Answers to 100 questions
What are the pillars of the Christian faith?
Answers to 100 questions from Muslims
On this page you find 100 questions Muslims ask Christians with short and concise answers. They are not a handbook of prescriptions of do's and don'ts. In the Christian faith the person of Christ is central, not a law. Believing means above all else a relationship with God.
Those who have interest in the Christian faith should read the Bible. This book is the source and norm for Christian life.
Good deeds, because faith without good deeds is useless. The Bible says (James 2:22): ‘You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.' Such acts are therefore very important, but they are not the basis for the forgiveness of sins. In the words of the Bible: ‘Christians are not justified by good works but by grace through faith.' Basically Christians ‘have to' do nothing, according to the Bible. That seems odd, but understandable if you know what place Jesus Christ has in their lives. Jesus has done everything for them. His name means ‘God saves'. The Evangelist Matthew writes: ‘For he shall save his people from their sins.' To be saved by Him leads not to laziness, but to gratitude (→26). And with that gratitude Christians will try to follow Jesus and do good as he did. Jesus summarized this with the words: ‘Love God above all else and your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 22:38-39). He also said: ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you' (Matthew 7:12). Christians are actively engaged with their faith and have the desire to do good out of love for Jesus.
Christians know about prayer, giving and fasting. They see it not as a duty but as an effect of faith in God and yet as a strengthening of their faith. The way Christians shape their lives in prayer, giving, and fasting differs from believer to believer. There are no rules how often to pray, how much to give, how you should fast, and so on.
In prayer, we experience fellowship with God, He with us and we with Him. It is a confidential talk with God, to honor and worship Him, or to ask for help with certain needs. In prayer there is also room for confession of sin and intercession.
When Christians pray they do this normally in their own language, not in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, the original languages of the Bible.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty-
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works-
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
9 This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
for yours is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.
When Christians begin a meal, they ask a blessing or say grace. After the meal sometimes a prayer is offered to thank God, and also to pray for specific needs.
Every Sunday Christians come together to listen to a sermon and pray and sing together. Many songs are sung prayers and psalms. Christians are people of prayer.
For Jews Jerusalem is the prayer direction. For Christians, Jerusalem is also an important city because it reminds them of the stories from the Bible and the life of Jesus. Here, Jesus visited the temple and taught. Here he was crucified (outside the gates of the city) and he rose from the dead. Many places where Jesus lived and walked can still be identified. But the city did not become a direction for prayer. There are Christians of the ancient Eastern Orthodox churches who pray in an easterly direction. It is the side of the rising sun and symbolizes the light and life that God gives. Many older churches have an altar facing the east.
Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians have many days of fasting. Roman Catholics fast the forty days before Easter (→97). Similarly, the Greek-Catholics also have a fasting period before Christmas. The Coptic Church has an extensive tradition for fasting of more than 250 days per year. In Protestantism, the value of fasting decreased significantly in response to practices in the Roman Catholic Church with which they strongly disagreed. There is a revaluation in contemporary times for fasting in Protestant churches and evangelical churches. The Bible has many examples of fasting. Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Jesus fasted. The combination of fasting and prayer, happens a number of times in the Bible.
The prophet Isaiah (in his book chapter 58) is insistent about the meaning of "true fasting" in a context of conflict and injustice. Abstinence from food has no value before God. He says to his people:
6 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
There are many other ways for Christians to fast. You can carry out fasting by abstaining from everything for a period, but also by not eating meat or all dairy products or to abstain from many different luxuries. Christians can therefore fast in many different ways. There is no clear Biblical precept, but fasting is valuable and Christians choose a form that suits them.
The problem is not in the food and drink in itself, but in the way of dealing with it. One may hold to religious dietary laws but at the same time eat too much. The real question at stake is whether we can honor God with our bodies. Jesus said: ‘Not what enters the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth.'
The Bible tells of a poor widow who throws two coins into the treasury. In God's eyes, she has given more than the rich. "The rich have sacrificed some of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she needed to live on" (Luke 21:1-4).
