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"Christians and Jews both consider the first 39 books of the Bible to be the word of God." What about Muslims? I know Muslims consider Jesus and Abraham prophets (or something like prophets, no?), but do they consider the Bible (any part of it) to be holy scripture, i.e., "the word of God"?

No. Muslims believe that the ENTIRE Hebrew Bible (the Tanach) as well as the entire New Testament, have been deliberately altered and distorted by the rabbis and priests. They view it as a deliberate deception, and they view the Quran as the true version of the Biblical events. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is not a single book of the Bible (Old Testament or New Testament) that Muslims consider canonical and holy. RK

Could someone who knows (or who wants to find out) please update this page accordingly? Maybe also the Islam page too? --LMS

I do know that the Quran (Koran) specifically refers to Jesus as a holy man and his disciples as Muslims ("obedient" [to god]). It also refers to the Old Testament as holy scripture. The Quran exhorts believers to respect and honor believers of The Word, and this specifically included early Christians, mentioning various characters of the New Testament by name.

Some of the early books of the bible appear in slightly different form in the Quran.

Nope; some of the earlt *stories* of the Bible appear in the Quran; but the Old Testament books are held to be corrupt and un-useful. RK

Islamic tradition has it that the Quran is accurate and that other scripture, while holy and of divine origin, has been subjected to human tampering and so can no longer be relied on in its entirety. Christians, Jews and Moslems are all theologically (and genetically in some claimed cases) "sons of Abraham (Ibrahim)," the first holy prophet in the scriptures of all three religions.

I don't know just how I would include this on the main page, but I have the Moslem scriptures at home and could probably provide direct quotes on these points...

That would be good, yes, please!

Someone wrote:

Thus, when researching branches of Christianity, it is often wise to first define clearly what the working definition of "Christianity" will be, and then get information from each branch regarding their qualifications based on that definition.

I'm not sure what this means, exactly, or what the point of it is. Maybe its author can elaborate? Why is it important to have a "working definition" of "Christianity," when researching Christianity? What sort of research is being suggested? What sort of "qualifications" are being discussed here? --LMS

Just a nit: Martin Luther did not reject the church, he was reformer. Big difference.

Someone has listed the Unity School of Christianity as quasi-christian. I am going to remove it from there; since I do not think they are quasi-Christian from their own perspective. And when judging what people believe, unless they are obviously lying or mistaken (and I don't think anyone can say that genuinely held religious belief comes under that), what they say they believe is decisive. -- Simon J Kissane

Nice. Thanks.

I think you're right to leave groups where they say they go as an act of good faith, Simon. I could see an organization based on christology - a 'high', 'medium', and 'low' categorization, with most stereotypical christians being high, any group which proposes an additional savior and or paraclete being 'medium' (e.g., Christian Science, if you believe some of the Mary Baker Eddy controversy or Unification), and 'low' being UU and any other group that specifically (a) uses the name Christian but (b) denies that Jesus is anything but a really neat guy. But then I'm not going to actually do it. It just crosses my mind. --MichaelTinkler

I am willing to write about the "additional savior" angle, from the Unification Church point of view. --Ed Poor

Happened to see a few minutes of some Sunday morning religious program that was pointing out that Christians believe in redemption, i.e. you can mess your life up, but if you repent and profess your belief in Christ, you get to go to heaven. This was contrasted with most other religions, where you earn your way to 'heaven' through good works or meditation, so it can be difficult to know if you're 'in' yet. The idea was that Christ dying for your sins means he earned your place for you, you just have to accept it. Was a surprisingly balanced account, given it was a Christian program (though there seemed to be a subtext of 'look how easy Christianity is'!) I tried to put this in the main text, but couldn't get it to sound right (I'm an atheist, so don't have the background to express it well I guess). Anybody fancy a go?


This excerpt comes from the "Talk" page under Islam, but it is also applicable here. What do people think about this? RK

In spite of the fact that the five pillars are obligatory and meant to be absolutely essential for every Muslim to keep, not all individual Muslims do, or are able to faithfully participate. Many secularized Muslims, have stopped participating in religious duties; many of them are so-called second-generation muslims in western countries, the children and grandchildren of muslim immigrants, who live in-between two cultures and have developed ambivalent feelings towards their religious duties. On the one hand they tend to cling to their traditions for identity reasons, on the other hand the influence of western mentality, daily life and peer-pressure tears them away from muslim culture. Plus, a complicating factor for observing Ramadan and the five prayers is the fact that western society is not designed for such radical habits.

