About this web page
What Christianity is All About
Basic information about the Christian faith provided by
Michael and Melody Covington, Athens, Georgia
Other pages that may also interest you:
FAQ for anyone thinking of visiting a church
Canticles of St. Romanos Melodos (selections in English)
Tough Questions, a discussion series at Beech Haven Baptist Church
Notes on the Original Greek Text of the New Testament (how the New Testament reached us) (PDF)
Christian Faith, Brain Research, and Psychology
Christianity and the History of Mathematics (PDF)
What is "Christian Money Management"?
A teacher's guide to religion in the public schools (external link; I did not
write this or have any direct connection to it, but I agree with it,
and it is endorsed by major religious groups, including non-Christian ones).
- Basic Christian beliefs
- Jesus of Nazareth
- Christian morality
- Christianity and other religions
- Frequently asked questions; answers to objections
- Church history and Christian denominations
- How to become a Christian
- How to choose a church to attend
BASIC CHRISTIAN BELIEFS
- God loves us and would like for us to live eternally with Him in glory.
- Because of our sin (= willful rebellion), we are separated from God.
- We cannot overcome sin by our own efforts.
- Because God loves us, He came to earth in human form (as Jesus) and died on the cross to take the penalty for our sins.
- Because Christ has died for us, salvation (= forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God) is available as a free gift to anyone who is willing to receive it.
- We receive salvation by making a life-changing commitment to Christ, not merely by accepting doctrines or joining an organization.
JESUS OF NAZARETH
- Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew born in Bethlehem around 4 B.C. The title Christ ("Anointed one") was applied to Jesus by his followers.
- Jesus displayed unusual religious insight at an early age, but until age 29 he apparently worked as a carpenter with his (adoptive) father, Joseph. Then he began to preach and work miracles, gathering around him a group of twelve apostles ("sent ones").
- At age 33, Jesus was arrested by an angry mob and turned over to local authorities who gave him a hasty trial (violating their own laws and procedures) and executed him on charges of blasphemy. He suffered a cruel death on a cross and was buried. Then, according to the Bible, he rose again and later miraculously ascended into heaven.
- Christians believe that Christ is God in human flesh (not merely a human being with godly attributes) and that he has existed for all eternity as part of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Christian morality is quite similar to morality in other religions and cultures, and to pre-existing Jewish morality.
"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them." Jesus, Matthew 5:17
Christians emphasize two things that modern western culture tends to neglect:
- Intentions matter just as much as effects.
"You have heard that it was said... 'Thou shalt not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who hates his brother shall be liable to judgment." - Jesus, Matthew 5:21
- We distinguish sin from temptation. Human nature is corrupted by sin, and you cannot be good by simply following your natural instincts in their present, damaged form.
"Temptations to sin are sure to come." - Jesus, Luke 17:1
"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to mankind. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." - St. Paul, I Corinthians 6:13
Christian sexual morality is based on the idea that sexual pleasure is holy and good; that God created it; that its purpose is to unite husband and wife and, at appropriate times, to pro-create children; and that it has spiritual as well as physical significance. It is not a mere physical thrill, nor is it something to be ashamed of.
Jesus taught that a person's mental sex life is as important as what he or she carries out physically. This is the basis of the Christian objection to pornography and other exploitative uses of sexual desire.
Christians do not approve of sexual intercourse outside of marriage nor homosexual erotic behavior. However, homosexual orientation, when involuntary, is not a sin; it is a condition in which people find themselves, or a besetting temptation.
There is no reason to expect these teachings to "change with the times." There are people who want to alter Christianity to allow various unconventional sexual practices today, just as there are people who wanted to alter it to allow slavery in the early 1800s. But God's law is not ours to change. If it were, it wouldn't do us much good.
CHRISTIANS AND OTHER RELIGIONS
"It is the atheist, not the Christian, who has to believe that nearly all the people that ever lived have been mistaken about one of the things that mattered to them most." - C. S. Lewis, paraphrased.
Christians don't believe that other religions are totally false -- only that they are less complete or less accurate than Christianity. Because only one God actually exists, all concepts of the divine throughout the world must come from Him.
It is nonsense to claim that "all religions are equally true" since some religions directly contradict others. In particular, most religions assume that people can overcome sin by working hard to better themselves. Christians insist that forgiveness of sin is a free gift from God.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- How is it that Jesus was born in 4 B.C., not 1 B.C. or 0 or 1 A.D.?