This story presents us with the critical question of what we should give. Wealth in itself is not condemned in the Bible. Timothy says (1 Tim. 6:17, 18 and 9):
‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.'
It is all about how you deal with your property. Are you too attached to it or is it a blessing for yourself and others?
For example: ‘Jesus is Lord' (Philippians 2:11).
Or, as in 1 Timothy 3:16: ‘Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.'
A well-known creed that is still used and proclaimed in church services is the so-called Apostles' Creed.
The Apostles' Creed is a brief confession of 12 articles in which the nucleus was already formulated in the year 150 AD. The church of all ages and all over the world has recognized it.
These 12 items are as follows:
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and life everlasting. Amen.
Being a Christian is actually the discovery that you have not chosen God, but that God has chosen you. You can discover this truth by studying the Bible and simply asking God in prayer to reveal himself to you.
Christianity is not experienced alone. You live your faith with others. Therefore, anyone who becomes a Christian is included in the Christian community, the church. There one confesses one's faith and is baptized.
For this is what the high and exalted One says-
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
"I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite."
There are often comparisons made when speaking about God. For example: God's Word and His Spirit are inseparably one with God, just as the sun's rays and heat are inseparable from the sun and no three suns exist! (Timothy to Caliph Al Mahdi in the eighth century), or the example of a person being simultaneously son, father and husband while still a single man Although Christians sometimes use the term three-in-one or the Trinity, they continue to believe in one God, not three gods.
Jesus himself said: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and "Who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Christians do not believe that Jesus is the result of a marriage of gods. As if God is an inseminator of a mother goddess who together have fathered a son. The Son of God concept is not in a physical sense, but spiritually speaks of Jesus as the Son of God.
The Bible includes the parable of ‘the prodigal son' or rather ‘the loving father'. Jesus told the parable to show the depravity of man, but also to make clear who the Father is and how he responds to mankind. The conduct of his ungrateful, headstrong son does not lead to the father rejecting the son and stopping being his father. The title father is "unchangeable." When his son returns and the father runs with his cloak held up to be able to run all the faster, he loses his paternal dignity. But he remains the father. The rush to meet his son is just a manifestation of his paternity. So God is the unchangeable God, even if he leaves the heavenly glory and comes to his children. God could and wanted in Jesus to be a Friend of man.
The Bible mentions many names of people and places which gives us an anchor in history: King Herod the Great and Herod Antipas, priest Caiaphas and Annas, Caesar Augustus, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Bethany (now al-'Azariya), Galilee, Tiberias, Jerusalem (al-Quds), Gethsemane, Calvary, etc.
He who is dead can do little to help himself. People were incapable of saving themselves from sin and death. There is one that can do this: Jesus Christ. He conquered sin and death. In Him there is new life.
There is a great story that clarifies this principle:
Some blokes of a village were arrested because they gambled, which was strictly forbidden. A couple of the blokes had wealthy parents, who could easily pay the fine, so those guys were not put in jail. But one boy went to prison. His mother was a poor widow. She had to work and could help building a road. Her hands were bleeding every day because she had to lug heavy stones. But in doing this hard, painstaking work she earned the money to pay for her son's release from prison. When this boy was free again, he met his old friends who invited him to gamble again. But he said: ‘I can never do that again. My freedom has been dearly bought. It has been paid for by the bleeding hands of my mother.'
Conversely this is also the case with the question of whether Christians believe in the Prophet Muhammad. A Christian recognizes that Muhammad at the end of the sixth century and the beginning of the seventh century lived in the cities of Mecca and Medina and their environment. Many Christians have also respect for the way he fought injustice and stood up for the poor and weak. But a Christian does not believe in Mohammed as a Muslim believes in him. According to Christians guidance for life is not taken from the Quran and the Sunnah of Muhammad (Muhammad's example, recorded in his traditions). Recognizing these differences is honesty and does not prevent us from respecting each other.
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." (Matthew 24:42).
Also, Jesus told the parable about the sheep and the goats (→30) to make clear how God will judge. He therefore urges people to be merciful and to defend the weak.
