Defining the world ‘religion’ is not an easy process, fraught with difficulties. Throughout the ages, many attempts have been made. Often time’s people tend to focus on a very narrow definition that matches the person’s own beliefs but not others. One of the reasons it’s notoriously difficult to define because it crosses so many different boundaries in human experience.According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, religion could be identified as ‘a set of ideas concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs’ . Some see religion as a belief, while some understand it as the interaction of belief, behavior and belonging.
In other words, what makes religion religion is that it is something people do together.Private beliefs and practices can be referred to as spirituality, but religion is usually social. This project attempts to describe Christian Baptist religion, its main beliefs, values and traditions as a part of an urban lifestyle. ‘Baptists are a group of Christian denominations and churches who subscribe to a theology of believer’s baptism as opposed to infant baptism, salvation through faith alone, Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice , and the autonomy of the local church’ .Salvation through faith alone is a principle that distinguishes Christian Baptists from other Christian denominations. It states that God’s forgiveness for sinners is granted through faith alone, to the exclusion of all individual efforts or works. Scripture alone is a belief that the Bible is the only reliable authority for Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and eternal life.
I grew up in a Christian household and consider myself Catholic even though I do not attend church regularly.As I moved to the United States from Europe around seven years ago, I was forced to work on several days including Sundays which didn’t make it easy for me to attend church. Before migrating, I never used to pray at home and so my spiritual life somewhat got off track when I stopped attending church. I became interested specifically in this religion, because of my close friend Jonathan (who I’m going to refer to as JT throughout this paper). JT, a person I can always rely on, is certainly a believer and God plays a huge role in his life.JT, a Baruch student in his twenties, attends a Baptist church regularly and often mentions God in our everyday conversations. He would sometimes justify certain events by saying it was meant to be or that God wants it that way and there’s nothing us humans can do about it.
It also appeared fascinating to me how some of us (me for instance) could go through our lives without any serious need to feel connected to ‘something greater’, and simultaneously individuals like my friend JT can’t even think of living their lives without daily prayers and conversations with God or reading the Bible.I also thought it’d be exciting to learn more about Christian Baptist beliefs and be able to compare them to Catholicism since I was raised in such household. Interestingly enough, over ninety five percent of the Polish population is Catholic. Since I was never really exposed to any other types of religion I figured it’d be a great and enlightening experience. Religion could be considered a cultural, social and historical concept, concept sociologists would observe or analyze. Sociology is a study of people, culture and different aspects of human life.In other words it is a study of society.
Today’s Woodside Baptist Community Church located in Queens, NY began as a combined effort of only six men from several churches of different denominations around the 1870’s. They were concerned that there was little gospel witness in the area. In 1880 they began a “Sabbath School which developed into a church over the years. When the train was built on Roosevelt Avenue, the noise was almost unbearable so in the early 1920’s a new location was sought out. A vacant, wet piece of land was found on 58th Street, and the new church was built.The church rectory was built about forty years later”. It is an independent Baptist church.
This means that, acknowledging God as the creator, it has a congregational form of government; each member has a say and a vote. It’s a church of approximately fifty members, with around 130 different people attending on a typical Sunday according to Pastor Randall Rose. The mission of the church is ‘to grow in the Grace of Jesus Christ, and to share the Gospel with the neighborhood, the City of New York, and the whole world’.The main believe is that there is one God who exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and died in our place as a sacrifice for the sins of all people. He then was buried, arose from the grave, and rose up into Heaven what is celebrated by Christians all over the world during Easter. My friend JT seemed like an obvious candidate for someone who could help me understand another religion.
Any previous knowledge I had on the subject was mainly due to the fact that he’s my good friend, and he’s talked to me about his beliefs before. JT believes the main challenge of living in a city is adjusting to the economic living conditions. Products necessary to survive are costly here and it’s hard to get a job on occasions and to afford to live. Assimilating to the New York City culture could be a problem as well, one of the reasons being the attitude of the people that reside here; they are usually pushy, demanding, incredibly independent and blunt.Despite the disadvantages and challenges mentioned above JT said he could not see himself living anywhere else. His dad is the reason why he lives here in NYC. His father was a diplomat who worked for the United Nations.
He gained diplomatic immunity and brought Jonathan’s mother to the States from Indonesia. His father passed away from pancreatic cancer a year ago. JT was born and raised in a Christian-Protestant home. His church’s main belief is that God created our world and that Jesus died on the cross to save our sins. He also accepts the fact that everything happens as a part of God’s plan. There’s a reason why devastating events happen in our personal lives; when my father passed away I believed God took his soul away at that certain point of his life so that he can live a happier life in heaven without physically and emotionally suffering here on Earth’. Even though it only happened over a year ago he seems very at peace with the whole situation.
