Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as depicted in the New Testament. Most Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, and they see the New Testament as the record of the Gospel that was revealed by Jesus. With one estimate implying 2.1 billion adherents, or approximately 33% of the world's population in 2007, Christianity is the world's largest religion. It is the predominant religion in Europe, the Americas, Southern Africa, the Philippines and Oceania. It is also growing rapidly in Asia, particularly in China and South Korea, Africa and Middle East.
Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism, and includes the Hebrew Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) as well as the New Testament as its canonized scriptures. Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion.
Although Christianity has always had a significant diversity of belief on bordering issues, most Christians share a common set of doctrines that they hold as essential to their faith, which include:Jesus The Christ
As indicated by the name "Christianity", the focus of a Christian's life is a firm belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah or Christ. The title "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word (māšiáħ) meaning anointed one. The Greek translation (Christos) is the source of the English word Christ.
Christians believe that, as the Messiah, Jesus was anointed as ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfilment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.
While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, Christians generally believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead", he ascended to heaven, to the "right hand of God",and he will return again to fulfil the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and establishment of the physical Kingdom of God.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded there in comparison to his adulthood, especially the week before his death. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.
Christians consider the resurrection of Jesus to be the cornerstone of their faith and the most important event in human history.
According to the Gospels, Jesus and his followers went to Jerusalem the week of the Passover where they were eagerly greeted by a crowd. In Jerusalem, Jesus drove money changers from the Temple, and predicted its destruction- heightening conflict with the Jewish authorities who were plotting his death.
After sharing his last meal with his disciples, Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane where he was betrayed by his disciple Judas Iscariot and arrested by the temple guard on orders from the Sanhedrin and the high priest Caiaphas. Jesus was convicted by the Sanhedrin of blasphemy and transferred to the Roman governor Pilate, who was forced, by the close to rioting crowds, to have crucified for "inciting rebellion". Jesus died by late afternoon and was entombed.
Christians believe that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, that Jesus appeared to his apostles and other disciples, commissioned his disciples to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son (Jesus) and of the Holy Spirit." and then ascended to heaven. Christians also believe that God the Father sent the Holy Spirit (or Paraclete) to the disciples. Many modern writers such as members of the Jesus Seminar and other Biblical scholars such as Michael Ramsey (a former Archbishop of Canterbury) have argued that the historical Jesus never claimed to be divine. John Hick observes that it is generally agreed among scholars today that Jesus did not claim to be God. Many also reject the historicity of the empty tomb (and thus a bodily resurrection) and many other events narrated in the gospels. They assert that Gospel accounts describing these things are probably literary fabrications. However, many other scholars and historians have maintained that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are, in fact, historically reliable. For example, the late scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon, referring to the New Testament canon, asserted that:
"The interval then between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Sciptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established."
The purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection is described in various doctrines of atonement. Some see Jesus as a Sacrifice (substitutionary atonement) made to take away the sin of the world in a manner similar to Old Testament sacrifices. Others see Jesus' dying and suffering on the cross as a sign and demonstration from God the Father that His Son was willing to endure the shame and suffering of the cross because of his agape (parental, self-sacrificing) love for humanity. In other Scriptures which record Jesus' death and resurrection, The Gospel According to St. John compares the crucifixion of Jesus to the lifting up of the Nehushtan (brass serpent) saying that "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Christians believe salvation is a gift by means of the unmerited grace of God, a gift from a loving heavenly Father who sent His only begotten Son Jesus to be their savior. Christians believe that, through faith in Jesus, one can be saved from sin and eternal death. The crucifixion of Jesus is explained as an atoning sacrifice, which, in the words of the Gospel of John, "takes away the sins of the world". One's reception of salvation is related to justification.
The operation and effects of grace are understood differently by different traditions. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach the necessity of the free will to cooperate with grace. Reformed theology places distinctive emphasis on grace by teaching that mankind is completely incapable of self-redemption, but the grace of God overcomes even the unwilling heart
Most Christians believe that God is spirit , an uncreated, omnipotent, and eternal being, the creator and sustainer of all things, who works the redemption of the world through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Against this background, belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is expressed as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which describes the single Divine substance existing as three distinct and inseparable persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ the eternal Word), and the Holy Spirit. According to this doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; rather, each person is considered to be fully God. The distinction lies in their relations, the Father being unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding."Begotten", in these formulae, refers to the idea that Jesus was uncreated and "eternally begotten" of the Father.