Christians believe that God has given the discretion concerning judgment into the hands of Jesus Christ. For those who trust Him is the Judge also the Savior. The Bible shows that the judgment in essence has already occurred, when Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross. And there Satan (→29), death and sin were conquered. Anyone who believes in Jesus is saved and has eternal life.
The Bible speaks of Satan but also demons. There is a visible and an invisible world with powers and forces that we must take into account. Jesus was also opposed by demonic powers, and even tested by the devil. But the devil and demons had to yield to his power. Finally, through his atoning suffering and death, Jesus Christ won the victory over them (→97).
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
He gives himself as a ransom for us and accepts us, not through our own piety and good works, but based on the work he has accomplished.
Those who live by grace will not feel better than others or look down on them, but will be moved to compassion by the fate and situation of others. Grace causes humility and mildness.
Anyone who says he or she is a child of God, says it not because he deserves it or is entitled to have it, but through resting and relying on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And God is faithful to what He has promised us. He will not suddenly act differently on the Last Day than what he has made known through his prophets and his Word, the Bible. ‘He who calls you is faithful. He keeps his word' (1 Thessalonians 5:24). ‘God, who has promised us, is faithful (reliable)' (Hebrews 10:23).
Christians abide by rules. The Bible mentions a lot of these. There are ten precepts (commandments, →34) that God gave to Moses and the Israelites. And there are the precepts that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (→36) gave to his disciples. Paul (→38) also gave some rules for the Christian life. All of these rules and commandments only function well in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and to His people Israel on Mount Sinai. They are rules for living. The commandments are preceded by the words: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. They are found in Chapter 20 of the book Exodus:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
5. Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour's house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour."
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
In the Sermon we also find the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples: the Our Father. The words of the Sermon on the Mount are surprisingly radical words - in many ways they turn the world upside down. Jesus counsels his disciples: ‘Happy (or blessed) are those who mourn, for God will comfort them.' Happy are they who are persecuted because they are doing God's will: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
At the end, Jesus tells a parable: whosoever hears the words of Jesus and does them will resemble a man who built his house upon a rock. If you do not listen to the words of Jesus, you are building on the sand.
In the Psalms and prophetic books of the Old Testament we read constantly about the kingdom of God. "The LORD is King for ever," says the psalmist. This king has taken the form of Jesus for Christians, the long-awaited Messiah (Christ = Anointed in Greek) of whom the prophets in the Old Testament spoke. In him the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus not only proclaims the coming of God's kingdom, but embodies it with all his actions: his healings, the miracles in the casting out of demons, in his power over death and Satan. The wonders of Jesus are a sign of the breakthrough of this realm. Satan is decisively defeated by him. The reign of King Jesus lives in his community, he is the Head of the Church. His rule is not just over the church, but also over all creation. He said to his disciples: "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). In the world this kingdom of peace and goodness is still hidden. However, it will become visible to all.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Joshua, Judges, Ruth
1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles
Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ezekiel
Minor Prophets: Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Acts of the Apostles
Letters of Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews
Letters of: James, Peter (2), John (3), Judas
Anyone who says that Jews and Christians have distorted their own writings, thus are saying that God Himself would be unable to keep his word true. Jesus said, ‘It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law (the scriptures, Luke 16:17).
Jesus knew the Scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament. That was the Bible for Jesus and the apostles. He lived out the Scriptures and, more importantly, he had come to fulfill them. The many prophecies about a coming Messiah pointed to him and were fulfilled in him.
Paul was therefore willing to suffer even to the death. He bore the marks of Jesus in his body (Galatians 6:17). He who was first a persecutor of the Christian church, later said: "I had decided to bring you no other knowledge than that of Jesus Christ - crucified."
So Paul was not the falsifier of the message of Jesus as is sometimes claimed. Nor even the man who invented the doctrine of the Trinity (→20) and made Jesus divine. The word trinity is not known in the Bible not even in Paul's writings. Christians base this doctrine on the life and words of Jesus, and want the doctrine to express that God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Spirit (→20).
‘The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw-that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.'
The book encourages and comforts Christians who live under great pressure and difficulties. The book concludes with a prayer for the coming of the Lord Jesus.
