Understanding how individuals develop a sense of identity and belonging through faith or belief;
Exploring the variety, difference and relationships that exist within and between religions, values and beliefs.
St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 ‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.’ Being a Christian therefore means belonging to a community God has ordained, to behave, act and work in a certain way. Paul gives guidance in his letters to new churches and their members about behaviour and much, although not all of it, is appropriate today. In the short letter of James, a Christian is expected ‘to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger’. Therefore, much guidance for Christian action today is to be found in the New Testament. Regular worship, right behaviour and correct manner of earning a living are all means by which the Christian life is defined and recognised.
Christians are inevitably to be found in all walks of life. Christian commitment can be variable but many Christians are found in church work, in nursing and health, in teaching and other work which is considered ‘vocational’. This is specific work which a person feels God is calling them to do. This does not exclude a person from working in the armed forces, although some Christians such as Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) are pacifists. There are many army chaplains who serve the needs of all soldiers whether Christian or not.
A Christian might explain their vocation as feeling ‘at home’ in what they are doing, or content doing the work of God. Local, community and national figures all express this feeling and belief.
Belonging provides identity. Christians are not identified by the way in which they dress because Christianity and the culture of the UK are so interwoven. Christians however are recognisable by the way in which they behave and act, and believe. Belonging to a Christian community, means an individual can share worship, fellowship and a set of beliefs that provides the individual with a way to interact with others. Through witness to the faith, a Christian is demonstrating what they hold to be the truthfulness of the gospel message of unconditional love, and the hope that this will be recognised accordingly. Blessed Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. are two such examples.
A Christian is a person who commits him or herself to a belief in God as father, to Jesus as his son, and to the working of the Holy Spirit through the body of the church. Thus people who commit themselves to these beliefs will act in accordance with them, and pray to God as father in the hope that God will hear these prayers as a father listens to the entreaties of his children, act in a manner acceptable to Jesus as his own life demonstrated, and apply themselves to the bringing about of the Kingdom of God through the working through body of the church. To be a Christian implies communal or congregational worship alongside individual devotions, as well as to live according to Jesus’ principles of unselfish love.
Christian commitment is demonstrated through certain ceremonies or rites of passage. A Christian will normally attend a place of worship, either a church or a chapel, regularly to pray and meet others of a similar persuasion or denomination, at a specific time. A Christian will be baptised or Christened in order to show publicly that commitment. Christians would also normally desire to marry in a church as well as to request burial with a Christian service. Commitment involves giving time to help the church in some way. This might mean being a server in a service, reading prayers, being a church warden or serving on church committees. It might mean singing in a choir, providing flowers for the church, or it could even mean investigating becoming a full-time church worker or ordained minister. A financial commitment is also expected and although tithing is no longer expected in today’s church, a Christian may provide an informal financial agreement with their church.
Unlike other faith groups, Christians are not always recognisable by the clothes or ornamentation they wear. The only exceptions to this are the clergy, who often wear a clerical collar while working and the religious who may wear particular habits. Christians prefer to be recognizable by their actions. Publicly this would mean attendance at church with daily conduct, both visible and spiritual, based on the teaching of Jesus.
A Christian moral code is based on Jesus’ teaching to ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12a). Jesus himself based this on the principle of Loving God and loving humans (Luke and the Good Samaritan). Many Christians use the definitions of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) to help them understand concrete ethical situations.
A Christian life requires a ‘leap of faith’ which entails trusting God. Through prayer and a belief in the efficacy of prayer, a Christian hopes to come to an understanding of the way their life can become God-centred and thus, meaningful.
Christians, particularly in the post-modern world of contemporary UK, have developed many directions for an expression of their spirituality. Devotional practices developed at Taizé and Iona have shown the way that Christians can find individual and corporate expressions that suit all spiritual needs.
In the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, God informs Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5a). This has led Christians to believe that God has a special plan for each individual, that each individual is special to God and is uniquely different from any other human. With this uniqueness of physical properties and mental processes, is the attribute of a soul (however defined, but usually attributed to the breath or ruarch of God breathed into the first man).Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God is spoken of as a personal being (cf. Moses and the Burning Bush, Jesus and his baptism) with whom it is possible to communicate in various ways. As humans are also personal beings, with personalities and the ability to communicate, so then they can communicate with God, as the creator of life and the father of humanity.
The family is the bedrock of society in the Old and New Testaments. The New Testament does not say if Jesus had a relationship which led to marriage and it is possible that Jesus, knowing the sort of danger his mission might take him into, decided upon a celibate life. Although unusual in Jewish families, it was not unique, as Jews were prepared to take a Nazarene vow which involved celibacy, and John the Baptist might have had a similar rationale. However, the moral individual in the family, and the family within society is central to the stability and uniformity of society. Equally the stability of society reflects back upon the family. Christianity has held the family in the highest regard and the ideal and love of the holy family as seen in Nativity Plays is symptomatic of this. The ideal of marriage, of bringing love to children, and the way the relationship between parents and children reflects the relationship between God and his creation, is an ideal promoted in all churches.
Christianity thus uses the model of body-mind-soul to bring out the relationship that God has established with his creation, and Christians believe that the individual is able to establish such a relationship with a living God, as well as establish a relationship with societies with whom a relationship is built.
