Exploring the impact of religions and beliefs on how people live their lives;
Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.
The sacred text of Christianity is the Bible. The Bible is divided into two sections, the Old and New Testaments. Testament means ‘covenant’ and so the Old and New Testaments are descriptions of the bond between God and humans, and an explanation of their place in the divine plan. There are 66 chapters (known as ‘Books’) in the Bible. 39 books in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament.
The Old Testament comprises a ‘history’ of the relationship between God and the people of Israel from its inception at creation until the time just preceding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The Old Testament includes a variety of written styles, including historical narrative, poetry, legend, myth, laws, allegory and symbolism. They are contained in three main sections of the Old Testament – the Law, Prophets and Writings.
The New Testament contains the four Gospels which contain an outline of the life, teaching death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament also includes descriptions of the early church in Acts of the Apostles, and a series of letters or epistles by St Paul to the early church. These epistles relate to controversies and theological issues of the day, as well as referring to other related tracts and homilies, and ends with the Revelation of St John which is an exploration of eschatological issues.
The Bible commands a central place in the life of the Church and the individual Christian. It provides guidance and inspiration and is regarded as the ‘Word of God’. For some Christian denominations, the bible it to be read and understood literally, for others, it is open to interpretation by spiritual leaders.
Passages from the Old and New Testaments will be read during worship as part of a lectionary of readings to ensure that all important parts in the Bible are considered over a period of time. It should be noted that in the UK the importance of the bible within the community can still be seen as witnesses who are Christian are required by law to swear an oath on the Bible during court proceedings.
The Bible is a theological work. It is Heilsgeschichte or ‘salvation history’ and the many authors and editors of the Bible moulded the text into a description of the way God has worked historically to bring about his plan for humankind. Accordingly, the text will contain complex as well as simple strands but, by unravelling the setting within which the text was written, as well as applying the text to present day situations, a fuller appreciation of the Bible may be gained.
Although the history of the development of the Bible is complex, with the many theological and interpretative stances of its authors and editors having to be considered, Christians nevertheless believe that the inspiration from, and guiding hand of, God enables the truth of the texts to become apparent.
Most denominations use a prayer book during worship. A prayer book is a series of liturgy with additional prayers which provides structure and formality to congregational worship. The Church of England or Anglican Communion places a great deal of authority on the Book of Common Prayer, originally prepared by Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), and its succeeding editions. Most churches also use some form of hymn book.
There is a necessary relationship for Christians between belief and action. To profess to be a Christian means professing to act like a Christian and this involves adhering to the Christian ethic of love. In the same way that a person loves another human being and must act upon this love, so a Christian must act upon their beliefs. Thus Jesus’ example of service, even unto death, is the template for Christian action. Accordingly, a Christian will consider the best way to follow a vocation by asking God, through prayer, what it is that they should do as a career. Jesus had a lot to say about politics and finance, much of it being both radical and thought provoking.
It has been argued that the Christian ideal would be the institution of the Kingdom of God on earth. i.e. an earthly theocracy where the rule of love is seen in the equality and freedom of all human beings. As this is not apparent in the world today, many Christians see their role as helping to bring about this state. Some Christians, for example in South America, promote the principle of Liberation Theology which believes that Christians should physically fight against poverty, exploitation and lack of human rights. Other Christians choose to enter politics in order to bring about social change. The World Council of Churches, which includes Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal churches, is a platform for the churches of the world to talk and work together for a better future. Alongside this, it funds long-term development programmes and promotes dialogue with other faiths.
Christian pro-activity has resulted in all areas of social concern being addressed, from individuals, to society and to those of world concern. Action against suicide, action for urban renewal, health care, support for the aged, action against weapons which kill millions and nuclear weapons are all causes which have been supported by Christians.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German pastor and theologian. He was an active participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism. He was involved in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned and eventually hanged just before the end of the World War II. What is notable about Bonheoffer’s life and writings is his willingness to follow Jesus’ example for the good of the world whilst supporting violent action in order to stop the spread of Nazism.
Although some Christians interpret the Bible literally, i.e. as a book dictated by God to humans and infallible in all ways, and most Christians accept a divine guidance in the work, most scholars and Christians believe the Bible is best understood with the help of textual, historical and critical analysis.
The Creation stories in the book of Genesis are, for most Christians, seen as ‘mythological’ in nature, explaining the relationship between God and humans, rather than a literal explanation of the beginning of the cosmos. However, a number of Christians interpret the bible in a literal manner, notably, the current Creationist movement. Much figurative language is found in the Bible. The book of Jonah, the apocalyptic descriptions of Ezekiel, the legendary exaggerations of the histories of Moses, and others, all suggest a deeper meaning is to be found in the text by critical analysis.