The way Christians treat the Bible is very different. In many (mainly Eastern) churches, there is deep respect for the book and it is shown in the way in which the book is handled and how it is read out. Other churches (especially Western churches) see the word of God as a textbook and workbook. For them it is not the letter of the text, but the content and the message that is important. Underlining text can help to quickly find what you seek, to better one's studying of the text and to draw attention and to remind one of the truths in everyday life.
- The pastor greets the congregation with a votum (the Latin word for devotion to God, →54) and salutation.
- Singing of spiritual songs (→58).
- The Ten Commandments (→34) are read in the morning service, while in the afternoon service the confession of faith (→17) is usually sung or spoken.
- Next is a reading from the Bible.
- Then there is a sermon in which the Bible text is explained and applied to the congregation's situation.
- There is prayer.
- Money is collected (collection).
- The congregation receives the blessing (→54).
Sometimes people are baptized (→68), and there is the Lords Supper (→70). Many churches have a morning service and an evening service. The children are also a part of the congregation, but often they go before the sermon to a separate room for a service that is prepared for them (a Sunday School Time).
"Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth, who is faithful for ever and does not abandon the works of his hands. Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."
At the end of the service a blessing is spoken out by the pastor during which he raises his hands and spreads them out as a gesture that it is God's blessing, more than just a prayer or a wish. It's the real healing power of God that gives life and strengthens life.
The words that the pastor speaks, come from 2 Corinthians 13:13:
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with you all. Amen."
Or from Numbers 6:24-26:
"The Lord bless and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be merciful.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen."
Confessing that Jesus is kurios, was synonymous with risking their lives. Only the emperor could bear that title. Those who confess Jesus as Lord, risked the threat of being thrown to the lions.
The church is also called "the body of Christ". The church is the body. The Lord Jesus is the head of the church.
The organ was a good instrument to accompany singing in churches. There used to be many pipe organs found throughout Europe. Today congregations also assisted by many other instruments like the piano and guitars. Any instrument or combination of instruments can be beneficial when the quality of the singing is enhanced.
Many churches also have a big old clock on the towers. This used to be the only source for telling the time for the community.
At the same time many Christians have strived to attain to a true and profound unity (John 17) which Jesus himself has called them to. That unity is found and experienced in Jesus Christ who is the head of the church. That unity does not exclude diversity. But there is a common basis and recognition in each other's beliefs when it comes to core issues as expressed in the Apostles' Creed (→17).
It was a special day of the week, a day of rest instead of the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day of the week (Saturday), which remains honored by the Jews. Symbolically Christians see that the week should be begun restfully rejoicing in all that God has done for them in Christ. Christians are thus on "the day of the Lord" together to honor God by hearing his Word and responding to Him through prayer and song.
When a Muslim attends a church service, he is not obliged to take part. He may act as a spectator. If the Lords Supper is celebrated (→70) only those who openly profess their faith in Jesus Christ as God's Son and Savior may partake.
Elders have a different mission than deacons. They are primarily concerned with the spiritual life of the congregation, in other words, the pastoral care. They do home visits on a regular basis with members of the congregation.
Deacons are committed to mercy and justice in the church and in society. You see them on Sunday taking the collection in the service, but their role is much broader. They provide practical help to people who are struggling, comfort those who mourn and visit those who are lonely. They are also thoroughly involved with helping the church to act mercifully to world crises. Thus, for example, when disasters have occurred, more money will be collected to support the meeting of relevant needs. This work was commissioned by the example of Jesus Christ, the Servant par excellence, humbly devoted to those in need.
The Catechism is the teaching of the doctrines of the Bible, which is given in preparation for the making of a public profession of faith. It is usually given to the youth of the church when a secondary school level has been reached. Before the actual Catechismal classes children have often learned a lot about the Bible at home and at Christian schools. Adults also go through catechismal classes when they come to faith in Jesus Christ later on in life. Catechismal classes were formerly almost exclusively given by the pastors. Now many people have a good education, and therefore others can fulfill this task in their place.
