Christianity



Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on Jesus of Nazareth, and on his life and teachings as presented in the New Testament. Christians believe Jesus to be the Messiah and thus refer to him as Jesus Christ. With an estimated 2.1 billion adherents in 2001, Christianity is the world's largest religion. It is the predominant religion in the Americas, Europe, Philippine Islands, Oceania, and large parts of Africa. It is also growing rapidly in Asia, particularly in China and South Korea, and Northern Africa.

Christianity began in the 1st century as a Jewish sect, and shares many religious texts with Judaism, specifically the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as Old Testament (see Judeo-Christian). Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion because of the centrality of Abraham in their shared traditions.

The name "Christian" (Greek Χριστιανός Strong's G5546) was first applied to the disciples in Antioch, as recorded in Acts 11:26. The earliest recorded use of the term Christianity (Greek Χριστιανισμός) is by Ignatius of Antioch.

Today, there is diversity of doctrines among various groups calling themselves Christians. These groups are sometimes classified under denominations, though for various theological reasons many groups reject this classification system. At other times these groups are described in terms of varying traditions, representing core historical similarities and differences. Christianity may be broadly represented as being divided into three main groupings:

* Roman Catholicism: The Roman Catholic Church, the largest single body, which includes Latin Rite and several Eastern Catholic communities and totals more than 1 billion baptized members.
* Eastern Christianity: Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodox Churches (Copts, Jacobites, and Armenians), the Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorian) with 100,000 members, and others with a combined membership of more than 300 million baptized members.
* Protestantism: Numerous groups such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed/Presbyterians, Evangelical, Charismatic, Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals. The oldest of these separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century Protestant Reformation, followed in many cases by further divisions. Estimates of the total number of Protestants are very uncertain, partly because of the difficulty in determining which denominations should be placed in this category, but it seems to be unquestionable that Protestantism is the second major branch of Christianity (after Roman Catholicism) in number of followers.

The above groupings are not without exceptions. Some Protestants identify themselves simply as Christian, or born-again Christian; they typically distance themselves from the confessionalism of many Protestant communities that emerged during the Reformation[11] by calling themselves "non-denominational" — often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations (Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, etc.). Others, particularly some Anglicans, would be embarrassed to be called Protestants, and thus insist on being thought of as Catholic, adopting the name "Anglo-Catholic". Lastly, a few small communities employ a name similar to the Roman Catholic Church, such as the Old-Catholics, but are not in communion with the See of Rome.

Restorationists, which are historically connected to the Protestant Reformation, do not describe themselves as "reforming" a Christian Church continuously existing from the time of Jesus, but as restoring a Church that was historically lost at some point. Restorationists include Churches of Christ with 2.6 million members, Disciples of Christ with 800,000 members, Seventh-day Adventists with 14.4 million members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 12 million members, and Jehovah’s Witnesses with 6.6 million members. Though Restorationists have some basic similarities, their doctrine varies and can be significantly different.

Since some of these groups deviate from the tenets which most groups hold as basic to Christianity, they are considered heretical or even non-Christian by many mainstream Christian groups; this is particularly true for non-trinitarians.

Although Christianity has always had a significant diversity of belief, mainstream Christian theology considers certain core doctrines essential to orthodoxy. Those accepting them often consider followers of Jesus who disagree with these doctrines to be heterodox, heretical, or outside Christianity altogether.

Christians identify Jesus as the Messiah. The title Messiah comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (mashiakh) meaning the anointed one, of which the Greek translation Χριστός (Christos) is the source of the English word Christ. Christians believe that as Messiah Jesus was anointed as ruler and savior of both the Jewish people specifically and of humanity in general, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and the inauguration of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Christian concept of Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept.

Most Christians believe that Jesus is "true God and true man" (or fully divine and fully human). Jesus, as having become fully human in all respects, including mortality, suffered the pains and temptations of mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again with the resurrection.

