Understanding Christianity

Understanding Christianity

Understanding Christianity

Understanding Christianity

Synopsis

Gilleasbuig Macmillan responds to the questions likely to be asked by an interested person wishing to know how the Christian faith began, what it teaches and how its followers have tried to practice and spread their faith through the centuries. The diversity of Christianity is taken into account, notably the division between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West, the Reformation and its consequences, the flow out from Europe with empires and the development from corporate 'tribal' religion to religion as a matter of individual choice.

Excerpt

We might pause to consider the building. It may be a room with little to distinguish it from a hall used for teaching, card games or political rhetoric; or it may be one of the great buildings of the world, and unmistakably a church: Chartres Cathedral, or Lincoln, or St Mark's in Venice. It may be a white New England place of peace, purity, and piety, or a church in Switzerland with steep roof and high spire meeting the winter snow, with one of those great clock faces on the tower. It need not be ancient. You don't get ancient churches in sub-Saharan Africa, but you get full churches shaded from the African sun. All round the world these buildings stand, and most of them have been made to be different, holy places — and if they do not look holy to the eye of the stranger, the people who love them will see them as ‘the very gate of heaven’. I have heard some people say in recent years that the building doesn't matter, what matters is the people. Doubtless they realise that many people do not share their view; but I wonder if they are also missing an element in religion that is very old, very basic: the setting apart of an area to be thenceforth regarded as sacred space, either enclosed as a building, or marked off in open country or forest. If Christianity is a religion, it inevitably has elements shared with other religions. Not every ingredient in religion will take on a distinctively Christian stamp, setting it apart from the ways in which other religions meet the same need or express the same feature of life. Church buildings may become albatrosses around the collective neck of small congregations. There may be too many of them in a town. Some may be ugly, or represent attitudes to ritual no longer shared by those who gather there. None of these factors denies the basic urge to set a place apart for worship, and the understandable wish to protect and defend it thereafter.

Within a church there is often an area set apart from the bulk of the space, frequently at the eastern end of the church. The Holy Table or Altar is here, and is chiefly used for the principal liturgical act, the sacrament of bread and wine. Sometimes this area is used exclusively by the clergy and their assistants.

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