The classical concept of God taught in Christianity was carried over from Judaism and is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith : "There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy … working all things … for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity … and withal, most just … hating all sin.
Both the Bible itself and the Apostle's Creed begin with the assertion that God created all things. There is nothing that exists apart from God's will, and God has unlimited dominion over all things. God not only created the world but also directs natural and historical events in accordance with a purpose. The story of Jesus, whose crucifixion preceded his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, encourages Christians to believe that God is working out a plan that turns evil toward good: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God" Romans Christian faith interprets evil in the light of a gracious God who will one day remove it altogether: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more … And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new'" Revelation —5. Divine providence somehow concurs with genuine human choice and thus is not a negation of human freedom.
Yet Christian theologians have never arrived at a consensus regarding the relation of God's will to human wills. Augustine argued that God could cause certain events to take place necessarily but without abolishing human choice. He claimed that from the beginning God had decided the exact number of those who would be saved predestination. By contrast, in the early s Pelagius taught that humans could serve God through their own volition and apart from grace, but his viewpoint has found little favor in mainstream Christianity. An intermediate position, known as semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism and associated with John Cassian c.
Orthodoxy generally has not shared the West's concern for probing the intricacies of divine grace and human volition but has been more concerned with Christology the doctrine concerning Christ and the Trinity. For Christian theology human beings are made in "the image of God" Genesis and thus are distinct from other creatures. The "image" is variously identified with reason, conscience, the soul, self-awareness, or the power of dominion over other created things.
Genesis states that all things made by God were "very good" , which means that human beings commit sin and yet never become evil per se. As traditionally interpreted, the story of the "fall" of humanity in Genesis 3 indicates that sin and death entered the world through the transgression of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. The doctrine of original sin asserts that all human beings are born with an inclination toward evildoing: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans The exception is Jesus Christ, who was born without the taint of original sin. Roman Catholicism, in its doctrine of Immaculate Conception —first defined in —asserts that Mary, like Jesus, was also conceived without original sin.
While each generation of Christians has tended to re-create Jesus in its own image, certain doctrines have remained relatively constant. Chief among these is the doctrine of Jesus' divinity, humanity, and unity as a single, undivided person. The term "incarnation" refers to the affirmation that God took on human nature in Jesus: "The Word became flesh and lived among us" John The early Christian councils were largely devoted to elaborating basic doctrines concerning Jesus, with all departures from them defined as heresies. The heresy of Ebionitism presented a Jesus who was human but not divine, while Docetism portrayed Jesus as divine but not human.
The Jesus of Arianism was neither fully human nor fully divine. Nestorianism depicted Jesus as divine and human and yet divided into two distinct persons. Because they believe that salvation is at stake, Christian thinkers of all eras have been preoccupied with describing Jesus' character. In the Council of Chalcedon sought to define the exact relationship between his divine and human natures. Jesus' role as Savior requires that he function as the mediator between God and humanity. Salvation depends on a full and true incarnation of God in human life. As God, Jesus can save fallen humanity; as human, he represents other humans and offers to God the perfect obedience that all owe to God.
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As a single, undivided person, he brings divinity and humanity into connection. The Incarnation affirms that God enters into human experience, understands humans from the inside out, and validates the material world and physical body through his union with it: "For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin" Hebrews Because of the Incarnation, human beings find God to be approachable and empathetic.
Not only who Jesus is but also what he does matters for Christian theology. When he wished to summarize the gospel he preached, Paul spoke of two things—the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead 1 Corinthians —4. Paul writes that through the cross of Jesus God mysteriously identifies himself with the guilt, weakness, and suffering of humanity in order to remove them 1 Corinthians — The doctrine of Atonement states that the death of Jesus is the basis for salvation.
Various theories of the Atonement seek to explain this. Jesus' death frees believers from Satan's dominion classical theory , awakens a love for God by showing the depth of God's love for humans exemplary theory , presents an offering of perfect obedience to God Anselmian theory , or serves as vicarious punishment inflicted on Jesus in place of all other humans substitutionary theory. Each theory offers a partial glimpse into the significance of Jesu's cross. The resurrection of Jesus is his public vindication, whereby he is "declared to be the Son of God with power" Romans , and it is the ultimate basis for the Christian hope in life beyond life.
Because he rose from the dead, those who believe in him have hope for their own resurrection 1 Corinthians — The Christian doctrine of salvation follows from the doctrine of sin.
Because human beings are estranged, God undertakes to bring them back into a closer relationship with him: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" 2 Corinthians The process starts with God's eternal will to bring salvation election, or predestination ; unfolds as human beings exercise faith and repentance; ushers sinners into a new relationship of gracious acceptance by God; finds expression in the daily struggle to grow in faith, obedience, and holiness before God; and reaches its culmination when believers are raised from the dead and transformed into a glorious and immortal state.
