments in which many sciences and disciplines were beginning to separate themselves, operating apart from the faith. The Church conceded that it did not have the authority to declare certain scientific, philosophical, or mathematical doctrines as true or false except insofar as they have implications for the truths of Christianity. For example, it was not for the Church to say whether the Sun or the Earth is the center of the universe. However, the Church could deny that the universe is eternal or without a creator as many scientists want to claim.

Fractalized Christianity

This concession, however, did not appease the spirit of reformation and independence that swept across Europe leading to what was called the protestant reformation. It resulted in the Church of England separating from the Catholic Church with its reigning monarch doubling as its head beginning with King Henry VIII, and the protestant Christians across the rest of Western Europe led by figures like Luther in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and Jean (John) Calvin of France.

The Roman Church considered this to be a lesser schism because bishops of the Church generally were not involved. These movements, moreover, were considered heretical by the Roman Church as they denied several central teachings such as that of the sacraments in general and the Eucharist in particular, the papacy and Church hierarchy, certain aspects of the canon of scripture, the communion of saints, predestination, icons, and sacramentals, and various doctrines of grace and the forgiveness of sins. Despite these separations, all of these communities are still considered Christian today due to the common belief in Christ as the Son of God and adherence to the words taught by Him, however different the understanding of those words might be.

Christians Today

The Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestant or Reformed Christianity more or less make up the major categories of Christianity. Within these are a number of subdivisions and separations that are too numerous to go into any major detail here. The Catholic Church is what is called the Roman Catholic Church which is the largest single Christian denomination in the world. It is considered to be in communion with 22 other denominations or what it officially calls liturgical rites. They are considered to be a single Church united under the pope and adherence to canon law.

Following the Great Schism, Eastern Orthodoxy went on to undergo a number of schisms itself, some of which rejoined the communion of the Western Church. Orthodoxy is split into denominations such as the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and various Slavik and Armenian communities.

The protestant and reformed Christians would further split into thousands of various communities and denominations. Some of the larger and noteworthy ones are Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Methodists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Adventists. These groups have various interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and the role and structure of the Church, but they all generally hold the belief in Jesus’ divinity and His offer of salvation.

Questionable Christians

There are two particular religions whose Christianity is debated on the basis of their beliefs about Christ and the source of their scriptures. They are the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) and the Mormon church.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witness, following the interpretations of scripture of Charles Taze Russell, do not believe Jesus or the Holy Spirit to be divine. In other words, they deny what are widely considered to be the central Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation (the belief that God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ). Sticking strictly to the words of scripture for them results in the denial of various traditional Christian celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. The only ritual observance that JWs recognize would be Jesus’ memorial of the Last Supper. In sum, they see Jesus as being the greatest of God’s creatures who came to share God’s message with us. Insofar as Jesus is from God are Jesus’ teachings to be obeyed and handed on, but Jesus himself is not the object of worship. That is reserved for God, the Father alone in their view. More can be read about JWs in the article on this site, “What is a Jehovah’s Witness?”

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Mormonism, the religion of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, among most Christians, is considered more of a cult whose Christianity is also in question given its dubious sources and origins. Its founder, Joseph Smith, claimed to have found golden tablets upon which were written a whole additional set of scriptures to be read and believed which recount stories of prophets that parallel that of the Old and New Testaments (otherwise known as the Bible). Among them are stories such as that while Jesus was performing his public ministry in ancient Israel two thousand years ago, He was bilocating to the Americas and performing a public ministry there as well.

Although these alleged scriptures have been transcribed and published as the Book of Mormon, the original script was in “Reformed Egyptian” which he alone could translate under the inspiration of the angel, Moroni. Further, Moroni allegedly guards the tablets by supernatural means such that they remain inaccessible to anyone else. In addition to secretive additional scriptures, Mormon Christianity is called into question because they likewise reject the doctrine of the Trinity and much of the Early Church creeds and doctrines.

