Christianity

main content

Introduction

Christians are followers of Jesus, a Jewish man from Nazareth, in the North of what is now Israel. In his time, it was part of the Syrian province of the Roman Empire.

Jesus was a carpenter by trade, but began to gather followers when he started moving from place to place as a teacher and healer. His message was especially well-received by the poor, who saw Jesus as someone who recognised and practised God's love.

Jesus left no writings, but his sayings and stories have been handed down in the accounts of his life known as the gospels. A gospel is, by definition, the good news about the kingdom of God.

The climax of each of the four gospels is Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem, when the local and imperial authorities agreed that it was politically necessary to silence Jesus. As a result, he was put to death by crucifixion.

Within three days, however, his followers were able to say that God had raised him from the dead, and their conviction was such that Christian faith grew into a world religion.

Sacred Text

The collection of texts known as 'The Bible' is sacred to christians. The first, and larger part is referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. It consists of the Jewish writings which Jesus would have recognised as scripture. The second part, known as the New Testament, consists of stories about Jesus and reflections upon the meaning of those stories.

Beliefs

Christians believe in one God, who has become known to people particularly through the experience of the descendants of Abraham (see also 'Judaism' and 'Islam'). The distinctive belief of Christians, however, is that God is revealed to us uniquely in Jesus.

As a result, Christians refer to God as 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit'. This does not imply a belief in three gods, but a belief that there are three distinct ways in which we encounter the one God.

Christians believe that God is the creator of the world, and that God's love draws the world and all its people towards a new age, in which justice and peace will reign, and death be a thing of the past. In the meantime, God's love is such that human faults and failings are met by God's forgiveness.

Practices

The only rules which all Christians are given are to love God, and to love all people. Love of God is expressed in prayer and worship (see below), and love for people is expressed in community and mission. The mission of the Church is to live and work for the kingdom of God, and involves Christians in charitable work, campaigns for peace and justice, and so on.

Most Christians gather for worship on Sunday, which is the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead. The heart of Christian worship is the Eucharist (variously called Communion, Mass, or The Lord's Supper), which celebrates Jesus' gift to his followers of his own life.

Initiation into Christian faith, which can take place at any stage in life from infancy to old age, is known as Baptism (sometimes called 'christening'). The new Christian as baptised 'in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' by having water poured over the head (or by being immersed in water).

Other acts of worship express significant stages or decisions in life, and include marriage, funerals, confirmation, and ordination (of ministers of religion). There are also forms of prayer relating to human needs such as reconciliation and healing.

Some Christians practice fasting at specific times, but there are no disciplines relating to eating or drinking that are compulsory for all Christians.

Festivals

The major Christian festival is Easter, which celebrates Jesus' resurrection (rising) from the dead. The date of Easter varies from late March to late April. Christians also celebrate the birth of Jesus (Christmas), the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), and a number of other festivals.

To find out more visit: www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/