According to Christian Scripture, Jesus was born of Mary, a virgin who conceived, not by sexual intercourse, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Little of Jesus' childhood is covered by the Gospels compared to his ministry and especially his last week. The Biblical account of his ministry begins with his baptism and recounts miracles: turning water into wine at a marriage at Cana, exorcisms, and healings. It also quotes his teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and records Jesus' appointing of the Twelve Apostles.

Most Christians consider the death and resurrection of Jesus the most important events in history. According to the Gospels, Jesus and his followers went to Jerusalem for the Passover and, in the triumphal entry, were greeted by a crowd of supporters. Later that week, he enjoyed a ritual meal — the Last Supper, possibly the Passover Seder — with his disciples before going to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was arrested by Roman soldiers on orders from the Sanhedrin and the high priest Caiaphas. The arrest took place clandestinely at night to avoid a riot, because Jesus was popular with many of the people in Jerusalem. Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' apostles, betrayed Him by identifying his location to the authorities for money.

Following the arrest, Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin, which found him guilty of blasphemy and wished to execute him, though it lacked the legal authority. Thus Jesus was sent to Pontius Pilate, who in turn sent him to Herod Antipas. Herod, though initially excited at meeting Jesus, ended up mocking him and sending him back to Pilate. Pilate, in accord with a Passover custom where the Roman governor freed one prisoner, offered the crowd a choice between Jesus of Nazareth and an insurrectionist named Barabbas. The crowd chose to have Barabbas freed and Jesus crucified. Pilate washed his hands, to display that he claimed innocence of the injustice of the decision. Pilate then ordered Jesus to be crucified with a charge, the titulus crucis, placed atop the cross which read "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Jesus died by late afternoon and was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day since his crucifixion, then later appeared first to Mary Magdalene, to his assembled disciples on the evening after his resurrection, and to various people in several places over the next forty days. During one of these visits, Jesus' disciple Thomas initially doubted the resurrection, but after being invited to place his finger in Jesus' pierced side he said to him: "My Lord and my God!" Before his Ascension Jesus instructed his Apostles to "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...", a command known as the Great Commission.

Most Christians believe that salvation from "sin and death" is available through faith in Jesus as saviour because of his atoning sacrifice on the cross which paid for sins. Reception of salvation is related to justification and usually understood as the activity of unmerited Divine grace.

The operation and effects of grace are understood differently by different traditions. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach the necessity of the free will to cooperate with grace. Reformed theology goes furthest in emphasizing dependence on grace by teaching the total depravity of mankind and the irresistibility of grace.

Most Christians believe that God is one eternal being who exists as three distinct, eternal, and indivisible persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ the eternal Word), and the Holy Spirit.

Christianity continued from Judaism a belief in the existence of a single omnipotent God who created and sustains the universe. Against this background belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit became expressed as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which considers the three persons of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) share a single Divine substance. This substance is not considered divided, in the sense that each person has a third of the substance; rather, each person is considered to have the whole substance. The distinction lies in their origins or relations, the Father being unbegotten, the Son begotten, and the Spirit proceeding.

The "begetting" does not refer to Mary's conceiving Jesus, but to a divine begetting before Creation; God the Son preexisted his taking human form in the Incarnation. Indeed, in the Arian disputes, the orthodox formulation was, "There was never a time when he the Son did not exist."

In Reformed theology, the Trinity has special relevance to salvation, which is considered the result of an intra-Trinitarian covenant and in some way the work of each person. The Father elects some to salvation before the foundation of the world, the Son performs the atonement for their sins, and the Spirit regenerates them so they can have faith in Christ, and sanctifies them.

Christians believe the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and that his active participation in a believer's life (even to the extent of "indwelling", or in a certain sense taking up residence within, the believer) is essential to living a Christian life. In Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican theology, this indwelling in received through the sacrament called Confirmation or, in the East, Chrismation. Most Protestants believe that the Spirit indwells a new believer at the time of salvation. Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestants also believe the gift of the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience separate from other experiences like conversion, and some believe it will always be evident through glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

The earliest specifically non-Trinitarian belief claiming descent from Jesus' teachings was Gnosticism, whose adherents generally held that the God of the Old Testament was a lower, evil god, while Jesus was an emissary from the higher good god.