Central Christian Beliefs

The Christian Creed

The essential and central Christian doctrines are widely agreed to be those as indicated in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, formulated in 381 A.D. and reads as follows:

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

In sum, the essential and central Christian doctrines are those of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery of salvation, the inspired nature of scripture, the unity of the Church, the efficacy and necessity of Baptism, and general resurrection.

God as Trinity

Christianity is founded on the belief in one true God, who is the creator of the universe and all living things. Christians believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good and that he is present in all things. This God is numerically identical to the God spoken of in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures—the God of Jesus Christ is the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the “Most High God”; the God of Moses, Aaron, and the prophets.

Christians also believe that Jesus Christ revealed God as a Trinity (cf. Matthew 3:13-17 and Matthew 28:19) which includes God the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Holy Trinity, together with the Father and Jesus, the Son. These three within the Godhead are of one essence but are distinct persons. The traditional catechetical formula (known as the scutum fidei or “shield of faith”) is that there is only one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each person coeternal, and coequal with the others. The Father is God as the Son is God as the Holy Spirit is God; but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. This was codified at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD in what is called the Nicene Creed . This council along with others served to define the parameters of Christian doctrines, including the identification of the canon (the received list of texts, accepted by the Church discerned to have been inspired by God and, thus, constituting God’s word) in the Christian Bible.

Who/What is Jesus? Incarnation and Hypostatic Union

Another central teaching of Christianity is the incarnation and what is called the hypostatic union in theological circles. It is the belief that the divine Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, became a human being in Jesus Christ. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and so is fully human, but He is also the Son of God and so fully divine. The formula of faith in the hypostatic union is that in Jesus, there are two full natures, human and divine, united in the one divine person of the Son. Hence, Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man.

The Gospel of the Paschal Mystery

The Paschal Mystery articulates one of the earliest of Christian proclamations. The word “Paschal” comes from “pesch” which means ‘Passover’ (further evidence of the Jewish influence and source of Christianity). It refers to the fundamental Christian belief that through Jesus Christ’s passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, God saves humanity from sin and eternal death. The prophet Isaiah foreshadows this in doctrine in the songs of the suffering servant “by [whose] stripes we are healed” (see Isaiah 53:5, for example). John’s gospel famously spells out the plan of salvation in 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This brings about the traditional title of Christ as Savior.

The doctrine of the incarnation and hypostatic union is rooted in this plan of salvation because, as St. Athanasius taught, man’s sin posed something of a “Divine Dilemma.” Only God had the power to save humanity but God’s justice required man to satisfy the broken covenant, make reparation, and reconcile with God. Thus, the incarnation solves this dilemma. Jesus, in His divinity, has the power to save, AND, as the “son of man” (that is, as fully human) he properly satisfies God’s justice by suffering death on the cross as a human being. Christians will differ as to the exact role Jesus’ death assumes in giving satisfaction to God’s justice. Is it a sacrifice of atonement, a substitution, a punishment, or all of the above? Up to this point, all Christians more or less agree that Jesus’ death is the solution to the problem posed by human sin.

The Assembly of Christ’s Disciples Through Baptism

Lastly, Christian denominations largely disagree as to the nature of the Church, its hierarchy, the “dynamics” of grace, and the true nature of worship, but all Christians will agree that Baptism is an important moment and rite in the life of a Christian. It consists of the “washing of rebirth” of a sinner to become “a new creation.” In baptism, the baptized formally becomes an actual Christian making them identifiable as such. Christ Himself underwent a baptism at the hands of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17, among others) and then before ascending into heaven instructed His disciples to “[baptize all nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

For Christians, their baptism has some implications that do not apply to Christ. Christ received baptism as a sign of divine affirmation of His Sonship. For everyone else, Baptism carries with it the added effect of being an act of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. By accepting and receiving baptism, one is implicitly professing faith in Christ and enters into the covenantal promise to live the Christian way of life, turning away from the former life of sin which would end in death. Followers of Christ, therefore, take seriously following Christ into His Baptism, spreading His teachings, and aiding the Church in its mission to baptize others. Again, the denominations differ in understanding the meaning of Baptism and the manner it is to be carried out. It is widely agreed, however, that Baptism is an important marker for the identification of a Christian.

