There are certain basic terms that are used in all religions, but have a specific meaning within Christianity. Today we will look at an overview of these terms:
- Founder–we use this term in religion for the one who is the channel, or the agent, of revelation, and is often the organizer of the way of life. We will see that Jesus is oddly both the founder, and not the founder, of Christianity.
- Community–the body of people whose life is organized around the experiences or the revelation of the founder. In Christianity, the term used for this community is “church.” In Greek, “ekklesia” means, first of all, not a building, but a gathering, an assembly of people. So the community is the group that is gathered by this experience.
- Scripture or sacred texts–not all religions actually have sacred texts, but Christianity has a very restricted set of sacred texts. They consist of TaNaK aka The Hebrew Scriptures, which is what Christians call The Old Testament. And the 27 writings known as The New Testament. Scripture consists of those writings that are regarded as normative for the experiences and convictions of the religious tradition.
- Myth–as used by students of religion, does not mean falsehood as opposed to history. It does not mean fiction. But it means, rather, a story which tries to communicate truths that history cannot communicate. Often, myth has to do with how God is at work among humans.
- Doctrine–the word means “teaching.” It is the organized and normative form of teaching that guides people in their religion. Many religions have very little doctrine, but Christianity has a quite extensive and complex body of doctrine. This is because belief, right thinking, orthodoxy (Greek for “right opinion”) has always been very important. It is formulated in the Creed, which comes from the Latin “credo”-“I believe,” and the Creed is the formulation of Christian doctrine to which all Christians subscribe.
- Ritual–as used by religionists, it refers to the repeated communal actions (even when done by individuals) that help demarcate sacred time and sacred space. Sacred time and sacred space are the places of power within a tradition. The word “ritual” can also be called “worship or “liturgy.” In Christianity, the main forms of ritual are baptism (initiation) and eucharist (common meal). Depending on which flavor of Christianity one subscribes to, there can of course be many other rituals.
- Morality–This is the code of behavior that is thought to follow from the religious experiences and convictions of adherents. Remember Wach’s definition of religious experience from yesterday? – it issues appropriate action. One appropriate action is to organize sacred time and sacred space. “Let’s gather around this power.” Another appropriate action is behavior. “How do we act in the rest of our life because of these experiences and convictions?” In some traditions, this is very straightforward and codified into law, such as in Judaism and Islam. In Christianity, morality is a most complex and disputed issue, which we shall see in a later lesson.
- Mysticism–refers specifically to the means by which adherents of a religion seek a direct experience of the Divine, and more broadly to the practices of prayer and meditation by which that direct access may be achieved. Notice the previous: community, scripture, and ritual are mediations-structures through which the power of religious experience can be channeled to adherents. Mysticism is fascinating because it is the attempt through prayer and meditation to bypass those means of mediation. It is individual in character rather than group in character. It always seeks direct access to ultimate power rather than mediated access to ultimate power. Therefore, it is an extraordinarily enlivening feature of religions, but it can also be subversive within religious traditions.
Tomorrow we will begin looking at the birth and expansion of Christianity.