Modalists such as Sabellians and Oneness Pentecostals regard God as a single person, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considered modes or roles by which the unipersonal God expresses himself. Others believe in a greater distinction between the persons than Trinitarians accept, often restricting true divinity to the Father. Ancient Arianism[29] and modern Jehovah's Witnesses consider Christ the highest created being. Adoptionists believed that Jesus was born human and received a higher status later,[31] while ancient Ebionites, Reformation-era Socinians, and the Socinians' modern descendants the Unitarians view Jesus as never more than human. Latter-day Saints accept the divinity of all three, but deny they have a common essence, believing them to be united only by a shared purpose.

Christianity regards the Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament, as authoritative: written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore the inerrant Word of God. Protestants believe that the scriptures contain all revealed truth necessary for salvation (See Sola scriptura).

The Old Testament contains the entire Jewish Tanakh, though in the Christian canon the books are ordered differently and some books of the Tanakh are divided into several books by the Christian canon. The Catholic and Orthodox canons include the Hebrew Jewish canon and other books (from the Septuagint Greek Jewish canon) which Catholics call Deuterocanonical, while Protestants consider the latter Apocrypha.

The first books of the New Testament are the Gospels, which tell of the life and teachings of Jesus. There are four canonical Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The first three are often called synoptic because of the amount of material they share. The rest of the New Testament consists of a sequel to Luke's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the very early history of the Church, a collection of letters from early Christian leaders to congregations or individuals, the Pauline and General epistles, and the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.

Some traditions maintain other canons. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church maintains two canons, the Narrow Canon, itself larger than any Biblical canon outside Ethiopia, and the Broad Canon, which has even more book The Latter-day Saints hold three additional books to be the inspired word of God: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Gnostics used numerous books outside of the orthodox canon, most famously the Gospel of Thomas.

Though Christians largely agree on the content of the Bible, no such consensus exists on the crucial matter of its interpretation, or exegesis. In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandrine interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while Antiochene interpretation insisted on the literal sense, holding that other meanings (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning.

Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The literal sense is "the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation." The allegorical sense includes typology, for example the parting of the Red Sea is seen as a "type" of or sign of baptism; the moral sense contains ethical teaching; the anagogical sense includes eschatology and applies to eternity and the consummation of the world. Catholic theology also adds other rules of interpretation, which include the injunction that all other senses of sacred scripture are based on the literal, that the historicity of the Gospels must be absolutely and constantly held, that scripture must be read within the "living Tradition of the whole Church", and that "the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome."

Protestants stress the literal sense or historical-grammatical method, even to the extent of rejecting other senses altogether. Martin Luther advocated "one definite and simple understanding of Scripture". Other Protestant interpreters still make use of typology. Protestants characteristically believe that ordinary believers may reach an adequate understanding of Scripture because Scripture itself is clear (or "perspicuous"), because of the help of the Holy Spirit, or both. Martin Luther believed that without God's help Scripture would be "enveloped in darkness", but John Calvin wrote, "all who refuse not to follow the Holy Spirit as their guide, find in the Scripture a clear light." The Second Helvetic Confession said, "we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages)." The writings of the Church Fathers, and decisions of Ecumenical Councils, though "not despised", were not authoritative and could be rejected.

Creeds, or concise doctrinal statements, began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. The earliest creed still in common use is the Apostles' Creed.

The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431. The text is included here. The phrase "and the son" (presented in brackets below) did not appear in the original creed and is not accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is commonly referred to as the Filioque clause.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all ages,
God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God;
begotten, not made;
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became man;
and He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again,
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the living and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the Prophets.

And I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.[55]

The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at Chalcedon in what is now the country of Turkey in 451, (though not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox Churches) taught that Christ is one person who has two natures: one divine and one human, that both natures are complete, and that the two are not mixed but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.

