Essentials of Christianity
To expand upon this secular description, Christianity is centered on the person, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and upon biblical records dating from c1500 BC to New Testament times. Today some 33% of the world population call themselves ‘Christian’. Put another way, some 5 billion are non-Christian, and most of these people live in Asia. But whilst Christianity is declining in Europe, Asia has the fastest-growing churches in the world.
Christian belief is formally set out in Christian Creeds (see later). A less formal and broader summary of beliefs held by many evangelical Christians is as follows:
Fundamental beliefs of Christianity
- There is an unseen spirit realm – the domain of God and His created beings (angels are ministering spirits)
- There is only one God, the God of Israel. The Bible reveals God as Spirit and as three knowable persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Scripture uses pronouns like ‘He’ to refer to these persons. All three persons were present at the creation
- God is Creator and Sustainer of all things, seen and unseen. It can be helpful to refer to the act of creation as ‘from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit’
- God has many attributes: He is holy, sinless, righteous, sovereign, just, loving, merciful, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent …
- God the Father is knowable only through His Son Jesus Christ (Jesus ‘the Anointed One’)
- God showed His love for us by becoming the man Jesus Christ
- Jesus, the second Person in the triune Godhead (pdf download), was God in human form. As such He is divine and sinless, and men should give the same honour to Christ as they do to the Father
- Jesus showed God’s love for man by teaching us about the kingdom of God, by suffering and dying for each of us on a cross, and by rising again to heaven. In essence, God loves us so much that He suffered and died for each one of us
- Jesus lives and is the only way to God the Father. In Old Testament terms, Jesus is our ‘high priest’ and in New Testament terms Jesus is our Saviour from the judgement of a righteous and holy God
- Jesus is co-Creator of heaven and earth and holds all things in His hands. He is omnipresent i.e. He is everywhere throughout His creation
- Jesus is coming again soon. Many prophecies point to His return to earth to defeat the defiant armies of rebellious nations, to reign as King of the earth from Jerusalem, and to usher in a time of peace (pdf download) on the earth
The Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit is a person (He can be grieved for example) and could be seen as the presence and power of God amongst men
- Followers of Jesus are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, enabling them to have a close, loving relationship with the Father and with Jesus His Son. So they are never alone – God is always with them
- The Holy Spirit enables a believer to know God and glorify Him through powerful supernatural experiences, as in words of knowledge, guidance and physical healing
- Everyone is sinful in the sight of a holy God and needs to be ‘born again’ in order to be reconciled to God. All that God requires of an individual is belief in the living Christ and acceptance of His forgiveness for past sin. God has done the rest
- Followers of Jesus (believers) are then promised forgiveness, reconciliation to God, a resurrected immortal body and eternal life. Followers are saved from the judgement of God; they have passed from death to life
- There are many promises to believers and benefits of the Christian life
- Man lives only once and after death will be judged righteously by God according to his response to received revelation. Followers of Jesus (believers) will not come under this judgement, but instead will receive rewards for their service to Christ at the resurrection
- The existence of Heaven and Hell was confirmed by Jesus. At the judgement, those whose names are not written in God’s ‘book of life’ will be assigned to Hell. Believers have eternal life and their final destiny is with God in the New Earth
- The Bible is the word of God, written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. It’s truth has been preserved by the Holy Spirit over the ages
- The Bible, and particularly Jesus’ teachings give God’s transcendent and timeless moral standards for man
- The Bible gives many prophecies pertaining to the end of the age
- Jesus started His church through His Apostles. The role of the church is to proclaim and demonstrate the coming kingdom of God
- The true church will be supernaturally removed from the earth at the end of the age and before God’s judgements upon the earth. All true believers, past and present will take part in this resurrection. They will receive immortal bodies and be with Christ forever
- The nation of Israel is God’s chosen witness to the nations. Twelve-tribed Israel is found throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation
- Contrary to the belief of many institutionalised churches, Israel has not been replaced the church; this is apostate Christianity. Rather, Israel will be used as God’s special witness at the end of the present age
Based upon these beliefs, and the imminence of Christ’s return indicated by prophecy, it is clear that there are urgent and important steps for everyone to take:
Christian Doctrine – Creeds
Christian doctrine is a set of fundamental beliefs accepted as authoritative and true by the church. The beliefs are formally set out as a creed. The most widely accepted creeds are the Apostles’ Creed and particularly the Nicene Creed (which is accepted by Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches). Some non-mainstream churches see no need for a formal creed, although this could be seen as dangerous since it encourages vague thinking and heretical concepts.
A major area of controversy has been the doctrine of the Trinity (Latin trinitas, “three”). This doctrine holds that God is One, but that three distinct “persons” constitute the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is taught indirectly in many biblical texts, and is formally defined in the Nicene Creed.
The True Church
Jesus instituted the church – His church (Mat 16:18). It is a mix of people from all nations and races who have given their lives over to Jesus and who now live for Him.
