Categories
Christianity History

What it Means to be Protestant (Christianity Essay)

Quite simply, the word “Protestant” originally referred to a few people in 1520s Germany who protested the ruling by the Diet of Speyer which voted to end the religious toleration of Lutheranism (McGrath 287). But today, the word means much more. It is estimated there are around 760 million Protestants around the world, equaling 12% of the population, scattered mostly throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. Protestantism stresses three major beliefs: The importance of scripture, faith, and grace for individual Christians apart from church authority.

Martin Luther, a theologian at the University of Wittenberg, first attracted attention for the Reformation by his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 where he had many issues, including the selling of indulgences, to discuss against the Church (McGrath 281). Others who tried to reform the Catholic Church were Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. The Protestants placed a strong emphasis on the authority of the Bible and a rejection of papal authority and tradition. “A cluster of characteristic Catholic beliefs are rejected, or treated as strictly optional private beliefs for individuals rather than the official teaching of the denomination.” (McGrath 406). One of the reforms made was having services in the vernacular to be more available to the people, rather than in Latin like Catholic mass.

Mainline Protestant denominations grew out of this early Protestant revolution including Episcopal (Anglican), Presbyterian, Methodist, Calvinist, and Lutheran churches. They are overall more willing to accept new ideas than other groupings, and were mostly brought to America by ethnic groups, and grew during the Great Awakening of the 1700s.
Evangelical Protestants include Baptists, the Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, Calvary Chapels, as well as many more charismatic or other churches. The term evangelical was originally used by Catholic theologians who wanted to get into more biblical beliefs, and the Reformation adopted it by going back to the scriptures for authority (McGrath 331). Today it connotes conservative Protestants as opposed to more liberal Christians. It stresses redemption through Jesus Christ, a new birth by conversion into the religion, and a sharing of the Christian faith to others. Evangelicalism is a transdenominational and ecumenical movement, bringing together different Protestant denominations because of a shared belief (McGrath 332). Evangelicals take a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the theory of evolution were becoming more prominent, leaving some evangelicals to defend their religion. Fundamentalism grew out of this period, with the early 1900s publishing of The Fundamentals, defining a literal interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalism started with mainline and evangelical Protestant groups, and had the most support from Baptists (Marsden 3). William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist and politician, famously took on the Scopes Trial of 1925 to defend creationism, “the best-known fundamentalist political effort” (Marsden 100). There were other forms related to fundamentalism that grew out of this period as well. Dispensationalism stated that all of history was different eras differentiated by how God interacted with the people, as taken by very literal verses and prophecy in the Bible (Marsden 39). The Holiness Movement stressed the power of the Spirit in freeing believers from sin; Pentacostalism growing from this in the early 1900s by placing all the emphasis on the Spirit’s power working through signs and tongues as evidence of belief (Marsden 41-43).

Different denominations of Protestantism have different beliefs, which vary considerably among churches. This is because after the first reformers of the 16th century broke away from the Catholic Church, others through the years have found it easier to just break away and create a new church or denomination that stresses different things, be it a very liberal or conservative interpretation of Christianity. Liberal Protestantism either abandoned traditional beliefs or reinterpreted them in light of a modernist society (McGrath 327). Baptists emphasize adult baptism rather than the traditional baptism of infants, and Anabaptists did not practice it at all. The question of church polity is answered differently in separate denominations, ranging from set positions and powers by the bishops ruling to congregational where all have authority and freedom to pursue the religion (Marty 577). Even church services reflect these differences of opinions, with some newer denominations being very modernist and accepting for an informal atmosphere to strict clothing regulations and formalized rituals and old-fashioned music.

From its early years, Protestantism represented something very liberal and very conservative; a complete doing-away with the traditional catholic Christianity in the West and a reverting back to the ancient scriptures. And today, the branch of Christianity is very diverse, and growing larger very quickly as different churches have the freedom to distinguish themselves as something different from another, something utterly unheard of in the Eastern tradition. Protestantism was started by reformers in Europe trying to clean up the Catholic Church by making it more relevant and available to the individual people. It is a religion stressing the personal relationship with Jesus and the authority of the Bible.

Works Cited
Marsden, George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.
Marty, Martin E. “Protestantism.” Academic American Encyclopedia. 1980 ed.
McGrath, Alister E. An Introduction to Christianity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Categories
Christianity Posts

What it Means to be Catholic (Christianity Essay)

My essay about the Catholic Church for my Introduction to Christianity class. The books I used are “Roman Catholic Church” by Richard P. McBrien, An Introduction to Christianity by Alister E. McGrath, and Roman Catholicism: The Basics by Michael Walsh.

There are over one billion people who identify themselves as being part of the Catholic Church throughout the world, about 17% of the world’s population (Walsh 24). It has the most adherents than any other denomination in Christianity, and is about half of its people. Catholicism is a religion that traces itself to beginnings almost 2,000 years ago and has a strong presence throughout the world that it has been able to maintain over that time and distance. To be Catholic means to believe in two things, the scriptures and tradition, as well as the giver of both, Jesus Christ.