This is also true for Judaism and Christianity; perhaps this paragraph could be written in a more general form, and then it could have minor modifications made for Judaism, Chrisitianity and Islam. It could then be inserted into all of these topic? RK
I'd say not. It's is, as Manning said below, 'commentary' on sociology of religion and not encyclopedic description of religion. There's certainly a place for it, but not on the pages devoted to the description of the religious groups themselves for themselves. MichaelTinkler
Actually, I have a number of books by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish rabbis, all of whome bring of this precise point. They do not view a discussion of this as an attack on Judaism; they view it simply as a description of the changes that Jewish people have experienced since the Enlightenement and emancipation of the late 1700s and early 1800s. All of the major Jewish movements regard responding to this phenomenon as part of their religious mandate. I think many Christian groups feel the same way. I think a better differentiation would be that this description does not fall under theology, but under some other category describing the religion. Real world Judaism has less than 50% of American Jews following any form of Judaism as at all (recent surveys published last month have reaffirmed this.) Even a personal survey of gentiles I know shows that many, many people in America's northeast are only "cultural" Christians, and do not accept most tenets of their faith as expressed in their particular church's principles of belief. This phenomenon is growing among American Muslims as well, although I have no idea how widespread this actually is. RK
Michael Tinkler writes "There's certainly a place for it, but not on the pages devoted to the description of the religious groups themselves for themselves." Do we really have any such pages? I don't think so. If we did, then the entry on Islam would have a long list of proofs "proving" the Torah, the Tanach, and the New Testament are all corrupt, and that only the Koran is true, and that Jews and Christians are trying to fool the followers of God. If we had such pages, then the entry on Christianity would have entries proving that the Jews are stubborn and the offspring of the Devil, and that worshipping Jesus is the only way to God. If we had such pages, then the entry on Judaism would contain polemic after polemic condemning idolatry and any form of polytheism, as well as condemning all those who follow atheism and agnosticism, and Deism. But we don't have this. Instead, we try to impartially describe what each faith/community teaches, but not 100% from their own point of view. More from a friendly outsider point of view, right? Thus, perhaps each section might include a paragraph on the real world sociology of the followers of these faiths, as distinct from the theoretical positions? RK

You're right, RK, I think it should be addressed apart from theology, and probably also apart from each other, but not apart from the religion addressed. I suppose it is just part of each religion's proper history. There will be analogies as far as the causes and nature of secularization are concerned, and as such the term can be (and probably is-haven't checked yet, shame on me) explained separately, but each religion by it's institutions and leadership has reacted to it in a different way, isn't it? Perhaps Judaism and Christianity could be treated in the same way, because of the partly shared effects of the Enlightenment, nihilism, humanism, modern criticism, science, growth of prosperity and all that, but not Islam. As far as I know Islam has gone through an entirely different development, worth mentioning separately. About Buddhism and Hinduism I do not know enough to include them. --TK

