Happy Easter

There are over 250 places of worship in Billings. These include a Jewish synagogue, an Orthodox Christian church, five Roman Catholic churches, and 250 Christian Protestant churches.

The original churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, laid down the basic principles of Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.: the Unity and Trinity of God, the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. We call this the Creed. By the end of the fourth century, they put together the Canon of Scripture: 27 books of the New Testament and 39 of the Old Testament. There was much written that never found its way into the Canon. John’s gospel ends with: “There were many other things that Jesus did, but if they were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written”.

As doctrine was developed over the centuries, the church founded them on Scripture and tradition. Celibacy for priests is found in the tradition of the church. Teaching on Purgatory is scriptural.

During the Crusade wars between Christians and Muslims, the soldiers of the Islamic religion were assured they would go straight to heaven if they died. The Pope granted the same privilege to Christian soldiers. This was called an indulgence.

In the 12th century, Saint Francis suggested that indulgences be granted for good works rather than for war. This got out of hand in the 16th century when a Dominical priest in Germany started granting indulgences to those who contributed money to the building of Saint Peter’s in Rome. Many were appalled at this considering that the church was selling indulgences. Martin Luther was among them.

Luther, a Catholic priest, posted a notice on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517, listing his grievances against the Catholic Church. His “Ninety-five Theses” became the incentive for the Protestant Reformation. The Pope sent him a letter which he publicly burnt.

Luther felt that doctrine should be based on Scripture alone. He had the Bible re-translated.

Other reformers, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, soon appeared after Luther. The reformers did not have a lot in common apart from protesting teachings of the Catholic church.

King Henry VIII of England had no disagreement with the doctrines of Catholicism. He wanted to marry Ann Bolyn and have a male heir to the throne. He asked the Pope to declare his marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void. The Pope refused. Henry declared himself head of the church in England. (Queen Elizabeth is presently the head of the Anglican church.)

The Catholic church did not respond until the Council of Trent in 1545 when it re-affirmed the Catholic church teachings.

There are three branches of Christianity: Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant. There are many new Christian denominations that have arisen since the Reformation. It is estimated that there are over 40, 000 Christian denominations worldwide.

Christians all over the world will celebrate Easter this weekend. There greatest feast, the Resurrection of Jesus. Saint Paul reminds us that without the Resurrection there is no Christianity.

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Elizabeth McNamer, a longtime professor of religion at Rocky Mountain College, lives in Billings.