Common Faith Questions(thread begun by RandyP)
For those of you unfamiliar with or unsettled by the Christian faith, here are some commonly asked questions you might have along with some general answers and study links for you considerations.
What are the core essentials of what Christians believe?
While modern Christianity does include a broad diversity of theological beliefs, there are logical distinctions between primary or essential beliefs (We will call this "saving knowledge") and secondary or debatable beliefs. In order to be called a Christian most bodies hold to at least these "saving knowledge" beliefs. These core beliefs are perhaps best expressed:
John 3:16 kjv
and more fully developed in either the NiceneCreed or earlier ApostlesCreed which date back to the fourth and second century A.D. What is important for all believers to remember is that with out this core "saving knowledge" the remaining investigation into doctrine is made but moot.
Christianity branches out from that point. Many scholarly men and women over the centuries have contributed much intelligent thought how the pieces of various doctrine might fit the doctrinal puzzle.
Unfortunately, no one page summary of Christian belief is going to cover all the ground needed to be covered. If one is truly interested, might I suggest starting with either the early NiceneCreed or even earlier ApostlesCreed which date back to the fourth and second century A.D. respectively. From there, in response to several developing political/doctrinal controversies and heresies, the church further expounded these core beliefs into more direct larger statements and catechisms for more concise consumption; especially during the time of The Protestant Reformation. Here there are many good sources, perhaps the best known of these sources being the WestministerConfession (see: WestministerConfession) or Heidelberg Catechism (see: HeidelbergCatechismAll). Other declarations of similar items of Christian faith (see: DoctrinalStudy) have continued since that time, some branching off in various distinctive directions but, most all conforming to the core beliefs stated mainly in the NiceneCreed.
What is the source of these beliefs? Can it be trusted?
Note that Protestants embrace a strict collection of Old Testament books closer to the original Hebrew cannons, where the Roman Catholics and others hold to a collection adding more texts first appearing in the early Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew (200 B.C); these known as the "Apocrypha" (see: index:APOCRYPHA ). Protestants are often said to have removed these Old Testament texts from the Bible when it is more accurate to say that they stuck to the texts that had been Jewish cannon since the last prophet of Judah: (Micah) wrote (720? B.C.). Protestants do not disregard these additional texts altogether, they hold some as very important historical documents, rather because of certain doctrinal concepts therein that cannot be be supported by the larger body of scriptures as a whole, many protestant scholars simply view these apocryphal texts as being at a different level then the infallible cannon of the historical Jews such as Jesus quoted.
Yes! We believe the scriptures to represent the inspired and infallible Word of God (with proper explanation). The effort to prove infallibility is not without challenges of course, any belief as broad as the entirety of the scriptures, beliefs so all encompassing as to the nature and salvation of mankind would no doubt be found difficult; it is our firm belief and effort none the less. Much of the criticism raised against the Bible can be and has been competently answered already; somethings will only be proven by God's hand Himself (see: media: pdf/WhenCriticsAsk.pdf ).
Note that most reformed Protestants also hold to the doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" scripture only/scripture as ultimate authority, hopefully minimizing the influences and possible fallibility of oral or written church tradition such as plagued and hardened the Pharisees of Christ's time. That is not to say that we are not subject to problematic interpretation ourselves, it is to surmise that only the scriptures themselves will one day be proven by direct revelation as having been quite infallible.
Is Jesus really the only way to Heaven?
Yes, we believe so Solus Christus, but not just for our loyal and desirous insistence. The greater reasoning has to do with a an iniquitous state we believe that present mankind is under from which escape cannot manufactured on our own. Man can barely ascertain any immediate extent nor the grave implications of this condition though the symptoms of it are frightfully evident, let alone can we conclude as to it's cause and thus escape.
To this regard Jesus Christ, unlike any other prophet or holy man, has laid forth a clear and easily accessible means of deliverance and redemptive transformation which the present state is working against that we might become firmly established spiritually in this "new life". This access is based upon His grace alone rather than our manufacturing (Sola Gratia). (see: Redemption Salvation Christ)
What is sin?
Sin can be thought of most readily as the state of being without or against, being detached or separated from, being dead to one's better part. It is not the state of being without religion, for even Cain had religion (one that lead him to murder); better described it is being alive in the flesh without yet being alive in the spirit by God's Holy quickening Spirit. It is not the state of not having good intentions and good works, it is the state of substituting such self prescribed intentions and works as an ultimate personal remedy or justification for remaining still in the truer without spirit human condition. Essentially it is the will of carnal self overruling the need for quickened spirit in Christ Jesus.