Discussion moved from Bahai/Talk

by Gnostics in the Middle East do you mean the Mandaeans? They, at least, are specifically un-Christian, having explicitly condemned Christ. The problem on the Christian pages is the identification of the Gnostics that didn't make it (or whoever it was that owned the Nag Hammadi library - I had a professor who used to suggest as a class exercise that we try to prove they hadn't belonged to a scholar who was collecting gnostic texts to refute them). --MichaelTinkler
Yeah, well define "Gnostics" - that's not easy to do. I guess I have a problem with Gnostics being on the Christianity page - maybe a single sentence noting their existence and a link to a distinct article but not much more. I mean - what are our motives? Are we trying to write an article or just irritate the Christian hegemony? The early councils and East/West schism are the most important aspects of Christianity in terms of the actual history... endless discussions about "What might have been" and focus on fringe groups aren't really the most important aspect. Yes individual authors may be irritated at Christianity (obviously a lot of people harbour some sort of resentment, myself included) but NPOV dictates that Christianity gets fair treatment along with everything else.
This discussion really belongs in the Christianity talk section, not here, but I want to say that I couldn't possibly disagree with you more on the question of putting Gnosticism under the disucssion of Christianity. It isn't a matter of irritating any hegemony, it is a matter of telling the truth and getting the facts out. It is just as wrong to write out of history the losers among various competing systems of thought than it would be to write Trotsky out of the Soviet history books. If it irritates the orthodox hegenomists, so be it--that's not our problem.
Well, but here the discussion is and you have irritated me. Please reread my contributions above and below - I am not talking about writing them out. I am talking about identifying them accurately (as opposed to cheerfully lumping all Gnostics together, which our current article avoids only by refusing to be very specific), and lumping the Gnostics as a whole together with the Christians. There is almost no way to use a quantifier among the gnostic groups - no one has any numbers at all that I've ever seen - but there were certainly identifiable gnostic groups that were not christian and don't belong there. We don't know which of them had a preponderance inside whatever you want to call gnosticism. Yes, the Gnostic Christians belong in the history, but they belong in exactly the proportion as the Essenes - under the heading of groups about which we know so little that modern scholars disagree a lot about who they were, what they believed, and what they did, let alone their impact on the Christian groups that did survive. 'Telling the truth and getting the facts out'. Well. If that's all it is, have at it. You'll find the question is a good deal more complicated thanthat. --MichaelTinkler
Okay, I agree that Gnosticism as a whole should not go under the heading of Christianity. It sounds like you agree that Gnostic Christianity should be discussed under the heading of Christianity. It sounded to me like you were saying that Gnostic Christianity should not even be discussed as a form of Christianity because it would offend orthodox Christians; if this is not what you meant to say, then I apologize for misunderstanding you. As for how much we know about Gnostic Christians, perhaps Elaine Pagels' book "The Gnostic Gospels", which won the National Book Award in 1980, would be a good place to start.
To start? Egern, I own a copy. And let me note that, since you mentioned her, it was not published by an academic publishing house. HarperCollins, isn't it? It's at the office, so I'm not sure, but that's the version I xeroxed out of. The book may have won awards, but its evidence and its argument are far from unimpeachable. One piece of evidence for you to consider - her dating for the Nag Hammadi material is consistently pushed to the earliest possible peg and the dates for the orthodox gospels are pushed to the latest possible peg. Not that it's an unfair argumentation tactic, but it's argumentative as all get out. She has something to prove, and - please believe me - not everyone believes she's proved it. I am not going to say 'thank you' for believing that I believe they belong in history - I'm the one who put them on the page in the first place. And you didn't apologize for comparing me to a Stalinist (please note, I did not say 'Stalin.' I was going to say that, but I re-read, and noted that you only compared what you implied to me to the actions of those who wrote Trotsky out of Soviet History, who, I suppose, are Stalinists. Bad enough.). --MichaelTinkler
Oh give me a break. You stated earlier that "I have a problem with the Gnostics being on the Christianity page". I interpreted that to mean that you had a problem with the Gnostics being on the Christianity page. Silly me. I later apologized for misunderstanding what you wrote, because, silly me, I was trying to be conciliatory. And you did not accept that apology, which is rather obnoxious behavior according to the manners I was taught as a kid. Furthermore, I did not imply that you personally were a Stalinist. I made no direct personal attacks on you whatsoever. I was making a philosophical point about the need for history to include the losers as well as the winners. You are being ridiculously hyper-sensitive for no reason whatsoever. Get over it, and move on.
Egern, check your paragraphing. My signature is above the 'I have a problem' line. I've already made some changes to the page, which I suppose is the best example of 'moving on' I can give you. --MichaelTinkler

I wrote the "I have a problem with the Gnostics on Christianity" page. But perhaps I didn't explain myself fully, as I was talking to Michael and a lot of the subtext was implicit. Some branches of what is known as Gnosticism were definitely involved with early Christianity. But to reduce Gnosticism to a subset of Christianity is something I disagree with, and I feel proper attention should be paid to Gnosticism as a distinct entity. I also feel Gnosticism should be given minimal treatment within the overall context of Christianity - there are also people who want to pay what I would regard as "undue" attention to Gnosticism on the Christianity page. Face it, the history of Christianity is not about Gnosticism. It's not about offending anyone, its about putting things in their proper perspective. You may personally feel that the early leaders of the Christian church were assholes who trod on any dissenting opinion (probably a fair opinion) but that means that Gnosticism remains fairly irrelevant in terms of the overall history of Christianity. This is not to say it isn't a valid subject in its own right, but it is a minor aspect, right or wrong. We have had issues with people who want to paint Christianity as being more or less "the religion that quashed Gnosticism" (as the primary focus of the article). That just isn't a major aspect of Christian history, there are many more important things to talk about.

You've argued your case very well. I don't necessarily want to paint Christianity as "the religion that quashed Gnosticism." I do think that some mention of Gnosticism is warranted, but it sounds like you agree with that. So I think you've pretty much convinced me, and it looks like we are in agreement. -- Egern

Does Christianity include Arianism? If so, I believe the definition in the opening paragraph is not sufficiently inclusive.

