The Christian cross and its many variations are widely recognized as an ancient Christian symbol.
Christianity is an Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. Although Christians generally characterize themselves as monotheistic, the one God is most commonly, but not universally, thought to exist in three persons (Gr. Hypostasis), called the Trinity. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews as prophesied in the Old Testament. Christianity encompasses numerous religious traditions that widely vary by culture, as well as thousands of diverse beliefs and sects; over the past two millennia, Christianity has been grouped into three main branches: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Collectively, it is the world's largest single religion, with over two billion followers.
The term Christ is derived from the Greek adjective Χριστός Khristós which means "anointed," a reference to the Messiah. Christian means "belonging to Christ."
Main article: History of Christianity
Main article: Jesus
Christianity originated in the first century AD. According to Acts 11:19 and 11:26 in the Christian New Testament, Jesus' followers were first called Christians by non-Christians in the city of Antioch, where they had fled and settled after early persecutions in Judea. After Jesus' death, early Christian doctrine was taught by Paul of Tarsus and the other apostles.
There were two main communities of Christians: those that stuck closely to the Judaic traditions of circumcision, diet, the concept of purity, et cetera; and those in the Greek-speaking world that slowly lost their Jewish customs and beliefs, adopting the Roman pagan customs and the concept of the Trinity. The latter are found in the Western World, the former have largely died out, but some Christian Communities in the Middle East still are opposed to Trinity. The Didache is the earliest Western Christian Primer last used up to the time of C4th. It contains elements that are very Jewish in nature. [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html]
Jesus, a descendant of Judah, is reported to have declared himself to be the long awaited Messiah (John 8:23-24, John 14:11), but was rejected as an apostate by the people generally considered to be the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:63-64). He was condemned of blasphemy and executed by the Romans around AD 30. The formal charge cited in his execution was leading a rebellion (Luke 23:1-5): he was called the "King of the Jews" by Pilate (John 19:19-22, see Luke 16:8) on the titulus crucis or statement of the charge hung over the condemned on the cross.
The Gospels indicate that the Roman charge was actually an attempt to appease the Jewish authorities, although some scholars argue that it was an ordinary Roman trial of a rebel. According to Christians, the Old Testament predicted the death and humiliation of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. Examples include the book of Isaiah that alludes to the slapping (Matthew 26:67-68, Isaiah 52:14-15, Isaiah 50:6, Mark 14:65, Luke 23:63-64), whipping (Isaiah 53:5, John 19:1, Matthew 27:26) and general humiliation that is centred around the given references.
Jesus' apostles were the main witnesses of his life and teaching although some of the early traditions of the church name numerous disciples (as many as 70 including James Adelphos, Mark, Luke, Mary Magdalene, etc) who also followed Jesus in his travels and witnessed his miracles and teachings. After his crucifixion, his apostles and other followers claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, and set out to preach the new message. The original apostles are believed to have written some of the New Testament's Gospels and Epistles.
Many of the New Testament's twenty-seven books were written by Paul of Tarsus. Twelve Epistles name him as writer, and some traditions also credit him as the writer of the book of Hebrews. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are stated as having been written by Luke, whom many believe to have been under Paul's direct influence. Acts cites Paul as a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a leading figure amongst the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34-40) and a noteworthy authority in his own right (Acts 28:16-22) considering that the Jews of Rome sought his opinion on Christianity. Paul was the principal missionary of the Christian message to the Gentile world.
The story goes that an early Christian, upon meeting another person, might draw an arc in the earth, and if the other person shared the faith, he would draw another arc completing this ichthys, a symbol of Christianity.
Christianity spread rapidly over the first three centuries aided by the relative internal peace and good roads of the Roman Empire:
The first great writer of Christianity, Tertullian, sums this up in a rhetorical address to a Roman governor with the fact that, as for the Christians of Carthage that just yesterday were few in number, now they "have filled every place among you— cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods" (Apologeticus written at Carthage, ca 197)
Over the course of the first few centuries after Christ, Classically trained theologians and philosophers such as Origen and Augustine developed Christian Theology, which some argue was a synthesis of Hellenic and Early Christian thought.
During this period of first organization the Christian church had to deal mainly with occasional, but sometimes severe persecutions. The life of the martyr, who would rather die than renounce his faith, became the highest virtue. The canonical books of the New Testament were agreed, early translations appeared, and a church hierarchy emerged: the Bishops of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome assumed the title Patriarch.