Think of it as the present state of all man for which he has been temporarily quarantined from the remainder of the eternal kingdom in order to be fully immunized from. It is manifest in symptoms such as anger/pride/lust/covetousness/deceit/etc... It can inflame into major eruptions such as those legislated against by commandments idolatry/murder/adultery/greed/theft/etc... As an action it is essentially anything desired/thought or done under the influence of being without the Spirit as opposed to anything being in accord with the Spirit's transformational influence. The penalty of sin is death, a death which by mercy has been withheld for this time in order to establish and secure the redemption of fallen man. (see: dict:easton Sin+ )
Certainly, the majority of folks manage their lives well enough to contain the evidences of most of these symptoms; none however are any different from another when it comes to the presence of the root cause of these symptoms that remains within and that must be immunized against before the next life to come.
Transgression, also spoken a great length of in the bible, can be thought of as stepping over a line known to be drawn. It is knowing what should not be done and doing it anyway. Where sin is more towards the present state all men are under with knowledge or without, transgression is particularly insightful into the frequent intension of the heart to over rule what is known to be right.
What then is the evil / "corruption of this world"?
To me, it is the difference between answers to this spiritless state as we are best able to manufacture them and the answer as God Himself would give it. From either of those two influences we proceed forward with actions based upon that image/faith. The image that we are able to manufacture likely has little or no resemblance to the image God is offering to hand to us; it is like guess work, half answers or a purely mathematical equation being attempted to be solved by a less than correct formulation. The world (and therefore the self) is largely at enmity ( kjv@Romans:8:7 ) with the very premise of what Christ stands for and offers. Corruption then for us at our immediate place is anything other than Jesus Christ and his influence upon our diligence/faith/valor/knowledge/temperance/patience/godliness/brotherly kindness/agape forms of love and benevolence ( kjv@2Peter:1 ). (see: evil corruption wickedness iniquity).
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the cancellation of the entire debt incurred because of one's sin. Jesus is legally able to forgive such debt because He paid the amount of that debt for each of us on our behalf by the substitutionary sacrifice of His own blood and suffering. Debt cannot be paid from out of that which one doesn't have. Neither can debt such as this be worked off in payments, for at the same time more and more debt is being generated; it would be like us offering to pay Him with what is not ours to begin with. This forgiveness of Jesus is not something what we owe being wiped off the books, it is Him personally paying the full amount at great cost to Himself. (see: dict:easton Forgiveness )
How can there be such a thing as hell?
The answer is best explained by all that God's grace currently gives to us and what would happen to us if the flow of that providence was suddenly cut off. So much of what God does daily is for all of us universally and goes quite unnoticed including reasonable management of pain, the resemblance of sanity, the appearance of satisfaction and fulfillment and lawfulness. Step outside of that and there is nothing and no one not even Satan that can reproduce out of nothing anything resembling that. Those expecting hell to be a party of sinners will have to somehow manufacture from nothing all that His grace currently bestows upon them currently even as sinners. We have made our judgment of God, He will execute His own should we choose to hold tight to it.
The question most non-believers have is why God would suddenly cut off the flow? The better question is why would He continue to unconditionally support this present state? Recall our belief that not any of this presently is by accident or without lasting transformative purpose. For that we must then consider the probability of His final judgment and the consequences of not being in a position to move on into to His preordained hope, our calling to glory and virtue in Christ Jesus.
Isn't being Christian minded being narrow minded?
The open mind is a noble modern notion that as most frequently deployed nowadays is closer in definition to being utterly uncommitted else open to all but particular distastes. Open mindedness was never meant to be a final destination, it is meant as a means to pursue the outcome of substantial truths that can be committed to and lived by more than just one's self. While Christendom at times has been notoriously narrow minded, it has been no more so than any other body or institution of similar power and attendance. This suggests the gravitation of present and historical human nature to this fault as much as any moral fault with the scriptural teachings themselves. In fact it can be suggested that the western cultures on which scripture has had greatest influence can also be found until recently the most open minded intellectual class as a whole. Again it must be restated that it means little or nothing to be open minded if it does not lead more than just you alone to a point of being able to discern and maintain precious and transformative truths. Otherwise open mindedness is nothing more than self justification and or avoidance.
How can you say Christian belief is open minded when it forbids/excludes XXYYZZ?
It should go without saying that if the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ have had their influence upon us that there would be an observable and continuing transformation of adherents in the many areas of sin in our lives. Remember that the objective of the Church is not to be more world like, but to be more Christ like. That being said, there are certain evidences that we are not fully Christ like at this present stage. And further to that regard, being Christ like (contrary to secular notion) does not always mean for us to be more likable and ethereally pleasant, it often results in being perceived and condemned as offensive as it did with Him.
Christ certainly had a way about Him that engaged fruitfully with sinners without compromising His mission and truth that many Christians today lack. That is why we should look to Jesus all the more to influence that just the same upon us. In that we are being open minded to the effect that He Himself seeks upon us!