In the ordinary and neutral sense of the word 'Christianity', yes. In some people's theological definitions, no. -- SJK

Deleted following from definition of Christianity, "literally God incarnate", since not all Christians believed he was that, e.g. Arians, JWs. I'm not too sure about the mention it makes of vicarious atonement either, since I don't think all Christians believe that Jesus' death atoned for humanity's sins either -- e.g. Pelagians probably. But I've left that in for the moment. -- SJK

Whoha! Ninety nine percent of Christian churches and organization teach that Jesus was NOT at all a mere human being. They believe that Jesus was literally God incarnate. For them, this is one of the main points of their religion! There are hundreds of Christian denominations in the USA, and almost every one of them believes this. The only large-scale exceptions I am aware of are the Jehovah's Witnesses and the various Mormon groups. (And the Jehovah's Witnesses I have spoken with have told me that they are not Chrisitians) I agree that a small percent of people who call themselves Christians, perhaps 2%, teach that Jesus was not God, and that he was only a human being. But this encyclopaedia entry must describe the majority of Christians. The entry can note that some people who call themselves Chrisitians reject this belief, and we can say who these groups are, and list what their beliefs are. RK
Links to the pages on Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses would also be appropriate here. But let us be careful not to rewrite the beliefs of the vast majority. Using that methodology, anyone could also claim that Judaism don't teach a belief in God, because some tiny, modern splinter groups reject belief in God. (e.g. The Society for Humanistic Judaism; the left-wing of Reconstructionist Judaism). One could make similarly inaccuate, and even ludricrous, statements about any religion. We must be careful not to write the entry to reflect only the minority, and make the majority beliefs a mere footnote. RK
I think Pelagius said he believed in the atonement, but in a more limited fashion (though I've never exactly understood it, I've read that he didn't deny it but his opponents *accuse* him of denying it). On the other hand, there really wasn't any 'body of Pelagians' in the Early Church - it was, as far as I can tell from my reading in 5th century material - a dispute among the clergy. --MichaelTinkler

In every age, in every religion, one can find dissenters of every dogma, in every Church. Does this mean that Chrisitians have virtually no beliefs? (The same argument would go for Muslims and for Jews?) This encyclopaedia entry must take care to describe what Christianity, as a social and religious reality, actually is. Some of the changes describe what Christianity *might* have been if mainstream Christianity had turned out differently. But that is speculative. Christianity is, in our real world, a set of faith communities that believe in God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus as part of a Trinity. For them, Jesus IS God incarnate; that is precisely the point of the Trinity. If Jesus is not literally God, then there is no trinity, and we are left with some kind if Unitarian-Universalism, or some variant thereof. But most Chrisitians reject Unitarian theology. RK

Put back in an early mention of Christ being God incarnate, since most Christians do believe it. Added it to the list of things that some Christians don't. If we completely deleted everything that some theologian or splinter group didn't agree to, the article could be reduced to maybe four sentences. --Wesley
Exactly! If we had followed that kind of analysis, we'd have no beliefs listed for any religion! Let us describe what actually exists in the mainstream, and then we can denote variants and other possibilities. RK
Especially since some think that Jesus wasn't even an actual, specific historical person. I also modified the effect of Christ's work to speak of it in terms of 'reconciliation' rather than pardon. 'Pardon' seems to reflect the general Western legal-oriented view of mankind's fall and redemption; the East looks at it more in terms of a broken relationship being restored. My goal was to find more neutral language that would refer to or include both perspectives; please correct me if I have failed to do so. --Wesley

I must disagree. I have no problem saying "Almost all Christians believe this...", but if you put it in the definition you are implying that those Christians who do not believe Jesus to be God are not Christians. But if they aren't Christians, what are they? They aren't Jews or Muslims. They are Christians. -- SJK

Definining Christianity is certainly problematic. Too narrow and we exclude some legitimate groups. Too broad and we wind up including Hindus and agnostics. In fact, I think there are some Hindu sects who think Jesus was one of several incarnations of... Buddha? Brahman? kind of like Krishna? and many agnostics and atheists would probably say that Jesus was a great moral teacher who taught that everyone ought to love everyone else. But if we define Christianity as "the belief that Jesus taught we should love everyone" we're being far too broad. The challenge is to make the definition distinctively Christian without being too restrictive. I wouldn't have thought that calling Jesus "God" would be too much, as vague as the term "God" can be. --Wesley

Article says:

Each individual's belief and personal trust in these events is considered to be the essential condition for being reconciled with God and receiving eternal life; "eternal" both in the sense of quantity (life after death) and quality (life in the presence of God).

