Template:Portal Template:Christianity Christianity is a monotheistic religion that recognizes Jesus Christ as its central figure, Lord and Messiah. With over 2.1 billion adherents, it is the world's largest religion. Its origins are intertwined with Judaism, with which it shares much sacred text, especially the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), which Christians call the Old Testament.Template:Fn Christianity is sometimes termed an Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism and Islam (see Judeo-Christo-Islamic).
The names "Christian" and hence "Christianity" are first attested in Acts 11:26, "For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch Jesus' disciples were first called Christians" (Gr. χριστιανους, from Christ Gr. Χριστός, which means "the anointed").
Christianity encompasses numerous religious traditions that widely vary by culture and place, as well as many diverse beliefs and sects. Since the Reformation, Christianity is usually represented as being divided into three main branches:
- Catholicism: With over 1 billion baptized members, this category includes the Catholic Church (or Roman Catholic Church), the largest single body—which includes several Eastern Catholic communities—as well as certain smaller communities (e.g., the Old Catholic Church) not in full communion with the (Roman) Catholic Church, many of whom reject the primacy of the pope, hold that the papacy is vacant, or recognize a different pope.
- Eastern Christianity includes the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East, all with a combined membership of over 240 million baptized members;
- Protestantism: This group includes numerous denominations and schools of thought such as: Anglicanism, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Anabaptist, Evangelicalism, Charismatics and Pentecostalism, all of which are descended, directly or indirectly, from the Roman Church via the Reformation of the 16th century. Many identify themselves simply as Christian. Worldwide total is just under 500 million.
Other denominations and churches which self-identify as Christian but which distance themselves from the above classifications together claim around 275 million members. These include African Indigenous Churches with up to 110 million members (estimates vary widely), Jehovah's Witnesses with approximately 15 million members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called Mormons) with over 12 million members, and other groups.Template:Fn The early leaders of most of these groups were originally Protestant adherents.
These broad divisions are not equally uniform. On the contrary, some branches encompass vast disagreements, and in other cases the division overlooks existing sympathies. But this is the convenient standard overview of distinctions, especially as Christianity has been viewed in the Western world.
Template:Mainarticle The history of Christianity is difficult to extricate from that of the European West (and several other culture-regions) in general. By way of summary, we may note Christianity's early geographic expansion from the Levant across the Mediterranean Basin; its legalization under Constantine the Great and establishment as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius I; the development of ancient Christian minority communities in Ethiopia, Persia, India, and China; the conversion of various southern European (e.g. Armenia in 301 and Georgian kingdom of Caucasian Iberia in 317), and northern European kingdoms (e.g. Ireland in the 5th century, Russia in 988); the Great Schism which divided Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism (conventionally dated 1054); the loss of north Africa and the Middle East to Islam (numerous military struggles--see Battle of Tours, Crusades, Reconquista, Fall of Constantinople); the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517); Christianity's spread to the Americas, Oceania, the Philippines, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Korea; the division of Protestantism into thousands of denominations; and modern debates about science (notably heliocentricism, evolution), biblical criticism, and feminism.
Though enormous diversity exists in the beliefs of those who self-identify as Christian, it is possible to venture general statements which describe the beliefs of a large majority. One such statement is the Nicene Creed, ratified as the universal creed of Orthodox and Catholic Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431, and generally believed to be true by Protestants as well. Therefore, the Nicene Creed is generally acknowledged to be the most universally accepted summary expression of the Christian faith.
Central Christian beliefs which are affirmed in the Nicene Creed include, but are not limited to:
- The Trinity, where God is a single eternal being who exists as three distinct, eternal, and indivisible persons: Father, Son (Divine Logos, incarnated as Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).
- Jesus Christ is both fully God (divine) and fully human: two natures in one person. He is without sin.
- That salvation from "sin and death" is available through the person and work of Jesus Christ, especially his sacrificial execution and resurrection, by which humanity, and the entire world, are "redeemed" and reconciled with God. Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians have arrived at several explanations as to exactly how this salvation, or atonement, occurs. (See soteriology.)
- Jesus's virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Second Coming.
- The "General Resurrection," in which all people who have ever lived will rise from the dead at the end of time, to be judged by the returned Christ.
