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The central and some would argue the most contested concept is " The Greatest Command " or the "New Command" of Jesus (see Christian Love). Most Christians ( not all see Jonadabs ) believe Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah of the Jews as prophesied in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible). This is reflected in their use of the term "Christ" to describe Jesus, which is derived from the Greek translation for "Messiah". The word Christian means "belonging to Christ" or "of Christ".
Although Christianity is a monotheistic religion,Christians believe in a God that exists as three divine persons (technically Greek hypostasis), called the Trinity. Christianity encompasses numerous religious traditions that widely vary by culture, as well as thousands of diverse beliefs and sects. Christianity is generally grouped into three main branches, which split from one another in disputes over doctrine:
- Roman Catholicism (the largest single denomination, with over one billion adherents),
- Orthodox Christianity (including Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy), and
- Protestantism (numerous denominations & schools of thought, including Anglicanism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Methodism).
When combined, Christianity is the world's largest single religion, with an estimated 2.0 billion followers or about 33% of the world's population.
The vast majority of Christian religions (generally including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and most forms of Protestantism, but not Restorationism) derive their beliefs from the conclusions reached by the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E., known as the Nicene Creed. This describes the beliefs that God (as a Trinity of distinct persons with one substance) became human on earth, born as Jesus pursuant to the Old Testament scriptures, was crucified by humanity, died and was buried, only to be resurrected on the third day to then rise to Heaven and "sitteth at the right hand of" (become one with) God. Christians generally believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to achieve salvation and to enter into heaven, and that salvation is a gift given by the grace of God.
Main article: History of Christianity
Main article: Jesus
Christianity originated in the first century. According to Acts 11:19 and 11:26 in the 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 Saint Peter, Paul of Tarsus, and the other apostles.
According to the New Testament Jesus was a descendant of Judah who declared himself to be the long awaited Messiah (John 8:23–24, 14:11), but was rejected as an apostate by the people generally considered to be the Jewish authorities (Matt. 26:63–64). He was condemned for blasphemy and executed by the Romans around the year 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 Pontius 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 (Matt. 26:67–68; Isa. 50:6, 52:14–15; Mark 14:65; Luke 23:63–64), whipping (Isa. 53:5; John 19:1; Matt. 27:26) and general humiliation that is centred on the given references.
Jesus' apostles were the main witnesses of his life, teaching and resurrection from the dead, 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 may have written some portions of the New Testament's Gospels and Epistles; however, the four gospels are not considered to have been written eponymously by their respective namesakes.
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.
Early ChurchRoman Empire:
- via Egypt into North Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia
- via Mesopotamia to Persia, Inner Asia and India
- via Greece and Rome to Europe
There were two main communities of Christians, the Jewish Christians and the Hellenistic Christians. Jewish Christians were those Jews and Gentile converts who observed the Law of Moses (including circumcision, dietary restrictions and the concept of purity, sabbath, quartodecimanism) pejoratively called judaizing. Hellenistic Christians were those who were more influenced by the Greek-speaking world and believed that the central message of Christianity could be re-presented in ways more appropriate for Gentiles. Both these groups contributed to the New Testament and both contained within them a wide spectrum of beliefs (see J. Dunn 1977 Unity and Diversity in the New Testament).
One of the first great writers 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, classically trained theologians and philosophers such as Origen and Augustine developed Christian theology and Christian philosophy, 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 under Roman emperors such as Nero, Valerian, Diocletian, and Galerius. 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.
Galerius, on his death bed, signed the Edict of Galerius, allowing Christians freedom to practice their religion without hindrance (although early Christian writers like Lactantius consider Galerius the author of the last great persecution of Christians). Then, Roman Emperor Constantine I was converted in 312 and with his Edict of Milan (313) made Christianity the religion of the State. However, Rome still subjected Christians to pagan rituals. Many emperors tried to combine the God of the Christians with Mithras, the sun god, in an atempt to unite the empire under one religion. Persecution was briefly revived during the reign of Julian the Apostate (361–363) 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. At the same time, various Christian groups did not share that belief. 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 championed by Athanasius, trinitarianism, was enshrined as dogma (See Nicene Creed,Athanasian Creed). Although Constantine ordered all Arian books burned and Arius exiled, Arianism continued to exist and thrive 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, and were supported by the Byzantine Emperors in order to promote political stability. 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, the Middle East, parts of Africa, and had made some small inroads into the Far East as well. For the most part it had remained fairly unified in its fundamental beliefs with major theological disagreements being resolved 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 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 renounced allegiance to Rome 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 the famous five 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 person saved through faith in Christ alone, or do the Church, good works and the sacraments contribute?), Sola Gratia (Grace alone—is a person'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 humanity and God, or do the Church and its priests play a part?) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone—does all of the glory for humanity'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 Roman Catholics and Protestants sparked persecution and were caught up in various wars, both civil and foreign.