Christians of Reformed theology also conceive salvation to be one work of the triune God in which "the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics" with the agency of the Holy Spirit as an essential element."
Trinitarian Christians trace the orthodox formula of the Trinity — The Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost — back to the resurrected Jesus himself who spoke these words, and which words were subsequently recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, and are commonly referred to as the Great Commission.
Most Christians believe the Holy Spirit inspired all Scripture, and that His active participation in a believer's life (even to the extent of "indwelling" within the believer), joining the believer's free actions with His own, is essential to living a Spirit-filled Christian life.In Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican theology, this indwelling is received through the sacrament called Confirmation or, in the East, Chrismation. Most Protestant traditions teach that the gift of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by baptism; however some (Baptists and comparable groups) do not attribute any sacramental significance to baptism, but believe that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment of salvation. Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestants believe the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience, separate from other experiences such as conversion or water baptism, and many Pentecostals believe it will always—or at least usually—be evident through glossolalia (speaking in tongues).
In antiquity, and again following the Reformation, several sects advocated views contrary to the Trinity. These views were rejected by many bishops such as Irenaeus and subsequently by the Ecumenical Councils. During the Reformation (though most Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants accepted the value of many of the Councils) some groups rejected these councils as spiritually tainted. Clemens Ziegler, Casper Schwenckfeld, and Melchior Hoffman, advanced the view that Christ was only divine and not human. Michael Servetus denied the divinity of Christ, as did others who were tried at Augsburg in 1527.
Modalists, such as Oneness Pentecostals, regard God as a single person, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considered modes or roles by which the unipersonal God expresses himself.
Latter-day Saints (commonly called Mormons) accept the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but deny that they are the same being. Rather, they believe them to be separate beings united perfectly in will and purpose.They believe that the Father, like the Son, has a glorified physical body.
Present day groups who do not consider Jesus to be God include: Unitarians, descendants of Reformation era Socinians, Christadelphians,and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Muslims believe that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is incompatible with monotheism, and they reject the Christian teaching that Jesus is the Son of God, though they affirm the virgin birth and view him as a prophet preceding Muhammad.The Qur'an also uses the title "Messiah", though with a different meaning.Muslims also dispute the historical occurrence of the crucifixion of Jesus (believing that while a crucifixion occurred, it was not of Jesus).
Christianity regards the Holy Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts (the Old Testament and the New Testament) as authoritative: written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the inerrant Word of God. Protestants believe that the Holy Scriptures contain all revealed truth necessary for salvation.
The Old Testament contains the entire Jewish Tanakh, though in the Christian canon, the books are ordered differently, and some books of the Tanakh are divided into several books by the Christian canon. While these books are part of the Christian canon, scholars of Judaism generally teach that Christians misinterpret passages from the Old Testament, or Tanakh. The Catholic and Orthodox canons include the Hebrew Jewish canon and other books which Catholics call Deuterocanonical, while Protestants consider them Apocrypha.
The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), which recount the life and teachings of Jesus. The first three are often called synoptic because of the amount of material they share. The remainder of the New Testament consists of:
a sequel to Luke's Gospel which describes the very early history of the Church (the Acts of the Apostles), a collection of letters from early Christian leaders to congregations or individuals, (the Pauline and General epistles), and the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.
Campaigning to be a restoration of the Christian church, denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement (commonly called Mormons) are distinct from other forms of Christianity in that they consider the Book of Mormon holy scripture and comparable to the Bible. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also considers the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price scriptural. These four books are collectively called the Standard Works of the church, in addition to the Bible.
Though Christians largely agree on the content of the Bible, there is significant divergence in its interpretation, or exegesis. In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandrine interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while Antiochene interpretation adhered to the literal sense, holding that other meanings (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning.
Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The literal sense is "the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation." The allegorical sense includes typology, for example the parting of the Red Sea is seen as a "type" of or sign of baptism; the moral sense contains ethical teaching; the anagogical sense includes eschatology and applies to eternity and the consummation of the world. Catholic theology also adds other rules of interpretation which include:
the injunction that all other senses of sacred scripture are based on the literal,
that the historicity of the Gospels must be absolutely and constantly held,
that scripture must be read within the "living Tradition of the whole Church",and that
"the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome."