In Protestant churches besides adults who have come to faith, the children of believers are baptized, mostly by sprinkling with water. Like a lamb from a sheep owned by the farmer, so the children of believing parents are part of the herd of 'The Good Shepherd "- as the Lord Jesus called himself. If these children come to personal faith in Christ later on, a special service is held for them in which they to confess their faith.
In Baptist, Gospel Halls, Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations only adult baptism is used. They insist that the personal confession of faith must precede the baptism which for them is a total immersion in water.
In Israel, the boys are circumcised. This circumcision was first commanded by God to Abraham. In the Old Testament, the time before the coming of Jesus Christ, this was proof of being part of God's covenant. In Genesis 17, where the word covenant is mentioned ten times, it says: ‘I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you' (Gen 17:7). With a covenant there are two parties, God and man. Although people often are not faithful, God is always faithful to his promises.
In the New Testament we see a relationship between circumcision and baptism (→68). Col 2:11-12: ‘In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through your faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.' Since Jesus Christ died on the cross, shedding His blood, no more blood needs to flow, no more animal sacrifices, and no more circumcision. These all would ignore the sacrifice of Christ.
In the New Testament we read that Christians, instead of celebrating the Jewish Passover supper (→97), celebrated the Lords Supper. It was the Lord Jesus himself, shortly before he died on the cross, who initiated this supper. In memory of Jesus' sacrifice on Calvary, the faithful get a piece of bread, which refers to the body of the Lord Jesus, then a sip of wine symbolizing his blood. Christians believe that symbolically speaking Jesus himself is offered in the tokens of bread and wine.
Marriage is ordained by God as a union between man and woman for life. In the Bible it is compared to the relationship of Jesus Christ with his church. Love must be the basis. Not love as a 'happy feeling' for the other, nor self-seeking love, but love that gives - agape love (1 Corinthians 13). Although there are differences between men and women, it is not that the one is above the other or that one is worth more than the other. Because marriage is a union of man and woman which should be physical and spiritual, it is not good for a believing Christian (male or female) to be married to someone who does not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The marriage is in many countries officially the registration at the town hall. In some countries it is consummated in the church. The church as well as sometimes conducting the official marriage also prays for a blessing on the marriage. Then the celebration of the marriage is carried out with family and friends which can be in the church or at another location.
Many people in contemporary society take no account of God and His commandments. Relationships are superficial and often quickly lead to sexual intercourse, although the couples are not married. Many films make this 'loose' life look attractive and normal. In the Christian ethics God's intended beautiful gift of marriage, including the sexual relationship, is taken into account.
Christians, in this light, also believe that a girl should enter the marriage covenant as a virgin, although this is not as strict as that which occurs in some Muslim circles. Experimenting with sex before marriage is against biblical precepts. This applies to both girls and boys. For both sexes, sexual intercourse ought to have a place only within a marriage.
In the Bible we read a call from Paul to both children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4): ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.'
In the world of his time Paul calls on both women and men to be different in a world where serving one another out of a bond of love was probably scarce.
No, not even a slap. No physical violence or humiliation. She is not his property that he can do whatever he wants. Contrary to this a man should have respect for his wife and care for her, and conversely, women should also respect and care for their husbands. This is not to say that Christian marriage is perfect. Quarrels are even found in the best of marriages. The trademark of a Christian marriage is not perfection but the ability to ask forgiveness from each other, to make up and be reconciled with each other.
In the world of the Old Testament, polygamy was common, especially among those who had power and a high position, while the Bible shows that leaders (kings) who had more women were led into a trap, which they had to pay for through calamity. God intends that man and woman (singular) will be one.
The Pharisees poned out the fact to Jesus that Moses had devised a scheme for divorce. To protect the woman the man had to give a written document of divorce. Jesus reacted with: "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Although divorce is not God's intention the brokenness of life sometimes prevents people from being able to live together. Then in some cases a choice has to be made between two evils: split up or stay together with unpleasant consequences.