But man has ‘institutionalised’ an institution, and today many Protestant churches suffer from a formal imposed structure of worship and fellowship. So, increasingly in the West we see the rise of small informal house churches (see sketch). This may, in part, be a response to increasing marginalisation of the institutionalised church from western governments. In the extreme, the ‘underground church’ meets when there is fear of persecution. In general, so long as biblical teachings and practices are undertaken by such informal church groups, it really does not matter what format is followed.
The important point is to distinguish between Christ’s true Church and the false (apostate) church. The true church has all the characteristics of the early informal church described in Acts 2:37-47. The false church is worldly, often highly structured, and lukewarm (Rev 3:14-22).
The Fullness of the Holy Spirit
The Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – comes to live in all who decide to follow Jesus Christ:
If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His … His Spirit dwells in you (Rom 8:9,11)
So the believer is never alone and even when we don’t know how to pray the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom 8.26). And when we are searching for the truth on issues, the Holy Spirit guides us:
When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth (Jn 16:13)
But there is more! When Jesus commissioned His followers to go and spread the gospel He gave them the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). They were ‘born again’ in the John 3:3 sense, like believers today. But this was not the ‘baptism of fire’ that was promised by John the Baptist to all believers (Lk 3:16). The same followers of Jesus had yet to receive more from the Holy Spirit. Just before Jesus rose from the earth, He said to them:
You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:8)
So there was a point in their lives when these followers of Jesus received a supernatural power (Acts 2:1-4) that enabled them be strong witnesses for Christ after He had risen. And this is true for the church today. When Philip preached to the people of Samaria, they received the word of God with joy and were baptised (Acts 8:4-14). They were true, born-again believers. But Peter and John later later prayed that they would receive the Holy Spirit as they themselves had experienced:
(and so) they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17)
From this point onwards, the believers received power to witness (Acts 8:19). On a similar occasion the Spirit ‘fell’ on Gentiles as they heard the word of God and this was evidenced by supernatural gifts (Acts 10.44-46). So we should distinguish between the permanent indwelling Spirit of a believer, and the moving of the same Spirit as He enables supernatural gifts in the church (1 Cor 12:4-11). Here lies the source of power for the true church of today!
More Important Christian Beliefs
Some marriages often feel like this! So why bother with marriage? What are its advantages for individuals and society in general? How would we define marriage? Is God needed in marriage? The Bible has the answers.
Marriage is a relationship and Christ’s relationship to man is our ultimate model for marriage – a loving relationship involving leadership, trust and responsibility. According to the Bible, marriage mystically symbolises the intrinsic ‘oneness’ between male and female and is so important that it is the first sociological rule laid down for man (Gen 2:20-25). It is fundamental in the areas of sexual morality, raising children, human companionship and social cohesion.
Since God defined and institutionalised marriage, Christian marriage is potentially stronger than non-Christian marriage (Eccl 4:12). For example, when problems arise, believers can take them to the Lord in prayer. Sadly, this God-ordained institution is today being undermined, even re-defined, by the institutionalised church as it struggles to compromise with the world view.
This picture was taken during David Hathaway’s gospel crusades in Russia, Siberia, Ukraine and Europe. The man was crippled by back problems but was healed in the name of Jesus. Now he can do acrobatics! The risen Jesus is healing today to show His love for people!
Out of 35 recorded miracles of Jesus in the gospels, 26 of them involve some form of healing (including raising from the dead and deliverance from evil spirits). At least half involved some form of physical healing. Clearly, Jesus regarded healing to be fundamental to people’s needs, and He still does! Jesus gave His church power and authority over sickness and disease. His true church is sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing (Luke 9:2). Do you feel led to pray for the sick? If so, see Healing Guidelines.
The Future – the Millennium
What will happen to the earth at the end of the age? One popular Christian belief (Premillennialism) is that Christ returns to the earth and reigns over the nations for 1,000 years The “1,000 years” is mentioned SIX times in the book of Revelation. Other believers argue that the end of this age sees the start of the new heaven and the new earth (Postmillennialism). Less common is the view that the millennial references in scripture are just symbolic (Amillennialism).
The main Christian creeds state that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. But they stop short of how He will come and what happens to earth at that point in time. A literal interpretation of Bible prophecy indicates that Christ will come back to the Mount of Olives and reign as King from Jerusalem (Zech 14:9).
In fact, there is so much detail given about the millennium in scripture that it is difficult to take this dispensation as anything but a literal, future, and very different period of life on this earth.
The Christian’s Tool Shed
Prayer: This is the fundamental tool in the believer’s tool shed. Jesus said “If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” (John 16:23)
Seeking: Christians who spend significant time with God in prayer and meditation – those who really seek Him – have powerful and blessed Christian lives.
In addition to a closeness to God through prayer and seeking Him, believers in Christ are given specific promises, gifts, and authority in order to live the Christian life.
Promises: Faith in Christ brings promises of forgiveness, a loving relationship with the living God, a new life here on earth, a safe eternal destiny …
Gifts: Faith in Christ brings gifts, such as freedom from fear, inner peace, strength, knowledge and wisdom.
Authority: Faith in Christ gives the church the right or authority to use God’s power, as for example in healing.