Many Protestants stress the literal sense or historical-grammatical method, even to the extent of rejecting other senses altogether. Other Protestant interpreters make use of typology. Protestants characteristically believe that ordinary believers may reach an adequate understanding of Scripture because Scripture itself is clear (or "perspicuous"), because of the help of the Holy Spirit, or both. Martin Luther believed that without God's help Scripture would be "enveloped in darkness", He advocated "one definite and simple understanding of Scripture."And John Calvin wrote, "all who refuse not to follow the Holy Spirit as their guide, find in the Scripture a clear light." The Second Helvetic Confession said, "we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages)." The writings of the Church Fathers, and decisions of Ecumenical Councils, though "not despise[d]", were not authoritative and could be rejected.
Creeds, or concise doctrinal statements, began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. The earliest creeds still in common use are the Apostles' Creed and Paul's creed of 1 Cor 15:1-9.
The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451,(though not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox Churches) taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.
The Athanasian Creed (English translations), received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons not dividing the Substance."
Most Protestants accept the Creeds. Some Protestant traditions believe Trinitarian doctrine without making use of the Creeds themselves,while other Protestants, like the Restoration Movement, oppose the use of creeds.
Afterlife and Eschaton
Most Christians believe that upon bodily death the soul experiences the particular judgment and is either rewarded with eternal heaven or condemned to an eternal hell. The elect are called "saints" (Latin sanctus: "holy") and the process of being made holy is called sanctification. In Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace but with either unforgiven venial sins or incomplete penance, undergo purification in purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary for entrance into heaven.
At the last coming of Christ, the eschaton or end of time, all who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgement, whereupon Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.
Some groups do not distinguish a particular judgment from the general judgment at the end of time, teaching instead that souls remain in stasis until this time (see Soul sleep). These groups, and others that do not believe in the intercession of saints, generally do not employ the word "saint" to describe those in heaven. Universalists hold that eventually all will experience salvation, thereby rejecting the concept of an eternal hell for those who are not saved.
Worship and practices
Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant. His famous Sermon on the Mount is considered by many Christian scholars to be the antitype of the proclamation of the Old Covenant by Moses from Mount Sinai.
Christians believe that all people should strive to follow Christ "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ" in their everyday actions. For many, this includes obedience to the Ten Commandments. Jesus taught that the greatest commandments were to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength", and to "love your neighbor as yourself." This love includes such injunctions as "feed the hungry" and "shelter the homeless", and applies to friend and enemy alike. The relationship between charity and religious practice is sometimes taken for granted today as Martin Goodman has observed: "charity in the Jewish and Christian sense was unknown to the pagan world." Other Christian practices include acts of piety such as prayer and Bible reading. Christianity teaches that one can overcome sin only through divine grace: moral and spiritual progress can occur only with God's help through the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer. It also teaches that, by believing in Christ, and sharing in Christ's life, death, and resurrection, God's children become dead to sin and are resurrected to a new life with Him.
Christian Love (Agape)
In addition, most Christians believe that the holy scriptures teach them to live their Christian lives within the boundaries of love, for, as it is written, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
'Άgapē' (IPA: [ɑˈgɑ.pε] or IPA: [ˈɑgɑˌpε]) (Gk. άγάπη [aˈɣa.pi]), is one of several Greek words translated into English as love, generally, but not always, because 'agapē' also means: "from 25; love, i.e. affection or benevolence; spec. (plur.) a love-feast: - (feast of) charity ([-ably]), dear, love.
Saint Paul, writing (as most Christians believe) by inspiration of God, used the word 'agapē' in as follows: 'agapē' suffereth long, and is kind; 'agapē' envieth not; 'agapē' vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.'Άgapē' never faileth.
Agapē' has been used in different ways by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including Biblical authors. Many have supposed that 'agapē' represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors, used 'agapē' to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia — an affection that could denote either brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection, and eros, an affection of a sexual nature, usually between man and woman. The word agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing toward God and among one another. Άgapē has been expounded upon by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being." Άgapē received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted "Christian" love or "charity"or even God himself [Theos ein agape, "... for God is Love.". Various senses of agapē are used throughout the New Testament, some expanding the meanings used in ancient texts, and rendered as: brotherly love, love of one's spouse or children, and the love of God for all people.
Christian writers have generally described 'agapē', as used by Jesus, as a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary; that is, it is non-discriminating, has no pre-conditions, and is something that one decides to do. Tertullian, in his 2nd century defense of Christians remarks how Christian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. 'Only look' they say, 'look how they love one another'".