Obviously, not all Christians have accepted all of these articles of faith, or else such a creed would never have been written. The Creed's lines frequently target certain opposing beliefs of other early Christians, which the council regarded as heretical. Examples would include Ebionite groups which denied Jesus's divinity, a well as Docetist groups which denied that Christ was a human being, or Arians, who disputed that the Father and the Son were "of one being". Other early heresies included Simonianism, Marcionism, Gnosticism and Montanism.
Again, while some churches take exception to some of these articles, to the extent that they do so, this usually represents a conscious departure from the Christian mainstream. Some Christian traditions, such as those of the Baptists and the Churches of Christ, would accept these beliefs, but not the creed itself, since all creeds are regarded as unnecessary and even counter-productive in these circles.
Some groups, however, deviate from tenets which most others hold as absolutely basic to Christianity. On account of these deviations they are considered heretical or even "non-Christian" by many of the mainstream Christian groups. Most such disputes center on the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, or both.
Scriptures and tradition
Virtually all Christian churches accept the authority of the Bible, including the Old Testament and the New Testament. Differences exist in the canons of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches — primarily their treatment of the Deuterocanonical books used by Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but rejected by Protestants as Apocrypha. This issue affects doctrines only indirectly. More theologically significant is the Swedenborgian churches' rejection of the New Testament Epistles, a stance which has not won acceptance from any other denomination.
Whereas Jews see the Torah as the most important part of the Bible, most Christians regard the Gospels, which tell of the life and teachings of Jesus, as central. Ornamental books of the four gospels are sometimes used in church liturgies. These may be carried into the church in procession, and laid upon the altar during the first part of the service. The "gospel" means the "good news" of the Christian message, which Christians regularly disseminate to others. This may include missionary work as well as the translation and distribution of Bibles, as practiced by Gideons International.
If Christians largely agree on the content of the Bible, no such consensus is forthcoming on the crucial matter of its interpretation, an issue which divides denominations from within as well as from one another. "Biblical literalism" or "Christian fundamentalism" describe well-known conservative hermeneutic stances with respect to Christian scriptures, and are mainly associated with Protestantism.
Catholics, the Orthodox, and some Anglicans consider the Bible as having been produced by one phase (albeit formative) of the development of church tradition, which has continued through the decisions of the ecumenical councils, the writings of the Church Fathers, the lives and teachings of the saints, liturgical practice, sacred art, papal statements (Roman Catholics), and is in fact alive today. Indeed, one Orthodox theologian has characterized the (Orthodox) tradition as "the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church."
Protestants, meanwhile, tend to accept Martin Luther's dictum of sola scriptura, which sees the Bible as the ultimate, or only, source of faith and doctrine. It also assumes that any Christian believer is capable of rightly interpreting it. Even Protestants concede that this view raises difficulties, especially given the wide variety of practices and beliefs which have some arguable claim to biblical warrant and, based on these divergencies, because Protestantism has spawned such a large variety of denominations and traditions.
Some Christian groups have also elevated additional writings to the status of inspired scripture. Well-known examples would include the Book of Mormon, considered to be "another Testament of Jesus Christ" by the Latter Day Saints, or Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. Others, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, have produced translations of the Bible which they hold to be alone wholly reliable. This elevation of other writings to the same level as accepted scriptures is a major cause for disputes between these groups and mainstream Christians. One might expect Lutherans and Calvinists to regard the interpretations of Luther and Calvin, respectively, with similar reverence. Most Catholic and Protestant theologians would agree that their writings are a mixture of good and bad, and are in no way "inspired."
Christian views of the afterlife generally involve heaven and (somewhat less frequently) hell, with Catholicism adding an intermediate realm of purgatory. Except for purgatory (whose denizens will ultimately enter heaven, after "purification"), these realms are usually assumed to be eternal. There is, however, some debate on this point, for example among the Orthodox.
Many Christians interpret salvation to mean being able to enter heaven (and escape hell) after death, though some theologians have lamented this tendency. The question of "who is saved" has long been considered a dark mystery by many theologians, though some Protestants consider it a relatively simple issue of whether one has accepted Jesus.
It is generally unclear how the afterlife fits together with the doctrine of the General Resurrection--i.e. whether eternal life begins immediately after death, or at the end of time; and whether this afterlife will involve the resurrection of one's physical body (perhaps in a glorified spiritual form). Most Christians hold that one's consciousness, the soul, survives the death of the physical body, although the Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, reject this, saying that only the good will be physically resurrected (the others to remain in the grave).