Scripture

Another important aspect of Christianity and a mark of a true Christian is the belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God. The Bible is composed of two distinct parts: The Old and New Testaments. Christians differ as to what texts form the canon of scripture, that is, the official list of texts considered to be authentically inspired by God and, thus, divinely revelatory. This is important since sacred scripture is at the root of Christian belief. A different canon will ultimately result in differences in doctrines.

The Old Testament

What religiously Jewish people call the Hebrew Scriptures, Christians call the Old Testament or Old Covenant. It recounts man’s experiences of God through the lens of His chosen people from creation to the third Babylonian exile of the Hebrew people. The canon of the Old Testament is disputed. Certain Orthodox Christians hold that there are 51 books, Catholics hold there to be 46, and reformed/protestant Christians say that there are 39. In addition to all texts of the protestant canon, the Roman canon includes the Maccabean texts 1 and 2, Tobit, Baruch, Esther, Sirach, and Judith. The Orthodox includes all of these, plus 3 and 4 Maccabees, Esdras 1 and 2, Prayer of Manasseh, and a few additional texts and chapters to shared books like Daniel and Psalms.

The New Testament

The New Testament is a continuation of the story of God’s plan of salvation reaching its climax and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. It contains the origins, life, and teachings of Jesus and the writings of apostles that illuminate the significance of Jesus and how to live, individually and corporately, as followers of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the entire Bible is authoritative on matters of faith and practice. They also believe it contains revelation of God’s will and plan for humanity.

Christian Answers To “Who is Jesus?”

Christians are largely determined by what they believe about Jesus. These beliefs, in turn, are formed by the titles used to refer to Jesus in scripture. The gospel of John makes clear from the beginning that Jesus is God’s Word who is also God (cf. John 1). Then, Throughout the Gospel, Jesus describes himself through a series of “I AM” statements. These indicate that Jesus is applying the same name to Himself as the God who spoke to Moses in the Burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14).

Jesus, throughout the other gospels, similarly says and does things to indicate His divine identity. For example, forgiving people their sins. This is scandalous to the Jewish leaders of the temple because it was clear to them that only God can forgive sins. Leaving gospel readers with a critical judgment, either Jesus is God or a blasphemer. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (end of Chapter 3). A Christian is one who chooses to believe that He is indeed Lord and God (John 20:28).

Jesus also goes at length to reveal his authentic humanity by being born of the woman, Mary, referring to Himself as the “son of man,” and, even in His resurrected state, eating fish to demonstrate that he was not a mere ghost or fleshless apparition (Luke 24:42-43). It is evident in the scriptures that, at least in simple appearance, He was completely human. Authentic Christian speech about Jesus in its myriad forms ultimately reflects the core belief in Jesus as the Most High God of Israel and the fully human Son of David as foretold by scriptures, the Messiah and Son of God (see Matthew 16:16).

The Christian Practice of Love

In addition to orthodoxy defined by church tradition and councils, Christianity also emphasizes orthopraxy. Orthopraxy places a strong emphasis on the importance of love, compassion, and service to others. The Christian call emphasizes following  Jesus’ example and obeying his command to love each other as he has loved them. A startling deviation for Jesus in His Last Supper discourses should make Christians pay attention to the fact He says, “I give you a new commandment” wherein he goes on to say, “Love one another. As I have loved you so you should love one another” (John 13:34). This seems to be an elaboration or even a “pushing” of the greatest commandment to love God and love their neighbors as themselves as expressed through acts of charity and service, such as helping the impoverished, the sick, and the marginalized. The Christian understanding of love differs from its Jewish root since Christ calls Christians to a self-sacrificial love emulating Him. Such practice aims to foster an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus, seeking identity with Him, which spills over into life-giving love for fellow Christians and non-believers alike.

