CHRISTIANITY
     

Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. 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, East Timor, Australia, New Zealand and large parts of Africa. It is also growing rapidly in Asia, particularly in China and South Korea.

Christianity began in the 1st century AD as a Jewish sect, and shares many religious texts with Judaism, specifically the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion. The name "Christian" was first applied to the disciples in Antioch, as recorded in Acts 11:26.The earliest recorded use of the term Christianity is by Ignatius of Antioch.

  A simplified chart of historical developments of major groups within Christianity.

The dangers facing Christian communities in the Middle East, Europe and Ukraine are given special prominence.

On February 12, the heads of the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox churches met for the first time ever in Havana, Cuba, a traditionally Catholic country with strong ties to Russia. Nicolai Petro, Professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, commented on the political significance of the two religious leaders’ historic meeting.


The Joint Declaration signed in Havana unites the efforts of the world’s two largest Christian communities, as humanity faces the trials ahead. The dangers facing Christian communities in the Middle East, Europe and Ukraine are given special prominence. Since there were no disagreements between them on the first or the second, I will focus on Ukraine, where a minor breakthrough was achieved.
Pope Francis met Friday with Patriarch Kirill in the first-ever papal meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, an historic development in the 1,000-year schism that divided Christianity. The meeting took place at Havana's airport. (Feb. 12), where a joint declaration was signed on religious unity
Of particular concern to the Russian Orthodox Church is the status of the Orthodox Church in Western Ukraine, where the re-establishment of the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church in 1989 was accompanied by the violent seizure of Orthodox Church property and the destruction of three Orthodox diocese. Addressing these tragic events, the two church leaders came up with a formula for reconciliation. While the Catholic Church deplores the “uniatism” of the past, “understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church,” the Russian Orthodox Church acknowledges that “the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful.”

Secondly, referring to the hostilities in Ukraine, both communities are called upon “to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.” This strikes me as a notable step toward the view of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is the only one that has refused to support the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist operation” in Eastern Ukraine, deeming the conflict to be a fratricidal civil war.

Finally, while the Pope plays no formal role in the internal disputes within the Orthodox Church, he indicated his hope that the schism within the Orthodox church in Ukraine “may be overcome through existing canonical norms.” This phrasing clearly puts the Pope on the side of the recent Synaxis of the world’s Orthodox primates, held in Geneva (January 21-27, 2016), which did not invite the self-declared Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate to join in the historical Pan-Orthodox Church Council that will be held later this year

CHRISTIAN DIVISIONS

There is a diversity of doctrines and practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups are sometimes classified under denominations, though for theological reasons many groups reject this classification system. Christianity may be broadly represented as being divided into three main groupings:

  • Roman Catholicism: The Roman Catholic Church, the largest single body, includes the Latin Rite and totals more than 1 billion baptized members.

  • Eastern Christianity: Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, the 100,000 member Assyrian Church of the East, and others with a combined membership of more than 300 million baptized members. Since the 4th century, and possibly since the 3rd, Mount Athos in Greece ("Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved") is home to 20 stavropegial Eastern Orthodox monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and was out of bounds to all other women.

  • Protestantism: Groups such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed/Presbyterians, Congregational/United Church of Christ, Evangelical, Charismatic, Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Anabaptists, Seventh-day Adventists 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.

Some Protestants identify themselves simply as Christian, or born-again Christian; they typically distance themselves from the confessionalism of other Protestant communities by calling themselves "non-denominational" — often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations. Others, particularly some Anglicans, eschew the term Protestant and thus insist on being thought of as Catholic, adopting the name "Anglo-Catholic." Finally, various small communities, such as the Old Catholic and Independent Catholic Churches, are similar in name to the Roman Catholic Church, but are not in communion with the See of Rome. The Roman Catholic Church was simply called the "Catholic Church" until other groups started considering themselves "Catholic." The term "Roman Catholic" was made to distinguish the Roman Catholics from other groups.

