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Christian

Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered around the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. The Christian faith essentially is faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and as Savior and Lord.

Followers of Christianity, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied of in the Hebrew Bible (the part of scripture common to Christianity and Judaism). Orthodox Christian theology claims that Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected to open heaven to mankind. They further believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, and most denominations teach that Jesus will return one day to judge mankind, living and dead, and grant immortality to his followers. He is considered the model of virtuous life, and both the revealer and physical incarnation of God. Christians call the message of Jesus Christ the Gospel ("good news") and refer to the earliest written accounts of his ministry as the gospels.

Christian Painting of the Sermon on the Mount

Christianity began as a Jewish sect and therefore, like Judaism and Islam, is classified as an Abrahamic religion (see also Judeo-Christian). Beginning in the eastern Mediterranean, it quickly grew in size and influence during the next few decades, and by the 4th century became the dominant religion within the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, most of Europe was Christianized, with Christians also being a minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and some parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity quickly spread to the Americas and the rest of the world.

Christianity has played a large role in the shaping of Western civilization at least since the 4th century. However the first nation to adopt Christianity as an official religion was Armenia, establishing the Armenian Orthodox Church in 301 AD. As of the early 21st century, Christianity has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion followers, comprising about a quarter to a third of the world's population and is the world's largest religion. In addition, Christianity, is the state religion of several different countries.

Beliefs

Creeds

Creeds (from Latin credo meaning "I believe") are specific doctrinal statements or confessions, usually of religious beliefs. They began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological disputations of the fourth and fifth centuries to become statements of faith.

The Apostles Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum) was formed between the second and ninth centuries. It is the most popular creed in worship by Western Christians. It focuses on the Trinity and God the Creator. Each doctrine found in this creed can be traced to statements stated in the apostolic period. The creed was used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Since the Apostles Creed is still unaltered by the later Christological divisions, its statement of the articles of Christian faith remain largely acceptable in most Christian denominations:

  • belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit
  • the death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Christ
  • the holiness of the Church and the communion of saints
  • Christ's second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful.

The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formed at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the First Council of Ephesus in 431.

The Chalcedonian Creed, developed during the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, and that both natures are perfect but are perfectly united into one person.

The Athanasian Creed, was received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian. It stated: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance."

Jesus Christ

The central tenet of Christianity is belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ). The title "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (māšiáħ) meaning anointed one. The Greek translation, Χριστός (Christos) is the source of the English word "Christ".

Christian Art of Christ and Mary

Christians believe that, as the Messiah, Jesus was anointed by God as the ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah is significantly different from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, humans can be reconciled to God and are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.

Jesus, having become fully human, suffered all the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet did not sin. As fully God, he rose to life once again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead," he then ascended to heaven, is "seated at the right hand of the Father" and will ultimately return to fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and the final establishment of the Kingdom of God.

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and was born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded in the canonical Gospels, however infancy Gospels were popular in antiquity. In comparison, his adulthood, especially the week before his death, are very well documented in the Gospels contained in the New Testament. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry included: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.

Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Christians consider the resurrection of Christ as the cornerstone of their faith (see 1 Corinthians 15) and also the most important event in the history of the Earth. Among Christian beliefs, the death and resurrection of Jesus are two core events on which most Christian doctrine and theology is based. According to the New Testament, Christ was crucified, died a physical death, was buried within a tomb, and rose from the dead after three days.] The New Testament mentions several resurrection appearances of Jesus on different occasions to his twelve apostles and disciples, including "more than five hundred brethren at once," before ascended to heaven. Jesus' death and resurrection are commemorated by Christians in all of their worship services, with special emphasis during Holy Week, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The death and resurrection of Jesus are generally considered the most important events in Christian Theology, partly because they demonstrate that Jesus has power over both life and death and therefore has the authority and power to give eternal life.

Christian churches accept and also teach the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus with few exceptions. Some modern scholars use the belief of Christ's followers in the resurrection as a point of departure and establish continuity of the historical Jesus and the proclamation of the early church. Some liberal Christians do not accept there to have been a literal bodily resurrection, seeing the story as a symbolic and spiritually nourishing myth. Arguments over death and resurrection claims occur at many religious debates and interfaith dialogues. Paul, an early Christian convert and missionary, wrote, "If Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless."

Salvation

Paul of Tarsus, like Jews and Roman pagans of his time, had the belief that sacrifice can bring about purity, and eternal life. For Paul, the necessary sacrifice was the crucifixion of Christ: Gentiles who are "Christ's" are like Israel descendants of Abraham and "heirs according to the promise". The God who raised Jesus from the dead also would give new life to the "mortal bodies" of Gentile Christians, who became with Israel the "children of God" and therefore were no longer "in the flesh".