Community Aspect of Christianity

In addition to personal faith and practice, Christianity also has a communal aspect. Believers gather together in churches for worship, fellowship, and to share teachings and guidance. The Church is a source of support and encouragement for believers and plays a vital role in the spread of the gospel. Christians dispute the meaning of good works in relation to faith and the salvation of their souls but it is clear that the fruit of authentic faith in Jesus are such good works, naturally flowing from it as light and heat flow from fire. With Christ breaking ground through the Paschal Mystery, Christians ultimately strives to bring about the kingdom of God over the whole world.

There are many practices and rituals associated with Christianity. These include individual and communal prayer, worship, and the celebration of sacraments such as communion, baptism, and Christian marriage. Christians also observe various holy days and festivals. The two principal feast that the majority of Christians celebrate are Christmas and Easter.

In Summary

A Christian is someone who believes and follows the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible. In doing so, Christians profess and confess the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and eternal life with Jesus. The Christian Faith embraces truths about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit according to Scripture. Beliefs generally include the deity of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, and the triune nature of God. Additionally, Christians believe in the attributes of God’s benevolence, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Christians gather with other like-minded believers in a myriad of cultural contexts and trusts in the Bible as a guide for eternal as interpreted by their tradition and spiritual leaders.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts below.

Too often, people answer faith questions with dogmatic certitude and neglect the historic diversity and complexity of Christian ideas. The Questions Project is a resource that responds to questions about faith, history, and scripture in a way that honors the historical diversity and complexity of Christian thought. But, this is a work in progress and we want your help. Please provide feedback. We are particularly interested in knowing what we may have missed and how we can improve our responses. Please keep all comments kind or risk deletion.

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  • Glenda Hunteru says:

    Yes, that sounds right. Jesus came and preached love, not strict rituals. I have a few problems with some passages. I was very frightened when I was a child and young adult. I live in Tennessee if that tells you anything. I don’t believe in hell. But I came by it on my own. I would be worried about the whole world that would miss out on and go to hell. I can’t take that. But I can’t scripturally make my point. But I know there is a point there. The splinter in your eye is a log in someone else’s. Narrow is the gate and hard is the way to Salvation, Not everyone will see God because of their way is just so different. I can’t see that happening. Thank you.

  • Karen Freeman says:

    Overall, this is very good and clear. I have an issue with “Christians believe that God… is present in all things.” That sounds like pantheism to me, which isn’t an orthodox view. Also when God’s omnipotence is explained, I think it would be good also to say something about the free will that we have been given. Although God is all-powerful, God doesn’t interfere with free will.

  • I’m grateful for non-hagiographic non-apologetic professional researchers who seriously analyze both Scriptural and non-Scriptural content (like Josephus and Tacitus) to construct the most historically likely profile of an inspired rabbi, Jesus, who got the imperialist Roman authorities riled up enough to torture him to death.

    It might be useful to apply the most updated scholarship to a relatively authentic “voiceprint” of Jesus’s thinking on social justice.

    At a time when all codes of ethical decency for the globe seem to be collapsing, one chief interest, of many, in the historical Jesus today lies in his having modeled a level of empathy and ethics exceptional in any age. Here is a fully historical human being whom the typically brutal Roman authorities executed — yes, brutally — but the record is so swamped with additional accretions that it’s taken fearless secular scholarship like that of Ehrman and other staunch secularists to single out the earliest textual stratum that is closest to the real history. The most likely conclusion is that there was a real such rabbi from Galilee called Jesus, who was human and preached social inclusiveness and riled up the Roman authorities. As such, the Romans initially viewed him as primarily a political phenomenon. In fact, today, the figure of Jesus, whether or not he himself viewed himself in that light, now has as much to do with the history of politics as the history of faith.

    The human historical Jesus is the Jesus that professional secular non-apologetic academic researchers of today, who do in-depth historiography for a living, subscribe to, and it’s the model that anyone who’s reasonably well educated perceives as perfectly plausible. It is not necessarily the Jesus that Christians subscribe to.

