Christianity - Culture

The origins of Christianity lie, historically, in the life and ministry of Jesus, extended through his death, resurrection and ascension. Christianity exists in a vast diversity of different styles and forms of organisation, but all are agreed that the figure of Jesus is the disclosure of God and the means of human reconciliation with him.

Throughout its history, the Christian quest to share the good news (gospel) of Christ has produced an emphasis on mission, especially in the 19th century or the “century of mission”. As a result, Christianity is found in all parts of the world and makes up more than one quarter of the world’s population- about 2.1 billion followers worldwide. In the United Kingdom 42 million see themselves as nominally Christian and there are 6 million who are actively practicing. Liturgically, Christians follow the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus throughout the year, marking particular days as festivals and celebrating also those who have been exemplary in faith and practice (saints).The practices of “prayer” (in its many forms) and “worship” are fundamental in Christian life. Vital also is the fact that Christian life should be the manifestation of a pervasive quality of love (agape).From this has arisen the recent view that orthopraxy is at least as important as orthodoxy. This has given rise to robust debates about and application of Christian theology within a diverse organisational framework. There are some fundamentalist Christians like Calvinists or the “Wee Frees” who believe that it is the Old Testament which applies to everyone. There are other groupings within the Christian family who apply their faith from mainstream to much more radical perspectives. In the mainstream tradition, one has seen the argument that human love should be transformed into tangible activities such as the founding of schools, hospitals and schemes to help the poor. More radical Christian perspectives have opened up new debates and indeed initiatives around:-

  • Ordination of women clergy
  • The acceptance of civil partnerships for gays, bisexuals and lesbians within religion ceremonial traditions hitherto devoted to heterosexuals
  • Right to life issues centred usually around abortion and euthanasia
  • Relaxation of divorce laws
  • Within these fundamentalist, mainstream and radical Christian theologies four over arching strands contain them. These are:-
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Anglicanism
  • Protestantism
  • The Orthodox Church

A profile of each of these four strands followed by common protocols for all is outlined next.

Roman Catholicism

This is characterised by its doctrinal and organisational structure. The Roman Catholic Church was first established by the Apostles who followed Christ. Catholicism, which means universal, was described as “Roman” by other Christian churches. This was partly because the Catholics adopted the organisational grid of the Roman Empire and also because Saint Peter founded the Church in Rome, where subsequently he and Saint Paul were buried.

About half the world’s Christians are Roman Catholic. The Church is led by the Pope. Roman Catholics believe that the Pope derives his authority in direct descent from Saint Peter, who Jesus appointed as leader of the Apostles.

Roman Catholics recognise the Old and New Testaments. As well as the scriptures, the Catholic Church recognises other texts that are not recognised by Protestants. These are known by Catholics as Deuterocanicals and by Protestants as the Apocrypha. The emphasis of the faith is upon prayer and seven sacraments (baptism, penance. confirmation, the Eucharist, holy orders, matrimony and the anointing of the sick)

Anglicanism

The Anglican Church is a worldwide group of independent churches under the Church of England. It was established in 1534 by King Henry V111 who took control of the Church of England away from the Roman Catholic Pope. In 1549, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer recast many Roman Catholic texts into the “Anglican Book of Common Prayer”. Today, the Anglican Church embraces a diverse range of Christian faith, from elements of Roman Catholicism to the newer Evangelical Churches. In this respect, the Anglican Church acts as a bridge between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. This has led to further divisions within the Anglican between “low” and “high” church members. High Church members generally follow the Roman Catholic and Orthodox line with the Low Church Members subscribing to Protestant practice.

In recent times the Church of England has proved to be revisionist. For example, after much debate and internal conflict amongst its members, it has admitted women to the priesthood. In some cases this has led to entire congregations defecting to the Roman Catholic Church in protest. There are currently debates about gay clergy and gay & women bishops.

Protestantism

Protestantism grew out of a movement to reform the Catholic Church. It emphasized ways in which Christians should communicate with God by reducing ritual and placing less emphasis on the role of the priest. Although started in Western Europe, this theological strand has spread to almost every nation. There are now several branches of the Protestant Church, including Lutherians, Baptists, Methodists, the Society of Friends and the Salvation Army.

The Orthodox Church

This Church has no single leader analogous to the Pope, although it is led in each country by a senior archbishop called a Patriarch. The Orthodox Church exists in Greek and Russian forms and places great emphasis on tradition. All the services are rich in presentation and involve singing and bells, with incense, candles and glowing icons. Roman Catholics and High Anglicans emulate these practices.