People did not start numbering years from Christ's birth until about 700 years later. At that time, the medieval monk who reconstructed the chronology got it slightly wrong. The New Testament records dates relative to specific emperors and governors, rather than using numbers. Even today there is still some uncertainty.
- How can Christians justify the cruelty of [the Crusades / medieval kings / some so-called Christians today / whatever]?
We can't and we don't. Through much of history, whenever kings or politicians wanted to do anything dubious and avoid criticism, they said they were doing it for Christ. This shows only that the name of Christ had prestige which all sorts of people tried to borrow.
Nowadays, whenever politicians want to start a war, they often say they're doing it "for world peace." Does that mean "peace" is a dishonorable cause?
- Are there any prominent scientists who are Christians?
Plenty. Some that come to mind are D. E. Knuth, computer scientist, Stanford University; John Polkinghorne, quantum physicist, Cambridge University; Owen Gingerich, astronomer, Harvard; and H. F. Schaefer, quantum chemist, University of Georgia. The late Georg Cantor, founder of set theory, was a devout Christian.
The proportion of Ph.D. scientists who attend church is almost exactly the same as that of the general population.
- What do Christians believe about birth control and abortion?
These are two separate issues. Even the Catholic Church, which is opposed to both, clearly states that it objects to them for two totally separate reasons.
Christians reject the secular notion that people have a right to "sexual freedom" defined as sexual intercourse without consequences. Complete intimacy between man and woman is an important and glorious act which should not be reduced to the level of a mere physical sport, and modern technology has not changed this fact. If you train yourself to experience physical intimacy without love or commitment, you have made yourself less of a human being.
Christians do not believe that a woman's body is her own. Our bodies belong to God, not ourselves. Christians believe that men as well as women must take responsibility for the effects of their sexual activities.
Birth control is an issue on which Christians are deeply divided. The Catholic objection to birth control is that it is wrong to artificially deprive sexual intercourse of its most important natural function, which is reproduction. (If you do that, it is no longer sexual intercourse and is not permitted.) But it is legitimate to take advantage of naturally occurring periods of reduced fertility, or of infertility that exists naturally or as a result of necessary medical treatment.
Most Protestants see nothing wrong with birth control within marriage as a way of regulating the size of one's family. After all, women are already naturally infertile most of the time, and birth control merely uses technology to help nature do what it already does for itself.
On abortion there is much more of a consensus. Abortion destroys an embryo or fetus that already exists. Christians hold that a fetus is either a human being, or something so close to a human being that it has practically the same rights. If you believe that a premature baby is a person, then you must believe that a fetus is also a person, because they are the same thing.
Accordingly, abortion is homicide, never justifiable in itself, although occasionally the death of the fetus is an unavoidable consequence of actions necessary to save the mother's life. (Even in this situation one must not assume the baby is less valuable than the mother.) Abortion is not justified in cases of rape or incest because the baby is a completely innocent victim. And it is certainly not justified merely to protect a woman's career or personal plans.
Christians provide various kinds of practical assistance to women faced with unexpected pregnancies. Just look in your phone book under "Abortion alternatives" or contact a local church.
- What is the Christian position on [the war in Iraq / disarmament / gun control / deficit spending / whatever]?
There is no "Christian position" on most political issues. The controversies that exist outside the Christian community also exist within it. Naturally, Christian morality sets some limits, but it does not prescribe a specific form of government or specific government policies.
- Do Christians believe in evolution?
All Christians are "creationists" in the sense that we believe the world was created by God. None of us believe that evolution is a complete explanation of how life came into existence. But then, neither do biologists.
"Young-earth creationism," the idea that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, was popularized by Seventh-Day Adventists in the early 1900s as part of their distinctive scheme for interpreting biblical prophecies. Although it has its adherents, young-earth creationism does not reflect the majority opinion of knowledgeable Christians. Most Christians believe that God created the world through a gradual process, and that the first chapter of Genesis explains who and why, not how. (This does not mean that we "take it allegorically" - we take it to be true as given, but we don't try to extract information that it doesn't give.)
- Are Christians against stem cell research?
No. Despite the eagerness of the media to portray them as such, no Christians are opposed to stem cell research per se, as far as we can determine.
Plenty of Christians object to destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells (or for any other purpose), since embryos are living human beings. All other sources of stem cells — adult tissue, placentas, umbilical cord blood, etc. — are perfectly OK.
We are all eager to see diseases cured by stem cells, but in general we don't approve of killing one person (even an embryo) to cure another.
