Symbols, Scriptures, and Rituals

Symbols

The cross , which is today one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world, was used as a Christian symbol from the earliest times. Tertullian, in his book De Corona , tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross. Although the cross was known to the early Christians, the crucifix did not appear in use until the 5th century.

Among the symbols employed by the primitive Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance. From monumental sources, such as tombs it is known that the symbolic fish was familiar to Christians from the earliest times. The fish was depicted as a Christian symbol in the first decades of the 2nd century. (43)

Scriptures

Christianity, like other religions, has adherents whose beliefs and biblical interpretations vary. Christianity regards the Biblical canon, the Old Testament and New Testament, as the inspired word of God.

The traditional view of inspiration is that God worked through human authors so that, what they produced was what God wished to communicate. Some believe that divine inspiration makes our present Bibles “inerrant.” Others claim inerrancy for the Bible in its original manuscripts, though none of those are extant. Still others maintain that only a particular translation is inerrant, such as the King James Version. Another view closely related is Biblical infallibility or Limited inerrancy, which affirms that the Bible is free of error as a guide to salvation, but may include errors on matters such as history, geography, or science.

The Books of the Bible, considered to be inspired, among Judaism, and the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches vary, thus each define the canon differently, although there is substantial overlap. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions and councils that have convened on the subject.

The Catholic and Orthodox canons, in addition to the Tanakh, also include the Deuterocanonical Books, as part of the Old Testament.

These Books appear in the Septuagint, but are regarded by Protestants to be apocryphal. However, they are considered to be important historical documents, which help to inform the understanding of words, grammar and syntax used in the historical period of their conception.

Some versions of the Bible include a separate Apocrypha section between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The New Testament, originally written in Koine Greek, contains 27 books, which are agreed upon by all churches. (43)

Eschaton

The end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world, broadly speaking is Christian eschatology — the study of the destiny of humans as it is revealed in the Bible.

The major issues in Christian eschatology are the Tribulation, death and the afterlife, the Rapture, the Second Coming of Jesus, Resurrection of the Dead, Heaven and Hell, Millennialism, the Last Judgment, the end of the world, and the New Heavens and New Earth.

Christians believe that the second coming of Christ will occur at the end of time after a period of severe persecution (theGreat Tribulation ). All who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgment. Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.

Death and Afterlife

Most Christians believe that human beings experience divine judgment and are rewarded either with eternal life or eternal damnation. This includes the general judgement at the resurrection of the dead as well as the belief (held by Roman Catholics, Orthodox and most Protestants) in a judgment particular to the individual soul upon physical death.

In Roman Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace, i.e., without any mortal sin separating them from God, but are still imperfectly purified from the effects of sin, undergo purification through the intermediate state of purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary for entrance into God’s presence. Those who have attained this goal are called saints (Latin sanctus , “holy”).

Some Christian groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists, hold to mortalism , the belief that the human soul is not naturally immortal, and is unconscious during the intermediate state between bodily death and resurrection. These Christians also hold to Annihilationism , the belief that subsequent to the final judgement, the wicked will cease to exist rather than suffer everlasting torment. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to a similar view. (43)

Rituals and Rites

Liturgical Calendar

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar. This includes holy days, such as solemnities , which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or the saints, periods of fasting such as Lent , and other pious events, such as memoria or lesser festivals commemorating saints.

Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar.

Sacraments

Images representing the seven sacraments of the Christian church: Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Eucharist, Penance, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.
Figure 7-6: The Seven Sacraments by Jobas is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0 .

In Christian belief and practice, a sacrament is a rite, instituted by Christ that mediates grace, constituting a sacred mystery. The term is derived from the Latin word sacramentum , which was used to translate the Greek word for “mystery.” Views concerning both “what rites are sacramental,” and “what it means for an act to be a sacrament” vary among Christian denominations and traditions.

The most conventional functional definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that conveys an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist (or Holy Communion), however, the majority of Christians also recognize five additional sacraments: Confirmation(Chrismation in the Orthodox tradition), Holy Orders, Confession, Anointing of the Sick , and Matrimony . Taken together, these are the Seven Sacraments , as recognized by churches in the High Church tradition—notably Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Independent Catholic, Old Catholic, most Anglicans, and some Lutherans. Most other denominations and traditions typically affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while some Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject sacramental theology. Most Protestant Christian denominations that believe these rites do not communicate grace prefer to call them ordinances.

Baptism

This is a mosaic of the Baptism of Christ in Jordan. In the center is Christ our Saviour in the river Jordan. On a rock stands John the Baptist, in his left hand is a bent rod, and his right hand holds a patera, shell; from which he pours water on the head of the Redeemer; over whom descends the dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost, with expanded wings, and emitting rays of glory and grace.
Figure 7-7: Christ Baptised in Jordan by Charles Taylor resides in the Public Domain .

Baptism is the ritual act, with the use of water, by which a person is admitted to membership of the Church. Beliefs on baptism vary among denominations.

Firstly, differences occur on whether the act has any spiritual significance . Some churches hold to the doctrine ofBaptismal Regeneration , which affirms that baptism creates or strengthens a person’s faith, and is intimately linked to salvation. This view is held by Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as well as Lutherans and Anglicans, while others simply acknowledge it as a purely symbolic act, an external public declaration of the inward change which has taken place in the person.

Secondly, there are differences of opinion on the methodology of the act . These methods being: Baptism by Immersion; if immersion is total, Baptism by Submersion; and Baptism by Affusion (pouring), and Baptism by Aspersion (sprinkling). Those who hold the first view may also adhere to the tradition of Infant Baptism.

Prayer

Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount displays a distinct lack of interest in the external aspects of prayer. A concern with the techniques of prayer is condemned as ‘pagan,’ and instead a simple trust in God’s fatherly goodness is encouraged [Mat. 6:5–15]. Elsewhere in the New Testament this same freedom of access to God is also emphasized [Phil. 4:6] and [Jam. 5:13–19]. This confident position should be understood in light of Christian belief in the unique relationship between the believer and Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In subsequent Christian traditions, certain physical gestures are emphasized, including medieval gestures, such as genuflection or making the sign of the cross. Kneeling, bowing and prostrations are often practiced in more traditional branches of Christianity. Frequently in Western Christianity the hands are placed palms together and forward as in the feudal commendation ceremony. At other times the older orant posture may be used, with palms up and elbows in.

Intercessory Prayer

Intercessory prayer is prayer offered for the benefit of other people. There are many intercessory prayers recorded in the Bible, including prayers of the Apostle Peter on behalf of sick persons [Acts 9:40] and by prophets of the Old Testament in favor of other people [1Ki 17:19–22]. In the New Testament book of James no distinction is made between the intercessory prayer offered by ordinary believers and the prominent Old Testament prophet Elijah [Jam 5:16–18]. The effectiveness of prayer in Christianity derives from the power of God rather than the status of the one praying.

The ancient church, in both Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity, developed a tradition of asking for the intercession of (deceased) saints, and this remains the practice of most Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican churches. Churches of the Protestant Reformation however rejected prayer to the saints, largely on the basis of the sole mediatorship of Christ. The reformer, Huldrych Zwingli, admitted that he had offered prayers to the saints until his reading of the Bible convinced him that this was idolatrous. (43)