Major World Religions Christianity and Christian Beliefs

About the major world religion Christianity, some of the history of Jesus Christ, varieties, beliefs and meanings behind the Christian religious tradition.


Jesus Christ (c. 4 B.C.-29 A.D.) is considered to be the inspiration for Christianity, although the word "Christian" was not used in his lifetime. The primary source of information about him is the New Testament--in particular the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles. Bible archaeology has revealed no indisputable evidence of his existence, but early non-Christian historians such as Suetonius, Tacitus, and Josephus refer to him in their discussions of the then new Christian movement. His name was actually Joshua, which means "Jehovah is salvation" in Hebrew; Jesus is the Greek for Joshua. Christ is from a Greek word meaning "anointed one"; it is a translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah."

Born in Bethlehem, in Judea, Jesus was the son of a carpenter, Joseph, and his wife, Mary. According to the New Testament, his birth was foretold to his mother by the archangel Gabriel and was attended by miracles. Jesus was 30 when he was baptized by John the Baptist and took up his religious mission. For 3 years he preached a doctrine of charity, brotherly love, and repentance, with a promise of salvation to believers. During his ministry, he is said to have performed numerous miracles. His claim that he was the Son of God and the Savior of the Jews foretold by the Hebrew prophets brought him into conflict with the leaders of the Jewish people. Accused of sedition and other crimes against the state, he was tried by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, and sentenced to death by crucifixion. His followers reported that he rose from the dead on the 3rd day and appeared to them before ascending to heaven. (See also: Highlights of World History, Chap. 8.)

From a small sect at 1st limited to Palestinian Jews, Christianity spread throughout the Roman world. Because they refused to worship the Roman Emperor as a god, Christians were persecuted for nearly 300 years. With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312, the Christian sect was granted recognition and freedom to practice its beliefs openly. As its membership grew, the Church was torn by theological controversies. When a variety of differences arose between the Church of Rome and the patriarchate of Constantinople, the Pope excommunicated the Patriarch (1054); the Eastern Orthodox churches date their origin from that event. Five hundred years later, the Protestant Reformation, an attempt to reform the Roman Church, led to a further division and the formation, eventually, of over 250 Protestant sects, more than 200 of which are represented in the U.S.

In the 19th century, attempts were made in England and the U.S. to bring the Protestant churches of the world together. These attempts culminated in the ecumenical movement of the present century, which aims ultimately to reunite all Christian churches. The World Council of Churches, organized in Amsterdam in 1948, created a world fellowship of over 260 Orthodox and Protestant denominations with over 400 million members, who act together in matters of common interest. Although not a member, the Roman Catholic Church cooperates in some activities.

Christianity today has over one billion adherents.

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