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An Introduction to Christianity
2008/03/03 06:43
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     Let’s talk about the story of Christianity. We may begin with events originating 3,400 years ago, and recorded in the Bible, the book Christianity is based upon. At that time, the strongest and the most advanced country in the world was the Egyptian Empire. A tribe known as the Hebrews lived within its territory. The Hebrews believe they are descendants of Abraham. They also believe the God, whom Abraham worshiped, Jehovah, is the only God. Now we use a fictitious modern analogy to describe those events.
     The strongest and the most advanced country in the world is the United States of America. The Navajos was a foreign tribe living within its territory. One day, Moses, who graduated from Yale University, and his brother Aaron went to the White House. They were elders of the Navajos. They claimed that they were messengers of God. They asked the president of the United States of America to let their tribe leave the reservation and exit the country to worship their God. They said that their God didn’t want to see them being abused by Americans any longer. Americans had forced these people to work as slaves for hundreds of years. (Of course they had not. This is just a made-up story.) But the president refused. Not only did he refuse their request, he increased the burdens of these Native Americans.
     Then Moses and Aaron performed several miracles, bringing disasters to the United States by the power of God. The first was the plague of blood. Let’s describe it Hollywood-style. Aaron stretched his staff toward the Potomac River and the water was turned into red from where Aaron pointed, to the expanse of the entire river. When looking from the top of a high mountain, the rivers and lakes of the United States became red, one by one. When looking from space, all the major lakes and rivers on the middle of the North American continent were red and red blood was diffused into the ocean at the outlets of rivers along the east and west coasts. All water in the United States was changed into blood. All fish in it died, and nobody could drink the water.
     Many other plagues followed. Moses and Aaron made frogs fill the land of America. These frogs caused great trouble, and nobody knew where they came from. They made dust change into gnats and these gnats came on humans and animals. Then they called swarms of flies to pour into the lands and buildings of America. But none of these things happened in the reservation where the Navajos were living. Finally, the president agreed to let them go and asked Moses to pray for the ceasing of plagues. Moses prayed to God and the disasters were over and everything turned back to normal. However, shortly after, the president regretted his decision and didn’t allow these Native Americans to leave.
     God then struck the livestock of the United States, so they all died. Afterward, he made boils break out on men and animals. Then he sent a hailstorm to strike the United States. It was the worst storm in all the land of America since it had become a nation. Top American scientists were unable to explain these events and confessed that they were indeed the work of God. The president’s counselors told him that America, from Massachusetts to California, was ruined by these disasters and they must let the Navajos go. As a result, the president told Moses that he had sinned against God and he would let them leave the country to worship their God. But after the disasters were over, the president broke his promise again.
     After that, locusts were brought by a wind and they ate all the crops and fruits in the United States. Then there were three days of darkness in all America; nobody could see anyone else or leave one’s place. Yet even after these events, the president refused to let the Native Americans go.
     Finally, God brought on one more plague. He would kill all firstborn in the United States of America. He instructed Moses to tell the Navajos to put the blood of lambs on their doors at night, and that God would not kill their firstborn. That night, God struck down all the firstborn in America, from the firstborn of the president, to the firstborn of the prisoner, and the firstborn of all the livestock. There was loud wailing in America, for there was not a house without someone dead. They were really scared this time. They urged the Native Americans to leave the land as soon as possible. The greatest country in the world had surrendered to the God of a tribe enslaved by it.
     Moses led the Navajos off the reservation and headed south. When they prepared to cross the Rio Grande, the president of the United States of America again changed his mind. He ordered American troops to chase and kill them all. Hundreds of tanks gathered and ran after the unarmed Navajos. But between the river and the American army, Moses raised his staff and stretched out his hand over the river. The water divided, and a lane of dry land appeared. The Native Americans crossed the river on dry land and walked into Mexico. When the American troops followed them into the river bed of the Rio Grande, the water returned, and all the tanks and soldiers were lost.
     Stories like the above are explicitly recorded in the Bible. Either the person who wrote them down was a liar or a lunatic, or these were the supernatural work of God. It is truly amazing that these stories have been kept by the Hebrews for generations, and spread all over the world through Christianity. Further, the Egyptian Empire still existed as a regional superpower for several hundred years after, and it would make the Hebrews an international joke to keep these stories in their national archives if they were not true.
