Stories of Faith
The principle stories for Christianity originate in the New Testament, predominantly in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke (with Acts) and John. The main theological ideas are found in the epistles of St Paul. Christians often refer initially to stories in the gospel of Luke. As these have an implicit universalistic theology, along with references to gentiles and women. Luke also contains the birth narratives, parables, teaching on the Kingdom of God and a succinct account of the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Luke’s second work, the Acts of the Apostles, completes Luke’s theological understanding of the ‘Jesus event’ through the delayed parousia. A set of Jesus’ main teachings and the Lord’s Prayer are explained in Matthew’s Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). However, to gain a fuller understanding of the way the early church came to understand Jesus’ teaching, the letters of Paul, particularly Romans, require consideration.
These accounts are sacred as they contain the essence of the Christian faith. The relationship of Jesus with God, Jesus’ understanding of the way humans can gain access to God through prayer and the means by which unconditional love overcomes death, are all part of the core Christian stories.
Although some Christian events such as the nativity stories have become secularised in the western world, the manner in which they continue to create awe, wonder and commitment in both Christians and non-Christians alike, demonstrates the power these narratives continue to hold.
Stories form a central part in the Christian faith. Children learn the main events in infancy, in the form of picture books and oral tradition. Jesus taught using stories and this tradition has continued through history. Christian values such as treating everyone with respect and helping those around you are introduced through story-telling. While some stories are clearly more popular than others, the central themes remain the same.
Over time, Christian tales has been subject to an increasing degree of elaboration and interpretation. This is due in part to the use of oral tradition. However, it also occurred because of the element the author wished to emphasise for his audience. This accounts for the fact there are four gospels, rather than one. Each of the four gospel writers was using the material before him to mould a theology. It is therefore important for Christians to understand that there are levels of interpretation in the stories which are central to their faith.
A Christian looks towards the teaching of Jesus for inspiration. It is through these teachings, and the stories they are within, that Christians find their ‘template for action’ and through which their beliefs are channelled.
In a time when literacy was limited it was inevitable that symbolism in art and architecture would develop in order to convey depth and meaning to religious stories. The writers of the Gospels themselves became symbolic characters represented in churches St Luke as an ox, St Mark a lion, St Matthew a man, St John an eagle. Architecture of churches and cathedrals developed symbolic structure, such as the spire representing a finger pointing heavenward, the footprint of the cathedral based on the cross and the altar a place of sacrifice as well as a table for eating the Lord’s meal. Symbolism permeates all aspects of religious life, from words and phrases through to buildings. Even clothing worn by clergy, the materials used in making vestments and chalices, altar cloths and stained glass windows are enhanced by the symbolic themes accorded them.