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Its followers, known as Christians, believe Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah (or Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament, the part of their scriptures they have in common with Judaism. To Christians, Jesus Christ is not merely a teacher and the model of a pious life but the revealer of God, the mediator of salvation and the saviour who suffered, died and was resurrected in order to bring about salvation from sin for all. Christians maintain that Jesus ascended into heaven and most denominations teach that Jesus will judge the living and the dead, granting everlasting life to his followers. The "good news" of Jesus' ministry is called the Gospel.
The Trinity is often regarded as an essential doctrine of mainstream Christianity. It is a complex topic and there are varying interpretations. The most common understanding of the Holy Trinity, as espoused in the Nicene Creed, is one God that exists as three Persons – Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" represents both the immanence and transcendence of God. God is believed to be infinite and God's presence may be perceived through the actions of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion (see also, Judeo-Christian). Through missionary work and colonisation, Christianity spread firstly in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and parts of India and subsequently throughout the entire world.
In spite of important differences of interpretation and opinion, Christians share a set of beliefs that they hold as essential to their faith.
Jesus the Christ
As indicated by the name "Christianity," the focus of a Christian's life is a firm belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah or 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.
Death and resurrection of Jesus
Christians consider the resurrection of Jesus to be the cornerstone of their faith and the most important event in human history. Within the body of Christian beliefs, the death and resurrection of Jesus are two core events on which much of Christian doctrine and theology depend.[How to reference and link to summary or text] According to the New Testament, Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, was crucified, died, buried within a tomb, and resurrected three days later. Most Christians accept the New Testament account as a historical account, including that of the resurrection which is central to their faith. Some modern scholars use the belief of Jesus' followers in the resurrection as a point of departure for establishing the continuity of the historical Jesus and the proclamation of the early church. Some liberal Christians do not accept a literal bodily resurrection, seeing the story as richly symbolic and spiritually nourishing [clarify]
myth. A group known as the Gnostics argued against the singular importance of the Resurrection, as they had differing views as to how the passages should be interpreted, many believing Jesus was never a human and so could not have died (see: Docetism). Carl Jung suggested that the crucifixion-resurrection account was the forceful spiritual symbol of, literally, God-as-Yahweh becoming God-as-Job.
- Main article: Soteriology
Soteriology is the branch of Christian doctrinal theology that deals with salvation through Jesus Christ. Christians believe salvation is a gift by means of the unmerited grace of God. Christians believe that, through faith in Jesus, one can be saved from sin and eternal 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." One's reception of salvation is related to justification.
The operation and effects of grace are understood differently by different traditions. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach the necessity of the free will to cooperate with grace. Reformed theology places distinctive emphasis on grace by teaching that individuals are completely incapable of self-redemption, but the grace of God overcomes even the unwilling heart. Arminianism takes a synergistic approach while Lutheran doctrine teaches justification by grace alone through faith alone.
The term trinitarian denotes those Christians who hold to a belief in the concept of Trinity. Trinity refers to the teaching within some branches and denominations of Christianity that the one God is comprised of three distinct aspects or 'persons'; these being referred to as 'the Father' (the heavenly existence of God), 'the Son' (Jesus Christ - God's earthly incarnation as related in the Bible, and now held to coexist with the Father), and 'the Holy Spirit' (sometimes referred to as 'the Holy Ghost'). Together, these three persons are sometimes called the Godhead, although 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.".
According to this doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; rather, each person is considered to be fully God (see Perichoresis).
- Main article: Nontrinitarianism
Nontrinitarianism includes all Christian beliefs systems that reject the Trinity, the doctrine that God is three distinct persons in one being. Various nontrinitarian views, such as adoptionism and Arianism, existed before the Trinity was formally defined as doctrine in 325 AD. Nontrinitarianism later appeared again in the Gnosticism of the Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in Restorationism during the 19th century. The nontrinitarian view was rejected by many early Christian bishops such as Irenaeus and subsequently by the Ecumenical Councils. During the Reformation some nontrinitarians rejected these councils as spiritually tainted, though most Christians continued to accept the value of many of the councils.
- Main article: Bible
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 to have been written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore for many it is held to be the inerrant Word of God. Protestant Christians believe that the Bible contains all revealed truth necessary for salvation. This concept is known as Sola scriptura. The books that are considered canon in the Bible vary depending upon the denomination using or defining it. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions and councils that have convened on the subject. The Bible always includes books of the Jewish scriptures, the Tanakh, and includes additional books and reorganizes them into two parts: the books of the Old Testament primarily sourced from the Tanakh (with some variations), and the 27 books of the New Testament containing books originally written primarily in Greek. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons include other books from the Septuagint Greek Jewish canon which Roman Catholics call Deuterocanonical. Protestants consider these books apocryphal. Some versions of the Christian Bible have a separate Apocrypha section for the books not considered canonical by the publisher .
