Foundations of Faith

Class 01 - Religion

It is common in our Western world to hear people say that “all religions are basically the same”, or that “all religions are headed in the same direction”. Yet, even a cursory glance at the world’s major religious movements exposes this belief as grossly inaccurate.

“For example, the attitudes of the major religions to salvation and the purpose of life are quite different,” notes Richard Cavendish, in his book, The Great Religions. “In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, salvation means the survival of the individual personality in a happy existence in heaven after death. In Hinduism and Buddhism, on the other hand, salvation may mean the opposite, not the survival, but the obliteration of the individual personality. Christianity believes in a divine Savior, who came into the world to rescue man, but Judaism and Islam strongly disapprove of this belief as a gross breach of monotheism, the belief in a single god. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all agree, however, that human beings live only once on the earth .... But in Hinduism and Buddhism human beings live over and over again on the earth ...” (Cavendish, R., (1980), The Great Religions, p.8, Arco Publishing).

Christianity makes particular and specific claims that invite our inspection and assessment.

So, what do Christians believe?

 

Creed

The essence of Christianity is presented succinctly in the oldest of the Christian creeds, known as The Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
And born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day He rose again.
He ascended into Heaven
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.

Amen.”

This creed will be explored later in more detail, but for now it neatly summarizes the essence of what Christians believe.

Christians believe in the real, personal and powerful presence of God. They believe that God has, in the Person of Jesus Christ, made a way for a sinful and broken world (evidenced all around us by the pain, suffering and injustice human beings wreak on one another daily) to be reconciled to Him. They believe in the life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. This faith in a God who has made Himself our personal Savior is what makes Christianity different. No other faith or philosophy offers human beings the meaning, purpose or hope that Christianity does.

 

Claims

There are some sound reasons for believing the claims of Christianity:

  1. The record of the Christian Scriptures (the Holy Bible).
  2. The historical reliability of the Bible.
  3. The accuracy of the Bible in describing the human experience.
  4. The unity and coherence of the Bible’s message across the more than 1500 years of its composition by about 40 authors in three languages.
  5. The honesty of the Scriptures in revealing people of God to be less than perfect.
  6. The record of the faithful lives of Christian men and women across 2000 years.
  7. The moral and ethical quality of the Bible’s teaching.
  8. The physical, moral, emotional and spiritual evidence for the presence of God.
  9. The spiritual dimension to human life.
  10. The historical evidence for Jesus.

Of course, many people who reject Christianity would not accept some or all of these reasons.

But they are among the key reasons that Christians believe what they do. And those who disagree are, fairly, responsible to make their own arguments based on reason, logic and evidence for the positions they hold. Our believing a thing to be true or false does not make it so. Either it is, or it isn’t, or it cannot be known. Much of the rejection of Christian teaching and belief is not based on evidence or even repudiation of evidence, but opinion, misinformation, preference or prejudice.

The fact is that human beings do believe; throughout history there is a consistent quest for meaning and understanding of our existence outside of ourselves and our physical universe. Belief is and has always been a majority view in the human experience.

“God seems a very implausible hypothesis in today’s society in the Western world, though we need to retain some sense of proportion when we make this observation. Not only are atheism and agnosticism statistically negligible worldwide, usually to be found in sophisticated and comfortable urban centers, but neither has ever been able to characterize any known culture throughout history” (Green, M., (1993), Evangelism Through The Local Church, p.143, Hodder & Stoughton).

Some cultures developed multiple gods, each of whom ruled over a particular part of the physical universe. Some saw these gods present in the physical elements of the world, like fire, water, animals and mountains. Others have developed concepts of monism, the philosophy that we are all part of one, anonymous ultimate reality or principle that unifies the universe. Much New Age thinking revolves around this concept, sometimes summed up along the lines of, “God is everything and everything is god”.

 

How God has Made Himself Known

Much effort in contemporary Western society goes into attempting to propose alternatives to the God acknowledged in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, three of the world’s five major religions (the others being Hinduism and Buddhism). That God, known as “Allah” to Muslims and “YHWH” (Yahweh) in the Jewish Scriptures, has made Himself known in the Christian faith as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one God in three divine, eternal, co-essential Persons. He has done that:

  1. Through His creation of the world, His interaction with human beings (in particular the nation of Israel), and His prophecies of future dealings with Israel and all of humankind.
  2. By coming among us in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the New Testament Scriptures.
  3. By dwelling in those who believe in Him through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  4. By making known the reasons for the suffering, pain and injustice that are the common threads running through the fabric of human history.
  5. By revealing His purpose for humanity and His personal care and involvement with our world and our lives.
  6. By offering us purpose in this life and hope beyond death.