In the Western Church the Athanasian Creed, received as having the same status as the Nicene and Chaceldonian, says: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons not dividing the Substance."

Most Protestants accept the Creeds. Some Protestant traditions believe Trinitarian doctrine without making use of the Creeds themselves.

Christians believe that the soul is eternal, and consciousness continues after death. In the General Resurrection, all who have died will bodily rise from the dead at the end of time to be judged by Jesus when he returns in fulfilment of scriptural prophecies.

The Christian view of the afterlife includes the eternal realms of heaven and hell; in Catholicism those who die in a state of grace undergo purification in order to achieve the holiness necessary to enter Heaven in what is known as purgatory.

Christians believe that all people should strive to live in imitation of Christ; this includes obedience to the Ten Commandments, as interpreted by Christ (as in the Sermon on the Mount). Jesus taught that the greatest commandments were to: “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” This love includes such injunctions as "feed the hungry" and "shelter the homeless", and applies to friend or enemy alike. Other Christian practice includes acts of piety such as prayer and Bible reading.

Christianity teaches that one can only overcome sin though divine grace: moral and spiritual progress can only occur with God's help through the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer. Christians believe that by sharing in Christ's life, death, and resurrection, they die with him to sin and can be resurrected with him to new life.

Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholics describe Christian worship in terms of the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist (communion), Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Many Protestant groups, following Martin Luther, recognize the sacramental nature of baptism and Eucharist, but not usually the other five in the same way. Anabaptist and Brethren groups would add feet washing. Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness Churches emphasize "gifts of the Spirit" such as spiritual healing, prophecy, exorcism, and glossolalia (speaking in tongues). These emphases are used not as "sacraments" but as means of worship and ministry. The Quakers deny the entire concept of sacraments. Nevertheless, their "testimonies" affirming peace, integrity, equality, and simplicity are affirmed as integral parts of the Quaker belief structure.

Some Protestants tend to view Christian rituals in terms of commemoration apart from mystery. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Old-Catholic and many Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed Christians hold the commemoration and mystery of rituals together, seeing no contradiction between them.

Justin Martyr described second century Christian liturgy in his First Apology (c. 150) to Emperor Antoninus Pius:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.

Justin's description, which applies to some extent to most church services today, alludes to the following components:

* Scripture readings drawn from the Old Testament, one of the Gospels, or an Epistle. Often these are arranged systematically around an annual cycle, using a book called a lectionary.

* A sermon. In ancient times this followed the scripture readings; today this may occur later in the service, although in liturgical churches the sermon still often follows the readings.

* Congregational prayer and thanksgiving. These will probably occur regularly throughout the service. Justin does not mention this, but some of these are likely to be sung in the form of hymns. The Lord's Prayer is especially likely to be recited.

* The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament, or the Lord's Supper) — a ritual in which small amounts of bread and wine are consecrated and then consumed. Justin Martyr described the Eucharist as follows:

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

Some Christians, particularily non-Lutheran Protestants, believe these represent the body and blood of Christ, whereas Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and many Anglicans believe that they become or are the body and blood of Christ (the doctrine of the Real Presence). Churches in the "liturgical" family (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican) see this as the main part of the service, while some Protestants may celebrate it less frequently. In many cases there are restrictions on who may partake, and visitors should ask about this before attempting to join in. Communion is not generally permitted to non-members in Catholic and Orthodox churches, and some Protestant churches invite visitors to participate only by prior arrangement with the minister. Even members may be subject to restrictions: for example, only Roman Catholics free from unconfessed mortal sin are eligible to receive Communion, though in practice it is rare for the Eucharist to be denied to any Catholic; Orthodox communicants are expected to make confession of sins and fast before communion; and in some Protestant churches, members must give notice to the minister or elders of an intent to take communion. Some denominations substitute grape juice for wine, while the Latter-day Saints use water for their weekly Sacrament.

* A "collection", "offering", or "tithe" in which the people are asked to contribute funds. One common method is to pass a collection plate for contributions. Other methods are more private where donations are given out of the view of others. Christians traditionally use these funds not only for general upkeep of the church, but also for charitable work of various types.

