the most popular religion in the world with well over two billion followers.
Jesus of Nazareth (called "the
Christ" or "the Messiah") is the founder of Christianity.
Christians believe that Jesus is from God; he is God’s son. Christians believe
that Jesus is not only God’s son, but he is God. Although he was a
human, historical figure, Jesus is God come to earth in human form.
Christians believe the entire universe— including all creatures and cultures on earth—was created by God. An account of God’s creation of the world in seven days is given in the Bible, the Christian sacred text. There is an order and hierarchy to creation, with humankind having responsibility for taking care of the rest of creation. Adam and Eve, the first man and first woman, are made by God in the image of God. Christians are divided regarding the literalness of the early chapters of Genesis—as they are about the compatibility of the dogma of creation with the theory of evolution.
Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus of Nazareth lived about 2000
years ago and lived most of his life in the
Roman province of Judea—roughly the region of today’s Israel. Jesus was born
in the city of Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth (in the area of Galilee) and died
near the city of Jerusalem. Throughout history, people have heard
about Jesus, and have decided to follow his teachings. As a result, Christianity
today is practiced all over the world in many different cultures.
Christians believe that people were made to be
in a close, loving relationship with God. Human rebellion and sin has separated
us from this relationship with God, from one another, and fragmented us within.
God has been working in the lives of people throughout history, in order to
bring people back into a loving relationship. After giving the law to Moses, and
sending prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, God came to earth himself as Jesus in
order to reopen the possibility of a relationship with God. Jesus was killed by
crucifixion (being nailed to a large wooden cross), but he rose from the dead,
overcoming death. Christians believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection allow
people to overcome sin and enter a life-giving relationship with God. They also
believe that Jesus’ life, teachings and sacrifice can bring about
reconciliation among people in this world. Christians work for justice and peace
here and now, having faith and hope in an eternal kingdom with perfect harmony
and glory to God.
The disciples originally called themselves "Christian Jews" but soon this changed to be just Christians or 'little
Christ's'. The number of Christians grew very quickly during the 50 years after the death of Jesus.
St. Peter went to Rome and preached about Jesus. St. Paul traveled widely and converted many people to the new religion. The other disciples also
traveled all over the Middle East and further a field. Some people believe that one of the disciples reached India ! When Roman soldiers became Christians they took the new religion all over the Roman Empire as far north as the borders of Scotland, south to North Africa, West to Wales and East to modern day Russia.
After the Roman Empire was defeated in 410 Christianity suffered but soon it was on the way up again. In 625
St. Augustine came to Britain and established Canterbury as an important cathedral. However Christianity in the Middle East and North Africa was challenged by the spread of the new religion of Islam. By the year 1000 all of Europe was Christian, and the majority of Europeans Christians. In 1054 the church in the East split away from the church in the West. This was known as the great Schism and Rome became the "capital" of the Western (or Roman Catholic) church, and Constantinople (now called Istanbul) the capital of the Eastern (or Orthodox Catholic) church.
In 1517 Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 "protests" on the door of a church in Wittenberg and this was the start of the Protestant movement. One of the main groups to split away from the Roman Catholic church was the Church of England (or Anglican) church. Over the next 300 years many other groups split away from either the Roman Catholic or Church of England.
In the 1700s and 1800s the major European nations were expanding and creating empires around the world. They took their religion with them. The
"flavor" of Christianity depended on the country that was colonizing. Soon Christianity was established and growing in Africa (mainly Protestant) and South America (mainly Roman Catholic). By the end of the 1800s Christianity was established all over the world. In the 1900s Christianity has continued to grow in Africa, South America and in the last few decades in South East Asia, only in Europe are the number of Christians diminishing.
Today there are over 2 billion (i.e. 200 crore) Christians in the world. All this from a handful of disciples following a man called Jesus of Nazareth in a small country 2,000 years ago.
While some of the associated sects have their own texts, the vast majority of Christians have only one sacred text known as the Bible (from Greek Bibles for book or record). The Bible is divided into two major and one minor section.
- * Old or Hebrew Scriptures: These are shared with Jews and are used as the history of the world before the coming of Jesus
- * The New or Christian Scriptures: These tell the story of the life of Jesus, the development and the writings of the Early Church and the prophecies about the end of the world
- The Apocrypha: A collection of prophets and writings which are not commonly agreed by the major sects.
*These are the commonly agreed sections found in all Bibles.
Belief and Practice
There is an enormous range of belief among Christians. However the majority of Christians would, probably, agree on three main areas:
- God is a monotheistic deity, revealed in the works of creation, in the person of Jesus and in the presence of the spirit. God is the judge of all and the supreme authority.
- Jesus: Most Christians give a place of authority to Jesus Christ. They acknowledge his special relationship with God and his teachings form the basis of much of Christian belief and lifestyle.
- The Bible has an important place as the written authority on the commandments (laws) of God, on the life of Jesus and on the life of the early church. Most Christians would regard the bible as an important part of their understanding of God and as a special part of their understanding of the way they should live.