The Roman Emperor Constantine I was converted in 312 and with his Edict of Milan (313) he ended the persecution of Christians. Persecution was briefly revived during the reign of Julian the Apostate who tried to restore paganism to the empire; Christianity was later made the officially favored religion in about 382 by Emperor Theodotius. Similar events took place in neighbouring Georgia and Armenia. But in Persia, which was at constant war with Rome, the Christians struggled under the oppresive Sassanids, who tried to revive the Zoroastrian religion.
In the Persian empire, at the synod of Seleucia in 410, the bishop of Seleucia was pronounced Catholic and replaced the Patriarch of Antioch as the highest authority of the Assyrian Church of the East. Soon after, during the Nestorian Schism, this church broke all ties with the West. It would be the dominant church of Asia for more than a millennium, with bishopries as far away as India, Java, and China.
Emergence of national Churches
The question of Jesus's divinity was central to early Christians. A wide range of early writers, including Justin Martyr and Tertullian testify to belief that Jesus was God, or that he was second only to God the Father. At the same time, various groups arose that denied this teaching. The situation came to a head with the teaching of Arius, who brought large numbers of bishops and faithful to his belief that Jesus was a created being. The issue was settled by vote at the First Council of Nicaea, convened by Emperor Constantine I, where the teaching later championed by Athanasius was enshrined as dogma. Arianism continued to exist in the empire for several decades, and among the Germanic tribes for almost two centuries, after the decision of the council.
This was only the first of several ecumenical councils for resolving doctrinal issues. These councils sought to unify Christianity by agreeing on the tradition they had inherited, and was supported by the Byzantine Emperors in order to promote unity in the Byzantine Empire. Some of the theological terminology of these councils may have been misunderstood by those Orthodox whose main language was Syriac, Armenian, or Coptic. As a result differences in later theological constructs lead these national branches of the church to break away from the rest forming Oriental Churches sometimes called the Monophysites.
By the second millennium, Christianity had spread to most of the Western world. For the most part it had remained fairly unified in its fundamental beliefs with major theological differences being hashed out in council. But as the millennium approached, certain major differences in theology and practice became increasingly troublesome. The Great Schism of 1054 split the Church into Western and Eastern churches: the Western church gradually consolidated into the Roman Catholic Church under the central authority of Rome (see Catholicism), while the Eastern church adopted the name "Orthodox" to emphasize their commitment to preserving the traditions of the church and resistance to change. This Eastern Church refused to be consolidated under a single bishop, as this was completely alien to the structure the church had hitherto enjoyed. The Eastern Church recognized the Patriarch of Constantinople as the "First among equals" of the numerous bishops in charge of its autocephalous churches (see Eastern Orthodoxy).
In the European Reformation of the 1500s, Protestants and numerous similar churches arose in objection to perceived abuses of growing Papal authority and to perceived doctrinal error and novelty in Rome. Key questions in the Reformation controversy are summed up in five famous 'solas': Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone - does the church's authority derive solely from correctly interpreting the Scriptures, or does it have a separate authority?), Sola Fide (Faith alone - is a man saved through faith in Christ alone, or do the Church, good works and the sacraments contribute?), Sola Gratia (Grace alone - is a man's salvation purely and exclusively due to God's unmerited grace, or do individual works make a contribution?), Solus Christus (Christ alone - is Jesus the only mediator between man and God, or does the Church and its priests play a part?) and Soli Deo Gloria (To the glory of God alone - does 100% of the glory for man's salvation belong to God, or are the Church and its priests eligible for a part?). The Reformation sparked a vigorous struggle for the hearts and minds of Europeans. Disputes between Catholics and Protestants sparked persecution and were caught up in various wars, both civil and foreign.
Catholicism and Protestantism arrived in North America (and later Australasia) with European settlement. Lacking any central authority in either Rome or national governments, Protestants worshipped in hundreds, and later thousands, of independent denominations. Protestantism was taken to South America and Africa by European colonists, especially in the 16th to 19th centuries. Orthodoxy first arrived in North America via Russian settlers in the Alaskan region in the 18th century; they came to North America from Europe in much greater numbers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (see also Restorationism)
In the 19th and 20th centuries many Christian-oriented nations, especially in Western Europe, became more secular as science and technology captured the imagination of the people. Most communist states were governed by avowed atheists, though only Albania was officially atheistic. Adherents to Fundamentalist Christianity, particularly in the United States, also perceived threats from new theories about the age of the Earth and the evolution of life.
