I made mention in my last blog entry that I woud devote this entry to answering the last batch of questions a student of mine sent me during the week. So no dilly-dallying; let's get to the questions and answers (the second batch of questions will be answered in the coming days)!
1.) What denominations believe in Jesus? How is he viewed?
At last count, and according to the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, 2001), there were some 30 thousand Christian denominations world-wide. Yes, 30 thousand! Now, that's a large amount of groups of people that claim to believe in Jesus. Not all are the same, obviously, but to be classified as a true Christian group, there are some fundamental beliefs they must have concerning Jesus:
- that Jesus is God incarnate (God in the flesh, John 1:1-5) and that he is fully human and fully divine;
- that Jesus was sent by God to save us from our sins (John 3:16);
- that Jesus, God the Son, is one person of the Holy Trinity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14);
- that Jesus overcame death, the power of sin, by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday after being crucified on Good Friday on Mt. Calvary (Matthew 28:6);
- that Jesus will come again at the final judgement (Acts 1:11)
These are a few basic Christian beliefs pertaining to Jesus, but it's important to note that while they are few, if a "Christian" does not subscribe to any of these beliefs then they cannot be Christian by definition.
2.) What is heaven, purgatory and hell? What descriptions are given of them in the Bible?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Heaven like this (relevant scripture references provided):
1023 Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face. (1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 13:12, Revelation 22:4)
1025 For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.
1027 This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)
1029 In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God's will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him "they shall reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 22:5, Matthew 25:21,23)
Purgatory is described this way:
1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (1 Corinthians 3:15, 1 Peter 1:7, Matthew 12:31)
Hell (where we don't want to end up!) is described in this manner:
1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!" (Matthew 5:22,29; 10:28; 13:42,50; Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 13:41-42; Matthew 25:41)
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9):
Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.
Further reading: http://www.infpage.com/concordance/lasthings.htm (Catholic Doctrinal Concordance)
3.) What roles do the saints play within the Catholic Church?
The saints are presented to believers as role models whose lives are worthy to be imitated.
"... so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises." - Hebrews 6:12
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us" - Hebrews 12:1
"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." - 1 Corinthians 11:1
"Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us." - Phillipians 3:17
For when we look at the lives of those who have faithfully followed Christ, we are inspired with a new reason for seeking the city which is to come (Heb 13:14; 11:10). At the same time we are shown a most safe path by which ... we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is holiness. In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successfully images of Christ (2 Cor 3:18), God vividly manifests to men his presence and his face. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn, surrounded as we are by so many witnesses (Heb 12:1), and having such an argument for the truth of the gospel. - Council of Vatican II, On the Church, No. 50
Part II coming soon.