According to a 1993 estimate, Christianity was the most populous religion, at 2.1 billion followers (1 billion Catholics, 500 million Protestants, 240 million Orthodox and 275 million others), before Islam at 1.1 billion and Hinduism at 1.05 billion.
Christianity emerged from Judaism in the first century of the Common Era. Christians brought from Judaism its scriptures, fundamental doctrines such as monotheism, the belief in a messiah (or Christ, which means "anointed one"), form of worship, including a priesthood, concepts of sacred space and sacred time, the idea that worship here on Earth is patterned after worship in Heaven, and the use of the Psalms in community prayer. The book of Acts says that Christ's followers were first called Christians by non-believers in the city of Antioch, where they had fled and settled after early persecutions in Palestine, probably just a few years after Jesus' death, (and ascension).
Christianity holds two central philosophies, claiming that:
messiah ("mosiach" in Hebrew) is significantly different from that held by Christians. According to Jews, the Hebrew Bible contains a small number of prophecies concerning a future descendant of King David, who will be anointed (Hebrew: moshiach) as the Jewish people's new leader. In the Jewish view, this fully human and mortal leader will rebuild the land of Israel and restore the Davidic Kingdom. This subject is covered in the section on Jewish eschatology. Christian understandings of the term "messiah" are based on Jesus' statements about himself in the New Testament, namely: (a) that he was the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, most significantly the "Servant Songs" in Isaiah, (b)that he came to establish the Kingdom of God[?] (or Kingdom of Heaven), which was not to be an earthly kingdom, (c) that when asked whether he was the expected messiah, he pointed at the miracles he performed, as well as referring to himself by titles that Jews would recognize as belonging properly to God alone such as "I AM" and (d) that by demonstratively washing the disciples's feet he pictured himself to be a 'servant-king'. (See Judeo-Christian tradition and Comparing and Contrasting Judaism and Christianity)
The most crucial points in Christian teaching are Jesus' incarnation, atonement, crucifixion, death and miraculous resurrection to redeem mankind from sin and death. These events are believed by Christians to be the basis of God's work to reconcile humanity with himself.
The most uniform and broadly agreed upon tradition of doctrine, with the longest continuous representation, repeatedly reaffirmed by official Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant definitions (although not without dissent, as noted below) asserts that specific beliefs are essential to Christianity, including:
Even creedal Christians disagree to some extent about how accurate the Bible is and how it should be interpreted, especially if relied upon for scientific or precise historical information. Nevertheless, the Bible is the most widely regarded source of information about Jesus and God. The New Testament maintains that Jesus is the messiah which the Jews have long awaited; thus Christianity is considered by Christians to be the continuation or fulfillment of the Jewish faith. Christians and Jews both consider the Old Testament (what Jews call the Tanakh) to be the word of God. Some Christians include additional books, but most agree on which books comprise the Old Testament (see biblical canon). The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible, containing accounts of the life of Jesus, the earliest church, and a number of epistles (letters) written by some of the Apostles to various audiences.
However, many self-described Christians throughout history have had varying ideas about the basic tenets of the Christian faith, from ancient sects such as Arians and Gnosticism, to modern groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Unification Church. The above groups, for example, differ from one another concerning what Jesus represented himself to be, although all believe him to be the Christ, and with different ideas believe him to have cosmic importance, some calling him a god or God. Some of these groups number themselves among the Christian churches, or believe themselves to be the only Christian church. Also, modern day liberal Protestant Christians do not define Christianity as necessarily including belief in the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the Trinity, miracles, the resurrection, the ascension of Christ, or the personality or deity of the Holy Spirit. Liberals may recommend belief in such things, or not, but differentiate themselves by defining as included within genuine Christianity anyone who explains their views or teachings principally by appeal to Jesus.
The greatest division in Christianity is between the eastern and western branches. The Western branch developed in the Western Roman Empire, while the Eastern branch developed in the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western branch is divided principally into Catholicism and Protestantism, while the two main divisions of the Eastern branch are Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy. See the Great Schism for the history and circumstances of this division.
Catholicism and Protestantism are the two major divisions of Christianity in the Western world. For example, the Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran churches are generally considered to be Protestant faiths, although strictly speaking, of these three the Lutheran denomination is the only one of these founded as a "protest" against Catholicism. The Anglican (Church of England) is generally classified as Protestant, but since the "Tractarian" or Oxford Movement[?] of the 19th century, led by John Henry Newman, Anglican writers sometimes characterize the church as more properly understood as its own tradition — a via media ("middle way"), both Protestant and Catholic.
One central tenet of Catholicism is its literal adherence to apostolic succession. "Apostle" means "one who is sent out." Jesus commissioned the first twelve apostles (see Biblical Figures[?] for the list of the Twelve), and they, in turn laid hands on subsequent church leaders to ordain (commission) them for ministry. In this manner, Catholics trace their ordained ministers all the way back to the original Twelve. Roman Catholics are distinct in their belief that the Pope has authority which can be traced directly to the apostle Peter. Other Catholic groupings include the Old Catholic Church which rejected the definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council, and Anglo-Catholics, Anglicans who believe that Anglicanism is a continuation of historical Catholicism and who incorporate many Catholic beliefs and practices.
