Religion in the Community and the Family

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The New Covenant

  • In the Old Testament the Israelites are portrayed as God’s chosen people.
  • God had made a covenant with his people through Abraham.
  • A covenant is an agreement – the agreement that God made was ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’
  • God deepened the covenant by giving the Law to Moses.
  • The New Testament continues theme of covenant in which it is deepened even further by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • The Christian church sees itself as part of that new covenant God has now made, not just with a small group of people, but with the whole of humanity.
  • The Christian church is a community of believers.

The Early Church

  • Throughout history, Christians have been inspired to practically live out Jesus’ teaching of loving God and neighbour (the Two Greatest Commandments)
  • In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that the first Christian community sold everything they had and gave to anyone who was in need.
  • The early church appointed seven deacons, including Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to supervise the distributions of food to widows.

The Early Christian Monasteries

  • After the edict of Milan in 321 AD Christians were no longer persecuted. Christianity became ‘mainstream’
  • Some people thought that Christianity had abandoned its basic principles and ‘sold out’ to the world.
  • As a result some Christians went out into the desert to live a simple life as hermits, reflecting on the gospel.
  • Some lived together and formed the earliest example of Christian monasteries.
  • St Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy c.480 AD.
  • He was at first a hermit but eventually formed a religious community on Mounte Cassino, Naples.
  • He remained abbot until his death c.547 AD.
  • Christain monks and nuns still follow his rules which balances a life of prayer, study and manual work.

Some Roman Catholic Religious Orders

  • Benedictines – founded in the 6th cent. Benedict’s rule formed the bases for many subsequent religious orders.
  • Cistercian – founded in 1098, sometimes called White monks, influenced farming in Europe.
  • Augustinians – follow the rule of Augustine of Hippo. Renowned for their study of theology. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk.
  • Carmelites – founded in 1155 on Mount Carmel.
  • Dominicans – founded in the 12th cent. as a teaching order, sometimes called the Black Friars. Most famous Dominican was St Thomas Aquinas who’s theology was very influential in the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Franciscans – founded in the 13th cent. by St Francis of Assisi. Used to wear grey robes so they were called Grey Friars, today they are recognised by their brown robes.
  • Jesuits – also known as the Society of Jesus, founded by St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), known for their missionary and charitable works especially in the area of education.
  • Trappist – founded by Armand de Rance (1626-1700) at the Cistercian Abbey of La Trappe, France. Trappists observe absolute silence.

Religious Orders and Protestantism

Although there are some Anglican (Church of England) religious orders the majority of Protestants do not have religious orders. Some Protestants are suspicious of religious orders which have monks or nuns for the following reasons:
  • During the Protestant Reformation organised religion and religious orders had become corrupt.
  • Before the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther has been an Augustinian monk.
  • Some Protestants might think that religious orders are elitist. They feel it is important to emphasise the equality of believers.
  • Some believe that Christians should be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5) and therefore they should be living fully in the real world.

Evangelical Counsels

Members of all religious orders take three vows known as the three Evangelical Counsels – evangelical because the religious that take them believe that they help them spread the Gospel by living them out:
  • Poverty – all possessions are held in common among members of the community
  • Obedience – the individual promises to obey the head of the order.
  • Chastity – all members of the community promise not to marry and refrain from all sexual activity.

Types of Religious Orders

Religious Orders fall into two categories:
  • Apostolic – meaning they go out into the local community e.g. teaching, social work, nursing…etc
  • Contemplative – meaning they spend most of their time in prayer and meditation

Work of Bishops, Priest and Deacons

Bishops – symbols of a bishop’s authority are his Mitre (hat) and Crosier (staff – like a shepherd’s crook). A bishop is responsible for a diocese. He is specifically responsible for confirmations and ordinations of new priests. A bishop is usually based at the Cathedral. The word cathedral comes from a Greek word meaning ‘chair’ – i.e. the bishop’s seat or throne.

Priest – a priest is usually responsible for a parish. The main role of a priest is to administer the sacraments. Much of a priest’s time may be taken up with parish work such as visiting the sick either at home or in hospital, caring for the bereaved and conducting funeral services.

Deacon – the main function of a deacon is to assist the priest. Deacons have limited authority (i.e. they cannot celebrate Holy Communion). They can baptize, conduct wedding ceremonies, and take funerals (Hatch, Batch and Dispatch).


Married and Women Priests

Orthodox priests usually get married before they are ordained to the priesthood. Roman Catholic priest cannot be married and remain celebate. Priests and ministers of other denominations are free to marry.
In 1992 the Church of England allowed women to be ordained to the priesthood. Many married Anglican vicars opposed the ordination of women and left Church of England and converted to the Roman Catholic Church, where they were eventually allowed to be ordained.
The many of protestant denominations emphasis the priesthood of all believers and therefore allow both married men and women to take a full and active part in the ministry of the Church.


Christian Charity

  • The word charity comes from the Latin word ‘caritas’ which is used to translate the Greek word ‘agape’ meaning a selfless or divine love.
  • Love of neighbour (Lev 19:18) is the second of the two greatest commandments.
  • St James in his epistle taught that faith without works was dead (James 2:14-17).
There are many Christian organizations which try and put into practice the principles of Christian charity.

CAFOD is the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development founded in 1962. It is the official overseas development and relief agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. It promotes long-term development, helping people in need to bring about change for themselves through development and relief work.

Tearfund is a UK relief and development charity which works with local churches to work with people in poverty. It funds and enables partner organisations around the world who work through and with local churches to bring justice and transform lives - overcoming global poverty.



  • Along with confirmation, baptism is the sacrament of initiation into Christianity.
  • There is much debate in Christianity over infant and believers baptism.
  • Infant baptism is practiced in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.
  • Believers baptism is practiced in mainly evangelical and Baptist churches within Protestantism.

The Marriage Ceremony

The only necessary items for a marriage ceremony are:
  • A bride and groom who make certain legal statements
  • Witnesses
  • Someone who is authorised to conduct the wedding
Christians believe that marriage is the proper relationship in which to:
  • have sexual intercourse
  • raise children
  • give mutual support
Jesus taught that marriage was insoluble, “What God has joined together let no man put asunder”. The Catholic Church does not allow divorce. Couples may apply for an Annulment where it has to be proved that the marriage was fundamentally flawed e.g. not consummated, immaturity, mental illness…etc.


The Role of the Family

  • Christians believe that the family is the essential building block upon which society is built.
  • The fifth of the Ten Commandment states, “Honour your father and mother”

Death, Funerals and Life After Death

Christians believe in life after death. Eternal life begins now in this life. The Creeds declare that Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, their bodies will rise on the last day, the Day of Judgement.
Christian funeral rites reflect this belief in life after death. Some of the symbols used are reminders of the deceased baptism:
  • Coffin covered in a white pall
  • Bible placed on the coffin
  • Pascal candle placed by the coffin
  • Coffin may be incensed
  • Coffin may be blessed with holy water
Traditionally Christians have buried their dead although cremation is becoming more popular.


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