Roman 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. 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.
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According to adherents.com  (http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html) Christianity is the world's most widely practiced religion, with 2.1 billion adherents, followed by Islam with 1.3 billion, Irreligion with 1.1 billion, Hinduism with 900 million, Chinese traditional religion with 394 million, Buddhism with 376 million, etc. Christianity has many branches, including 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, 510 million Protestants in a number of traditions, 216 million Orthodox, 84 million Anglicans, 158 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 due to their unorthodox teachings.
Although Christianity is the largest religion in the world and there are massive missionary efforts under way, its overall rate of growth is slower than that of some other faiths and of the world population as a whole. While the population of the world grows at roughly 1.25% per year, Christianity is growing at about 1.12% per year.
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 Age of 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.
Reaction to the Enlightenment and Modernism triggered the development of literally thousands of Christian Protestant denominations, Roman traditionalist splinter groups of the Roman Catholic Church that do not recognize the legitimacy of many reforms the Roman 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 increased 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. Some traditionally Roman Catholic countries have largely become agnostic.
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 United States, only the conservative Southern Baptist is growing. Evangelical parachurch 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 communist-instated 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 Roman Catholic church is revealing once secret dioceses and undertaking other steps to support Roman 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.
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.
Christian Love is basic to many forms of Christianity (See main article Christian Love). 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 Christůs, 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 modeled 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 Roman 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 virtually 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-Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly known as 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 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; for example, John 3:16. 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. Conversely, liberals are often feel that "traditional" Christians have been misled by political organizations spanning thousands of years, and follow dogma designed to assign power to certain institutions.
Also see the Christian worldview.
Orthodoxy and heresy in Christianity
Orthodoxy, i.e., worshipping in harmony with beliefs traditionally established or otherwise interpreted as "correct beliefs," is 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, as well as the destruction of all writings associated with those disagreeing 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.
Excommunication is the formal act of the Church in recognizing that a person has removed him or herself from the practice of orthodox faith. It is important to note that people excommunicate themselves by their own actions; the Church merely affirms that fact formally with a declaration of excommunication. It effectively banishes a member of the Church from the communion of believers and the privileges of the Church. Excommunication is generally reserved for the most serious sins, including serious crimes, adultery, polygamy, homosexual conduct, apostasy, and teaching false doctrines. In the case of apostasy and false teaching, excommunication is often a last resort after repeated warnings. In some denominations it may be a final action, while in others it may be rescinded if certain conditions are met, such as the repentance of the excommunicated member.
Christianity's relationship with other faiths
In recent years, some have attempted to find commonality between the major religions. Muslims refer to adherents of most Abrahamic religions as People of the Book, "the Book" symbolizing divine scripture, such as the Bible, Torah, and Qur'an. Christians generally do not view themselves as part of an "Abrahamic religion," but view Abraham as an early figure of faith and recognize his attempt to offer up Isaac as a foreshadowing of God's offering of his Son, Jesus (Gen. 22:1-14; Heb. 11:17-19). Judaism sees Abraham as the founder of the people of Israel and the ancestor of their people.
For more information on the relationship between Christianity and other world religions over the years, see Christianity and world religions.
Christianity and Judaism
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.
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The branches and boundaries of Christianity
The doctrines and practices of Christianity have been subject to a great deal of debate since the founding of Christianity. Over the years, many groups have traced their lineage to Jesus and claimed to be "true Christianity," despite enormous differences in doctrine and practice with the surviving mainstream Christian group. Some of the first examples of this were Marcionism, Arianism and Pelagianism within the first few centuries after Christ. This was followed by the founding of Islam, in which Muhammed claimed to be the prophetic successor to Jesus sent to reestablish God's true religion following the supposed corruption of the early church, and later by the East-West Schism between Eastern Orthodox (meaning 'true worship') and Catholic (which means "universal") Christianity.
The Protestant Reformation led to the development of a great number of denominations with unique teachings and practices distinct from Roman Catholicism and each other, including Lutherans, Quakers, and Mennonites. More recently, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Latter Day Saints have claimed to be the restoration and fulfillment of Christ's original teachings, by correcting the perceived corruption of the church (see Great Apostasy), and claiming new revelation and new sacred texts. Some groups similarly claim that Christianity has been modified by the Church Fathers (see Authentic Matthew) and the Protestant Reformers.