Protestant faiths trace their roots to the work of Martin Luther and John Calvin, who believed that the Catholic church had deviated too far from the practices and beliefs of the original churches described in the New Testament. They attempted to reform the Catholic Church but failed. The protestant reformation resulted instead. Protestantism as a whole has never been led by a pope or other institution having such an over-all authority. Each Protestant movement has developed freely, and many have split over theological issues. That is how over the centuries it has developed into a great number of independent denominations. A number of movements that grew out of spiritual revivals, like Methodism and Pentecostalism, also consider themselves Protestant. The Anabaptist tradition, made up of the Amish and Mennonites, is another significant branch of Protestantism that rejected the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines of infant baptism; this tradition is also noted for its belief in pacifism. The measure of mutual acceptance between the denominations and movements varies, but is growing. Protestant theology for each denomination is usually guarded by church councils.
Some denominations which arose alongside the Western Christian tradition consider themselves Christian, but neither Catholic nor wholly Protestant, namely The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Quakerism began as a mystical and evangelical Christian movement in 17th century England, eschewing priests and all formal Anglican or Catholic sacraments in their worship, including many of those practices that remained among the stridently Protestant Puritans such as baptism with water. Like the Mennonites, Quakers traditionally refrain from participation in war. The Latter-day Saints claim that apostolic succession was broken during the Great Apostasy and that authority was restored to an American prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr. in the 19th century in a personal visitation by resurrected apostles and prophets.
In the Eastern world (Eastern Europe, Asia) the primary representative of Christianity is Eastern Orthodoxy. The Eastern Orthodox Church also believes it is the continuation of the original Christian church established by Christ. Originally there were five main centers of Christianity in the ancient world: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. According to the Eastern Churches' understanding of Papal primacy, the bishop of Rome was first in honor among the bishops, but possessed no direct authority over dioceses other than his own. In the Great Schism, conventionally dated to 1054, the Eastern Churches severed communion with Rome over a number of issues centered around the differing understanding of Papal primacy. The four other Churches remained in communion with each other and still exist today along with less prestigious, but often more populous, self-governing or "autocephalous" Churches organized more or less along national lines. The largest of these, and the largest Orthodox Church overall, is the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of these groups are represented as independent ecclesiastical bodies in America. There exist significant theological differences between the Orthodox Church and Western Christianity.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches accepted the Chalcedonian dogma on the nature of Christ, which was also accepted by the Western branch of the church; while the Oriental Orthodox rejected it. The Oriental Orthodox comprise chiefly the Monophysites (e.g. the Coptic church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syrian Jacobites, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church[?]), the Nestorians (e.g. the Assyrian[?] Church), and several others.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for instance, is often grouped with the Protestant churches, but does not characterize itself as Protestant. Its origination during the Second Great Awakening parallels the founding of numerous other indigenous American religions, especially in the Burned-over district of western New York state, and in the western territories of the United States, including the Adventist movement and the Restoration Movement[?] (sometimes called "Campbellites" or "Stone-Campbell churches", which include the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Church of Christ[?]). Each of these groups, founded within fifty years of one another, originally claimed to be an unprecedented, latter-day restoration of the primitive Christian church.
Christianity, even in its infancy as a Jewish sect, rejected ethnic definition. It was conceived and grew as an international religion with global ambitions, spreading rapidly from Judea to nations and people all over the world. Doctrines, rather than ethnicity, define essential Christianity - even where ethnic groups have been Christian for generations. The multiplicity of faith communities may be partly accounted for by the definition of Christianity according to specific points of indispensable doctrine, the denial of which sets the heretic outside of the "Church", where perhaps he is accepted by another "Church" holding doctrines compatible with his own.
Points of distinctive doctrine may be a very small number of simple propositions, or very numerous and difficult to explain, depending on the group. Some groups are defined relatively statically, and others have changed their definitions dramatically over time. As an example, before the Enlightenment, Christian teachers who denied the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (a widely held doctrine about the nature of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit determined in A.D. 325), would be cast out of their churches, and at times exiled or otherwise deprived of the protection of law - so universally was the doctrine held essential to Christianity; and Protestantism was founded solely on the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures. In later times, the doctrine of the Trinity is heresy according to groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Jehovah's Witnesses (representing tens of millions of believers); and the doctrine of infallible, inspired Scripture is derisively labelled as fundamentalism by many of the most highly respected scholars and clergy especially of Protestant churches. Some find it also indefensible to exclude groups from Christianity that follow another messiah in addition to Jesus, such as the Unification Church.
Others, such as Unitarian-Universalists, consider themselves as borderline Christians, since Jesus Christ is not pivotal to their belief system. Quakerism, which does not consider itself to belong to any of the above groupings, began as a Christian movement, and many branches within this denomination remain strongly Christian, while others branches have become borderline Christian and may even include people who do not consider themselves Christian. In addition, Christianity has partly inspired other religions, like early Islam and later Bahais, whose adherents do not consider themselves Christians but do consider Jesus to be a prophet.