Modern Christian churches tend to be more concerned with how humanity can be saved from a condition of sin and death than the question of how Jews and Gentiles can be in God's family. According to both Catholic and Protestant doctrine, salvation comes only by Jesus' substitutionary death and resurrection. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation does not occur without faithfulness on the part of Christians; all converts must live in accordance with principles of love and ordinarily must be baptized into the church. Martin Luther taught that baptism is necessary for salvation, but modern day Lutherans and other Protestants tend to teach salvation is a gift that comes to an individual by the grace of God, sometimes defined as "unmerited favor", even without baptism.

Christians differ largely in their views on the extent to which individuals' salvation is pre-ordained by God. Reformed theology places emphasis on grace by teaching that all individuals are completely incapable of self-redemption, but that sanctifying grace through Christ is irresistible. On the other hand Arminians, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians believe that the exercise of free will is completely necessary to have faith in Christ.

Trinity

Trinity refers to the teaching that their is one God that comprises three distinct, eternally co-existing persons; the Father, the Son (incarnate in Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Together, they are sometimes called the Godhead, though there is no single term in use in Scripture to denote the unified Godhead. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, an early statement of Christian belief, "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God". They are distinct from one another: the Father has no source, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Though distinct, the three persons cannot be divided in being or operation.

The Trinity is an essential doctrine of mainstream Christianity. It represents both the immanence and transcendence of God. God is believed to be infinite and His presence may be perceived through actions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

According to this doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; On the contrary, each person is considered to be fully God. The distinction lies in their relations, the Father is unbegotten; the Son is begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and (in Western theology) the Son. Regardless of this difference, the three 'persons' are all eternal and omnipotent.

The word trias, from which trinity is derived, was first seen in the works of Theophilus of Antioch. He wrote of "the Trinity of God (the Father), His Word (the Son) and His Wisdom (Holy Spirit)". The term might have been in use before this time. Afterwards it appeared in Tertullian. In the following century the word was in general use and is found in many passages of Origen.

Christian Art: The Hospitality of Abraham

Scriptures

Christianity regards the Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts (the Old Testament and the New Testament), as authoritative. It is believed by Christians that it was written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore for many it is held to be the word of God. The books that are considered canon in the Bible vary with the denomination using or defining it. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions and councils that convened on the subject. The Bible always includes books of the Jewish scriptures, the Tanakh, including additional books and reorganizes them into two parts: books of the Old Testament that are primarily sourced from the Tanakh (with some variations), and the 27 books of the New Testament containing books originally written mostly in Greek. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons also include other books from the Septuagint, which Roman Catholics call Deuterocanonical. Protestants consider these books to be apocryphal. Some versions of the Christian Bible have a separate Apocrypha section for the books that are not considered canonical by the publisher.

Afterlife and Eschaton

Most Christians believe that all human beings experience divine judgment and are rewarded either eternal life or eternal damnation. This includes the judgement at the Resurrection of the dead (see below) as well as the belief (held by Catholics, Orthodox and some Protestants) in a judgement particular to the individual soul upon their physical death.

In Roman Catholicism, those that die in a state of grace, i.e. without any mortal sin separating them from God, but are still purified from the effects of sin, undergo purification through the intermediate state of purgatory in order achieve holiness necessary for entrance into God's presence. Those attaining this goal are called saints (Latin sanctus, "holy").

Some churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, do not believe in a particular judgment at death. They hold that a typical deceased's eventuality is decided after his post-Armageddon resurrection during the thousand-year "Judgment Day".

Christians also believe that the second coming of Christ will occur at the end of time. All who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgment, an Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.

Universal Reconciliation, also called Apocatastasis, is the view that all will experience salvation, rejecting the concept that hell is everlasting. Such a view was held in the 3rd century by Origen but was condemned and stated heretical. The notion was later revived after the Reformation by the Anabaptist theologian Hans Denck. Christians espousing this view are now known as Universalists.

Christian Eucharist

Sacraments

In Christian beliefs and practices, a sacrament is a rite, instituted by Christ, that brings about grace, constituting a sacred mystery. The term is taken from the Latin word sacramentum, used to translate the Greek word for mystery. Views concerning both which rites are sacramental, and what it means for an act to be a sacrament vary among many Christian denominations and traditions.

The most supported definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, conveying an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist, however, most Christians recognize seven Sacraments or Divine Mysteries: Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation in the Orthodox tradition), and the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Reconciliation of a Penitent (confession), Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony. Taken together, these are the Seven Sacraments recognised by churches in the High church tradition - more notably Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Independent Catholic, Old Catholic and some Anglicans. Most other Christian denominations and traditions affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while some Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject all sacramental theology. Some Christian denominations who believe these rites do not communicate grace prefer to call them ordinances.

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