Over the past two hundred years, scholars such as Wellhausen, Schweitzer, Bultmann, Dodd and Sanders have contributed to the theological and philosophical understanding of Biblical texts.
John Bunyan (1628-88) author of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ illustrates the Christian life through allegory, portraits of various human lives and the way in which he travels from this world to the next. Like Bunyan, Christians regard life as a journey through which they travel, seeking the right path and making both themselves and others around them better in the process.
As Christians believe life is a gift from God, the birth of a baby is a time of great promise and thanks are given for the start of a new life. Many Christians, but not all, agree with Infant Baptism or christening which brings the new baby into the membership of the church and so starts that child on the path along which Jesus has already gone. The Baptist Church leaves baptism until adolescence so that a person may decide for themselves whether to commit. By the time a child reaches adolescence, Christians hope that they are growing in the faith and are ready to participate more actively in worship.
The central act of worship in many churches is the Eucharist (Mass, Liturgy, Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper) and, in order to participate and show commitment, a young person aged about 12 or 13 will take part in a service known as Confirmation. Here, a young Christian takes on the responsibility for his or her own faith and prays that the Holy Spirit will work through them and strengthen their faith.
By the time a young Christian is ready to marry, he or she will believe that marriage is the joining of two people in a faithful and loving relationship. A Christian marriage ceremony takes place in the sight of God and is conducted by an ordained minister or priest. The couple make vows (binding obligations towards each other), rings are exchanged (a sign of the everlasting nature of the vows and the couple’s relationship) and prayers are said for the couple and their life together.
Life ends in death for everyone. For Christians however this is not the end. Christians believe that the body dies but the spiritual body will continue in some way, united with God and finding eternal peace. Jesus’ resurrection is the assurance of this. At death, Christians may be cremated or buried with a service conducted by a priest or minister who reinforces the message that God’s love is stronger than death itself.
Many Christians in the 21st century have a weak image of eschatology, both personal and corporate, and as a consequence, many Christians have an under-developed concept of death and the afterlife. Like the other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity concentrates on the importance of living life for improvement of self and others, in the assurance of gaining everlasting life through death – often explained as Heaven. Most eastern traditions like Hinduism and Theravadin Buddhism have developed concepts of the self and the place of death within a karmic, (good and bad deeds) system.
Life is an opportunity to learn about Christianity and grow into it. Christians also believe that God guides and supports them on this journey, in the same way as a parent looks after a child, and although there will be difficult times and joyful times, Christians have marked these times of transition with celebrations or ceremonies of passing.
Christians believe that throughout their own life they are following in the footsteps of Jesus. He is the example by which Christians should behave. Jesus’ example included time of prayer, giving help to the poor and sick. By showing commitment through rites of passage, a Christian is demonstrating their willingness to follow this example within their family, their community and the world as a whole.
Festival occasions in the main Christian Churches are basically centred around the life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels. The principle festivals are Christmas which is preceded by Advent, Easter which is preceded by Lent and Passion Week, and Whit Sunday or Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Sunday. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Easter remembers the death and resurrection of Jesus, and Whit marks the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.
Advent, which means coming, is the period including the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and is the beginning of the Christian year. During this time Advent and Christmas Carol Services take place. The theme is God’s relationship with his son, the messenger of hope, Jesus. Nativity plays based on the theme of Jesus’ birth are performed in primary schools and churches.
Christmas is a corruption of the term Christ’s Mass and celebrates Jesus’ birth. Most churches celebrate this festival on 25th December although Eastern Orthodox Christians prefer 7th January. Many Christians attend a midnight Mass or Christmas day service, and manger scenes are placed in the church to remind worshippers of Jesus’ lowly birth. Christmas is a time for family gatherings and presents are exchanged in remembrance that God gave his son (‘a gift’) to the world. Many children are told that their presents are brought by Santa Claus, or St Nicholas, the patron saint of children.
Lent reminds Christians of Jesus’ temptations during his forty days in the wilderness. It begins on Ash Wednesday when Christians traditionally deny themselves luxuries. The day before Ash Wednesday, called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, was traditionally the day when a feast of pancakes used up the luxuries in the house ready for a period of abstinence. During the last week of Lent, called Passion Week, Palm Sunday, Holy (Maundy Thursday) and Good Friday are especially important days for Christian observance. Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with Palm crosses given out. Maundy Thursday remembers the institution of the Last Supper and in many churches feet are washed by the priest. Good Friday is the day upon which Jesus was crucified. Often there are long services, passion plays or processions. Easter Sunday marks the end of Lent and celebrates the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection. This is probably the most important day of the year for practicing Christians. Whit Sunday comes 50 days after Easter and marks the time when the gift of the Holy Spirit came to the believers of the early church.
