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Christianity - Family Life

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz takes a look at family life. Ever since the Gospel reports of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the theme of the Family has run in close parallel with the origins and nature of Christianity. For as long as the raising of a next generation continues to require the time-honoured procedure of a committed heterosexual couple beginning the process in an act of physical love, the traditional model of the family unit will offer a model of commitment, love and even sacrifice (e.g. of parental time, and other opportunities diverted to allow time for nurture of the child/ren).

Of course, now more than ever, other forms of family or household units are abundant as a proportion of marriages fail, and step- or half-siblings grow up together, while many people remain single; some couples remain childless by choice or through medical problems, and others again may still have the galling experience of coping with the loss of a child (at whatever age) to illness or accident.

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Meanwhile there are also various forms of formal legal union between adults of the same gender, and they and others can successfully adopt children. Christianity as a whole needs to move with the times, and to find and express characteristic and positive approaches to people in such a range of circumstances.

This quiz deals first with the traditional life-stage 'markers' within the Christian tradition, in the context of a person's faith community being a wider family under God; later on we address a small but pithy selection of personal and moral conundra that may come any Christian's way. We are conscious that the quiz may be seen and done by people of any age and faith (or none); for whom some of the issues raised may seem alien, alarming or even perverse, while others might strike as rawly personal. Please approach what follows with a suitably open mind!

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  1. It is widely believed that all Christians have their new children baptised as soon as arrangements can conveniently be made. Yet it is not at all odd that the Baptists (and some others) ~ of all people ~ do not in fact 'automatically' do this. What do they have instead?
    There will certainly also be elements of the themes of answers 1 and 3, at least. Baptism (by full immersion) then follows when the new arrival is old enough to make a personal faith decision for him- or herself.
  2. Which of the following is LEAST likely to be used, or invoked, actively as a symbol during a Christian infant's baptism/naming ceremony?
    The potential symbolism of seeds would be obvious, but as far as we know, these are not integral to any baptismal rites. The water (whether by washing, or a the simple sign of a cross on the young forehead) is probably familiar enough, but the lighted candle is often given to parents and godparents as a symbol of God's love, companionship and revelation; meanwhile, oil ('chrism': as in 'Christos', the anointed one) may also have been used.

    (Put to one side any maxims about oil and water never mixing, or the potential conjunction of oil and flames!)
  3. Assuming for a moment that an otherwise 'typical Christian baby' has been baptised at the age of a few weeks or months, and that its parents and godparents will have taken vows on its behalf ... what is most likely that young person's next formal step in the religious life, probably as they move into or through their teens?
    Preparation by a member of the clergy, then Confirmation by a bishop is the step by which the older young person will become an adult member of the faith community in their own right (able, for instance, to take communion).
  4. Despite popular belief to the contrary, a Christian wedding can be effected with very few essentials. Which of the following is NOT mandatory?
    The witnesses may also fulfil this function, though at a small private wedding there may be no 'congregation' to be either marshalled or impressed. In these enlightened days, of course, it is politically incorrect to assume answer 4, though various different Christian traditions may move further in the direction of formally approving same-sex couples during the potential currency of this quiz.
  5. Another 'elimination' question: Three of the following are generally understood by Christians to be the allowed and encouraged aims of marriage, but which of them is NOT such a principal aim?
    There is nothing along the direct lines of answer 4 in the current marriage service in most parts of the Christian church, though it is certainly implied and not discouraged.
  6. Of the following, which ONE do we NOT know from the Bible to have been true about the family status of key early figures in the Christian story?
    By the standards of His earthly day, Jesus certainly went out of his way to minister to women and welcome them into his company, but apart from named individuals such as Martha and Mary at Bethany, and Mary of Madgala, there is no definitive account of Him ever counting any women as on a complete par with the Twelve.
  7. To what extent is it true that Christians take a conservative, disapproving stance with regard to homosexuality?
    Answer 2 probably reflects the spread of views at present, though as the 21st century continues there may be drifts and developments. Within recent and present memory there have been cases of openly gay priests, and how their various churches have regarded them. Paul (in his various letters, written at a time when male homosexuality was openly fashionable in the Graeco-Roman world while frowned-upon by Jews) clearly condemns gay lifestyles while yet preaching a gospel of 'forgiveness'; there seems to be no acknowledgement back then of lesbianism, although that derives its very name from the isle of Lesbos (recently in the news for other sad reasons, as a goal for refugees) where Sappho was born around 600 years before New Testament times. Another more modern view is to rejoice in the diversity of people and in the power-for-good of 'true love', while respecting privacy for individuals' behaviour.
    It usually takes more than a couple of generations for humanity to catch up with new developments (and their implications) in sexual customs, law and technology. The pill has only been openly available for about 50 years, and 50 years ago it was still technically a crime for any two men in England to indulge in sexual activity together, even in private. Within about 15 years of the relevant law changing ~ though not necessarily as a direct result ~ the sudden arrival of AIDS certainly had an effect on perceptions and behaviour.

    Some sincere Christians would probably bewail such developments as the relative 'sexual free-for-all' and apparent decline of the traditional family unit with its values; others might look at how things stand at the moment, and rejoice that the world is becoming more tolerant. It would probably be inappropriate for us to comment further on these matters!
  8. The pill was mentioned in the debrief for question 7. Which of the following most fairly reflects the range of Christian thinking on artificial contraception?
    Answer 2 covers the most relevant ground, though answers 1 and 4 contain plenty of truth. Only very radical believers would adopt answer 3.
  9. Most Christians would affirm that life ~ any, anyone's life ~ is God-given, sacred and to be cherished. But sometimes difficult circumstances arise in which it may be tempting, even reasonable to adopt a different view.
    In answer 1, the Catholic church forbids abortion under any circumstances (even such as these) since it would constitute humans terminating a life which was still a uniquely potential-laden gift from God.

    Answer 2 would be wrong since there are certain denominations which disapprove of transfusions, believing only God can heal where He wishes to.

    Answer 3 would not be acceptable for any Christians who would regard this ~ 'mercy killing' ~ as murder nonetheless, for shortening anyone else's life.

    If in answer 4 we were perhaps thinking of the American 'Bible Belt', even in these sad circumstances forgiveness (rather than vengeance) would rightly be the order of the day.
  10. In the light of some of the later and deeper questions above, churches which ~ maybe 50 years ago ~ were reasonably full of 'nuclear families' (= married heterosexual couple + children) may now find themselves ministering to people their predecessors might have regarded as unthinkable: single parents, divorcees, children (adult children, even) of broken homes with sad and dysfunctional backgrounds; addicts, and survivors of past abuse.

    What ought a Christian response to be, to such a person arriving in a church to seek company and support?
    Answers 1 and 4 would be intrusive (however well-meant) and probably off-putting; answer 2 offers a traditional stance on repentance coming before salvation, though the Gospels and Epistles also warn us not to be judgemental. The maxim about 'hating the sin, yet loving the sinner' springs somewhat to mind, though in several of our given examples it was not necessarily today's 'drifter' who was in any way at fault.

    We know from the Gospels that Jesus Himself went out of His way to heal and comfort just such marginalised people (in His day, tax-collectors and prostitutes seem often to have been mentioned as examples): for a modern church to welcome them into His wider faith-family and extend His love to them, they need sensitively to approach such individuals in the same sort of ways as He modelled.

Author: Ian Miles

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