Differing interpretations of the Bible and other forces led to schisms in Christianity over the millennia, but all branches trace their roots to early Christianity.
For more, see:
As of 2004, Christianity is the world's most widely practiced religion, with 2 billion adherents (followed by Islam with 1.3 billion, Hinduism with 841 million, and the nonreligious with 774 million). Christianity has many branches, including 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, 367 million Protestants in a number of traditions, 216 million Orthodox, 84 million Anglicans, 414 million Independents (unaffiliated with the major streams of Christianity), and 31.7 million "marginals" (Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), etc.), these last being denominations which describe themselves as Christian but are not standardly recognized as such by other denominations.
Although Christianity is the largest religion in the world and there are massive missionary efforts under way, as a whole it is declining in terms of the overall population. While the population of the world grows at roughly 1.25% per year, Christianity is growing at about 1.12% per year. By contrast, Islam is growing at 1.76% per year. The slow growth can be attributed to most of the Christian population residing in affluent nations where the birth rate is quite low. By contrast, Islamic nations have a higher birth rate and by effect have a larger growth percentage.
Not all people identified as Christians accept all, or even most, of the theological positions held by their particular churches. Like the Jews, 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. Many did leave, developing belief systems such as Deism, Unitarianism, and Universalism, or becoming atheists, agnostics, or humanists.
Others created liberal wings of Protestant Christian theology. Modernism in the late 19th century encouraged new forms of thought and expression that did not follow traditional lines.
Reaction to "The Enlightenment" and Modernism triggered 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 characteristically literal fashion.
In the United States and Europe, liberalism also led to secularism. Some Christians have long since stopped participating in traditional religious duties, attending churches only on a few particular holy 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. Traditionally Catholic countries such as France have largely become agnostic, also with a large number of followers of Islam, which is growing rapidly, and similar trends are reflected in various degrees in Western Europe.
Liberal Christianity grew rapidly during the early 20th century in Europe and North America, by the 1960s gaining the leadership of many of the larger US and Canadian denominations. However, this trend has reversed. At the turn of the 21st century, though secular society tends to consider the more accommodating liberals as the representatives and spokesmen of Christianity, the "mainline" liberal churches are shrinking. This is partly due to a loss of evangelistic zeal, partly due to drift of their membership to conservative denominations, and partly due to the failure of one generation to pass on Christianity to the next. Among the larger Protestant denominations in the USA, only the conservative Southern Baptist is growing. Evangelical para-church organizations have grown rapidly in the last half of the 20th century. The liberal Christian Century magazine has shrunk, while being replaced by its challenger, the rapidly growing evangelical Christianity Today.
The Enlightenment had much less impact on the Eastern Churches of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. Having to face a much more hostile secular society, especially during the rise of Communism, the church clung to ancient beliefs, even as its membership eroded.
Today in Eastern Europe and Russia, a renewing trend is taking place. After decades of Communism and atheism, there is widespread interest in Christianity, as well as religion in general. Many Orthodox churches and monasteries are being rebuilt and restored, filled beyond capacity; Protestants of many denominations are pouring in to evangelize and plant churches; and the Catholic church is revealing once secret dioceses and undertaking other steps to support Catholic churches more openly.
In South America and Africa, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity form rapidly growing movements that are increasingly sending missionaries to Europe and North America. This is also true of Asia where many of the underground house churches intend to send hundreds of thousands of missionaries out over the next decade.
As Modernism developed into Consumerism during the second half of the 20th century the Megachurch phenomenon developed – catering for skeptical non-Christians by providing "seeker sensitive" presentations of Christian belief. The Alpha Course can be viewed as an example one such presentation of Christianity.
Since the development of Postmodernism with its rejection of universally accepted belief structures in favour of more personalized and experiential truth, organized Christianity has increasingly found itself at odds with the desire many people have to express faith and spirituality in a way that is authentic to them. What has thus far been known as the Emerging Church is a by-product of this trend, as many people who broadly accept Christianity seek to practice that faith while avoiding established Church institutions.
Another reaction of some Christians to Postmodernism is the advent of what might be called Postmodern Christianity.
A large and growing movement within the Christian church, especially in the West and most visible in the United States, is the evangelical movement. Most mainstream protestant denominations have a significantly active evangelical minority, and, in some cases, a dominant majority (see Confessing Movement). Evangelicals are "trans-denominational" and are more willing to have formal and informal relationships with evangelicals from outside their denomination than to have the same sort of relationship with non-evangelicals within their denomination.