Restorationists, are historically connected to the Protestant Reformation, do not usually describe themselves as "reforming" a Christian Church continuously existing from the time of Jesus, but as restoring the Church that they believe was lost at some point. Restorationists include Churches of Christ with 2.6 million members, Disciples of Christ with 800,000 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 and practices vary significantly.

Some groups identifying themselves as Christian deviate from the tenets considered basic by most Christian organizations. These groups are often considered heretical, or even non-Christian, by many mainstream Christians. This is particularly true of non-trinitarians, those with open canons and groups advocating continuing revelation.

Ecumenism

Most churches have long expressed ideals of being reconciled with each other, and in the 20th Century Christian ecumenism advanced in two ways. One way was greater cooperation between groups, such as the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of Protestants in 1910, the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the World Council of Churches founded in 1948 by Protestant and Orthodox churches, and similar national councils like the National Council of Churches in Australia which also includes Roman Catholics.

The other way was institutional union with new United and uniting churches. Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches united in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada and in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia. The Church of South India was formed in 1947 by the union of Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches.

Steps towards union on a global level have also been taken in 1965 by the Catholic and Orthodox churches mutually revoking the excommunications that marked their Great Schism in 1054; the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) working towards full communion between those churches since 1970; and the Lutheran and Catholic churches signing The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 to address conflicts at the root of the Protestant Reformation. In 2006 the Methodist church also adopted the declaration.

JESUS CHRIST

Christians identify Jesus as the Messiah. This title comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (māšiáħ) meaning "the anointed one". 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 humanity in general, and hold that Jesus's coming was the fulfilment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept.

Most Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, including the aspect of 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. (See Death and Resurrection of Jesus.) According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead", he ascended to heaven, to the "right hand of God", and will return again to fulfil the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and establishment of the Kingdom of God.

According to the Gospels, while still a virgin, Mary conceived Jesus not by sexual intercourse, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. (See Nativity of Jesus.) Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded in the Gospels compared to his adulthood, especially the week before his death. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include his baptism, miracles, teachings and deeds.

BELIEFS

Although Christianity has always had a significant diversity of belief, mainstream Christianity considers certain core doctrines essential.

Those accepting them often consider followers of Jesus who disagree with these doctrines to be heterodox, heretical, or outside Christianity altogether

DEATH and RESURRECTION

Many Christians consider the death of Jesus, followed by his resurrection, the most important event in history.

According to the Gospels, Jesus and his followers went to Jerusalem for the Passover and, in triumphal entry, he was eagerly greeted by a crowd. Jesus also cleansed the Temple courts from traders and money changers and enjoyed a meal — the Last Supper, possibly the Passover Seder — with his disciples before going to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he was arrested by the temple guard 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 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 the Nazarene, the King of the Jews". Jesus died by late afternoon and was entombed by Joseph of Arimathea.

Christians believe that Jesus, having been crucified, rose from the dead on the third day and appeared to his assembled disciples and to various people in several places. After forty days, Jesus ascended to heaven, having 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.

SALVATION

Christians understand salvation as a gift by unmerited grace of God, who sent Jesus as the savior. Christians believe that through faith in Jesus one can be saved from sin and death. The crucifixion of Jesus is explained as an atoning sacrifice, which, in the words of the Gospel of John, "takes away the sins of the world". Reception of salvation is related to justification.

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. (See Five points of Calvinism)

THE TRINITY

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 was expressed as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity,which considers that 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 relations, the Father being unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding. The "begetting" does not refer to Mary's conceiving Jesus, but to a divine begetting before Creation.