Some of these new teachings (such as Marcionism) were quickly suppressed as heresies. Others grew into accepted parts of the world-wide church (e.g., Lutherans), some rapidly left the confines of the Christian church altogether or never entered them, such as Islam, now established as one of the major world religions and yet others grew but remained on the edge of what is accepted (or not) as "Christian." All of these divisions were accompanied by a great deal of debate, claims of heresy by both sides, and at times, violence. Opinions differ widely as to what defines Christianity, how much variation is permitted within Christianity, and thus, which groups qualify as "Christian." As a result, the boundaries of exactly what comprises "Christianity" remain a subject of great dispute today.
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 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 preferred to die rather than renounce their Christian faith, which often included making a sacrifice or burning incense to a pagan deity. Some Roman emperors claimed to be gods and demanded corresponding sacrifices or incense as well.
Many people have been persecuted, tortured, raped and killed in the Islamic world, Indian Subcontinent and the Far East because they have converted to Christianity. That is why people from that part of the world who have converted to Christianity have left to Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia, because their native third world countries have laws against Christian conversions.
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. During the Crusades, Christian atrocities against Jews in German and Hungarian towns, later also in those of France and England, and in the massacres of non-combatants in Palestine and Syria initiated a tradition of Christian anti-Semitism, which was further bolstered by the blood libel cult, and continued into the 1500s by the Spanish Inquisition. 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, Roman Catholics and other Christians have persecuted each other in the name of Jesus. In the second half of the 20th century the violent conflict between armed political groups among the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland carried a strong element of sectarianism between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
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, according to some observers, could pave the way for the persecution of dissenting faiths. This is related to the issues of ecumenism and religious pluralism.
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.
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- The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
- Timeline of unfulfilled Christian Prophecy
- The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez (1984, 1985, 1999, ISBN 1565635221)
- Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister McGrath (ISBN 0631225285)
- Christian Theology Reader by Alister McGrath (ISBN 063120637X)
- Systematic Theology, an ecumenical trilogy by Thomas Oden
- Believerscafe (http://www.believerscafe.com/) A large Christian resource site with over 30,000 pages of Christian Classics, Bible Dictionary, Bible versions, articles, devotions and downloads.
- Catholic Apologetics of America (http://catholicapologeticsofamerica.blogspot.com)
- Eastern Orthodox Christian Information Center (http://www.orthodoxinfo.com)
- Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (http://www.carm.org) - Christianity, Cults, and Other Religions
- Apologia (http://www.ApologeticsCourses.Com) - Courses Christianity, Cults, and Other Religions
- Christian Faith (http://www.Bible4U.Info) - Exhaustive Information About Christian Faith
- ChristianAnswers.net (http://www.christiananswers.net) - In their words - "A site providing biblical answers to contemporary questions".
- What is Christianity and what do Christians believe? (http://www.gotquestions.org/Christianity.html)
- Ship of Fools (http://ship-of-fools.com/) - ecumenical "magazine of Christian unrest". With large, lively discussion boards. (http://forum.ship-of-fools.com/)
- Televised Debates (http://givemeananswer.org/) - "Give Me An Answer" open air debates are recorded on college campus across the United States. Students ask questions and Christian apologist and pastor Cliffe Knechtle gives answers with a biblical perspective. Also has discussion boards.
- Apologetics Index (http://www.apologeticsindex.org/) - Apologetics research resources on religious cults, sects, religions, doctrines, etc.
- An authoritative website discussing basic beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (http://www.mormon.org)
- The best of Christianity online (http://www.catholic.tc) - This web site includes articles of Bible study, Sacraments, From Pastor, About the Parish, Missio Sui Iuris. free download our Catholic Mission TCI Newsletter.
- Christian Thinktank (http://www.christian-thinktank.org) - Extensive, in-depth apologetics
- Christians (http://christians.port5.com) - basic teachings of Christian faith
- What Is Christianity? (http://www.religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Hs/What_Is_Christianity.html) Christianity implies, first of all, accepting and realizing the Teaching of God given by Him for the embodied people through Jesus Christ.
General Online sources
- ReligionFacts.com: Christianity (http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/index.htm) Fast facts, glossary, timeline, history, beliefs, texts, holidays, symbols, people, etc.
- The Evolution of Christianity (http://www.religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Sh/Heart_19.html) History of Christianity Religion.
- List of sites critical of Christianity (http://dmoz.org/Society/Religion_and_Spirituality/Opposing_Views/Christianity/)
- Wikichristian (http://www.wikichristian.org), a free Christian Encyclopedia, Public Domain Library for all Christian works and a wiki community for all believers.
- Theopedia (http://www.theopedia.com/Main_Page), a conservative Calvinist Christian wiki
- Compass (http://theconnexion.net/compass/index.php/Main_Page), a wiki about what it means to follow Jesus Christ
- OrthodoxWiki (http://www.orthodoxwiki.org/Main_Page), a wiki about the Eastern Orthodox Christian denominations