Some evangelicals have been schismatic within various church organisations, leaving to form their own denominations. More often they are forced out. It was only by dint of sheer determination that John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was able to remain an Anglican priest against intense opposition. His followers separated in America, and in England after his death. Some Evangelicals claim that their beliefs are no less than true Christianity itself and that those within the church who differ from them may not be true believers. This attitude has led to much disunity amongst churches, especially those with a large modernist influence. Evangelicals cannot be easily categorised, but almost all will believe in the necessity of a personal conversion and acceptance of Jesus as saviour and Lord, the eventual literal return of Christ, a more conservative understanding of the Bible and a belief in the miraculous. There are many different types of Evangelicals including Dispensationists, Reformed Christians, Pentecostals, Charismatics and Fundamentalists.
For more, see:
Christians often view Christianity as the fulfilment and successor of Judaism, and Christianity carried forward much of the doctrine and many of the practices from the Hebrew faith, including monotheism, the belief in a Messiah (or Christ from the Greek Χριστός Christós, which means "anointed one"), certain forms of worship (such as prayer, and reading from religious texts), a priesthood (although most Protestants assert the Universal Priesthood of All Believers), and the idea that worship on Earth is modelled on worship in Heaven.
The central belief of Christianity is that by faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, individuals are saved from death - both spiritual and physical - by redemption from their sins (i.e. faults, misdeeds, disobedience, rebellion against God). Through God's grace, by faith and repentance, men and women are reconciled to God through forgiveness and by sanctification or theosis to return to their place with God in Heaven.
Crucial beliefs in Christian teaching are Jesus' incarnation, atonement, crucifixion, and resurrection from the dead to redeem humankind from sin and death; and the belief that the New Testament is a part of the Bible. Many Christians today (and traditionally even more) also hold to supersessionism. Supersessionism is the belief that the Jews' chosenness found its ultimate fulfillment through the message of Jesus: Jews who remain non-Christian are no longer considered to be chosen, since they reject Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. This position has been softened or even completely abrogated by some churches where Jews are recognized to have a special status due to their covenant with God, so that this continues to be an area of on-going dispute among Christians.
The emphasis on God giving his son, or the Son (who is God) coming down to earth for the sake of humanity, is an essential difference between Christianity and most other religions, where the emphasis is instead placed solely on humans working for salvation.
The most uniform and broadly accepted 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 but not limited to:
- God is a Trinity, the single eternal being existing in three persons: Father, Son (Divine Logos, incarnated as Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit.
- Jesus is both fully God and fully human, two "natures" in one person.
- Mary, the mother of Jesus, bore in her womb and gave birth to the Son of God (who is, himself, likewise God), who although eternally existent was formed in her womb by the Spirit of God. From her humanity he received in his person a human intellect and will, and all else that a child would naturally receive from its mother.
- Jesus is the Messiah hoped for by the Jews, the heir to the throne of David. He reigns at the right hand of the Father with all authority and power forevermore. He is the hope of all mankind, their advocate and judge. Until he returns at the end of the world, the Church has the authority and obligation to preach the Gospel and to gather new disciples.
- Jesus was innocent of any sin. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers are forgiven of sins and reconciled to God. Although virually all Christians agree on this, there are a variety of views on the Significance of Jesus' resurrection. Believers are baptized into the resurrection and new life (or death in some groups) of Christ. Through faith, they live by the promise of resurrection from death to everlasting life through Christ. The Holy Spirit is sent to them by Christ, to bring hope and lead mankind into true knowledge of God and His purposes, and help them grow in holiness.
- Jesus will return personally, and bodily, to judge all mankind and receive the faithful to himself, so they will live forever in the intimate presence of God.
- Some Christians, particularly in the West, refer to the Bible as the "Word of God." Other Christians, particularly in the East, believe that Jesus alone is the Word of God, and see Scripture as an authoritative book, inspired by God but written by men. As a result of these differing views, many Christians disagree to varying degrees about how accurate the Bible is and how it should be interpreted.