Jesus Christ specifically said that only adultery is a reason (not a necessity) to divorce. For all other cases the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:10 and 11 that we should not divorce. It is not easy to determine who is guilty of the broken down marriage. There are churches in which the elders, responsible for pastoral care, look into the admissibility and validity of the divorce reasons and come to an opinion. A Christian marriage is witnessed by God and the church and therefore it is also natural for the church to be involved in the dissolution of a marriage. In this case the question of guilt is addressed. It is now therefore permitted for the non-guilty party to remarry. After the elders have determined which one of the parties is not to blame for the divorce, they can also now agree that his or her second marriage can be ordained by the church.
The following questions also beg to be answered:
-must a Christian with homosexual feelings suppress these feelings?
-does God reject him because of these feelings?
-does the church reject him?
Christians give quite different answers to these questions. The perception of homosexuality even among homosexuals differs. Sodomy (perverse homosexuality in a context of grave sins, statutory rape, adultery, drunkenness, etc. which is written in Genesis 19) is different from genuine love that two men or two women have for each other. Those who struggle with their homosexual feelings should not be rejected by the church, but have to be understood and pastorally cared for.
Homosexuality should not be taken as the "paramount sin" by which one becomes blinded to sin in all other areas. Those who condemn homosexuals and at the same time treat their (heterosexual) partner in an unloving manner, have little right to judge. He "sees the mote in another's eye but not the beam in his own eye" (Luke 6:41).
Abortion is not in line with God's commandments and principles of the Christian life. This is basic rule which we take as a starting point, even for the immensely difficult questions ahead of us, such as when a young teenager who is raped expects a child, or when an expected child has a severe disability, or another very different situation, when the life of a mother is in danger. Making decisions can weigh heavily, especially for those who have respect for life. This differs radically from those who "by an accident" expect a child and conclude that the child should be aborted because it is not at a good time for the parent.
In Psalm 139:13-16 we read: ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.'
(Dutch context) For centuries, however, there was a strong link between the government and the patriotic church, which was the Dutch Reformed Church. That link has since 1798 been cut in the Netherlands. This abovementioned link was completely dissolved in December 1983. The old financial arrangements between church and state that were established have to a large extent been terminated. There are no longer any privileges for churches or Christians. The non-Christians, first only tolerated, have since been given equal rights.
Christians and churches try from that awareness and in that position, to walk the way of Christ. The church is not of the world, but in the world. Christians are commanded to be salt and light in society (tasty and antiseptic) through personal and church life, but also through politics. Christians can make their voices heard through political parties. Christian Politicians can use their political power for law and justice in society and to promote Christian values which are beneficial for society as a whole.
The funeral, in which men and women are present, often is carried out a few days after the death, but in all cases within six days after death. The memorial service may be in the church, but also can be in the auditorium of the cemetery. In the service there is singing, a short sermon and some personal testimonies are given or some memorable acts are performed by the family. There are various other rituals performed: some people put flowers on the coffin while others throw flowers on the coffin as it is lowered into the grave; family members can carry or accompany the coffin to the grave, they often go in a procession. The direction in which the deceased is buried is of no importance. At the grave, the preacher often reads a few words from the Bible and the Lord's Prayer (→7).
That burial is a high honor is reflected in the loving and pious manner with which the relatives buried their deceased. After the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod, his disciples laid him in a tomb. The same happened when Stephen was stoned, the first martyr of the church. Jesus was also buried with great love and care by Nicodemus, Joseph and some women. Paul later explains the relationship between being buried and being risen again and our relationship with Christ: we are buried with Christ, and as Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we now have a new life in Him (Romans 6:4). Paul likens it to a seed. The seed must first die before it comes to life. So it is with the resurrection of the dead.
The questions surrounding euthanasia are complex and difficult. The present health care gives people a lot of power to extend their own lives. This can be a blessing, but there are limits to how long it can be better to hang on to life. Sometimes, people live only as a plant or with excruciating pain. If life is extended in the abovementioned capacity through medical knowledge and power, wouldn't it be better just to give oneself up to the maker? And: Why prolong a life that has no value, and the life of someone who is longing for death? It is useful to differentiate between termination of life and termination of treatment. If one needs to face up to the fact of an incurable, terminal sickness, it can be that through the termination of treatment death might occur and this is not a process of active euthanasia. This is fundamentally different than termination of life through someone giving a lethal injection.
