Learn about Christianity. Primary beliefs, symbol, founder, sacred text, branches, major holidays, and key terms.
Worldview category: Monotheism
Description: Christianity is the belief in a personal, eternal, infinite God that created the universe. Christianity centers on Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God and lived on Earth for approximately 33 years as God in human form. He was born of a virgin (Mary), lived a sinless life, performed miracles, was crucified for the sins of all mankind, and resurrected from the dead, resulting in eternal life in heaven for those who place their trust in him as their savior.
Founder: Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity. He lived in Israel from approximately 4 BCE to 30 CE.
Date founded: The ministry of Jesus lasted for the last three years of his life.
Place founded: Israel
Number of adherents: 2.1 billion. Christianity is the largest religion in the world.
Countries with largest number of adherents: United States, Brazil, Mexico
Sacred text: The Bible, which consists of two parts - the Old Testament and New Testament - is the central text of Christianity. Christians believe it is one of the primary ways that God has revealed himself to mankind. There are 66 individual books in the Bible – 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain an additional 15 books, which together are referred to by some as the Apocrypha. The Bible was written over a span of approximately 2,000 years, by dozens of authors, all of whom wrote under the inspiration of God.
The Bible contains historical narratives, poetry, songs, parables, principles for wise living, and prophecy, in which events are predicted before they happened.
The Bible is unique from all other books, including the sacred texts of other religions. It is not really a single work, but a collection of 66 books composed over a 1500 year span. It has over 40 authors, who lived on 3 different continents - Africa, Asia and Europe. These authors included people from many walks of life, including prophets, kings, poets, historians, and fishermen. It was written in 3 different languages - Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Not only is it considered holy for Christians, but parts of it serve as sacred scripture for Judaism (the Old Testament) and Islam (the Torah, Psalms and Gospels). In spite of the broad geographic settings, the span of history covered and the dozens of authors from varied backgrounds, the Bible has a theme that runs through it from beginning to end. This theme is humanity’s need for redemption and God’s plan for all people to have their relationship with God restored through Jesus Christ.
Branches: Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant
Christianity split into two branches in 1054 CE – the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This split is referred to as the “Great Schism”.
Roman Catholics are led by the Pope (currently Pope Francis). The Roman Catholic Church is headquartered at the Vatican in Rome, Italy.
The Orthodox Church is officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church, in which Jesus Christ serves as its head. It is composed of self-governing churches that are united by the spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who resides in Istanbul, Turkey (Istanbul was formerly known as Constantinople).
The Protestant branch started in the 1500s. Martin Luther (1483-1546) is credited with leading the Protestant Reformation, in which he criticized some of the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church. Protestantism has no central leader or headquarters. Within Protestantism are many denominations, such as Anglican, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian.
Supreme Being: God – A single being consisting of three persons – Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit. This is known as the Trinity.
Jesus: Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all mankind. As God he is eternal, with no beginning and no end. While on Earth, Jesus performed many miracles that confirmed his identity. The miracles demonstrated his power by healing the sick and disabled and raising people from the dead; they showed his command over the natural world by calming storms and turning water into wine; they reflected his authority over the spiritual world by casting out demons; and, they revealed his knowledge of everything, including future events (such as his death and resurrection) and the thoughts and hearts of people.
The words of Jesus are primarily preserved in the Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Some of his sayings are:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
"... the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28
"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." John 12:46
(All of these excerpts are from the New International Version Bible, Zondervan Corporation, 1985.)
View of reality: The world consists of both the physical and spiritual realms.
Nature of man: The first man and woman (Adam and Eve) were created in the image of God. However, through their disobedience of God, man became sinful. All succeeding generations have inherited this sin nature and are therefore separated from God.
Man’s primary problem: Sin, which results in separation from God.
Solution to man’s primary problem: A savior – Jesus Christ – who paid for the sins of mankind when he was crucified.
Afterlife: Heaven and hell
Place of worship: Church. The leader of a local church is called a minister, pastor or priest. A church may consist of as few as several people to as large as tens of thousands.
Worship services are typically held once a week on Sunday mornings. A worship service lasts about an hour and consists of singing, praying and a Bible teaching that is presented by the church leader. The purpose of a worship service is to get together with a group of people to praise God, to learn about God, Jesus Christ and the Bible, to serve others, and to be served by others.
Ash Wednesday – The first day of Lent, which is a period of 46 days before Easter.
Christmas – Occurs on December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Easter – Occurs in the spring (in March or April) to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the new life available through him. Also known as "Resurrection Sunday".
Good Friday – The Friday before Easter. The day Jesus died when he was crucified on a cross and took the sins of mankind upon himself.
Lent – The period of 46 days leading up to Easter.
Rituals: Baptism, communion
Baptism – A ritual in which a Christian is dipped in water by a church leader. Although the water is applied externally, it represents an internal (spiritual) cleansing. In the Catholic Church, baptism is performed to receive the Holy Spirit, forgive sins and become a member of the Church. In some Protestant denominations, the purpose of baptism is to publicly demonstrate a person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his savior.
Christ – A title given to Jesus that means messiah, savior.
Communion – A ritual practiced by Christians in which bread and wine or juice are consumed. The bread and wine symbolize the body and blood, respectively, of Jesus. Communion is meant as a remembrance for Christians of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, whereby he paid for the sins of people.
Genesis – The first book of the Bible. It explains the origins of the universe and life and tells of the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Gospel – The "good news" that Jesus paid for sin and offers salvation through faith in him.
Gospels – The first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They tell of the birth, life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Heaven – A literal place that serves as the eternal dwelling for those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ.
Hell – A literal eternal dwelling place for people who reject God.
Holy Spirit – One of the three persons of the Trinity who dwells in and empowers a believer.
Revelation – The making known of God and his nature, plans, and will for mankind. Revelation also refers to the last book of the Bible, which includes predictions of events in the end times.
Salvation - Being rescued from separation from God. Salvation is available only through belief in Jesus Christ as savior.
Savior – The person – Jesus Christ - who rescues people from eternal separation from God.
Sin – Falling short of God’s perfect standard. All people are sinners and need God’s forgiveness.
Tithe – A regular offering of money given to the church. The tithe supports the church staff and church programs to further the work of God on earth.
Trinity – The concept that God exists in three persons – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – but has one essence or nature.
Adherents.com – www.adherents.com/Religion_By_Adherents.html.
Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions. New York: Harper One, 1991.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople - www.patriarchate.org/patriarch/narrative.