The Old Testament is a pragmatic work and although written and edited by many authors, concentrates on life in the ‘here and now’, rather than dwelling on the life hereafter. Consequently there are very few references to an afterlife in the Old Testament (witch of Endor, Sheol) in order to concentrate on the relationship Israel has with God in historical time. In the New Testament, Paul does mention the spirit, or soul, but again, there is a greater emphasis on life as it is, rather than life as it will be. It is assumed that the life lived in accordance with the teaching of Jesus will lead to the heavenly kingdom, but Jesus’ teachings on this are ambivalent, and most commentators play down an imminent parousia, as did the early church. Therefore, Christians should be more concerned with making Jesus’ teaching relevant to this life rather than worrying too much about what happens in the next.
Christianity is a family-centred religion. Jesus’ mother, Mary, is mentioned in the birth and death stories of Jesus and his earthly father Joseph has a key place in the birth stories. Jesus’ concept of God is based on a very familiar relationship of that between a father and his son, and Jesus uses the term ‘abba’, the diminutive form of ‘father’ and meaning ‘daddy’, to express how close that relationship with God can be. Jesus was a Jew and for Judaism the family unit was the core of the community and society. It is hardly surprising then that the family unit is extremely important in Christian life. The rituals of bringing children into the faith, through familiarity with festivals such as Christmas and Easter, and celebrations such as baptism, are extremely important introductions to the beliefs and practices of the faith. However, family commitment is also seen through regular church attendance, through family grace at meals, reading the bible at home and praying at bedtime. A Christian family might also support charity, either financially or with a time commitment, either at home or in developing countries.
Christianity is the historical religion of the UK and the evidence for this can be found in all dioceses and parishes in the country. Many parishes in both rural and urban settings have their own church and with it a priest or vicar. Outreach community workers are found based within most Christian churches, regardless of denomination. The parish church has a committee called a Parochial Church Council whose primary function is to support the vicar to ensure worship is regular the church is well maintained. Similar duties are undertaken by denominations. However, the church in the community will also want to reach out further than to its own congregation. In many rural areas, outreach is through putting on events such as flower festivals and fetes, but also through visiting the old and sick, or providing meals in the church hall. In more urban areas where there might be deprivation, the church has always had a significant place and active support of urban renewal initiatives are commonplace. Church halls become community centres and youth clubs. Younger mothers can meet and chat. Church buildings are renovated to become community facilities. Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans, first began his work in a church crypt.
Church members are expected to find their own level of use and commitment. The church considers itself a ‘corporate body’, based on St Paul’s concept of the human body, each member having its own use. Similarly, the church believes it has mission commitments in order to reach out to the community and demonstrate the Christian life. The parish church particularly, but also the Methodist or Baptist chapel, the Catholic church, the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall are symbols of the influence of Christianity within a community.
Belonging to the family of the church brings with it companionship and a sense of belonging to a local and a worldwide community. Through this network, a Christian believes that part of the Kingdom of God on earth can be realised.
Christians believe that their values and beliefs are best supported through the family unit. From this basis these values can permeate through to the wider community and indeed, society as a whole.
Community cohesion is at its best where all members of that society care for each member. It is the belief of Christians that they must do this. Christian leaders are well aware of the way the UK’s religious landscape is changing and of the need to respond to the nature of this change. It is the responsibility of all Christians to accept this roles and when necessary, rise to this challenge.
Jesus is reported in the Gospels to have been called to a special relationship with God – that of a son with his father. The example of Jesus has enabled people of faith to explain their own faith in the light of this relationship and gain inspiration accordingly.
Christians have a faith tradition stretching back over 2000 years. Christianity is a worldwide religion with over one billion adherents. In England there are over forty dioceses and over 12,000 parish churches. In all cities in the UK, in all towns and villages, the presence of Christianity is visible in its churches and its celebrations. Although the UK is experiencing the secularization of its religious and Christian institutions, and a reduction in those attending church, over 70% of the population of the UK still profess to be Christian in some way.
Within Christianity there is a huge diversity of belief and practice. There are many denominations worldwide and in the UK ranging from the established Anglican communion of the Church of England, through Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox, to Baptist and Methodist non-conformists. Often the most heated arguments are those created by members of the same family and the same can be said for Christian denominational arguments. The UK is also home to Christian deviationist groups and sects, of which the Church of Latter Day Saints (or Mormons) and Jehovah’s Witnesses are arguably the largest.
In cities, towns and even villages, one can find churches, chapels and halls belonging to various denominations. The ecumenical movement is apparent in areas of the UK with some denominations working together to share resources. However, is more common to find towns with a plethora of different places of Christian worship, meeting at different times, each pursuing different outreach and mission programmes.
Traditionally, the relationship of Christianity with other faith groups has been ambivalent. It is in the nature of most of the main faith traditions to make certain truth claims, which has in some cases, created tension rather than tolerance. However, the Inter-faith network and sympathetic Christian denominations, have worked hard to established new relationships.
Church of England Schools working in cities with large Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities create ideal opportunities for cross-cultural and cross-religious dialogue. Teachers of Religious Education in all areas of the country, with many supportive and sympathetic Christian teachers, follow multi-faith syllabi and address the needs of a pluralistic UK.
The UK is a rich mix of religions and cultures and although there are still pockets of the country which are mono-culturally Christian, post-modern spirituality has ensured that even these pockets are now infused with people seeking truth through Buddhism or other alternative routes. The relationship of culture and religion, and of culture and what it means to be a citizen of the UK, is harder to define because of this mix. However, the Christian task is to ensure that the work being done to create a harmonious and dynamic society continues.
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