In Holland one can also celebrate the birth through maternity visits when "biscuit with mice" will be offered. These "mice" are grains of anise with a hard core like a seed, a symbol of new life.
Remember that the "head" of the church Jesus of Nazareth (→40), a Jewish man culturally, was closer to Eastern than to Western man. His world corresponds more closely to the lives of people in the villages of the Middle East than to Europeans or Americans.
Others due to the forceful influence of scientific views think more deeply about what they really believe concerning what the Bible says and means for them today. Faith and science or rational thinking are not mutually exclusive. Believing is a matter of the head, heart and hands. But there is a danger that faith will become only a matter for reason and no longer of the heart. And then the miracles God has done and is doing are explained away. This is a trap not only for Christians in the West, but in this age of globalization and modern communication for believers anywhere in the world.
It is good to remember that Christians in the reality of such a society go their own way. A way that often goes against the flow. They do not deny that there is much immorality in the West. On the contrary, they accept that many factors in today's society go against God's commandments. Therefore, it is wrong to see the Netherlands as a Christian country.
The same critical attitude is needed in the (middle) eastern countries. Here we often miss democratic principles such as freedom to demonstrate and expression of beliefs (including public expression thereof). Sins and various wrong-doings come in all sorts of ways and manners abuses in both worlds in different ways. It is unwise to raise up on a pedestal one culture or one society above the others.
A few differences:
- Protestants rely on the authority of the Bible alone. Roman Catholics also rely on the ecclesiastical magisterium and tradition.
- Protestants have no pope as the Roman Catholic Church does. A protestant church has no hierarchy with bishops and priests except the Anglican and Lutheran High Church.
- Protestants do not have statues in their churches (→57) and worship no saints. Roman Catholics have a veneration of Mary and other saints. They call Mary and the saints intercessors in heaven, but worship only God.
- The Roman Catholic Church has a dogma of Mary's ‘Immaculate Conception' and her ‘Assumption to heaven'.
- In a Protestant church the pulpit is central and all attention is given to the proclamation of the Word. In a Roman Catholic Church the altar is central, i.e. the mass, which is an offering of bread and wine to God.
Luther is known for his ninety-five theses on the chapel door in Wittenberg. Which were against the practice of indulgences that were common in his days. Indulgences were gifts to the church so you could get forgiveness for your sins. The turning point in his life was the discovery of the meaning of Romans 1:17 on "justification by faith". Cancellation of the debt for your sin you get through faith in Jesus Christ alone, not through good works. Reformed Christians speak of the three solas (sola fide, sola gratia, sola Scriptura) through faith alone, by grace alone and through the Bible alone (as authoritative book).
Calvin, actually a lawyer, wrote the famous Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is a great work in which he expounded his dogmatic views. He also wrote a detailed commentary on the Bible. Calvin's influence on the Protestant churches is great. Calvin devoted himself to a permanent and lasting reformation and study of the Bible. Later the word "Calvinist" took on the sense of rigid, strict, prudish and hardworking.
Christianity is multicolored and polyphonic. Differences in views and experience of faith are often not a problem, as long as the unity of the faith is recognized and acknowledged.
Reformed and Lutherans merged in 2004 to become the PKN, which is the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. They own most often the village churches and large city churches. Sunday services follow a set pattern (called liturgy →53). They sing psalms and songs (e.g. from The Hymnal for the Church) accompanied by (often) an organ or piano.
Evangelical Christians cling less to tradition and have more spontaneous actions, often they meet together as a church in a school or a town hall. They emphasize the importance of adult baptism (→68), laying more emphasis on the experience of faith rather than on the doctrine of faith. Their meetings are often less formal than in Reformed churches and more exuberant. People often sing cheerful and easy to sing "choruses" of praise and worship.
Pentecostal churches put emphasis on the operation of the Spirit of God who was poured out on the Day of Pentecost (→99) in Jerusalem fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead ('50 'in the Greek pentacosta, hence the name Pentecostals). The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is still doing the same miracles (e.g. of healing) and causes people "to speak in tongues". Here the Pentecostals place a strong emphasis.