Orthodox theology speaks of salvation as "divinization" or "deification" Greek, theosis , a process whereby human beings are brought to share in God's own life and so participate in his holiness and glory. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and many Anglican Christians view salvation as something mediated through the Christian community.
In this view salvation comes through participation in the church, with baptism as the sign of that participation. Traditional Catholic theology states that unbaptized persons cannot be saved. Following baptism, a believer's strengthening in the faith comes from participation in the Eucharist and the other sacraments—confirmation, penance reconciliation , holy orders ordination , matrimony, and extreme unction anointing of the sick.
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Some Catholic theologians emphasize the correct performance of the rituals, though others stress the importance of approaching the sacraments in faith. Like Catholics, Orthodox and Anglican Christians understand the church to be a sacramental community. In these traditions the church exhibits an unbroken line of leaders, or " apostolic succession ," extending from the first century to the present time. Catholics emphasize the succession of Roman bishops, or popes, beginning with Peter Matthew —19 , as the leaders of Christendom, while Orthodox and Anglican Christians hold that the bishops collectively share in decision making and responsibility.
Protestants show a less communal interpretation of salvation, Christian life, and church leadership. Luther had been a faithful monk and yet lacked "assurance of salvation," which he found through Bible reading and a conversion experience in which God's mercy suddenly became real to him. Since that time Protestants have stressed the Bible and personal experience of God.
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Neither the outward forms of the church nor baptism and the sacraments are as important as the individual's experience of Christ. Most Protestants hold to two basic church rituals—baptism and the Eucharist. Lutherans and Calvinists hold that the outward actions are genuine sacraments with spiritual power attached to them. Baptists, Pentecostals, and nondenominational Protestants believe that the outward actions are merely signs attesting to and confirming the faith of those who share in them.
Thus, this latter group of Protestants baptize only adults and older children on a profession of faith believer's baptism. Though all Protestants deny the supreme spiritual authority of the papacy, they differ as to what they put in its place.
Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans preserve the ancient system of church government by bishops, while Baptists, Pentecostals, and Congregationalists allow each local gathering to govern itself, with Presbyterians placing local gatherings under the direction of a representative assembly. Christian theology includes eschatology, or a doctrine of "last things"—Jesus' return or Second Coming , judgment by God, heaven, and hell.
In the Gospels, Jesus' teaching focused on the kingdom of God, and the Lord's Prayer includes a petition for God to bring an earthly realization of his purposes: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" Matthew Although the kingdom of God is already present in a limited way, it will attain perfection only when Jesus returns, "coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" Matthew Christian eschatology offers confidence that God will ultimately transform individuals, society, and the world at large into "a new heaven and a new earth" Revelation Jesus' resurrection shows God's purpose to overcome all that threatens humanity, including death itself.
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Though some versions of eschatology have encouraged Christians to retreat from the world, many have driven believers to struggle for mercy, peace, and justice. Eschatology has been an engine of social change and even revolution. The Book of Revelation offers an elaborate picture of the Christian hope, and yet the text is notoriously hard to interpret.
Some theologians view it as a more or less literal account of what is to happen before Jesus returns, while others see it as symbolic in character or as referring to events that have already transpired.
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Christianity offers a revelation concerning God's love and human salvation. Similarly, it offers instruction in moral and spiritual life, also based on revelation. At the same time, most Christian thinkers maintain that Christians and non-Christians alike are accountable to conscience or natural law. Thus, when the Bible gives the commands "you shall not steal" and "you shall not bear false witness" Exodus —16 , these imperatives agree with human nature and can be discerned as ethically binding apart from divine revelation.
Discussions of Christian ethics thus shift back and forth between natural law and biblical revelation, with Roman Catholic thinkers characteristically emphasizing the former and Protestants the latter. If there is something distinctive about Christian ethics, it lies in the commandments to "love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself," with the added assertion that "all the law" depends on these two commandments Matthew — By linking love for God with love for neighbor, Jesus' teaching connects spirituality and ethics.
Furthermore, Christian love as commanded in the New Testament goes beyond the bounds of natural law or everyday ethics. Ordinary morality tells a person that he ought not steal from his neighbor, but "love your neighbor as yourself" means that a person must meet his neighbor's needs, even if this requires personal sacrifice.
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Jesus himself presents the ultimate model of sacrifice on behalf of others: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" John As Christian ethics evolved through time, it developed divergent emphases. One way of summarizing the Christian way of life is "imitation" of Christ. Various branches of Christianity have all held that the goal of the Christian life is to embody Jesus' character.
The imitation of Christ was so strong a theme in early Christianity that the notion of imitating anyone else, such as saints, did not become prevalent until the fourth and fifth century. Early Christian literature included exhortations to patience and perseverance in the face of difficulty, persecution, and martyrdom. It also stressed the need for prayer, almsgiving, and fasting and the avoidance of idolatry, violence, and sexual immorality.