Festivals are important to both individual believers and the faith community as events which mark out the religious and worshipping year. For Christians these are public occasions when the whole community of faith expresses its religious commitment. For individuals it provides an opportunity for learning more deeply about the faith and, through the nativity and Easter stories enable children to be nurtured in the central Christian texts. For many, these festivals have become extremely secularised, but they nevertheless indicate the deep hold they have over people in the United Kingdom.
Central to most Christian festivals is the sharing of worship – whether it is enacting a Nativity Play at Christmas, participating in the Lord’s Supper on Easter Sunday or sharing meditations on the Cross on Good Friday, the importance of congregational worship and ritual is paramount to the Christian faith.
Festivals are a distinctive part of all religions and through its festivals Christianity is able to plot a calendar for the religious year. Many churches have a lectionary based around the Christian year in order for the faith community to learn scripture and grow in knowledge of the faith. Festivals hold a public place in the imagination of most people, and for Christianity they bind many – participating Christians, non-active Christians, secularised post-Christians, families and individuals into a community of faith.
Aspland, G., 1995.Choices: Stories for Assembly and P.S.E. s.l.: Southgate Publishers.
Badcock, G.D., 1998.The Way of Life: Theology of Christian Vocation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Baggini, J., 2006.Do You Think What You Think You Think?. Cambridge: Granta Books.
Barton, J. & Muddiman, J., (eds), 2007. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford: OUP.
Barton, J., 1993. People of the Book?: Authority of the Bible in Christianity. London: SPCK Publishing.
Barton, J., 2003. Ethics and the Old Testament. London: SCM Press.
Barton, J., 2004. The Original Story: God, Israel and the World. London: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd.
Barz, R., 1987. Festivals with Children. s.l.: Floris Books.
Bowie, R., 2004. Ethical Studies: Second Edition. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Ltd.
Bowie, R.A., 2004. AS/A2 Philosophy of Religion and Religious Ethics for OCR Study Guide.Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Ltd.
Bradley, I., 1992. God Is Green: Ecology for Christians. London: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd.
Breuilly, E., 2002. Festivals of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Celebrations, Customs, Events and Holidays. s.l.: Facts on File Inc.
Brown, A., Clinton, C., Hookway, S. & Kerr, J., n.d. Science & Religion in Schools – guide for secondary schools. s.l.: Trafford Publishing.
Chambers, C., 2004. Chinese New Year (A World of Festivals). s.l.: Evans Brothers Ltd.
Charpentier, E., 1982. How to Read the New Testament. London: SCM Press.
Child, M., 1998. Church Architecture: A Glossary of Terms (Discovering). s.l.: Shire Publications Ltd.
Christian Festivals Through the Year (A Year Of Festivals). s.l.: Franklin Watts.
Christian Symbols. Dover: Dover Electronic Clip Art. CDRom.
Church House Publishing, 2005. Common Worship: Daily Prayer (Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clapham, A., 2007. Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions). Oxford: OUP.
Conway, S., 2004. Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cooling, M., 1965. Wisdom for Worship: 70 Reflective Assemblies for Primary School. s.l.: Stapleford Centre.
Cox, C., 2006. Cox’s Book of Modern Saints and Martyrs.London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.
Curtis, K., & Graves, D., 2005. Great Women in Christian History: 35 Women Who Changed the World. s.l.: Christian Publications.
Curtis, K., & Graves, D., 2007. Great Women in Christian History: 37 Women Who Changed Their World. s.l.: Christian Publications.
Douglas, J.D., 1995. Twentieth Century Dictionary of Christian Biography.London: Paternoster Press.
Ford, D., 2000. Theology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions). Oxford: OUP.
Ford, D., 2005. The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918 (The Great Theologians). Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.
Fox, J. 1984. Festivals Series. London: Wayland.
Fuller, J., 1996. Looking Beyond: Developing Spirituality with Junior Children.s.l.: Kevin Mayhew.
Gaarder, J., 2007. Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. s.l.: Orion Childrens.
Gill, R., 2000. The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics (Cambridge Companions to Religion).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gunton, C., 2001. The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Oxford: Blackwell.
Hefley, J. & Hefley, M., 2004. By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs from the Twentieth Century and Beyond. s.l.: Baker Books.
Hessel, D. & Ruether R., (eds), 2000. Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-being of Earth and Humans (Religions of the World & Ecology). Harvard: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions.