About the different types of churches in the Netherlands.
The picture of being grafted which is solidarity with Israel was expressed by Paul (in Romans 11). People from all nations as branches of a wild olive tree are grafted into the noble olive tree, which is Israel. Now globally we may share in the goodness of God and in the amazing way that we may belong to God and his people. Paul also warns us: "Do not be arrogant, but fear God: if he has not spared the original branches will he spare you?
Among Christians there are different views regarding Israel, especially as regards the significance of Israel as a nation and state. Many Christians do not give so much religious significance to the political entity of the Jews. Others see the founding of Israel in 1948 as a fulfillment of biblical promises and unconditionally stand behind the state Israel. In the background the World War II sometimes plays a role. In Western Europe millions of Jews were killed. In solidarity and perhaps even guilt more attention is given to the Jewish people than that which is given to the Palestinian people.
The Biblical prophets and Jesus Christ in particular, have at least made clear that the grace of God that He made known to the people of Israel was meant for all peoples. When people follow the way of Jesus, there will also be a prospect for peace between them.
The exact date when Jesus was born is unknown, but Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25. This date was chosen long ago coming in place of the pagan festival of the solstice during the Christianization of Europe. In the Bible (Malachi 4:2) Jesus is also called "Sun of righteousness". John describes Jesus as the light of the world (8:12 and 9:5).
Boxing Day was meant as an extra day's holiday after Christmas, at a time when there were no vacations. In some places an extra church service was held on that day. Others hold a special children's Christmas party on that day.
In many European countries Christmas is celebrated, under American influence, with Santa Claus with all the mythological and folkloric aspects. Santa Claus is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. This figure developed in the 19th century from the Dutch Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas, the old patron saint of children in Turkey) to the jolly children loving Father Christmas.
Not all Christians have a tree in their houses in December. Some Christians have even objected to the idea, because the origin of the Christmas tree can be found in the midwinter celebration of pagan Germany. Where conviviality and coziness through a Christmas tree with candles and good food can be seen in lieu of gratitude for the birth of Jesus Christ, then the celebration has missed its target. The capitalistic commercial nature of prosperous countries, of course, does no good to the awareness of the fundamental significance of Christmas.
With the coming of Jesus the Passover has taken on a new meaning. Jesus is the Passover lamb for his followers, the Lamb sacrificed for all. This sacrifice is commemorated on Good Friday. The sacrifices offered at the time before Jesus in the temple were pointing forward to Christ's sacrifice at Calvary. Jesus Christ gave his life for the people, but he did not die a martyr's death. On the third day he rose from the dead and thereby conquered death and Satan (→29). The resurrection is celebrated by Christians especially with Easter but also on the first day of every week, on the Sunday when they meet together.
Before he went to heaven, he showed himself to many people. He gave instructions to be told to all people throughout the world, the good news of his resurrection and victory over death. And he promised the coming of God's Holy Spirit (the third Person of the triune God →20), who would cause the proclamation of the gospel, to bring people to faith. Jesus told his disciples: "When the Counselor comes, whom I and the Father will send to you, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, will testify about me... Really, it's good for you that I go, because if I do not go, the Counselor will not come to you, but when I'm gone, I will send him to you" (John 15:26 and 16:6).
Fifty days after Easter the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost (→92). It was on the Jewish harvest festival. It was also the fulfillment of a promise that all prophets in the Old Testament had made in name of God. Henceforth, the harvest would include people from all nations and languages who through the preaching of the gospel would be added to the worldwide Christian community.
In the Roman Empire in the first 3 centuries AD, Christians were severely persecuted. They could not openly live their Christian faith and were forced into hiding. The fish was used as a recognition symbol. It is still a Christian symbol. A fish on a car or on a chain is not only a sign to identify oneself as a Christian but also to show non-Christians that one is a Christian and that one therefore hopes to lead others into a discussion about the meaning of the fish and an opportunity to witness to the joy of knowing Jesus Christ.