Is that true of all Christians? The phrasing at least sounds very Protestant. According to traditional Catholicism, belief is an essential condition, but not the only essential condition: receipt of the sacraments, and not dying with any unconfessed mortal sins, are also essential.

And I'm not even sure all Protestants would agree with that: it sounds very Arminian. Calvinists would argue that the essential condition is election by God, and that the individual's belief and personal trust in these events is merely a consequence of this.

And universalist Christians don't believe that an individual's belief and personal trust in these events is essential in the same way that most Protestants would say it to be essential, since they permit this belief and trust to arise long after a person's death, while most Protestants say that if you die and you still don't believe well then you're doomed and have no second chance. -- SJK

I was also uncomfortable with this statement, for many of the same reasons. I'm just not sure how to improve it. Would it be enough to refer to those events as dogma or Christian dogma and on that page, discuss the role of believing these things as it relates to salvation? (Here I'm using 'salvation' as equivalent to 'reconciliation with God and etrnal life with Him'.)

Article says:

In some more liberal sects, Jesus is not believed to be God, but rather is viewed simply as someone who had new insights and something to teach; however, the vast majority of Christians deny that such a view counts as a kind of Christianity.

This passage implies that all who deny Jesus to be God are liberals.

No, the person was speaking about being a theologicalliberal, not a political liberal. The concept of faiths being liberal or conservative has no relation to one's political affliation. There are many religiously liberal Jews (e.g. Reform Jews) who are also politically conservative, and vice-versa. Maybe we can rewrite the entry to reflect this.
Jehovah's Witnesses are definitely not liberals, and they say he wasn't God, but rather a spiritual being slightly below God. And the ancient Arians are also scarcely liberals, and their beliefs were similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Nor are the Mormons, who hold that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate gods. And in all three of these cases, while they deny him to be God in the sense that Trinitarian Christianity holds him to be, they don't just think he is "someone who had new insights and something to teach" -- e.g. Arians believed him to be a supernatural being second only to God.

Finally I don't think "the vast majority of Christians deny that such a view counts as a kind of Christianity" is true. The vast majority of Christians may disagree with these views, but I don't think most Christians would deny that JWs or Arians are Christians, however heretical they think they are. -- SJK

Guess this depends on the definition of "liberal." Perhaps "non-traditional" would be a better choice of words? In reading over the First Council of Nicaea, it "anathematizes" those with Arian views. Doesn't this mean the council considered these views unchristian? Only two bishops out of roughly 300 dissented. This continues to be the view of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and many Protestants. In the absence of actual numbers, I suppose we could reduce "the vast majority" to the more vague "many." --Wesley

The vast majority of Christians may disagree with these views, but I don't think most Christians would deny that JWs or Arians are Christians, however heretical they think they are.

I assure you that the vast majority of Christians do indeed deny that JWs are Christian. Arianism seems to be a trickier issue for many people, though. In many (perhaps even most) Christian circles, heretical = unchristian. --STG

I'm afraid it depends on your definition of 'definition.' Are we to accept the idea of difference as eventually, at some point, ever, drawing a line between one and another and saying X and not-X, or mush 'em all together. We could call what I tend to think of as 'Christians' 'Trinitarian Christians' and I'd be happy enough with that, and then I could explain differences between Trinitarians without having to be concerned about offending non-Trinitarians. Some historians of Christianity use the term 'Chalcedonian' Christians to mean Trinitarian Christians in such a way that the monophysitical (I know, I know, that's a shallow and un-inclusive reading of their theology) are not confused with the ones who call themselves Catholic (worldwide) and Orthodox (right teaching) and kinda resent the other group's name. I'd take Chalcedonian, except that most Trinitarian Christians don't know whether or not they agreed with Chalcedon. Then we're up against the final problem of definition, which is education; most people actually don't believe much of what the groups they subcribe to officially believe. Should we leave off the Immaculate Conception from Roman Catholic theology because 95% of American Catholic laypeople can't define it (I made that up, but it's not much lower) and if they could define it would answer 'not sure' to whether they believed it or not? --MichaelTinkler.