The Christian year starts at Advent and runs through the year in a series of seasons. The seasons of Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation for the two most important festivals, both linked to events in the life of Jesus.
- Christmas - celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph
- Easter - celebrating the death, resurrection and eventual rising of Jesus to heaven.
Most Christians will have three elements at the center of their worship:
Christianity is a monotheistic religion, meaning that Christians believe in one omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (always present) God. Although Christians believe in only one God, they believe that God is made up of three persons: God the Father, who created the world; Jesus Christ the son, who lived on earth to invite humankind into a relationship with God; and the Holy Spirit, God’s continual presence and power among humankind. The unity of these three "persons" is called the Trinity.
- Eucharist: The recreation of the last supper when Jesus ate with his disciples before his crucifixion. The elements of bread and wine are used to represent Jesus' body and blood.
- Exposition: Using the message of the bible, the teachings of Jesus and those of other Christians to explain the workings of the world and to formulate responses to situations in the world today.
- Prayer: Communication with God in supplication, confession, adoration and thanksgiving both corporate and private.
The Trinity expresses the idea of eternal relationship and community. All healthy relationships and community have their source in God. Christian belief in the Trinity is a paradox, meaning that at first glance, it contains two ideas that cannot both be true at the same time—how can there be only one God, if there are three persons in the trinity? The Trinity is often explained by making a comparison to water. Although water can be liquid, ice, or steam, it is still always the same substance with all the same chemical elements and composition, even though it has different forms.
The Christian God is seen as sole Creator, Redeemer, final Judge and eternal Ruler. This triune God is self-revealing. Christians see their faith in what God has taken the initiative to reveal. God the Creator has put his image in all persons, has shown divine power in all of Nature and Creation, has spoken through prophets and the Bible, and finally and most importantly, has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is the Christian sacred text. The Bible recounts the ways God have worked through history to bring people back in harmony with God, with others, and with one’s self. The Bible is a library of different kinds of books containing historical accounts, teaching, songs, poetry, letters, and words from God’s prophets. The Bible is divided up into two main sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament describes everything from the creation of the earth to right before the birth of Jesus. The New Testament recounts the life of Jesus and the development of the early Christian church.
In addition to the Bible (sometimes referred to as the Scriptures), there are three other sources of Christian belief and understanding: tradition, which is the worship and rituals that developed in the early church, but which are not necessarily recorded in the Bible; reason, which is the scholarship and ideas of men and women who have devoted their lives to understanding God; and experience, which is the changes people sense in their lives as they follow Jesus’ teachings.
Christians believe that
Jesus opens up the possibility of a life-giving relationship with God, both here
on earth, and in life after death. Christians believe that saying
"yes" to this invitation means having a relationship with God—a
relationship that deepens and grows and matures as any other relationship would.
Different groups of Christians emphasize different ways of deepening this
relationship: worship at church, reading the Bible, prayer, singing, serving the
poor, being baptized.
Sects and Divisions
In Europe alone there are over a 1000 formal Christian organizations ranging
from extreme conservative to extreme liberal. They agree on little. A committee
consisting of one member from each of: Anglican, Baptist, Episcopal, Greek
Orthodox, Jehovah's Witness, Methodist, Mormon, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic,
Russian Orthodox and Unity Church would probably fail to reach a consensus on
almost any basic Christian belief or practice. In fact, some committee members
would probably refuse to recognize some of the others as fellow Christians.
It is possible to divide the world's Christians in 5 main groups
- Roman Catholics: based in Rome under the authority of the Pope
to follow the teachings of Jesus based on tradition, and on the Catholic
Church leaders’ interpretation of the Bible. The Roman or Western became
distinct from the Eastern in 1054 AD/CE.
- Orthodox: split into two main groups Russian and Greek
to honor the traditions that the earliest Christians practiced. It is the
historic Church of the East
- Protestants: Christianity
is a very broad term for Christian denominations that grew out of the 16th
century Reformation. These churches base their understanding of the
Christian life mostly on their reading of the Bible. Because there are
different ways to interpret the Bible, there are a great number of different
protestant denominations, and they emphasize different aspects and
expressions of Jesus’ teachings.
- "Free Church" individual self governing church groups
- Associated sects - which have some common ground with mainstream
A quick glance
- 2,000 years old
- Began in the Middle East
- Founded by the followers of Jesus Christ
- Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the
Son of God and that:
- God sent his Son to earth to save
humanity from the consequences of its sins (i.e. its non-good behavior,
or its disobedience to God)
- Jesus was fully human, and experienced
this world in the same way as other human beings of his time
- Jesus was tortured and gave his life on
the Cross (At the Crucifixion)
- Jesus rose from the dead on the third
day after his Crucifixion (the Resurrection)
- Christians believe that Jesus was the
Messiah promised in the Old Testament
- Christians believe that there is only one
God, but that this one God consists of 3 "persons"
- God the Father
- God the Son
- The Holy Spirit
- Christians worship in Churches, their
spiritual leaders are called priests or ministers
- The Christian holy book is the Old and New
Testament of the Bible
- Christian festivals such as Easter and
Christmas, are major milestones in the Western secular calendar