Campaigning to be a restoration of the Christian church, denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement are distinct from other forms of Christianity in that they consider the Book of Mormon holy scripture and comparable to the Bible. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price scriptural. Along with the Bible, these books are collectively called the Standard Works of the church However, not only do mainstream denominations not accept the Book of Mormon as scriptural, many mainstream Christians do not accept Mormonism as a Christian faith.
Though Christians largely agree on the content of the Bible, there is significant divergence in 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.
Roman Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual.
The literal sense of understanding scripture is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation. It has three subdivisions: the allegorical, moral, and anagogical (meaning mystical or spiritual) senses.
- The allegorical sense includes typology. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea being understood as a "type" (sign) of baptism.
- The moral sense understands the scripture to contain some ethical teaching.
- The anagogical interpretation includes eschatology and applies to eternity and the consummation of the world.
Roman Catholic theology 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, some even to the extent of rejecting other senses altogether. 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." He advocated "one definite and simple understanding of Scripture." John Calvin wrote, "all who…follow the Holy Spirit as their guide, find in the Scripture a clear light." The Second Helvetic (Latin for "Swiss") Confession, composed by the pastor of the Reformed church in Zurich (successor to Protestant reformer Zwingli) was adopted as a declaration of doctrine by most European Reformed churches. The Confession contains this statement about interpreting Scripture:
"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.
— Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
- Main article: Creeds
Creeds (from Latin credo meaning "I believe") are concise doctrinal statements or confessions, usually of religious beliefs. They began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries to become statements of faith.
Afterlife and Eschaton
- Main article: Christian eschatology
Most Christians believe that upon bodily death the soul experiences the particular judgment and is either rewarded with eternal heaven or condemned to an eternal 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 second coming of Christ at the 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. 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.
Justin Martyr described 2nd 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 (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:
|“||"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 Christian denominations view communion as indicating those who are already united in the church, restricting participation to their members not in a state of mortal sin (closed communion). Most other churches view communion as a means to unity, rather than an end, and invite all Christians or even anyone to participate (open communion). In some denominations, participation is decided by prior arrangement with a church leader.
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 often held before rather than during services).
- Main article: Sacrament
In Christian belief and practice, a sacrament is a rite, instituted by Christ, that mediates grace, constituting a sacred mystery. The term is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which was used to translate the Greek word for mystery. Views concerning both what rites are sacramental, and what it means for an act to be a sacrament vary among Christian denominations and traditions.
The most conventional functional definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that conveys an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist, however, the majority of 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 as recognised by churches in the High church tradition - notably Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Independent Catholic, Old Catholic and some Anglicans. Most other denominations and traditions typically affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while some Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject sacramental theology. Some Christian denominations who believe these rites do not communicate grace prefer to call them ordinances.
- Main article: Liturgical year
Roman Catholics, Anglicans, 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.
- Main article: Christian symbolism
The cross, which is today one of the most widely recognised symbols in the world, was used as a Christian symbol from the earliest times. In his book De Corona, written in the year 204, Tertullian tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross. Although the cross was known to the early Christians, the crucifix, did not appear in use until the fifth century.
Among the symbols employed by the primitive Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance. From monumental sources such as tombs it is known that the symbolic fish was familiar to Christians from the earliest times. The fish was depicted as a Christian symbol in the first decades of the second century. Its popularity among Christians was due principally, it would seem, to the famous acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish (Ichthys), which words briefly but clearly described the character of Christ and the claim to worship of believers: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, meaning, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.
Christians from the very beginning adorned their tombs with paintings of Christ, of the saints, of scenes from the Bible and allegorical groups. The catacombs are the cradle of all Christian art. The first Christians had no prejudice against images, pictures, or statues. The idea that they must have feared the danger of idolatry among their new converts is disproved in the simplest way by the pictures even statues, that remain from the first centuries. Other major Christian symbols include the chi-rho monogram, the dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), the sacrificial lamb (symbolic of Christ's sacrifice), the vine (symbolising the necessary connectedness of the Christian with Christ) and many others. These all derive from the writings found the New Testament.
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