Justin Martyr described second century Christian liturgy in his First Apology (c. 150) to
Emperor Antoninus Pius, and his description remains relevant to the basic structure of Christian liturgical worship:
The Holy Bible, Crucifix, and Rosary
"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need."
Thus, as Justin described, Christians assemble for communal worship on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, though other liturgical practices often occur outside this setting. Scripture readings are drawn from the Old and New Testaments, but especially the Gospels. Often these are arranged on an annual cycle, using a book called a lectionary. Instruction is given based on these readings, called a sermon, or homily. There are a variety of congregational prayers, including thanksgiving, confession, and intercession, which occur throughout the service and take a variety of forms including recited, responsive, silent, or sung. The Lord's Prayer, or Our Father, is regularly prayed. The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) consists of a ritual meal of consecrated bread and wine, discussed in detail below. Lastly, a collection occurs in which the congregation donates money for the support of the Church and for charitable work.
Some groups depart from this traditional liturgical structure. A division is often made between "High" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "Low" services, but even within these two categories there is great diversity in forms of worship. Seventh-day Adventists meet on Saturday (the original Sabbath), while others do not meet on a weekly basis. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations may spontaneously feel led by the Holy Spirit to action rather than follow a formal order of service, including spontaneous prayer. Quakers sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak. Some Evangelical services resemble concerts with rock and pop music, dancing, and use of multimedia. For groups which do not recognize a priesthood distinct from ordinary believers the services are generally lead by a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack any formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. Some churches use only a cappella music, either on principle (e.g. many Churches of Christ object to the use of instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).Worship can be varied for special events like baptisms or weddings in the service or significant feast days. In the early church Christians and those yet to complete initiation would separate for the Eucharistic part of the worship. In many churches today, adults and children will separate for all or some of the service to receive age-appropriate teaching. Such children's worship is often called Sunday school or Sabbath school (Sunday schools are sometimes held before rather than during services).
A sacrament is a Christian rite that is an outward sign of an inward grace, instituted by Christ to sanctify humanity. Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican Christians describe worship in terms of seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist (communion), Penance (reconciliation), Anointing of the Sick (last rites), Holy Orders (ordination), and Matrimony. Many Protestant groups, following Martin Luther, recognize the sacramental nature of baptism and Eucharist, but not usually the other five in the same way, while other Protestant groups reject sacramental theology. Latter-day saint worship emphasizes the symbolic role of rites, calling some ordinances. Though not sacraments, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness Churches emphasize "gifts of the Spirit" such as spiritual healing, prophecy, exorcism, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and laying on of hands where God's grace is mysteriously manifest.
The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) is the part of liturgical worship that consists of a consecrated meal, usually bread and wine. Justin Martyr described the Eucharist as follows:
"And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."
Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and many Anglicans believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ (the doctrine of the Real Presence). Most other Protestants, especially Reformed, believe the bread and wine merely represent the body and blood of Christ. These Protestants may celebrate it less frequently, while in the Roman Catholic Church the Eucharist is celebrated daily (but not on Good Friday and Holy Saturday). Catholic and Orthodox view communion as indicating those who are already united in the church, restricting participation to their members not in a state of mortal sin. In some Protestant churches participation is by prior arrangement with a church leader. Other churches view communion as a means to unity, rather than an end, and invite all Christians or even anyone to participate.
In the New Testament Paul of Tarsus organised his missionary travels around the celebration of Pentecost. (Acts 20.16 and 1 Corinthians 16.8) This practice draws from Jewish tradition, with such feasts as the Feast of Tabernacles, the Passover, and the Jubilee. Today Catholics, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar. This includes holy days, such as solemnities which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or the saints, periods of fasting such as Lent, and other pious events such as memoria or lesser festivals commemorating saints. Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar.
An early circular ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ into a wheel. Ephesus, Asia Minor.
Today the best-known Christian symbol is the cross, which refers to the method of Jesus' execution.Several varieties exist, with some denominations tending to favor distinctive styles: Catholics the crucifix, Orthodox the crux orthodoxa, and Protestants an unadorned cross.