The structure of a service may vary because of special events like baptisms or weddings which are incorporated into the service. In many churches today, children and youth will be excused from the main service in order to attend Sunday school. Many denominations depart from this general pattern in a more fundamental way. For example, the Seventh-day Adventists meet on Saturday (the biblical Sabbath), not Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations strive to follow the Holy Spirit and may spontaneously be moved to action rather than follow a formal order of service. At Quaker meetings, participants sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak. Some Evangelical services resemble concerts more than liturgy, with rock and pop music, dancing, and use of multimedia. Some denominations do not meet on a weekly basis, but form smaller cell groups within the church which meet weekly at peoples' homes, and gather together fortnightly or monthly for a larger celebration.

In some denominations (mainly liturgical ones) the service is led by a priest. In others (mainly among Protestants) there is a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. A division is often made between "High" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "Low" services, at which a more casual atmosphere prevails even if the service in question is liturgical in nature, but even within these two categories there is great diversity in forms of worship.

In Orthodox churches the congregation traditionally stands throughout the liturgy (although allowances are made for members who are unable to). Many Protestant churches follow a pattern in which participants stand to sing, kneel to pray, and sit to listen (to the sermon). Roman Catholics tend to do the same, though standing for formal prayer is more common. Others services are less programmed and may be quite lively and spontaneous. Music is usually incorporated and often involves a choir and/or organ. Some churches use only a cappella music, either on principle (many Churches of Christ object to the use of musical instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).

In many nondenominational Christian churches, as well as many Protestant denominations, there is usually a worship music portion of the service that precedes the sermon or message. This usually consists of the singing of hymns, praise and worship music or psalms. Many churches believe that worship is important as it demonstrates a Christian's love for God and the sacrifice that was made for them.

A recent trend is the growth of "convergence worship", which combines liturgy with spontaneity. This sort of worship is often a result of the influence of charismatic renewal within churches which are traditionally liturgical. Convergence worship has spawned at least one new denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

Catholics, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar, which consists of a set of cycles of liturgical seasons observed annually. This includes holy days, such as solemnities which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or the saints, periods of fasting such as Lent, and other pious events. This practice draws from Jewish tradition, with such feasts as the Feast of Tabernacles, the Passover, and the Jubilee. Some Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar.

The best-known Christian symbol is the cross, of which many varieties exist. Several denominations tend to favor distinctive crosses: the crucifix for Catholics, the crux orthodoxa for Orthodox, and the unadorned cross for Protestants. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Other Christian symbols include the ichthys ("fish") symbol or, in ancient times, an anchor, as well as the chi-rho. In a modern Roman alphabet, the Chi-Rho appears like a large P with an X overlaid on the lower stem. They are the first two Greek letters of the word Christ - Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ), and the symbol is the one that is said to have appeared to Constantine prior to converting to Christianity (see History and origins section below).

There are various reports as to the growth of Christianity today. According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, Christianity is growing at about 2.3% annually, remaining steady with the growth rate of the global population. This makes Christianity the Fastest Growing Major Religion in terms of absolute numbers added.

Christianity began within the Jewish religion among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Under the leadership of the Apostles Peter and Paul, it welcomed Gentiles, and gradually separated from Pharisaic Judaism. Some Jewish Christians rejected this approach and developed into various sects of their own, while others were joined with Gentile Christians in the development of the church; within both groups there existed great diversity of belief. Professor Bentley Layton writes, "the lack of uniformity in ancient Christian scripture in the early period is very striking, and it points to the substantial diversity within the Christian religion."[citation needed] A church hierarchy seems to have developed by the time of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 3, Titus 1), indicating it was in existence from the first generation of Christians and was certainly formalized by the 4th century.

Christianity spread across the Mediterranean Basin, enduring persecution by the Roman Emperors. As Christianity expanded beyond Israel, it also came into increased contact with Hellenistic culture; Greek philosophy, especially Neoplatonism, became a significant influence on Christian thought through theologians such as Origen. Scholars differ on the extent to which the developing Christian faith adopted identifiably pagan beliefs.