Worship and practices
Orthodox and Catholic believers describe Christian worship in terms of the seven sacraments or "mysteries." These include baptism, the Eucharist (communion), matrimony, Holy Orders, confirmation or Chrismation, penance and reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick.
Many Protestant groups, following Martin Luther, recognize the sacramental nature of baptism and communion, but not usually the other five. Anabaptist and Brethren groups would add feet washing. Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness Churches emphasize "gifts of the Spirit" such as spiritual healing, prophecy, exorcism, speaking in tongues, or (very occasionally) snake handling. These emphasis are used not as "sacraments" but as means of worship and ministry. The Quakers deny the entire concept of sacraments. Nevertheless, their "testimonies" affirming peace, integrity, equality, and simplicity are affirmed as integral parts of the Quaker belief structure.
In general, Protestants tend to view Christian rituals in terms of commemoration apart from mystery. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many Anglican Christians hold the commemoration and mystery of rituals together, seeing no contradiction between them.
Virtually all Christians traditions affirm that Christian practice should include acts of personal piety such as prayer, Bible reading, and attempting to live a moral lifestyle, to include not only obedience to the Ten Commandments, as interpreted by Christ (as in the Sermon on the Mount), but also love for one's neighbor, whether friend or enemy, Christian or non-Christian, in both attitude and action. This love is commanded by Christ and, according to him, is next only in importance to love of God and includes obedience to such injunctions as "feed the hungry" and "shelter the homeless," both informally and formally. Christianity teaches that it is impossible for people to completely reform themselves, but that moral and spiritual progress can only occur with God's help through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within all faithful believers. Christians believe that by sharing in Christ's life, death, and resurrection they die with him to sin and can be resurrected with him to new life.
Weekly worship services
Justin Martyr (First Apology, chapter LXVII) describes a second-century church service thus:
- 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.
Justin's description, which would apply equally well to most church services today, alludes to the following components:
- Scripture readings drawn from the Old Testament, one of the Gospels, or an Epistle. Often these are arranged systematically around an annual cycle, using a book called a lectionary.
- A sermon. In ancient times this followed the scripture readings; today this may occur later in the service, although in liturgical churches, the sermon still often follows the readings.
- The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) — a ritual in which small amounts of bread and wine are eaten and drunk. Most Protestants say these represent the body and blood of Christ; Orthodox, Catholics, and most Anglicans say that they become the body and blood of Christ (the doctrine of the Real Presence). Churches in the "liturgical" family (Orthodox, Catholic, and some Anglican) see this as the main part of the service, while Protestants may celebrate it less frequently. In many cases there are restriction on who may partake, which visitors should apprise themselves of. For example, only Catholics may receive communion at a Catholic church (and not even all of them would be permitted).
- A "collection" or "offering" in which the people are asked to contribute money. One common method is to pass around a collection plate. Christians traditionally use these monies not only for upkeep for the church, but also for charitable work of various types.
A number of variations or exceptions exist. Sometimes these are due to special events, such as baptisms or weddings which are incorporated into the service. In many churches today, children and youth will be excused from the main service in order to attend Sunday school. Many denominations depart from this general pattern in a more fundamental way. For example, the Seventh-Day Adventists meet on Saturday (the biblical Sabbath), not Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations may be spontaneously moved by the Holy Spirit, rather than follow a formal order of service. At a Quaker meeting, participants sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak.
In some denominations (mainly liturgical ones), the service is led by a priest. In others (mainly among Protestants), there is a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. In addition, there are "high" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "low" services at which a more casual atmosphere prevails, even if the service in question is liturgical in nature.
In Orthodox churches, the congregation traditionally stands throughout the liturgy (although allowances are made for human weakness). Roman Catholics and many Protestant churches follow a custom in which participants stand to sing, kneel to pray, and sit to listen (e.g., to the sermon). Others are less programmed, and may be quite lively and spontaneous. Music is usually incorporated, and often involves a choir and/or organ. Some churches use only a capella music, either on principle (many Churches of Christ object to the use of musical instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).