It seems probable to me that the vast majority of Christians do believe that the term should be limited to those who follow the true Christian faith, at least on the essentials. The problem is that there is no agreement as to what is true or essential. So such a definition of the term is useless in any broad context. I think for our purposes it is more useful to define the term as broadly as possible. So I would be inclined to include those of any faith in which Christ plays the central role, however unorthodox. This avoids the insoluble problem of reaching consensus as to which, if any, comprise the true faith. - HWR

This is a VERY bad idea. This would describe over a billion non-Chrisitians as Christian! The vast majority of Unitarian Universalists, and ALL Muslims, fit this description. Millions of people in Bahai also fit this definition! Yet these groups are NOT Christianity. In your efforts to appease the views of small sects that broke off from Christianity, you are rewriting the word "Christian" to have practically no meaning at all. This is a grave insult to the hundreds of millions of believing Chrisitians. And I say this without any stake in the matter at all (I am not a Christian in any sense of the word). RK
I believe I said "any faith in which Christ plays the central role". Surely you are not suggesting that Christ plays "the central role" in Islam or Bahai. As for Unitarianism and Universalism, I believe these movements would indeed be considered Christian, in the broad sense, at least through most of their history.
Actually, about 10% or so (the last I heard, anyway) of UU members consider themselves Christian. And I think it is appropriate to use the word Christian to describe that subset of UUs. And Christ does not play a central role in the Bahai faith--he is seen as just another prophet of God, not higher in importance than other prophets. The fact is that there are people who consider Christ central to their belief system but who don't conform to a particular orthodoxy. They use the word "Christian" to describe what they believe, and whether or not that is "insulting" to the more intolerant brands of Christianity is not our concern; it is completely appropriate for us to use the word to describe them in this encyclopedia. Certainly many brands of Christianity spend lots of time defining who gets to be included in brand of orthodoxy. Some fundamentalist protestants deny that Catholicism is Christian--should we cater to their definition simply to avoid insulting them? The various orthodoxies all have their various mutually inconsistent definitions of what they consider "Christian", some are more tolerant and inclusive, others less tolerant. The best solution here is simply to use the broadest possible definition--as already stated, if Christ is central to their religion, then call them Christians just as they themselves call themselves Christian. -- Egern
but what about the 90% of UUs who don't consider themselves Christian? My UU Uncle would, in fact, be more offended to be considered a Christian than not. And the Bahai's? Inclusiveness cuts both ways - it often includes those who have gone to some trouble to remove themselves. --MichaelTinkler
The answer is that the 90% of UUs who don't consider themselves Christian are not Christian. The 10% who do, are. It is really quite simple. And Bahai's are not Christians because Christ is not central to their religion. Once again, it is quite simple. UU per se is not a Christian denomination, and doesn't claim to be, but some UUs are Christians. UU is not defined by a dogma or creed, so you can talk about individual UUs being Christian without describing the religion as a whole as Christian. However, Bahai's do have a defined theology, and according to that theology, Christ is not central to its religion.
Simple? Quite simple? Hah. --MichaelTinkler
Yes, it really is that simple, unless you have a more compelling argument to the contrary than 'hah'.
Let's see - the fact that other people of good will are having trouble making this simple? It's a big question, and the UUs are a very recent addition to the mix. It is a problem of much larger and longer standing. I don't think that because some people feel one way or the other that it makes the issue clear. Some people feel that creationism is correct. That doesn't make them biologists. Nor does it make them not biologists. The issue is a little more complicated than that. --MichaelTinkler
That sounds ok to me on first read, Hank...except that on second read, I think there are two fairly basic criteria -- descent (in some way at least) from original Christian tradition and an acknowledgement by the believers that THEY think they're Christian. JHK, firm believer in Apostolic Succession.
So if I *claim* that I am a Christian, but my belief system is utterly opposed to every Christian Church, then I am a Christian as well? Look, I can claim to be an atheist, yet in fact I happen to believe in God. Do we now redefine atheism as theism? We need to define what exists, without rewriting the dictinary into worthlessness. If words have no definable meaning, the very idea of an encyclopaedia is useless. RK
I agree with your general claim about meaning, RK, but we must bear in mind neutral point of view. Clearly, the article has to be extremely explicit about the controversy, or several controversies, over who deserves to be called "Christian." --LMS

The second criteria sounds ok, but what how do you define "descent"? Which groups specifically would these criteria exclude? -HWR