Theological diversity led to disputes about the correct interpretation of Christian teaching and to conflict within and between the local churches. Bishops and local synods condemned some theologians as heretics and defined Church views as orthodoxy (Greek: "the right view"), in contrast to what they deemed heresy (from Greek "faction" or "(wrong) choice"). One of the first notable group of heretics were Christian Gnostics, while other early sects deemed heretical included Marcionism, Ebionitism and Montanism. Following Christianity's legalization such disputes intensified. Ecumenical councils, beginning with the Council of Nicaea, called by Constantine in 325, were held to debate theological issues and reach clearer dogmatic definitions, thereby restoring unity.

In the 4th century, after the persecution by Emperor Diocletian, Christianity attained legal recognition. His successor Galerius, who had been the instigator of the persecution, issued an edict of toleration on his death-bed in 311, that however had only a temporary effect. In 312, Emperor Constantine, himself newly converted to Christianity, affirmed the religion's legal status and went on to give the church a privileged place in society, which it retained apart from a brief pagan interlude 361 – 363 under Julian the Apostate. In 391 Theodosius I established Nicene Christianity as the official and, except for Judaism, only legal religion in the Roman Empire. From Constantine onwards, the history of Christianity becomes difficult to untangle from the history of Europe (see also Christendom). The Church took over many of the political and cultural roles of the pagan Roman institutions. The Emperors, seeking unity through the new religion, frequently took part in Church matters, sometimes in concord with the bishops but also against them. Imperial authorities acted to suppress the old pagan cults and groups deemed heretical by the Church, most notably Arians. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "various penal laws were enacted by the Christian emperors against heretics as being guilty of crime against the State. In both the Theodosian and Justinian codes they were styled infamous persons ... In some particularly aggravated cases sentence of death was pronounced upon heretics, though seldom executed in the time of the Christian emperors of Rome."

Various forms of Christian monasticism developed, with the organization of the first monastic communities being attributed to the hermit St Anthony of Egypt around 300. The monastic life spread to many parts of the Christian empire during the 4th and 5th centuries, as many felt[citation needed] that the Christian moral and spiritual life was compromised by the change from a persecuted minority group to an established majority religion, and sought to regain the purity of early faith by fleeing society.

Within the Roman Empire, the Church tightened its administration along Roman lines, creating larger units presided over by metropolitans and patriarchs. The Council of Nicea recognized as having special preeminence: the Pope of Rome, the Patriarch of Alexandria and of Antioch, to which later were added the Patriarch of Constantinople (in 381) and the Patriarch of Jerusalem (in 451). This system of five sees was later dubbed the Pentarchy.

The Roman Empire was linguistically divided into the Latin-speaking west, centered in Rome, and the Greek-speaking east, centered in Constantinople. (There were also significant communities in Egypt and Syria.) Outside the Empire, Christianity was adopted in Armenia, Caucasian Iberia (now Georgia), Ethiopia (Aksum), Persia, India, and among the peoples who spoke Celtic languages. Other earlier Christian states included the Ghassanids (from 3rd century) and Osroene.

During the Migration Period, various Germanic peoples adopted Christianity; at first Arianism was widespread (as among Goths and Vandals), but later Roman Catholicism prevailed, beginning with the Franks. The Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe generally adopted Orthodox Christianity, as in the Baptism of Kievan Rus' (988) in Rus' (present-day Russia and Ukraine). Cultural differences and disciplinary disputes finally resulted in the Great Schism (conventionally dated to 1054), which formally divided Christendom into the Catholic west and the Orthodox east.

From the 7th century, Christianity was challenged by Islam, which quickly conquered the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain. Numerous military struggles followed, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista and the eventual conquest of the Byzantine Empire and southeastern Europe by the Turks.