Catholics believe that their authority has had apostolic succession back to Jesus’ disciple Peter (Walsh 51). The Vatican, where the Pope lives and works, is said to have been constructed on the burial site for St. Peter. Rome was the only Patriarchate in the West during the time of the early church, as the other four were in the East, in the Byzantine Empire headed by Constantinople. Over time, the East and West split with the Schism of 1054, causing the church in the East, the Orthodox Church, and the West, the Catholic Church, to lose communion (Walsh 167). The East only accepted the first seven ecumenical councils, councils where the whole church solved problems requiring attention, leaving the Catholics to go on without the Orthodox churches. Over time the Pope gained more authority in Rome to where he is the spiritual and authoritative leader for the church.

The two most important aspects for any Roman Catholic believer are the scriptures and tradition. The scriptures, or the Bible, are important for Catholics because it presents the life of Jesus as well as other divinely inspired writings and letters. Walsh points out, however, that although the scriptures are the focal point for Christianity, it causes the most conflicts, even within Christianity (Walsh 34). This is because every different sect within Christianity interprets the Bible differently, which was a reason why the Protestants split from the Catholic Church. Catholics use tradition to help study the scriptures and to understand God, something they are able to do due to their long line of existence. It is “an active process of reflection by which theological or spiritual insights are valued, assessed, and transmitted from one generation to another” (McGrath 184). In other words, tradition helps place the beliefs and actions of worship to God in the proper place of going back to Jesus. The Church is seen as the vehicle in which tradition is manifested. Cardinal Avery Dulles identified the different models of the Church as an institution having authority, a community with members being united, and sacramental as a worshipping community (Walsh 33). The structure of the Catholic Church is Priests watching over a parish, Bishops over a larger area, and so forth, with the Bishop of Rome or of other larger areas having more prominence. Catholics look up to the Bible, the words of God, and tradition, the way those words can and have been applied.

Liturgy, which is the public worship by the members of the Church, is important to Catholics as it is to all other denominations of Christianity. The goal for Catholics is to worship God, in which the Bible and tradition as mentioned above help achieve. Catholicism places a strong emphasis on formal rituals for its liturgy, of which outsiders think of when identifying the religion. Religious celebrations are observed, including Easter, Lent, Christmas, and those remembering different saints. The calendar celebrations are important because they give days to specific events, as Christians believe these events historically happened, and give believers a chance for feasts and fellowship (Walsh 101). Catholics emphasize the Virgin Mary, who is seen as eternally a virgin and free from sin as the bearer of Jesus Christ, and often pray for her intercession (McGrath 401). But apart from the special celebrations, Catholics are urged to go to mass weekly or as often as possible, which has liturgy for the people.

There are seven sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church: Baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, anointing of the sick, and matrimony (McBrien 278). The first three, baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, are rites of initiation into the church which new members must partake of. Baptism is done on infants for regeneration and receiving the Holy Spirit, and is also done on adults wishing to enter the church. Confirmation is done by the bishop, and the Eucharist is partaken of at every mass and starts on children aged seven. “For Roman Catholics, the supreme act of worship is the Eucharist, or mass.” (McBrien 278) The Eucharist is where members of the Church take the body and blood of Jesus in thanksgiving. Holy orders leads to the priests being ordained and the Church hierarchy leading up to the Pope, and anointing of the sick helps heal people physically and spiritually (Walsh 114).

Catholics today number over a billion people and due to their religious faith often have political or lifestyle differences than those around them. There are many current issues affecting the Church, such as anointing women clergy and contraception, just as there has always been. The Church has tried to stay truthful to the times of Jesus and his apostles, as well as modernizing and recognizing different laws and perspectives, as evident by changing the language of liturgy from Latin to the vernacular in the 20th century. The Catholic Church is very traditional, but is also keen on solving problems it faces, like those pertaining to Jesus Christ and his life, message, and relevance.

Categories
Christianity Posts

What it Means to be Orthodox (Christianity Essay)

This is an essay I wrote for my Intro to Christianity class, about the Orthodox Church. Primary sources used are The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware and An Introduction to Christianity by Alister McGrath.

“In the dark days in their history – under the Mongols, the Turks, or the communists – it is to the Holy Liturgy that the Orthodox people have always turned for inspiration and new hope; nor have they turned in vain,” (Ware, 272). Today, one thing that stands out about the Eastern Orthodox Church to a person in the West is their elaborate rituals, from infant baptism to venerating icons of the saints and kissing the cross. Their services, too, are traditional and almost archaic, which is the point because that is how the early church fathers held their services. These traditions, sacraments, and a faith in Jesus Christ define the Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church first split from the western church after the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and traces its routes back to the Roman empire and to the earliest apostolic churches. It has a strong influence and continuity with the early church and Greek fathers, and stresses tradition (McGrath 402). Orthodoxy is most popular in Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia and Greece, although it has spread to North America and Australia, and is often associated with ethnic culture. Among the Eastern churches there is the Assyrian Church in the East, the Oriental Orthodox churches including the Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian denominations, and the Orthodox Church including autocephalous, autonomous, and canonical churches influenced by ethnicity.