CHURCH HISTORY AND CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS
Most divisions within Christendom arise from the following events:
- 1054 A.D: After centuries of tension over the increasing political power of the Pope, the Roman Catholic church in Western Europe splits with the Orthodox Church in the eastern Mediterranean and Russia.
- 1521 A.D: Protesting abuses within the Catholic Church (which the Church itself later condemned), Martin Luther starts a movement intended to reform the church, but ends up splitting it. Numerous self-governing Protestant churches are formed (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.).
Some churches loosely classified as Protestant might better be described as independent and Bible-based, not controlled by a central organization nor closely tied to Protestant history. Examples include Baptists, Churches of Christ, and many locally organized churches with a variety of names.
- In the 1500s, the Church of England (Episcopal Church) takes a "middle way" between Catholicism and Protestantism, forming a church that is locally governed but preserves Catholic traditions.
Orthodox and Catholic Christians claim to be (branches of) the one true church. They consider Protestants to be true Christians, albeit politically separated and mistaken about some doctrines.
Protestants do not claim to be the church, "but merely a part thereof." Many Protestants believe the church was never intended to be a single earthly organization with a single headquarters; rather, the emphasis is on self-governing congregations and local associations.
Despite disagreements, there is an enormous common ground shared by all who proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior. All Christians, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, hold the essential beliefs listed at the beginning of this web page, and would agree with almost everything here.
Outside the borders: The Mormons (Latter-Day Saints), Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Unification Church (of Rev. Moon) identify themselves as Christians but do not hold the core beliefs of Christianity. For example, the Mormons believe that God is a glorified human being and is not unique. (For a well-produced set of videos contrasting Mormonism with Christianity, click here.) The Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Unification Church deny the deity of Christ. The Christian Scientists teach that sin and suffering are an illusion. It is our experience that some members of each of these groups do stick close to the Bible and have beliefs more consistent with mainstream Christianity. When evaluating any of these groups, we urge you to get your information from multiple sources.
HOW TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN
Being a Christian is more than just attending a church or trying to live a good life.
Christian life begins when you personally commit yourself to Christ by praying a prayer in which you confess your sins, accept His forgiveness, and give Him control of your life. Then follow Christ in baptism and church membership.
Christ's grace is given freely to anyone who will accept it. You will not necessarily feel any different; not everyone's conversion is a mind-blowing emotional revolution. (In fact, be suspicious of those that are; they tend not to be genuine.)
Nor will sin leave your life. You will still face the same temptations as before, and sometimes you will fall. The difference is that now you are a forgiven sinner. Not only that, but you are empowered to overcome sin, although the fruits of victory will not be immediate.
Share your faith with others. "Fly your flag." Make sure the world knows you're a Christian.
HOW TO CHOOSE A CHURCH TO ATTEND
Don't choose a church by its social prestige, architecture, or type of music. Instead:
- Look for sincere devotion to Christ and a clear sense of what is important in Christianity.
- Look for a church that will give you the instruction and fellowship that you need in your own spiritual growth.
- Look for a church in which you can worship God sincerely and effectively.
- Look for a church in which you can serve as well as be served.
- Avoid churches whose Christianity has been watered down to accommodate non-Christian lifestyles.
- Avoid churches whose faith has degenerated into secular political activism (either right- or left-wing).
- Avoid churches that don't do anything to help people in need or to make the world a better place. (In a spiritually mature church, this kind of activity is often behind the scenes, out of the public eye. You may have to inquire about it.)
- Avoid churches that manipulate you by making you doubt your salvation. God is not a bureaucrat who sets up hoops for you to jump through! Remember, it's him saving you, not the other way around.
About this web page
Michael and Melody Covington are Christians who live in Athens, Georgia. Michael is associate director of the Artificial Intelligence Center at the University of Georgia; he has a Ph.D. from Yale University. Melody is a graphic artist and typesetter; she has a B.F.A. from the University of Georgia. They attend Beech Haven Baptist Church.
This web page is hosted on the Covingtons' private web site (www.covingtoninnovations.com), not by a church or evangelistic organization. If you would like more information about Christ, we urge you to contact a local church or an organization such as Christians.org, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship or Campus Crusade for Christ.
We can answer some inquiries and would welcome helpful comments about this web page, but we do not have the resources to handle large amounts of message traffic or engage in debates. For open discussion we suggest you use the newsgroups soc.religion.christian and soc.religion.christian.bible-study or contact Christians in your area.