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. In its simplest form, 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 believe the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience separate from other experiences like conversion, and many Pentecostals believe it will always—or at least usually—be evident through glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

Christians trace the orthodox formula of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — back to the resurrected Jesus himself, who used this phrase in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Non-Trinitarians

In antiquity, and again following the Reformation, several sects advocated views contrary to the Trinity. Ancient examples include the Gnostics, most of whom believed in a divine and not human redeemer, generally disbelieving the reality of Christ's human flesh.The Arians considered Jesus a creature (created being) and thus substantially different from, and lower than the Father. The antiquity of these views is witnessed by the early date in which they met condemnation; the first epistle of John contains a polemic against those who deny the flesh of Jesus.

These views were rejected by bishops such as Irenaeus and subsequently by the Ecumenical Councils. During the Reformation, though Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike accepted the value ancient Councils, more radical groups rejected these councils as spiritually tainted. Clement Ziegler, Casper Schwenckfeld, and the apocalyptic Melchior Hoffman advanced the view that Christ was only divine and not human. Michael Servetus denied the divinity of Christ, as did radicals tried at Augsburg in 1527.

Present day groups who deny the divinity of Jesus include Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarians, descendants of Reformation era Socinians. Latter-day Saints accept the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but deny that they have a common substance, believing them to be separate beings united only in will and purpose. Modalists, such as 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.

SCRIPTURES

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 them Apocrypha.

The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), which recount the life and teachings of Jesus. 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 books.The Latter-day Saints, though generally not considered Christian, hold the Bible and three additional books to be the inspired word of God: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Interpretation

Though Christians largely agree on the content of the Bible, no consensus exists on 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 adhered to 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."

Many 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 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 despise[d]", were not authoritative and could be rejected.

Creeds

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 creeds still in common use are the Apostles' Creed (text in Latin and Greek, with English translations) and Paul's creed of 1 Cor 15:1-9.

The Nicene Creed (Greek liturgical text, Latin liturgical text, English translations), 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 International Consultation on English Texts translation has been widely adopted by English-speaking Christians.

The phrases "God from God" and "and the Son" (the latter a matter of theological controversy and presented in brackets in the ICET translation) were not included in the text adopted by the First Council of Constantinople and confirmed by the Council of Ephesus, and as such are not used by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, (though not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox Churches) taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.

The Athanasian Creed (English translations), received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, 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, while other Protestants, like the Restoration Movement, stand against the use of creeds.

Eschaton and afterlife

Most Christians believe that upon the death of the body, the individual soul, which is considered to be immortal, experiences the particular judgment and is either rewarded with heaven or condemned to hell. The elect are called "saints" (Latin sanctus: "holy") and the process of being made holy is called sanctification. In Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace but with either unforgiven venial sins or incomplete penance undergo purification in purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary for entrance into heaven.

At the last coming of Christ, the eschaton or end of time, all who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgement, whereupon Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.

Some groups do not distinguish a particular judgment from the general judgment at the end of time, teaching instead that souls remain in stasis until this time (see Soul sleep). These groups, and others that do not believe in the intercession of saints, generally do not employ the word "saint" to describe those in heaven. Universalists hold that eventually all will experience salvation, thereby rejecting the concept of an eternal hell for those who are not saved.

WORSHIP and PRACTICES

Christian life

Christians believe that all people should strive to follow Christ in their everyday actions. This includes obedience to the Ten Commandments. 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. Though the relationship between charity and religious practice are sometimes taken for granted today, as Martin Goodman has observed, "charity in the Jewish and Christian sense was unknown to the pagan world." Other Christian practices include 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, and by believing in Christ, they become dead to sin and are resurrected to a new life with Him.

Liturgical worship

Justin Martyr described second century Christian liturgy in his First Apology (c. 150) to Emperor Antoninus Pius, and his description remains relevant to the basic structure of Christian liturgical worship:

"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."