There's the rub -- I think there are a few out there that don't fit apostolic whatsit, but otherwise count!JHK
The 'apostolic succession' criterion is basically applying the criteria of history. It's a matter of historical record that in the first century, a bunch of Jews started proclaiming that a guy named Jesus, who had recently died, had risen from the dead and was God incarnate. It wasn't long before people started calling these people Christians, and the name has stuck. They were remarkably cohesive for roughly 1000 years, up until the Great Schism (the monophysite and Nestorian splits were much much smaller); Christ's divinity was never a point of disagreement between the Western and Eastern churches, and Christ's divinity was never questioned by the Protestant Reformation 500 years later. The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) arose in the 19th century on the basis of claims of new direct revelation, NOT because they were already Christians who thought the rest of the Church was misinterpreting existing Scripture or doctrine. I'm not as clear about the origins of the Jehovah's Witnesses, but I don't think you can identify a particular group of Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or even Oriental Orthodox that they were all part of and who they claim to descend from. Although they share some beliefs with the historic Arians, I would venture to guess that things like only 144,000 being truly saved are fairly new innovations.
I don't mind including these groups and documenting the controversies under the "Other branches" section, along with someone who shows up next week claiming the Jesus was really an alien from another star system sent by his planet to show us the true way to peace and happiness. And the definition of Christianity can include a brief mention of some exceptions, with pointers to the "Other branches" section for details. Given their minimal numerical and historical weight, I don't think these minorities should skew or hijack what little the bulk of Christians have managed to maintain agreement on over two millenia, despite all their disagreements. --Wesley

Wesley: I'd agree with you that these groups are smaller, and possibly of questionable historical authenticity. But if they are to be classed as Christians, then it follows that some Christians don't believe that Jesus is God, and hence that believing Jesus to be God isn't a neccessary part of the definition of Christianity. I have no objection with you saying "the vast majority of Christians throughout history believed Jesus to be God", so long as that is not in the definition. As I understand your proposal, it would read something like this: "A Christian is someone who believes Jesus to be God... (a few Christians don't believe Jesus to be God, see below)". That would just be contradictory: if a Christian is someone who believes Jesus to be God, but a few Christians don't believe Jesus to be God, what then is a Christian? But if we simply said "Christianity is a religion centered around the person of Jesus Christ. Most Christian groups believe Jesus to be God in the flesh.", that is both non-contradictory and accurate. -- SJK

Sounds like we're getting much closer. What if we keep the existing phrase "... that believe Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world ..." and add your second sentence "Most Christian groups believe..." Saying that Christianity is centered around the person of Jesus Christ doesn't quite describe Trinitarians, who would say that Christianity is centered around the three persons of the Trinity, one of whom is Jesus Christ, God the Son. Sticking with 'Saviour of the world' is a bit more vague, therefore broader, while still managing to exclude most Hindus and atheists.  ;-)
If Christ isn't the central figure in Christianity, then why is it called Christianity? Perhaps the correct way to say it is that Christ is the central earthly figure in Christianity (you can't say "human" figure, because some variants of Christianity denied his humanity).

If we insist on apostolic succession, we'll have to exclude the Protestants (Anglicans excluded). My problem with including "saviour of the world" in the definition is that the phrase isn't very meaningful without a prior knowledge of Christian doctrine. Also, one can pick nits here too if so inclined; some Christian groups teach that Christ is the savior only of the elect. I think saying that Christ is the central figure of the faith can be understood as a general characterization, without specific doctrinal implications. -HWR

Naah! I think the Calvinists and Lutherans (and maybe even Mennonites) are technically schismatic ;-) JHK
Saying that Christ is the central figure of the faith is much more general; that's good. Saying Christianity is centered around the person of Christ has specific trinitarian implications because of the way the word person is used in discussing the Trinity. Although most protestants don't believe in strict apostolic succession, they do at least claim to be following the same teachings of the historical church of the first century. I could be wrong, but I think distinguishes them from the Church of Latter Day Saints and possibly from the Jehovah's Witnesses. And yes, calling Christ the 'saviour' by itself begs the question 'from what does he save the world?' But doesn't the opening paragraph try to summarize the answer as sin? --Wesley

I think both the Latter Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses claim their teachings are consistent with those of the first apostles. I think most Christian groups do, even those whose teachings go well beyond what is included in the New Testament. I would guess that contemporary Unitarians are an exception. -HWR

I removed this because it isn't true for all Christians:

Each individual's belief and personal trust in these events is considered to be the essential condition for being reconciled with God and receiving eternal life; "eternal" both in the sense of quantity (life after death) and quality (life in the presence of God).

In Catholicism (traditionally at least) mere belief is not sufficent; one must also recieve the neccessary sacraments and die without any uncofessed mortal sins. And even among Protestants, that kind of statement sounds rather Arminian. A Calvinist might say that the essential condition is election, and that belief and personal trust are merely a consequence of their election. -- SJK

I think the phrase

These events are believed by Christians to be the basis of God's work to reconcile humanity with himself.

summarizes it pretty well. Guesses were right about the Protestant Arminian colour in the way I had submitted it before. That's exactly the background of my biblical/theological studies, although my personal focus is broader than that. Anyway, good conclusion I think to the discussion above. -- TK

What is the origin of the words "christianity" and "christ"? --AxelBoldt

i think it's from the Greek for "anointed one" -- JHK, still tipsy from Xmas party

Yes, Christ (actually christos) is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah, which I think does mean annointed one. The book of Acts says that Christ's followers were first called Christians in the city of Antioch, I think by non-believers. This was after Christ's resurrection and ascension, in the infancy of the first-century church. Incidentally, Antioch later became one of the five patriarchal sees, and continues to serve as the center of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Does some version of this information belong on the page?