The two sources of revelation in the Orthodox Church are scripture and tradition. To understand tradition, said Ware, one must see it from within, for “it is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit” (Ware, 206). Tradition is expressed in a variety of forms, including the Bible, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the fathers, the liturgy, and icons.
There are seven sacraments for the Orthodox Church representing the divine mysteries of God. They are outward and visible signs that translate and illuminate an unseen hidden grace. The seven sacraments are baptism, chrismation, the eucharist, repentance or confession, holy orders, marriage, and the anointing of the sick (Ware 281-282).

The first three sacraments are known as the Christian initiation, as a new believer is baptized, confirmed, and given communion. Infants are given all three of these privileges from the start, unlike the Western churches, which allows them to always be part of the ceremonies and feel more welcome. Full immersion is essential in Orthodoxy, as it is an outward act symbolizing the inward rebirth of the soul, and for this reason sprinkling of water over the head is looked down upon and extremely limited (Ware, 284). A priest uses a special ointment to then anoint the new believer’s body, confirming him as a layman into the church. At every liturgy, there is the Eucharist, where believers take bread and wine. The Orthodox Church believes that the wine and the bread “becomes in the very truth the Body and Blood of Christ: they are not mere symbols, but the reality” (Ware, 290). It can be seen that Orthodoxy stresses the importance of remembering Christ and becoming one for blessing.

The fourth sacrament, repentance, is given to children from about six or seven years of age. Sins committed are reconciled to the Church, and confession is now held in any convenient place in the church, usually with the believer and priest both standing (Ware, 295). Holy Orders are the positions held in the church, including a Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, and what powers they each hold. Marriage, the sixth sacrament, is seen as a special vocation and needs the gift from the Holy Spirit to function in unity with God (Ware, 301). Lastly, there is the anointing of the sick. It is practiced in two dimensions: healing the body physically and forgiving sins spiritually, and is given to anyone who is sick (Ware, 302). The purpose of these seven sacraments is to attain the beautiful union of man with God.

One thing common in the Orthodox Church not common in other churches are icons. Icons, wood covered with images of Jesus, Mary, or the saints, are “one of the ways whereby God is revealed to man” (Ware, 214). They are not worshipped, but venerated, as a way to look directly into the image of God, and adherents have collections at their homes or at church.

Today, Christianity has many different denominations and beliefs, but the Eastern Orthodox Church still has roots to the earliest churches, that of the first ever planted. “They believe that in a divided and bewildered Christendom it is their duty to bear witness to this primitive and unchanging Tradition,” (Ware, 333). Therefore, the church stands firm in its beliefs which have not varied greatly over time because Christ is changeless. To be Orthodox means having a faith in Jesus and stressing tradition as well as the Bible as God’s source of revelation to man.

Categories
Anthropology History

Anthropology

>Recently I have become very interested in Anthropology, the study of man. It is fascinating learning about the evolutionary context of how man came to be, and about ancient societies. This past week at Cal State Fullerton, I have already taken advantage of the Pollak Library and have spent some time there reading.

Over the summer and at the library I have been reading many books about Anthropology, and even have a textbook that I have been going through. I will try to take a class next semester, now that I already have an understanding for and liking of it. I was reading my Art History textbook today and the first chapter is about art, specifically cave art, of the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. Highlighted are ancient pictures of bison and hand-prints found deep in caves in France. It is so fascinating to learn about ancient cultures and see that they were able to think so profoundly as to go into the deep recesses of caves to help preserve them, or that they had some religious practices 15,000 or however-many years ago.

That picture, called Spotted Horses and Human Hands from France, was painted thousands of years ago and still that human handprint survives. It is incredible how we were able to adapt and develop civilizations. At one point, we went from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies, where individuals were given much more free time to develop a better way of life, the first among millions of species on Earth who was able to shape his environment, to look towards the future.

Today our society has developed so much, and is doing so at an alarming rate. We have forgotten, and don’t want to replicate, that ancient ‘primative’ practice of hunting and gathering our food for the day. Everything today says we deserve this or that, when as humans we have forgotten our roots. I’m sure if you met someone living in the ancient Near East, they wouldn’t care about the newest clothing style or botox or cell phones; they were intent on farming, on giving their familly substinence to get through the season, knowing that what they had was only what the Earth gave them: fertile soils, rivers, trees, and game for meat. Really that is all we need to survive. I enjoy learning about ancient cultures, those before modernization and large-scale empires existed, because I like the culture they lived in. Studying ancient socities and ancient man can give us clues to who we really are as a race, and how we are what we are today.