Considering this diversity, it may be impossible to define what Christianity is without either rejecting all definitions, or adopting a particular definition as authoritative and thus excluding others. In terms of the modern aim of scientific and objective definition, both options are considered problematic.
The spread of Christianity has been international, in some cases entirely displacing the religions and altering the customs encountered among those people to whom it has come. This centuries-long process has been met with violent opposition at times, and likewise the spread of Christianity has in some cases been carried out with martial force. The relationship of Christianity to other faiths is encumbered to some extent by this history, with modern Christians, particularly in the West, expressing embarassment over the violence in Christianity's past. While military conquest for the spread of Christianity per se has been diavowed by nearly all sects of Christianity in modern times, there is not nearly the same consensus regarding the morality of the work to make new converts from out of other religions, even without martial force. When Christians seek converts, and when Christians react to the proselytizing efforts or the displacing effects of the spread of other religions, it is an inherently controversial situation.
Many Christian sects continue to believe that they have a duty to make converts among every people, even if it results in the extinction of another religion or folk-culture. However, in recent years, the religious_pluralism movement has been endorsed by many official representatives of the Christian churches and ecumenical organizations, as a way of effecting reconciliation between Christian people and people of other faiths. In some cases, this endorsement is accompanied by a complete disavowal of all proselytizing efforts.
(Relations with Hinduism, Islam, atheism / humanism & freethought, and other faiths should be written about here.)
The following ASCII art diagram shows the historical development of traditional Christian groups:
Protestantism Reformation--> / (16th c.) / ---( Roman Catholicism (Western Rites) / ( Roman Catholicism (Eastern Rites) Early Western Church / Christianity .....................<-- Great Schism (11th c.) \ Eastern Church \ \ \ \ --- Eastern Orthodoxy Chalcedonian -->\ Controversies \--Nestorians ) Oriental (5th c.) \---Monophysites ) Orthodox
Not all people identified as Christians accept all, or even most, of the theological positions that their particular church mandates. Like the Jewish people, Christians in the West were greatly affected by The Enlightenment in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Perhaps the most significant change for them was total or effective separation of Church and State, thus ending the state-sponsored Christianity that existed in so many European countries. Now one could be a free member of society and disagree with one's church on various issues, and one could even be free to leave the church altogether. Millions did take these paths, becoming freethinkers and developing entirely new belief systems such as humanism, atheism, agnosticism, and deism; others created liberal wings of Protestant Christian theology, and the long-suppressed Unitarian trend in Christitianity became an acceptable choice for many. The Enlightenment had a much less profound impact on the Eastern Churches of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy.
This gain in personal freedom came with a social price: the dissolution of the Christian community as an entity with civic legal authority. In the United States and Europe, many secularized Christians have long since stopped participating in traditional religious duties, attending churches only on a few particular days per year or not at all. Many of them recall having highly religious grandparents, but grew up in homes where Christian theology was no longer a priority. They have developed ambivalent feelings towards their religious duties. On the one hand they cling to their traditions for identity reasons; on the other hand, the influence of the secular Western mentality, the demands of daily life, and peer pressure tear them away from traditional Christianity. Marriage between Christians of different denominations, or between a Christian and a non-Christian, was once taboo, but has become commonplace.
There have been many responses to this phenomenon within the Christian community, including the development of literally thousands of Christian Protestant denominations, traditionalist[?] splinter groups of the Catholic Church that do not recognize the legitimacy of many reforms the Catholic Church has undertaken, and the growth of hundreds of fundamentalist groups that interpret the entire Bible in a literal fashion.
For the full history of Christianity, see the article so titled.
The Persecution of Christians, both in the past and today, is the subject of a separate entry.
See also: born again Christianity, history of Christianity, Christian eschatology, eschatology, the stories of Christianity, missions, missionary, History of Christian Missions, predestination, Great Schism, John 3:16
Catholicism -- Protestantism -- Eastern Orthodoxy -- Oriental Orthodoxy -- (see below for exceptions)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- Community of Christ -- Jehovah's Witnesses -- Unification Church -- Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) -- Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Scientists) -- Sons Aumen Israel -- Unity Church -- Christadelphians -- Abyssinian Church
Unitarian Universalism is not a creedal religion, and espouses no official spiritual beliefs. Unitarian Universalists see themselves as a liberal religious community where people of differing beliefs share with each other and learn from each other. Before the 20th century, the church was much more Christian, but it has become increasingly diverse. About 10% of their members claim to be Christian.
Adoptionism -- Albigensians -- Apollinarism -- Arianism -- Cathars -- Celtic Christianity -- Docetism -- Donatism -- Lollardy -- Mandaeans -- Manicheanism -- Monarchianism -- Montanism -- Nestorianism -- Patripassianism -- Pelagianism -- Priscillianism -- Psilanthropism -- Sabellianism -- Waldensians
According to different sources ca. 200 000 - 500 000 Christians die every year due to persecution.
A summary of Christian views of homosexuality is available..
Relevant books: The Rise of Christianity (book by Rodney Stark)