In many non-denominational Christian churches, as well as some Protestant denominations, there is usually a worship music portion of the service that precedes the sermon or message. This usually consists of the singing of hymns, praise and worship music or psalms. Many churches believe that worship is important to usher in the Presence of God for the rest of the service.
A recent trend is the growth of "convergence worship" which combines liturgy with spontaneity. This sort of worship is often a result of the influence of charismatic renewal within Churches which are traditionally liturgical. Convergence worship has spawned at least one new denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Catholics, Eastern Christians, and about half of the Protestants follow a liturgical calendar with various holidays. These include feasts (this means special worship services, not only eating) as well as fasts. Typically, a feast will be found preceded by a traditional fast of several weeks' duration. The best-known fasting period is Lent.
Even Christians who do not follow a liturgical tradition can generally be found celebrating Christmas and Easter, despite some disagreement as to dates. A few churches object to the recognition of special holidays, or object to the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter.
The best-known Christian symbol is surely the cross, of which many varieties exist. (Some regard the cross as the world's first successful logo.) For convenience of recognition, several denominations tend to favor distinctive crosses: the crucifix for Catholics, the crux orthodoxa for Orthodox, and the unadorned cross for Protestants. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Other Christian symbols include the ichthys ("fish") symbol, or in ancient times, an anchor.
Before the Edict of Milan, ancient Christianity was an illegal movement, which many considered anti-social for worshipping an executed criminal in place of the traditional deities of Rome. Many early Christians met their deaths through martyrdom, sometimes in the arena, after refusing to renounce their faith.
Persecution of Christians is by no means a thing of the past, and today is generally associated with Muslim or Communist countries. For example, the People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches, and regularly cracks down on house churches or underground Catholics.
Christians have been perpetrators as well as victims of persecution. In ancient times, Christian mobs frequently molested pagans and destroyed their temples, sometimes with government support. The philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was murdered by such a mob in the year 415. Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands.
Christians have persecuted not only members of other religions, but also other Christians. Byzantium suppressed non-Chalcedonian churches while Crusader armies sacked Byzantium. Protestant and Catholics fought the Thirty Years' War. Witch hunts of early modern Europe constituted another example.
In discussing persecution, we should be careful to distinguish between:
- official persecution by the state;
- acts of popular violence (which may be tacitly permitted by the state), and
- the side-effects of war and other social upheaval.
Present day examples of each include Greek and Russian governmental restrictions on non-Orthodox religious activity, anti-abortion violence in the United States, and the ongoing "troubles" in Northern Ireland. Complaints of discrimination have also been made of and by Christians in various contexts.
- Template:FnbWhile sharing the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, Christianity nonetheless disagrees with many points of the Jewish understanding of these texts, or their significance for practice, based on the understanding found in the New Testament.
- Template:FnbChristianity (2005). Adherents.com.
- Template:FnbMany Christians identify themselves as such not by the adherance to a set of religious rules or rites but instead by their personal relationship to Jesus Christ
References and select bibliography
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- Oden, Thomas. Systematic Theology (an ecumenical trilogy)
- Pelikan, Jaroslav (5 Volumes published between 1971-1989).The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.
- Tolstoy, Leo (1894). The Kingdom of God is Within You. ISBN 0803294042.
- Tomkins, Stephen (2005). A Short History of Christianity (Lion).
- ReligionFacts.com: Christianity Fast facts, glossary, timeline, history, beliefs, texts, holidays, symbols, people, etc.
- The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, containing the works of a wide spectrum of authors in doctrine, history, devotion, and Bible commentary
- WikiChristian, a wiki book on Christianity, church history and doctrine, and Christian art and music
- The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge from a Protestant perspective
- The Vatican contains much official information related to the Roman Catholic Church in many languages
- Syriac Orthodox Resources Large compendium of information and links relating to Oriental Orthodoxy.
- Rosicrucian Interpretation of Christianity, an esoteric view of Christian teachings.
- Bible Gateway The Bible online
- Christian Open Directory Project (The Largest Human Edited Christian Open Directory)
- Dmoz.org Open Directory Project: Christianity (a list of links with information about Christianity)
- Dmoz.org Open Directory Project: Contra Christianity (a list of links of opposing views on Christianity)
- Zoecarnate (One of the largest human edited Christian directories)
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