 

The Christian Scriptures

These things the Christian Scriptures teach clearly.

But what of those Scriptures?

Why would anyone pay attention to words written thousands of years ago by people we don’t know in languages we generally don’t understand about situations we could often care less about?

Further, why would anyone want to consider those words to be divinely inspired?

These questions are vital, because the Bible is Christianity’s foundational documentation. While another class (Survey of the Bible) deals more directly with evidence of the Bible’s truth, accuracy and inspiration, for now consider these facts:

  1. The biblical record relies on eye witnesses. “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty,” wrote one of Jesus’ disciples, the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:16).
  2. The manuscript evidence.There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions ... and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today” (McDowell, J., (1979), Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p.39, Here’s Life Publishers). Compare that volume to, say, Herodotus’ History (c. 440 BC), of which there are just eight copies (published c. 900 AD).
  3. Historically fulfilled prophecies. Here is a handful of illustrations:
    1. Prophecies against the cities of Tyre and Sidon (Ezekiel 26 and 28);
    2. Prophecy against Samaria (Hosea 13 and Micah 1);
    3. Prophecies against Nineveh and Babylon (Nahum 1, 2 and 3; Isaiah 13 and 14; Jeremiah 51);
    4. In addition, “the Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus” (McDowell, J., (1979). Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p.144, Here’s Life Publishers).
  4. The support of extra-biblical sources. The writings of historical figures including Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp (all of whom lived in the first and second centuries AD) all provide support for the accuracy of the biblical accounts.
  5. Archeological support for history and events as recorded in Scripture. The independent verification of the presence of cities such as Jericho (and the evidence of its destruction according to the Bible’s account), the existence of people like Erastus (the city treasurer in Corinth), and the accuracy of titles such as “proconsul” (for Lucius Junius Gallio of Achaia) are examples of how history and archeology have tended to prove rather than disprove the biblical account.

 

What the Scriptures Tell Us

All of this gives weight to the truthfulness of the Christian Scriptures and what they both tell and teach us.

The Scriptures claim to be the Word of God, inspired by Him as He communicated through human instruments.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness ...” (2 Timothy 3:16).

This is a remarkable claim that demands our response. The Bible does not present itself as simply a collection of historical events, wise sayings or rules. It confronts us with the assertion that it is God’s own words to humanity. What the Scriptures tell us and teach us is the subject of “Foundations of Faith” and is to be explored in coming lessons. But we might summarize the Bible’s communication to us thus:

Our world is no accident, but is the creation of God.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). God has made Himself known through His creation and through His interaction with human beings.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—being clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways …" (Hebrews 1:1).

The Scriptures also tell us that part of God's creation was the gift of choice - free will - in human existence. Sadly, the story of humanity is that we have chosen our own ways over God's. As a result, evil has corrupted our world and each of us as individuals, causing us to be cut off from God. There is nothing we can do to redeem that situation; we are lost forever to what could and should have been.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned ...” (Romans 5:12).

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-4).

The good news is that in His divine mercy God has made a way for us to be forgiven and reconciled to Him forever. He has done this personally and uniquely through Jesus Christ, God with us.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (it is by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:5).

“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! ... Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:15, 18).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This amazing message of how our world came to be in the tragic state it is, of how restoration for all humanity has been planned by God Himself, and of how He brought that about through Jesus Christ is the essence of the “Foundations of Faith” class. As we present and examine this message we believe we can show sound reason for confident, faithful and life-changing belief in God and His goodness.

  • ActivityUsing a modern-language version of the Bible (e.g., New International Version, Living Bible, Good News Bible, The Message), read the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament.

 

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the gospel accounts (it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and thus within 40 years of Jesus’ death) and provides a straightforward record of the life of Jesus.

 

Revision

 

  • Review QuizThis is where you might like to take a break from the class notes and have a go at the review quizz(es) for this class out on the class resources page from which you launched these notes.
  • Instructions:
    • The instructions for the quiz are straightforward
    • Each question is timed to 30 seconds
    • At the end you’ll receive a mark
    • You’ll need to complete the quiz in order to proceed further
    • If you’d like to improve your score, by all means repeat the quiz!
    • To open the quiz, just click on the quiz icon (in this box).

(Where exact wording matters to the answers, all our revision quiz answers are based on The New International Version – NIV - of the Bible).

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