Western Christianity in the Middle Ages was characterized by cooperation and conflict between the secular rulers and the Church under the Pope, and by the development of scholastic theology and philosophy. Later, increasing discontent with corruption and immorality among the clergy resulted in attempts to reform Church and society. The Roman Catholic Church managed to renew itself at the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563), but only after Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517. This was one of the key events of the Protestant Reformation which led to the emergence of Christian denominations. During the following centuries, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states, while many Orthodox Christians found themselves living under Muslim rulers.

Partly from missionary zeal, but also under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. As the European Enlightenment took hold, Christianity was confronted with the discoveries of science (including the heliocentric model and the theory of evolution), and with the development of biblical criticism (linked to the development of Christian fundamentalism) and modern political ideologies such as liberalism, nationalism and socialism. In the 19th and 20th centuries, important developments have included the rise of ecumenism and the charismatic movement.

(For the contributions of Christianity to the humanities and culture, see Christian philosophy, Christian art, Christian literature, Christian music, and Christian architecture.)

Christians have frequently suffered from persecution. During the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity was regarded with suspicion and persecuted in the Roman Empire, mainly unofficially, but also sometimes officially. Adherence to Christianity was declared illegal, and, especially in the 3rd century, the government demanded that their subjects (the Jews only excepted) sacrifice to the Emperor as a divinity — a practice that Christianity (along with Judaism) rejected. State persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire is taken to have ended with the Edict of Milan, but it persisted or even intensified in other places, such as Sassanid Persia. Later, under Islam, Christians were second-class citizens and have at times suffered violent persecution.

There was some persecution of Christians after the French Revolution during the attempted Dechristianisation of France. State restrictions on Christian practices today are generally associated with those authoritarian governments which either support a majority religion other than Christianity (as in Muslim states, or tolerate only churches under government supervision, sometimes while officially promoting state atheism (as in North Korea). For example, the People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches and has regularly suppressed house churches or underground Catholics. The public practice of Christianity is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. On a smaller scale, Greek and Russian governmental restrictions on non-Orthodox religious activity occur today.

Complaints of discrimination have also been made by Christians in various other contexts. In some parts of the world, there is persecution of Christians by dominant religious groups or political groups. Many Christians are threatened, discriminated, jailed, or even killed for their faith. Christians are persecuted today in many areas of the world including Cuba, Middle East, North Korea, China, the Sudan, and Kosovo.

Christians have also been perpetrators of persecution, which has been directed against members of other religions and against other Christians. Christian mobs, sometimes with government support, have destroyed pagan temples and oppressed adherents of paganism (such as the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was murdered by a Christian mob). Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands. Christian governments have suppressed or persecuted groups seen as heretical. Later denominational strife has sometimes escalated into religious wars. Witch hunts, carried out by secular authorities or popular mobs, were a frequent phenomenon in parts of early modern Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America. The degree to which these acts were supported by formal Christian doctrine and scripture is a topic of much debate.

There are many controversies surrounding Christianity as to its influences and history.

* A few works have been written proposing the idea that Jesus of Nazareth may never have existed, arguing that a lack of sources outside the New Testament and sometimes alleged similarities with pre-Christian cult figures make Jesus's existence impossible. This view has not found general acceptance among historians or Bible scholars (see Historicity of Jesus).
* Several writers argue that, because Christianity contains similarities to various mystery religions, especially in relation to myths about a god or other figure who is said to have been killed and risen again, these may somehow have been an inspiration for Christianity. For example, Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge compared Christianity to the cult of Osiris. In some cases, initiates in a mystery religion are said to have shared in the god's death, and in his immortality through his resurrection.
* Some writers consider Paul to be the founding figure of Christianity as opposed to Jesus, pointing to the extent of his writings and the scope of his missionary work.
* Jews believe that followers of Christianity misinterpreted passages from the Old Testament, or Tanakh. For example, adherents to Judaism believe that the reference to the coming Messiah in Daniel 9:25 was actually a reference to Cyrus the Great who decreed the building of the Second Temple.
* Many Muslims believe that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is incompatible with monotheism.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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