Protocols for these Four Christian Strands – Points of Common Emphasis and Difference

Appendix A profiles the Christian Calendar or Church Year which is followed by all four strands. Some points of divergence and convergence between the strands have been illustrated in Appendix A.

Other protocols centre around:-

Worship

God is worshipped in three forms; the Father, Son and Holy Ghost(collectively the Trinity) Although Christians have built churches since the end of the third century they can worship anywhere Services in churches, chapels and cathedrals are conducted by trained and ordained ministers or priests There are some branches of the Roman Catholic Church who still practice the liturgy of the Mass and other worship in Latin

Diet

At one time Roman Catholics would not eat meat on a Friday. More recently this restriction has been lifted. However, there are still restrictions on meat for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Some Anglicans or High Church Anglicans also follow these practices It is important to remember that some older Roman Catholics or High Anglicans may still wish to adhere strictly to these rules

Dress Code

Christians generally wear the dress that is most commonly worn in the country in which they live. Very often a Christian will wear a discreet piece of jewellery like a brooch or a device like a badge, depicting two fishes or a crucifix.

Some older female Christians will wear a hat, scarf or other head covering whilst at worship

A cross of ash, placed by the priest, will be worn on the forehead on Ash Wednesday following worship on that special day for Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox faiths.

Death

It is very important that Roman Catholics are given their last rites by a priest

Christians believe that Jesus will return to earth to rule forever and that the dead will be resurrected to join in his glory. Because of this conviction, many Christians in the past adhered to the view that they should be buried and not cremated. Nowadays, however, cremation is acceptable to Protestants, Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Again, sensitivity is needed when dealing with the older relatives of the deceased.

Appendix A – The Church Year

The Church year is divided up by various festivals and seasons. Some, like Christmas Day, happen on the same date every year, while others move around within a range of dates.

The main festival that moves is Easter, and since many other festivals have their dates fixed in relation to Easter, they move with it.

The Christian year
The Christian year is divided by festivals, some of which happen on the same date each year, while others move around the calendar, often so that they will happen on a Sunday.

All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day
All Saints' Day is a feast day celebrated on November 1. All Souls' Day, November 2, is a time to pray for departed souls.

The Feast of the Annunciation
The Christian celebration of the Annunciation on the 25th March marks the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary.

Ascension Day
Ascension Day celebrates Jesus's ascension to heaven after he was resurrected on Easter Day.

Feast of the Assumption
This Catholic feast day commemorates their belief that Mary, Jesus's mother, was taken up into heaven at the end of her life.

Candlemas
Candlemas commemorates the purification of Mary after giving birth, as well as the presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Christmas
Christmas is a holy day when Christians mark the birth of Jesus.

Corpus Christi
The festival of Corpus Christi celebrates the Eucharist as the body of Christ.

Easter
Easter is the most important Christian festival. It celebrates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, three days after he was executed.

Epiphany
The Epiphany is an ancient Christian feast day and is significant in a number of ways. It celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and also celebrates Jesus' birth.

Feast of Guardian Angels
The Feast of the Guardian Angels is a Catholic festival celebrated annually on 2 October.

Hallowe'en - All Hallows' Eve
This festival has its roots in Celtic and later Roman traditions.

Holy Week
Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday, including Maundy Thursday and ending on Holy Saturday.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception
This Catholic feast day commemorates their belief that Mary was conceived without original sin.

Lent
Lent is the period of forty days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar, traditionally a time of fasting and reflection. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and begins with Ash Wednesday.

Mothering Sunday
Nowadays, Mothering Sunday is a day when children give presents, flowers, and home-made cards to their mothers.

Pentecost
Pentecost is the festival when Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is regarded as the birthday of the Christian church.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Eight days of prayer and events every January to promote interdenominational cooperation.

Christian worship
Christian worship involves praising God in music and speech, reading scripture, prayer and several special ceremonies called sacraments.

Eucharist
The Eucharist is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples before his death. To Christians, it symbolises freedom from the slavery of sin and the promise of eternal life.

Confirmation
Confirmation is a popular practice in those churches that perform infant baptism. It enables a baptised person to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism.

Christian marriage and weddings
Christians believe that marriage is a gift from God. The Church of England and Catholic Church have slightly different wedding ceremonies and teachings about marriage.