Essentials of Christianity
The essentials of Christianity including a reinforcement of the creation-fall-reconciliation-response-renewal narrative
Christians disagree on many issues, hence the formation of denominations large and small over the past few centuries. Yet there are certain fundamental truths which constitute what it means to be a Christian and outside of which you are not a Christian. In the early Church creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Creed of Chalcedon were attempts to define exactly what it meant to be a Christian in key areas in the face of attempts to lead the Church in other directions. For some, creeds, that is clear statements of what is believed, are unnecessary and even harmful. All that matters is that you love Jesus and are a good person. They see no connection between what is believed and our relationship with God or how we live. The Church over the centuries has not approached the matter in this way. Instead they saw in each of the doctrinal disputes issues which directly affected our relationship with God and hence how we lived, both here and in eternity.
One example of this is the Nicene Creed. A council was convened decide on the status of Jesus in relation the Father. Arius, a forerunner of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saw Jesus as a created being, highly exalted but nevertheless created. He saw Jesus as ‘like’ the Father, but not of the same ‘essence’. He still saw Jesus as our saviour. Athanasius, however, saw that this affected our relationship with God. Only God can reveal God. Only God can save us. Only God is to worshipped. If Jesus is merely ‘like’ the Father, then the chasm between us and God, which is infinite in nature, has not been bridged and we are not saved. The reality of this is seen in the Jehovah’s Witnesses where salvation is by our good deeds, because Jesus is unable to save since he is not God.
The implications of these key beliefs is not always obvious but it is always there and is always practical. To some extent, those who have no interest in these key beliefs are living off the efforts of those who have gone before them. They have a foundation which somebody else has laid but which they do not understand even while they rest on it. God wants us to worship him with our mind as well, and all these key beliefs have important practical implications. They are also always under attack. So, there is always a need to lay the foundation again in each generation.
***Note: Students by this stage should have been introduced to the basic Christian beliefs on many occasions. More than a general introduction is needed. Suggested is to perhaps take one or at the most two key issues and to explore them in depth by engaging in the kinds of debates which have taken place. See Key Concepts for a list of key beliefs. Each of these beliefs can be broken down into more detail but as soon as we do we move quickly from essential to important to interesting to trivial. An example of this is God as creator and sustainer of the universe. This is essential. Any conception of God which relegates him to, for example, merely the one who began the process by setting in place the laws of nature and now he is not involved, is not Christian and has serious implications for all areas. On the other hand, most would argue (not all would agree) the interpretation of Genesis 1, while important, is not an essential belief. This is true, even though the implications are in fact large. An easier example is whether or not music should be played in church. For some this is an important issue but most would place it under interesting or even trivial. Other important, but not essential, issues are things like the gifts of the Holy Spirit today, whether you can lose your salvation or not, the mode of baptism and so on. This unit is concerned with those which are essential only, though even here not all will agree with the list below.
The Early Church held a number of Church wide Councils (Nicene, Chalcedon etc) to decide on certain key questions. These remain as markers which define true Christianity
All the key beliefs were seen to have practical implications for our relationship with God and how we live
God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe (mode of creation very important but not essential)
Humanity as created in God’s image and now fallen in sin and in need of redemption (essential)
The Bible as inspired by God as a revelation of his plan and his will (the exact nature of this inspiration comes under important, not essential)
Jesus as the eternal Son of God, of the same nature as the Father, who is also truly human, who died for our sins, was raised from the dead and now sits enthroned in heaven until he comes to establish his kingdom (essential)
God as Trinity, three persons in one nature, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (essential)
Salvation as only through Jesus by faith in his work on the cross (essential)
Salvation as the Holy Spirit coming to dwell in the believer and giving them a new heart (gifts of the Spirit not essential)
The Church as the body of Christ on the Earth made up of all those who have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus (issues like church government not essential)
The call to live holy lives as our worship to God (security of salvation not essential but important)
The Second Coming of Christ (manner of coming is not essential though really interesting)
The needed scripture references will differ according to the area being looked at and are best accessed through the Resources below. The following are some general references.
Romans 13:8-14:23 - there are issues about which we can disagree
Galatians 1:6-10 - there is only one Gospel
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 - the core of the Gospel
Matthew 5:17-20 - not one part of the Bible can be set aside (so we can't pick and choose)
Luke 24:17-27 - Jesus as the key which unlocks the meaning of the Bible (every part must be understood in terms of the whole story line)
Romans - as a summary of the Gospel Paul preached. The most systematic presentation of the Gospel in the Bible
Romans 1-5 - Salvation by faith in Christ alone
Romans 6 - Question: Why shouldn’t we sin then if salvation is by faith alone?
Romans 7 - Question: What about the Law? Wasn’t this from God?
Romans 8 - Question: How will we be free from sin?
Romans 9-11 - Question: What about God’s promises to Israel?
Romans 12 - Practical Christian living
Romans 13 - Question: What about the governments of this world?
Romans 14 - Question: What about when we disagree?
Romans 15 & 16 - Closing matters and personal greetings
See Digital ToolKit for further resources
www.veritas.org talks at universities by top Christian thinkers on issues of relevance to today ***more topical issues than essential Christian beliefs
www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine - for articles related to key debates in the early Church on key issues like the divinity of Christ and why each of these issues are so important and do not fall into the category of Romans 13
YouTube Videos (some examples, a search in any of the categories will generate results)
Rap Poem on the deity of Jesus
William Lane on God as Creator (Lane is a philosopher)
Created in the Image of God Ravi Zacharias
What is sin? Animated explanation
One Minute Apologist on the Nicene Creed
Ideas/Strategies for Lessons
Have students generate what they see as the essential beliefs either of Christianity or any religion (the essential beliefs of Christianity are answers to these questions) - they can then choose what will be the content of the unit
Break class into groups which prepare a short presentation on key beliefs and challenges to those beliefs
Use relevant videos to spark discussion
Debate a key belief or watch relevant debate and discuss (e.g. Muslim vs Christian on the deity of Christ or reliability of the NT)
Create their own short song (as in YouTbe video) on a key belief
Research arguments against key beliefs and examine them in depth
Take one of the Creeds, look at it history and then pull it part to see what it says and why it is or is not important