I think that's a good idea. JHK

I just made two categories of additions that I think are descriptive of Christianity in general, but perhaps ought to be labeled as Eastern Orthodox if they're not shared as widely as I think they are. The first is with regard to what Christianity brought from Judaism. For a long time, that list has looked very incomplete to me, so tonight I added some more things. I think it's a matter of historical record that for the first few centuries, Christian worship did look a lot like Jewish synagogue worship in terms of style of liturgy, canting, order, use of Psalms, and on and on. Sure, they modified it a bit, and modified it some more as time went on, but they certainly didn't invent it all from scratch either. I know that lots of Christian groups today haven't kept much of those sorts of practices, but they were the norm in the beginning. Anyway, let me know if that should be qualified somehow, or go ahead and add the necessary qualifications.

The other thing is the same thing I've harped on before, which is including the incarnation as one of the essential points of belief, along with Jesus' death and resurrection. I won't go into detail here, but this is hugely crucial in Eastern Orthodoxy, and given all the debates about whether and how Jesus is God, I would think it would still be similarly crucial to other Christian groups as well.

Thanks everyone, --Wesley

Do all Christian religions agree that Jesus was "son of God", or only on him being "savior of all humanity" ? --Taw

AFAIK, they pretty well agree he was the "son of God", but they have some radically different interpretations of what that means, ranging from trinitarian second person of God (the majority position), to an Arian greatest of all creatures, to a liberal state of closeness to God that you too can achieve. -- SJK
Oh, please! Given how we've defined 'christian' (unity! unification!) I'm sure that some of these groups explicitly deny that he was the son of God, let alone the Incarnation thereof. Savior of anything in particular seems too strong, too. I've given up on this entry. --MichaelTinkler

I put the first paragraph back that Taw changed.

It was: Christianity comprises a group of religious traditions which assert that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and the messiah: the sole savior of all humanity. That is, Jesus redeemed mankind from their sins (i.e. faults, misdeeds, rebellion against God), reconciling mankind to God so that man can live eternally with God in a state of never-ending happiness.

He changed it to:

Christianity comprises a group of religious for which Jesus Christ plays a key role in believes, often as a "son of God" and a messiah: That is, one who redeemed mankind from their sins (i.e. faults, misdeeds, rebellion against God), reconciling mankind to God so that man can live eternally with God in a state of never-ending happiness.

Not a bad change in some ways, but as many discussions as here exist, I think it better to put back the way the compromise ended up...

The first sentence was changed to:

"Christianity comprises a group of religious traditions which assert that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and the messiah: the sole savior of all humanity."

Although many Christian religions believe this, it is too exclusive a definition. It skirts controversy (or seeks to co-opt it).

There is considerable and vigourous debate within the Christian community as to what constitutes authentic Christianity. Often a definition is proposed, which conveniently always includes the denomination of the proposer, to distinguish between "real" Christianity and other groups.

I do not know how many self-described Christians would dispute the definition above, but the number of various well-known groups that depart from it in one or more aspects is too large to ignore.

Let us not authenticate Christianity, but allow each Christian group to define itself. To do anything else would be to take sides.

Ed Poor

Ed, I agree there are a lot of people who have a lot of arguments about what Christian belief entails. I just thought it better to do the arguing here, and try to limit the back and forth on the actual page. I think Taw probably hadn't read through the extensive /Talk page, and thus didn't realize how a minor syntactic change (like from 'the' saviour to 'a' saviour) would be perceived by the people who had already discussed the topic here. -- BenBaker

Quite right. Whole denominations have been made on the interpretation of a single Bible verse. All attempts to create a mutually-acceptable definition of Christianity are doomed to fail. The internal divisions are manifold and passionately held -- not to say bandied about, fought over, etc. -- Ed Poor
Actually, I don't think either the page itself or this talk page is the place to engage in old debates that have long been gone over elsewhere; our job here is to fairly characterize the results of those debates. So-and-so believes this, while his opponent so-and-so believes that. --LMS

Here's a cordial invitation to Christians to help develop the stories of Christianity as well as write articles on some of the more important stories. --LMS