Thus, as Justin described, Christians assemble for communal worship on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, though other liturgical practices often occur outside this setting. Scripture readings are drawn from the Old and New Testaments, but especially the Gospels. Often these are arranged on an annual cycle, using a book called a lectionary. Instruction is given based on these readings, called a sermon, or homily. There are a variety of congregational prayers, including thanksgiving, confession, and intercession, which occur throughout the service and take a variety of forms including recited, responsive, silent, or sung. The Lord's Prayer, or Our Father, is regularly prayed. The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) consists of a ritual meal of consecrated bread and wine, discussed in detail below. Lastly, a collection occurs in which the congregation donates money for the support of the Church and for charitable work.

Some groups depart from this traditional liturgical structure. A division is often made between "High" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "Low" services, but even within these two categories there is great diversity in forms of worship. Seventh-day Adventists meet on Saturday (the original Sabbath), while others do not meet on a weekly basis. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations may spontaneously feel led by the Holy Spirit to action rather than follow a formal order of service, including spontaneous prayer. Quakers sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak. Some Evangelical services resemble concerts with rock and pop music, dancing, and use of multimedia. For groups which do not recognize a priesthood distinct from ordinary believers the services are generally lead by a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack any formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. Some churches use only a cappella music, either on principle (e.g. many Churches of Christ object to the use of instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).

Worship can be varied for special events like baptisms or weddings in the service or significant feast days. In the early church Christians and those yet to complete initiation would separate for the Eucharistic part of the worship. In many churches today, adults and children will separate for all or some of the service to receive age-appropriate teaching. Such children's worship is often called Sunday school or Sabbath school (Sunday schools are sometimes held before rather than during services).

Sacraments

A sacrament is a Christian rite that is an outward sign of an inward grace, instituted by Christ to sanctify humanity. Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholics describe Christian worship in terms of seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist (communion), Penance (reconciliation), Anointing of the Sick (last rites), Holy Orders (ordination), 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, while other Protestant groups reject sacramental theology. Latter-day saint worship emphasizes the symbolic role of rites, calling some 'ordinances'. Though not sacraments, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness Churches emphasize "gifts of the Spirit" such as spiritual healing, prophecy, exorcism, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and laying on of hands where God's grace is mysteriously manifest.

Eucharist

The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) is the part of liturgical worship that consists of a consecrated meal, usually bread and wine. 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."

Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and many Anglicans believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ (the doctrine of the Real Presence). Most other Protestants, especially Reformed, believe the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ. These Protestants may celebrate it less frequently, while in Catholicism the Eucharist is celebrated daily. Catholic and Orthodox view communion as indicating those who are already united in the church, restricting participation to their members not in a state of mortal sin. In some Protestant churches participation is by prior arrangement with a church leader. Other churches view communion as a means to unity, rather than an end, and invite all Christians or even anyone to participate.

Liturgical Calendar

In the New Testament Paul of Tarsus organised his missionary travels around the celebration of Pentecost. (Acts 20.16 and 1 Corinthians 16.8) This practice draws from Jewish tradition, with such feasts as the Feast of Tabernacles, the Passover, and the Jubilee. Today Catholics, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar. 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 such as memoria or lesser festivals commemorating saints. Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar.

Symbols

Today the best-known Christian symbol is the cross, which refers to the method of Jesus' execution. Several varieties exist, with some denominations tending to favor distinctive styles: Catholics the crucifix, Orthodox the crux orthodoxa, and Protestants an unadorned cross. An earlier Christian symbol was the 'ichthys' fish symbol and annagram. Other text based symbols include 'IHS' (the first three letters of 'Jesus' in Greek) and 'chi-rho' (the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek). In a modern Roman alphabet, the Chi-Rho appears like an X (Chi - χ) with a large P (Rho - ρ) overlaid and above it. It is said Constantine saw this symbol prior to converting to Christianity (see History and origins section below). Another ancient symbol is an anchor, which denotes faith and can incorporate a cross within its design.