Through his own theodicy he justifies God’s actions and praises his goodness even if it meant dealing with being separated from the person he loved the most – his dad.Growing up, his family would attend church service every Sunday morning as well as prayer and fellowship gatherings at his family houses. Just when he was a child he was taught by his parents, aunts and uncles to believe that God exists and how through salvation and faith the souls of those who believe will enter heaven in the afterlife. JT’s faith wasn’t always as strong as it is today: ‘I started to believe in God in my early teenage years and developed some strong feelings towards God as a young adult; as a toddler I believed because I belonged but through time and many years of praising the Lord I now belong to my religion because I elieve’. JT believes that by following the path of Jesus he will earn himself a right to be blessed.It reflects in his everyday behavior because as he says, he wants to ‘live a blessed life’. My informant doesn’t feel the world is becoming more secular.
He rather feels that ‘throughout the world of current events, there are tragic disasters, wars and many diseases that need to be fought. Therefore, many of those who are impoverished or hopeless attempt to find some type of light in a religion to shine upon their lives. The recent events in Haiti could be an example of why more people turn to God for help or guidance. Pastor Randall Rose, a middle aged man with glasses and a bright smile on his face, was a very helpful link in understanding the history of Christian Baptists as well as the reasons why some of their beliefs differ from those of other denominations of Christianity or other faiths. One characteristic that distinguishes Baptists is the belief in the adult baptism of believers.According to Pastor Rose ‘Baptists claim a personal faith in Christ for salvation, and reject the baptism of infants. ’ It is common to believe that only adults or those old enough to comprehend trusting in Christ should be baptized.
Some time during the middle ages, biblical scholars became convinced that infant baptism was unscriptural. Pastor Rose supports this theory: ‘the Bible does not mention and there is no record of any babies or even small children being baptized’.As a result of their ‘discovery’ those men who studied the bible began to re-baptize each other. Their explanation was that even though they were baptized as infants, they weren’t able to understand and therefore believe in Jesus Christ. ‘During the middle ages the act of infant baptism was practiced all throughout Europe and in some places it was practically considered to be a part of the rite of citizenship. ’ Consequently those rejecting infant baptism were often accused of disloyalty towards the government.Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to witness the act of baptism during any of my three visits to the Woodside Community Baptist Church.
Sarah Witthauer, one of the members who also teaches Sunday school at the church, helped me picture and understand the act of baptism by immersion in water. She was sixteen when she received baptism and admitted that ‘it had a profound effect on the rest of her life’. The whole process takes only about two minutes but according to Sarah ‘it was an extremely intense experience’.During her baptism she professed her belief and trust in one God, renounced evil and promised to lead a new life seeking to put God first in all things. Sarah, who is now twenty one years old, admitted that she ever since she was baptized she became ‘even more religious and feels as if her bond with God became stronger. ’ Having attended both a Catholic Mass and a Baptist church service I have realized there are some striking differences between them. What I noticed right away upon entering the Woodside Community Baptist church was the level of decoration in the sanctuary.
From my personal experience I could say all the Catholic churches I have been to are more elaborate, often equipped with paintings, stained glass windows and statues of saints. The only decorations I noticed in the Baptist church I visited were an American flag and flowers in various places around the church. Catholics believe in worshipping icons in the church. Baptists on the other hand believe that ‘all such religious icons are idolatrous’ and therefore reject their use both as decorations and objects of worship. Another one of the more obvious disparities is the communion.Baptists, as I read in a New York Times article, ‘rarely take communion, generally only on special occasions such as Christmas or Easter. ’ The Catholic Church however; usually offers communion at every mass.
The length of the religious services also differs for Baptists and Catholics. The services I attended at my friend’s church in Woodside were all over an hour and a half long while I have never been to a Catholic mass longer than one hour with the exception of holidays such as Easter or Christmas. Significant differences can be found in the beliefs of both religions.The Catholic Church emphasizes the salvation through the use of sacraments such as infant baptism, communion etc. While they believe that by participating in those sacraments they can achieve salvation, Baptists recognize salvation as reachable only through faith in Christ. While both religions recognize trinity as one God who exists in three persons (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) Baptists distinguish only one type of sin which is any disobedience to God’s commands. Catholics distinguish sins to be mortal (causes spiritual death) and venial (less serious sin).
My friend JT informed me that he only prays to God and in the bible there are no examples of prayers to anyone other than God. I know from experience that Catholics pray to not only God and Mary but also numerous saints. Studying religion as a part of sociology really opened up my eyes to some things I was never aware of. As a study of humans and societies all over the globe, sociology helps to show how differentiated of a place Earth really is. New York City is by many considered one of the most unique and diverse ethnically metropolises in the world.So many religions could be found here, one just has to be eager to find a suitable one. It is easy for us humans to comprehend the things common for all cultures, the universals, but through sociology we become able to acquire cultural relativity and comprehend other cultures or religions better.
It is important to be aware of your surroundings, especially in New York City where one has almost an infinite number of choices when it comes to believing in the cause, nature and purpose of the universe.
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