These beliefs are stated in a number of creeds, of which the most important and widely used are probably the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. These statements of belief were written in the first few centuries after Christ to reject certain heresies. Although there are arguments about specific parts of these creeds, they are still used by mainstream Christians to state their basic beliefs. (See also: Athanasian Creed)
Christianity is considered by mainstream Christians to be the continuation or fulfillment of the Jewish faith. However, many self-proclaimed Christian organizations throughout history have had varying ideas about the basic tenets of the Christian faith, from ancient sects such as Arians and Gnostics to modern groups who have different understandings of fundamental Christian ideas. Some of these groups are the Jehovah's Witnesses who have a different theological understanding of Jesus, God and the Bible; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who believe that in 1829 God restored the apostolic priesthood to their leader Joseph Smith, Jr., making possible continuing revelation (including additional teachings and scripture), and the Unification Church. While various groups may differ in their approach to the specifics of Christ's role, ministry, and nature (some calling him a god or Gods, and others calling him a man), Christ is generally assumed to have cosmic importance. Some of these groups number themselves among the Christian churches, or believe themselves to be the only true Christian church. Furthermore, present-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 or may not recommend belief in such things, but differentiate themselves from conservative Christians by defining as included within genuine Christianity anyone who explains their views or teachings principally by appeal to Jesus. It is common for those who hold the more traditional tenets of faith described in the paragraph above to assert that some or all of these groups are not true Christians, principally because they feel that by denying fundamental teachings about the nature, actions and teachings of Jesus, such liberals are following a different person, or one of their own devising.
Also see the Christian Worldview.
Orthodoxy and heresy in Christianity
Correct beliefs, or orthodoxy, are of extreme importance in the larger branches of Christianity, and much time and energy has been dedicated to delineating what are called heresies, or unacceptable deviations from orthodox thought. Sanctions against heresy have included rebuke, withdrawing mutual recognition as Christians, and sometimes even death for minority individuals or parties.
The article on heresy gives a comprehensive discussion and list of what have been called heresies by the largest Christian branches. In modern times it is still common for minority Christian movements and individuals to hold beliefs that closely resemble these ancient heresies. But the majority Christian branches continue to view the ancient delineations as an important historical reference for orthodoxy. Heresy continues, though more peacefully than in the past, to be an important issue for many Christians.
Christianity's relationship with other faiths
For more information on the relationship between Christianity and other world religions over the years, see Christianity and World Religions.
Christianity and Judaism
Since the Holocaust, there has been much to note in the way of dialogue between some Christians groups and Jews; the article on Christian-Jewish reconciliation studies this issue.
Messianic Judaism refers to a group of evangelical Christian religious movements, self-identified as Jewish, who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Contrary to Judaism, they are trinitarians, professing that Jesus is God, incarnate. Even though many Messianic Jews are ethnically Jewish, they are not considered part of the Jewish community by mainstream Jewish groups. They are not to be confused with the many Christian believers of Jewish ethnic background who are not members of these religious movements, but rather of regular Christian churches.
For more, see:
Christianity and persecution
Christians have been both the victims and the perpetrators of persecution (see Persecution of Christians).
Christian martyrs in the first three centuries AD were crucified in the same manner as Roman political prisoners or eaten by lions as a circus spectacle. They are recognized as martyrs because they have preferred to die rather than renounce their Christian faith which often times included making a sacrifice to a pagan deity.
In spite of the widely held belief that violence is antithetical to Christ's teachings, Christian adherents have at times persecuted, tortured, and killed others for refusing to believe in their type of Christianity. While most modern Christians would condemn such actions, they were carried out by people who were seen as mainstream Christians at the time. The European colonization movement was endorsed by the mainstream European Christian churches. This endorsement supposedly "legitimized" the exploitation of the colonized lands by the European powers. This colonization led to the destruction of many cultural artifacts, particularly in South America related to the Inca and Aztecs.
Conflicts within Christianity itself have led to persecutions of one Christian group by another. Protestants, Catholics and other Christians have persecuted each other in the name of Jesus. In the second half of the 20th century a battle in Northern Ireland continues between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the forced British occupation of Ireland.
The concept of religious tolerance, that Christians in political authority should permit persons of differing faith to practice their own religions, has risen and fallen many times in history. At times, church leaders have considered tolerance itself to be a heresy. Modern Christianity appears, for the most part, to have adopted a position of tolerance. There are, however, exceptions such as American Christian Reconstructionism which calls for the persecution of dissenting faiths.
Christian churches worldwide
There are many types of Christianity practiced around the world today. For information about the various "super-bodies" of churches which many individual congregations or in some cases bishoprics of these churches associate under see full communion. The ancient Christian-Jewish nasrani tradition today survives in South India.
tokipona:nasin sewi Kolisu
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