An earlier Christian symbol was the 'ichthys' fish (Greek Alpha - α) symbol and anagram. Other text based symbols are Greek abbreviations for Jesus Christ, originally with superlineation, to include IHC and ICXC and chi-rho (the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek). In the Greek alphabet, the Chi-Rho appears like an X (Chi - χ) with a large P (Rho - ρ) overlaid and above it. It is said Constantine saw this symbol prior to converting to Christianity (see History and origins section below). The variation IHS of the nomina sacra is latinized Greek representing the first three letters of the Latin name, Iesus. Another ancient symbol is an anchor, which denotes faith and can incorporate a cross within its design.
History and origins
The history of Christianity is the history of the Christian religion and Church, from Jesus and his Twelve Apostles to contemporary times.
In the mid-first century, Christianity spread beyond its Jewish origins under the leadership of the Apostles, especially Peter and Paul. Some scholars even consider Paul to be the founding figure of Christianity, pointing to the extent of his writings and the scope of his missionary work. Within a generation an episcopal hierarchy can be seen, and this would form the structure of the Church. In 301 Christianity became a state-religion in Armenia being the first country to accept Christianity. Christianity spread east to Asia and throughout the Roman Empire, despite persecution by the Roman Emperors until its legalization by Emperor Constantine in 313. During his reign, questions of orthodoxy lead to the convocation of the first Ecumenical Council, that of Nicaea.
Some writers consider Paul to be the founding figure of Christianity as opposed to Jesus, pointing to the extent of his writings and the scope of his missionary work. See also Pauline Christianity.
In 391 Theodosius I established Nicene Christianity as the official and, except for Judaism, only legal religion in the Roman Empire. Later, as the political structure of the empire collapsed in the West, the Church assumed political and cultural roles previously held by the Roman aristocracy. Eremitic and Coenobitic monasticism developed, originating with the hermit St Anthony of Egypt around 300. With the avowed purpose of fleeing the world and its evils in contemptu mundi, the institution of monasticism would become a central part of the medieval world.
Christianity became the established church of the Axumite Kingdom (presently encompassing Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia) under king Ezana in the 4th century through the efforts of a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known in Eritrea and Ethiopia as Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"), thus making Eritrea and Ethiopia one of the first christian states even before most of Europe. As a youth, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity, causing him to be baptised. Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for the Kingdom of Aksum. Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself, who returned to Aksum as Bishop with the name of Abune Selama.
The first coins to display the Christian cross were those of the Axumite leader Ezana circa 350 AD.
During the Migration Period of Late Antiquity, various Germanic peoples adopted Christianity. Meanwhile, as western political unity dissolved, the linguistic divide of the Empire between Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East intensified. By the Middle Ages distinct forms of Latin and Greek Christianity increasingly separated until cultural differences and disciplinary disputes finally resulted in the Great Schism (conventionally dated to 1054), which formally divided Christendom into the Catholic west and the Orthodox east. Western Christianity in the Middle Ages was characterized by cooperation and conflict between the secular rulers and the Church under the Pope, and by the development of scholastic theology and philosophy.
Beginning in the 7th century, Muslim rulers began a long series of military conquests of Christian areas, and it quickly conquered areas of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, and even captured southern Spain. Numerous military struggles followed, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista, the Fall of Constantinople and the aggression of the Turks.
In the early sixteenth century, increasing discontent with corruption and immorality among the clergy resulted in attempts to reform the Church and society. The Protestant Reformation began after Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517, whilst the Roman Catholic Church experienced internal renewal with the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). During the following centuries, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states. Meanwhile, partly from missionary zeal, but also under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.
In the Modern Era, Christianity was confronted with various forms of skepticism and with certain modern political ideologies such as liberalism, nationalism, and socialism. This included the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and general hostility of Marxist movements, especially the Russian Revolution.
Starting with Jesus, the early Christian church was persecuted by state and religious establishments from its earliest beginnings. Notable early Christians such as Stephen, eleven of the Apostles as well as Paul died as martyrs according to tradition. Systematic Roman persecution of Christians culminated in the Great Persecution of Diocletian and ended with the Edict of Milan. Persecution of Christians persisted or even intensified in other places, such as in Sassanid Persia. Later Christians living in Islamic countries were subjected to various legal restrictions, which included taxation and a ban on building or repairing churches. Christians at times also suffered violent persecution or confiscation of their property.
There was persecution of Christians during the French Revolution.State restrictions on Christian practices today are generally associated with those authoritarian governments which either support a majority religion other than Christianity (as in Muslim states),or tolerate only churches under government supervision, sometimes while officially promoting state atheism (as in the Soviet Union). The People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches and has regularly suppressed house churches and underground Catholics. The public practice of Christianity is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. Areas of persecution include other parts of the Middle East, the Sudan, and Kosovo.