Horrell, D., 2006. An Introduction to the Study of Paul (Approaches to Biblical Studies).London: Continuum.
Hosier, H.K., 2000. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the Twentieth Century.s.l.: Fleming H. Revell.
Interfaith Consultative Group and Board for Interfaith Consultative G, 1986. Towards a Theology for Inter-Faith Dialogue (Lambeth Study Books). London: Fromm Intl.
Interfaith Consultative Group of the Archbishop’s Council, 2001. Sharing One Hope?: The Church of England and Christian-Jewish Relations.London: Church House Publishing.
Inter-Faith Consultative Group, 1994. Communities and Buildings: Church of England Premises and Other Faiths. London: Church House Publishing.
Keene, M., 2002. New Steps in Religious Education – Book 3 Third Edition. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes.
Kindersley, B. & Kindersley, A., 1997. Children just like me series: Celebration!. s.l.: DK ELT/Schools.
Lethbridge, L., 2005. St. Francis of Assisi: The Patron Saint of Animals (Who Was…?). s.l.: Short Books.
Lochman, J., 2005. The Faith We Confess: An Ecumenical Dogmatics. Edinburgh: Wipf & Stock Publisher.
Lovelock, J., 2000. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.
Lynch, S., Clinton, C., Weston, D., & Orchard, J., 2005. Christianity in Today’s World: Teacher’s Resource Book: Moral Issues, Ultimate Questions (Religion in Focus). London: Hodder.
Mackie, J., 1982. The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God. Oxford: OUP.
Mackie, J., 1990. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
McGrath, A., 2004. Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Oxford: Blackwell.
Mercier, S.C. & Fageant, J. (ed), 2000. Skills in Religious Studies: Foundation Edition Bk. 1. London: Heinemann Educational.
Migliore, D., 2002. Faith Seeking Understanding.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Nagel, T., 2004. What Does it All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: OUP.
Nash, R.H., 1999. Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. s.l.: Zondervan Publishing House.
Northcott, M.S., 2008. The Environment and Christian Ethics (New Studies in Christian Ethics).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Palmer, M. & Finlay, V., 2003. Faith in Conservation: New Approaches to Religions and the Environment (Directions in Development). s.l.: World Bank Publications.
Piper, R., 1998. Prayer a Day (Prayer Book) Junior Praise. s.l.: Hunt and Thorpe.
Pitkin, 2003. Cathedral Music. s.l.: Pitkin Guides.
Rogerson, J. Dunn, J. & Barton, J. 2004. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Sanders. E.P., 1995. The Historical Figure of Jesus. London: Penguin.
Searle, D.C., 1996. Christian Festivals for Schools: Teacher’s Resource Book. s.l.: Rutherford House.
Senker, C., 2006. Feasts and Fasting (Special Ceremonies).London: Wayland.
Sleeth, M., 2007. Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action. s.l.: Zondervan Publishing House.
Smith, P. & Worden, D., 2003. GCSE Religious Studies for AQA: Key Beliefs, Ultimate Questions and Life Issues Option 2. Oxford: Heinemann.
Sobrino, J. & Ellacuria, I. (eds.), 1997. Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theory. USA: Orbis Books.
Stanton, G., 2002. The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford Bible Series).Oxford: OUP.
Sweetland, N. 2004. God’s Quiet Things. London, Lion Publishing plc.
Swinburne, R., 1993. The Coherence of Theism (Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Swinburne, R., 1996. Is There a God?. Oxford: OUP.
Tanner, K., 2001. Jesus Humanity and the Trinity. Edinburgh: T.& T.Clark Ltd.
Taylor, R., 2003. How to Read a Church: A Guide to Images, Symbols and Meanings in Churches and Cathedrals. s.l.: Rider.
The Bible, 1995. New Revised Standard Version Bible (Anglicized) with Apocrypha (Bible NRSV). Oxford: OUP.
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, n.d. Exploring Christianity. s.l.: s.n.
Thompson, J., 1996. The Christian Faith and Its Symbols. London: Hodder Arnold.
Thompson, J., 1997. Christian Festivals (Celebrate!). London: Heinemann Library.
Throckmorton, B.H. (ed.), 1993. Bible: New Revised Standard Version Gospel Parallels (Bible Students). London: Thomas Nelson.
Torrance, T., 1993. Trinitarian Faith: Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. Edinburgh: T.& T.Clark Ltd.
Wiles, M., 1999. Reason to Believe.London: SCM Press.
Wilson, J.R., 2005. A Primer to Christian Doctrine.Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Woodbridge, J., 1997. Great Leaders of the Christian Church. s.l.: Moody Press.
In Association with Amazon