History and origins

Christianity spread beyond its origins within the Jewish religion in the mid-first century under the leadership of the Apostles, especially Peter and Paul. Within a generation an episcopal hierarchy can be seen, and this would form the structure of the Church. Christianity spread east to Asia and throughout the Roman Empire, despite persecution by the Roman Emperors until its legalization by Emperor Constantine in 313. During his reign, questions of orthodoxy lead to the convocation of the first Ecumenical Council, that of Nicaea.

In 391 Theodosius I established Nicene Christianity as the official and, except for Judaism, only legal religion in the Roman Empire. Later, as the political structure of the empire collapsed in the West, the Church assumed political and cultural roles previously held by the Roman aristocracy. Eremitic and Coenobitic monasticism developed, originating with the hermit St Anthony of Egypt around 300. With the avowed purpose of fleeing the world and its evils in contemptu mundi, the institution of monasticism would become a central part of the medieval world.

During the Migration Period of Late Antiquity, various Germanic peoples adopted Christianity. Meanwhile, as western political unity dissolved, the linguistic divide of the Empire between Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East intensified. By the Middle Ages distinct forms of Latin and Greek Christianity increasingly separated until 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. 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.

Beginning in the 7th century, Islam began a long series of military conquests of Christian areas, and it quickly conquered areas of the Byzantine Empire, Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and even southern Spain. Numerous military struggles followed, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista, the Fall of Constantinople and the aggression of the Turks.

In the early sixteenth century, increasing discontent with corruption and immorality among the clergy resulted in attempts to reform the Church and society. The Protestant Reformation began after Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517, whilst the Roman Catholic Church experienced internal renewal with the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). During the following centuries, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states. Meanwhile, 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.

In the Modern Era, Christianity was confronted with various forms of skepticism and with certain modern political ideologies such as liberalism, nationalism, and socialism. This included the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and general hostility of Marxist movements, especially the Russian Revolution.

Persecution

Christians have frequently suffered from persecution. Starting with Jesus, the early Christian church was persecuted by state and religious establishments from its earliest beginnings. Notable early Christians such as Stephen, eleven of the Apostles as well as Paul died as martyrs according to tradition. Systematic Roman persecution of Christians culminated in the Great Persecution of Diocletian and ended with the Edict of Milan. Persecution of Christians persisted or even intensified in other places, such as in Sassanid Persia. Later, under Islam, Christians were subjected to various legal restrictions and at times also suffered violent persecution or confiscation of their property.

There was persecution of Christians during the French Revolution (see Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution). 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). The People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches and has regularly suppressed house churches and underground Catholics. The public practice of Christianity is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. Areas of persecution include other parts of the Middle East, Cuba, the Sudan, and Kosovo.

Christians have also been perpetrators of persecution against other religions and other Christians. Christian mobs, sometimes with government support, destroyed pagan temples and oppressed adherents of paganism (such as the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was murdered by a Christian mob). Also, Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands. Christian governments have suppressed or persecuted groups seen as heretical, later in cooperation with the Inquisition. Denominational strife 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.

Current controversies and criticisms.

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

  • A few writers propose that Jesus is a myth, though historians generally agree that Jesus existed and have aimed at reconstructing the historical Jesus. Some such writers depict Jesus as a metaphor for spiritual awakening or a fictional figure based on Egyptian religion.

  • 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. See also Pauline Christianity.

  • Members of the Jesus Seminar, and other Biblical scholars, have argued that the historical Jesus never claimed to be divine. They also reject the historicity of the empty tomb and thus a bodily resurrection, and several other events narrated in the gospels. They assert that Gospel accounts describing these things are probably literary fabrications.

  • Adherents of Judaism generally believe that followers of Christianity misinterpret passages from the Old Testament, or Tanakh.

  • Muslims believe that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is incompatible with monotheism, and they reject the Christian teaching that Jesus is the Son of God, though they affirm the virgin birth and view him as a prophet preceding Muhammad. The Qur'an also uses the title "Messiah", though with a different meaning. Muslims also dispute the historical occurrence of the crucifixion of Jesus (believing that while a crucifixion occurred, it was not of Jesus).