Christians have also been perpetrators of persecution against other religions and other Christians. Christian mobs, sometimes with government support, destroyed pagan temples and persecuted or even killed adherents of paganism (e.g. the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria). Also, Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands. Christian governments have suppressed or persecuted groups seen as heretical, later in cooperation with the Inquisition. Denominational strife escalated into religious wars. Witch hunts, carried out by secular authorities or popular mobs, were a frequent phenomenon in parts of early modern Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America.
There is a diversity of doctrines and practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups are sometimes classified under denominations, though for theological reasons many groups reject this classification system. Christianity may be broadly represented as being divided into three main groupings:
Roman Catholicism: The Roman Catholic Church, or "Catholic Church", includes the 23 particular churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome. It is the largest single body, with more than 1 billion baptized members.
Eastern Orthodoxy: Those groups in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The biggest particular churches are the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox.
Protestantism: Groups such as the the Anglican Communion, Lutherans, Reformed/Presbyterians, Congregational/United Church of Christ, Evangelical, Charismatic, Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Anabaptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Waldensians and Pentecostals. The oldest of these separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century Protestant Reformation, followed in many cases by further divisions. Estimates of the total number of Protestants are very uncertain, partly because of the difficulty in determining which denominations should be placed in this category, but it seems to be unquestionable that Protestantism is the second major branch of Christianity (after Roman Catholicism) in number of followers.
Some Protestants identify themselves simply as Christian, or born-again Christian; they typically distance themselves from the confessionalism of other Protestant communities by calling themselves "non-denominational" — often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations. Furthermore, many members of the the Anglican Communion, a group of Anglican and Episcopal Churches that are descended from the Church of England, claim to be both Protestant and Catholic. Finally, various small communities, such as the Old Catholic and Independent Catholic Churches, are similar in name to the Roman Catholic Church, but are not in communion with the See of Rome (the Old Catholic church is in communion with the Anglican Church).The Roman Catholic Church was simply called the "Catholic Church" until other groups started considering themselves "Catholic". The term "Roman Catholic" was made to distinguish the Roman Catholics from other groups.
Restorationists are historically connected to the Protestant Reformation and usually describe themselves as restoring the Church that they believe was lost at some point and not as "reforming" a Christian Church continuously existing from the time of Jesus. Restorationists include Churches of Christ with 2.6 million members, Disciples of Christ with 800,000 members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 12 million members,and Jehovah’s Witnesses with 6.6 million members.Though Restorationists have some superficial similarities, their doctrine and practices vary significantly.
A simplified chart of historical developments of major groups within Christianity. The different width of the lines (thickest for "Protestantism" and thinnest for "Oriental Orthodox" and "Nestorians") is without objective significance. Protestantism in general, and not just Restorationism, claims a direct connection with Early Christianity.
Mainstream Christianity is a widely used term, used to refer to collectively to the common views of major denominations of Christianity (such as Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Orthodox Christianity) as against the particular tenets of other sects or Christian denomination. The context is dependent on the particular issues addressed, but usually contrasts the orthodox majority view against heterodox minority views. In the most common sense, "mainstream" refers to Nicene Christianity, or rather the traditions which continue to claim adherence to the Nicene Creed.
Some groups identifying themselves as Christian deviate from the tenets considered basic by most Christian organizations. These groups are often considered heretical, or even non-Christian, by many mainstream Christians. This is particularly true of non-trinitarians.
Most churches have long expressed ideals of being reconciled with each other, and in the 20th Century Christian ecumenism advanced in two ways. One way was greater cooperation between groups, such as the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of Protestants in 1910, the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the World Council of Churches founded in 1948 by Protestant and Orthodox churches, and similar national councils like the National Council of Churches in Australia which also includes Roman Catholics.
The other way was institutional union with new United and uniting churches. Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches united in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada and in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia. The Church of South India was formed in 1947 by the union of Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches.
Steps towards union on a global level have also been taken in 1965 by the Catholic and Orthodox churches mutually revoking the excommunications that marked their Great Schism in 1054; the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) working towards full communion between those churches since 1970; and the Lutheran and Catholic churches signing The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 to address conflicts at the root of the Protestant Reformation. In 2006 the Methodist church also adopted the declaration.[
Source:Wikipedia (edited and abridged