    We are indebted to the careful historical research that has generated a usable profile of the rabbi Jesus’s chief reflections and his biography. To begin with, there have been philological analyses from various researchers, looking at distinctive Aramaic markers, as well as signs of oral transmission, in three of the four Gospels. Those three Gospels are termed the Synoptics: Mark, Matthew and Luke. Now, Aramaic markers by definition are not in Aramaic but are trace elements in the original Koine Greek in which the Synoptics are written, verses in which word order, syntax, etc., show structural similarities to Aramaic despite the text being in Koine Greek.

    The Jesus that emerges here is a young man who adopts many of the beliefs of his time, but, above all, supplements those beliefs with certain pioneering social notions of his own.

    Once we confine ourselves scrupulously to the data outlined above, there is an integrity to those ideas that strongly suggest they all come from one man. There is now a professional academic secular consensus reflected in assessing this restricted documentation in this way.

    The data adds up to one example of how one gifted figure responds when confronted with the phenomenon of human suffering: to wit, elevate forgiveness, healing, service, etc.

    Aramaic stylometrics do suggest a historic stratum in some of the parallel Jesus sayings and pericopes in Matthew and Luke. Likewise, details in Mark’s action narrative sometimes suggest a much more human Jesus than is found elsewhere, likewise suggesting occasional traces of a historic stratum. So combining the parallel sayings in Matt./Luke plus a carefully sifted Mark effectively brings us as close to history as we can hope. What is most likely historical in the Jesus materials are not the many details in his bio (aside from members of his immediate family and the crucifixion, both confirmed in several non-Scriptural sources), but his Aramaic-tinged sayings in Matt./Luke. What he _says_ is often more historically reliable than what he does. If one can say that any part of the written record provides us with a profile of the authentic Jesus, it would be the parallel sayings in Matthew/Luke more than anything else. Modern scholars agree that the Luke versions of these sayings show signs of being less edited than the Matthew ones, along with showing somewhat more traces of Aramaic stylometrics as well.

    So the sayings extracted below, courtesy of modern scholarship, are from Luke, but — except for Discourse #1 — are sequenced here in the order that these topics come up in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest and sparest of the three Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke). Because sequencing these Luke sayings as they appear in Luke can be confusing, given the helter-skelter nature of Luke’s distribution of them in his narrative, I chose instead to match the sequence as best one can with the appearance of these themes as they come up in Mark instead. The result is a more thematically coherent sequence, although it’s still a bunch of random sayings.

    The parallel teachings in Matthew/Luke appear to be _relatively_ the most authentic, courtesy of modern strictly secular scholarship. What is seen — in those selected Luke sayings that modern scholarship suggests may be the earliest — is a lot of what makes Jesus of historic importance. I have chosen to enclose only those parallel teachings in Matthew/Luke that address social ethics, rather than the entire collection of parallel sayings. The latter comes to roughly 30 Discourses; those on social ethics (enclosed below) come to seven. He pioneered a social ethic that introduced living for others, loving even one’s enemies, and reversing the social status of those with pretensions to greatness. This was a considerable package for his time.

    Enclosure follows.

    [from Luke]

    Discourse #1

    6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
    21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
    22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
    23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

    6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
    28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
    29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
    30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
    31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
    32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
    33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.

    6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
    36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
    37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
    38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
    39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?
    40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
    41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
    43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
    44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.
    45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
    46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
    47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:
    48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
    49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.

    Discourse #2

    17:33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

    12:22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
    23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
    24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
    25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
    26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
    27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
    29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.
    30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
    31 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    12:33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.
    34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

    16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

    Discourse #3

    13:24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

    13:26 Then shall ye begin to say, [Lord,] We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
    27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
    28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
    29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
    30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

    14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    Discourse #4

    11:2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.
    3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
    4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

    Discourse #5

    14:16b A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
    17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
    18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
    19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

    14:21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

    14:23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
    24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

    Discourse #6

    11:39b Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.
    40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
    41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.
    42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
    43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.
    44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.

    11:46 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
    47 Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
    48 Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.
    49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:
    50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;
    51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
    52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

    Discourse #7

    12:39 And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.
    40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.

    12:42 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?
    43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
    44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
    45 But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;
    46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

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