     In the next decades, Moses led the Hebrews (also called Israelites or Jews) wondering in the modern Middle East area. Moses gave them a system of laws that came from God. Moses also left them with the message about how they will follow the God who performed such miracles that saved them from the slavery of the Egyptians for future generations:
     “The Lord said to me: ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.’
     “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
     In Israel, during the next one thousand years, there were people who claimed they had received the message from God. The Israelites determined if a person was or was not truly a messenger of God according to the above standard. If a person proclaimed many future things, and they came true, people respected that person. His or her words and writings were highly valued. He or she must have heard from God that he or she could correctly predict the future.
     When Moses died, Joshua took over the leadership of the Israelites. Under his command, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, conquered what is now Palestine, and settled there. They became a nation in the Middle East region, though not very powerful or influential among the nations. The only thing special of the Israelites was that they had a unique national religion. This religion required worshiping only one God, not having prostitutes in the temples, and not killing babies at the altars as sacrifices to God. It was very different from the religions of their neighbors. Still, very often, the Israelites practiced the religions of their neighbors and did the same things as they.
     Several hundred years after Moses, they established a kingdom and had kings ruling them. There was a great king called David. During his reign, Israel became strong and prosperous. His son, Solomon, succeeded the throne and the country reached its peak. But afterward, the country was divided into two and declined. The Israelites often were oppressed by neighboring countries. Many prophets asked the Israelites to be faithful to Jehovah, the God who led them out of Egypt, but seldom was their message followed. They also predicted there would one day be a king, a direct descendant of David, who would be even greater than he himself had been. He would lead the Israelites to freedom from oppression and establish an everlasting kingdom. This future king was called the Messiah.
     In their early history, the Israelites were not faithful to the laws of Moses and their God. Stronger empires continued to invade them until they were conquered as a subject country. They were even forced to move to a distant land as white Americans imposed “the trail of tears” on Native Americans. Prophets had already predicted this would happen and after seventy years, they would be allowed to return to their homeland. Events occurred as the prophets predicted, and the Israelites have rigorously kept the laws of Moses since then.
     During the time of the first century, the Roman Empire conquered most of the known world around the Mediterranean Sea, including Israel. The Israelites had eagerly expected the Messiah to come and save them from the oppression of foreign countries for many years. The Bible recorded that a person named Jesus appeared in front of the people at this time. He proclaimed a new message. He called people to repent and to love each other. He looked like a moral teacher bringing new life to the ancient laws of Moses. Many people followed him. He chose twelve men among his followers to be his closest students and called them disciples.
     The Bible also said that Jesus performed many miracles. He fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. He made the deaf hear and the blind see. He healed many sick people. He even raised some dead people to life. This part of the Bible also contains a lot of material that our scientific knowledge can’t explain.
     Furthermore, Jesus claimed that he was the son of God, the expected Messiah. This infuriated many Israelites. They didn’t believe his words and planned to kill him. With the help of one of his disciples, Judas, they successfully arrested him and handed him over to the Roman officials. Jesus was put to death by the most cruel and brutal punishment of that time, crucifixion.
     However, Jesus’ followers claimed that he was later resurrected. Actually, he predicted so before he was crucified. The followers spread their witness ever since then. Even under persecution, they told this story and its meaning bravely, not only to the Israelites, but to people of all other races. They said Jesus, the son of God who came into the world, is the reason why God made friends with Abraham, used his power to save Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, from the suppression of the Egyptians, and established the country Israel. They said Jesus’ death replaced the punishments of human beings and for all who believe in him, their sins will be forgiven and they will be able to go to heaven after death. They said Jesus brought salvation to the entire world.
     The persecution of Christians lasted for several hundred years. However, the more severe the persecution was, the more people became Christians. The perseverance of Christians for their faith at the moments of the executions moved many other unbelievers. In AD 313, Emperor Constantine was baptized, and Christianity became a legal religion. Decades later, it even became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Since, Christianity has become a world religion and rooted deeply into the culture of a large part of the world.
     The country directly responsible for crucifying Jesus and persecuting many Christians for hundreds of years was destroyed by barbarian invasions. New countries established on the ruins of the Roman Empire accepted Christianity, too. For those countries, Christianity is the dominant religion and tightly interwoven within their societies and cultures. Because of the advancement of navigation, the discovery of the new continent, the coming of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, the expansion of modern western states, and the efforts of faithful and courageous missionaries, Christianity was propagated to the entire world.

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