The Christian Church has held many of the following historical beliefs for
Christians generally follow these beliefs today. Liberal Christians often deviate from
them. Not all of these beliefs are equal in importance. A subset of these
beliefs, often called key or cardinal doctrines are
Most of the many thousands of denominations, para-church groups, and other
Christian organizations publish a statement of beliefs. One web site has
collected many dozens of these statements. 1
Historical Christian beliefs:
There are literally tens of thousands of individual Christian denominations,
sects, and independent churches who hold a wide diversity of beliefs concerning
deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. The following discussion does not
necessarily match all groups.
Creation: God created the universe and the first couple, Adam and Eve. Liberal
Christians tend to interpret the beginnings of the Book of Genesis as mythical truth
rather than a precise description of real events.
The fall/rise of humanity: Adam and Eve were seduced by Satan into disobeying God's instructions
and eating forbidden fruit. That act brought sin into the world, which has been inherited
by all of humanity. Again, liberals generally regard this story as mythical and disagree
with the concept of "original sin". Some believe that the story in
Genesis actually records the rise of humanity, not its fall.
Ancient Hebrews: The ancient Hebrews were God's chosen people, to whom he
gave a complete set of laws to govern their behavior until the arrival of Jesus.
Christians have various conflicting beliefs about the status of God's covenants with the Jewish people
today. Some feel that Jews and Christians have separate paths to salvation.
Others believe in supercessionism: that when Jews rejected Jesus as the
Messiah and the Son of God, they lost their special status; God's promises were then
transferred to the Christian church who became the new chosen people.
Salvation: Almost all Christians agree that everyone
has eternal life. However, Christianity had traditionally taught that the destiny of most
people is to go to Hell for endless torture because of their sins, without any hope of mercy or an end to their
suffering. Only that very small minority who have achieved salvation
at death will live forever in heaven. Whether one has been saved is thus a topic of
great importance - more important to a conservative Christian than any other factor in
Salvation of Christians: The Christian Church has taught that salvation
involves the forgiveness by God of a person's sins. The person repents for
trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior, and becomes reconciled with God. God makes the person
into a "new creation." These traditional beliefs are held by most
conservative Christians today.
More liberal Christians place little emphasis on salvation;
they often reject the concept of Hell as a physical location and interpret it
metaphorically -- perhaps as a state of mind, or as a place where one is separated from
God, or even as a state experienced on Earth. The idea of a loving God sending people to be eternally tortured is abhorrent to
Denominations differ over criteria by which a person is
saved: some believe that faith alone is sufficient; others believe that good works are
sufficient; some believe that both are necessary. All belief systems can be supported with biblical quotations.
Salvation of non-Christians:No consensus exists over
the fate after death of three groups of people:
People in non-Christian countries who have never heard the Christian message and
therefore have never been able to either accept or reject it.
Adults who have heard the Gospel message but have rejected it for whatever reason.
Infants, small children and developmentally delayed individuals who cannot understand the Gospel or make a rational
decision to accept or reject it.
The Bible: Conservative Christians generally believe that the original
writings of the Bible, were inerrant (without error).
God inspired its authors two write text that was free of error.
Liberals tend to view the Bible as a collection of writings describing a gradual
evolution of religious thought. They see material in the Bible that reflects the
pre-scientific knowledge of its authors: the Earth as the center of the
universe, a solid firmament in the sky that separates heaven from the earth,
mental illness caused by demonic possession, a talking snake and donkey, etc.
They see laws derived from the tribal culture of the Bible's authors which are
considered profoundly immoral today. They see other
text that was incorporated from nearby Pagan cultures.
Jesus' Birth: The Christian Church has traditionally taught that Mary,
the mother of Jesus, was a virgin at the time of Jesus'
conception. Roman Catholics believe that she remained a virgin all her life and that she married but did not have any additional children. Most liberals
regard this as a myth, based upon an ancient
mistranslation of the Book of Isaiah, and on the life stories of many
god-men saviors from Pagan religions.
Atonement: This is the concept that, through Jesus'
life -- and particularly his death -- the
relationship between God and Man (which had been damaged by Adam and Eve's sin)
can now be restored through the process of salvation. Different
denominations have explained how the atonement works in different ways.
Resurrection: This is the teaching that
after Jesus' death and burial, he arose again on the third day.
Ascension: Luke's gospel describes
how Jesus bodily ascended from Bethany, into the clouds towards heaven on a
Monday circa 30 CE, three days after his execution. Acts, which was also written by
Luke, describes Jesus ascension, but places it on the Mount of Olives about 42 days after his execution. This is a curious discrepancy, since both
books were written by the same author.
Second coming: Many Christians have expected
Christ's imminent return to earth ever since the mid 1st century CE.
About one in four American adults expects him to return during their own
lifetime. A substantial number expected the second coming during the year 2000. More
Incarnation: Christians believe that God appeared on earth in human
form as the god-man Jesus who is 100% God and 100% human.
Justification: An act of God in which any person who accepts that they
have sinned and who believes in the atonement of Christ is forgiven of their sins and
brought into a close relationship with God.
the resurrection of all saved Christians who have died in the past. Both they
and currently living, saved Christians will rise towards Jesus Christ in the
sky. This is a relatively new belief within Christianity and is almost solely
believed by conservative Protestants. It is rejected as myth by liberal
Regeneration of the spirit: The belief that a new believer undergoes a
Inspiration: The belief that the
authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit so that their writings
were free of error.
Deity: God is a single deity who exists as a Trinity of
three separate persons: the Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit.
Satan is regarded by conservatives as a
created being, who was once an angel but is now an all-evil tormentor of humanity.
Liberals generally regard Satan as a symbol of evil with no existence as a
Heaven and Hell: Conservative Christians
believe that these are locations which are places of reward and punishment. Liberal
beliefs are varied.
Related essays on this web site:
Holy days: A list of seasonal days of
celebration and remembrance.