What is Christianity?
February 24, 2021
What is Christianity?
Christianity is now the world's major religion with nearly two billion Christians worldwide. It has ruled Western culture for centuries and remains the largest religion in Europe and America.
The Christian faith is centred on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a teacher and healer in 1st century Palestine.
The main source of information about the life of Jesus is the Gospels, four books written by different authors 30 to 100 years after Jesus' death. The Gospels became part of the first four books of the New Testament.
The sacred text of Christianity is the Bible, which contains the Old Testament (roughly the same as the Jewish Bible) and the New Testament. The New Testament contains 27 books: four gospels (narrating the life of Jesus), an account of the apostles' teaching after Jesus' death, letters of the church fathers (the earliest of which predate the Gospels) and the Apocalypse.
Almost all Christians consider the Bible to be a divinely inspired book, although there are different opinions about the nature and extent of its authority. Some consider it to be completely free from error in all the matters it addresses, while others recognise its authority only in religious matters and believe that it contains errors or limitations in other matters because of its human authorship.
Branches of Christianity
Christianity has been divided into three main branches over the centuries. Roman Catholicism represents the continuation of the historical organisation of the Church as it developed in Western Europe and is governed by the Pope. Among the beliefs of Catholics are the doctrines of Transubstantiation and Purgatory, and among the rites and practices are devotion to the saints and the Virgin Mary and the use of the rosary.
The Eastern Orthodox Church (which includes the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches and some others) is the continuation of the historic church as it developed in Eastern Europe. It differs from Catholicism in that it has no allegiance to the Pope, in the use of icons in worship and in the timing of Easter. There are also other cultural, political and religious differences between the two churches. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church separated in 1054, when the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope excommunicated each other.
Protestantism emerged in the 16th century during the Reformation, which developed mainly in Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Protestants do not recognise the authority of the Pope, reject many traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church, stress the importance of reading the Bible and believe that salvation can be achieved through faith alone. Protestantism encompasses numerous denominations such as Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Evangelicals.
Practices of Christianity
Christian practices or rites vary, although common elements include Sunday mass, personal and communal prayer, the study and reading of scripture, and participation in rites such as baptism and communion. Practices specific to Catholics include recognition of the seven sacraments, Sunday mass, devotion to the Virgin Mary and the saints, and veneration of relics and places associated with saints. The Eastern Orthodox Church shares many practices with Catholicism, but is especially distinguished by the central role played by icons: they believe that ornamental images of Jesus Christ and the saints provide a connection to the spiritual world.
Christian holy days
Easter is the most important holiday in Christianity, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter is preceded by Holy Week, which includes Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The 40 days prior to Easter make up Lent, a period of fasting and repentance. Another culturally important holiday is Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus on 25 December. Saints' days are also important. Some saints' days, such as St. Patrick's Day or St. Valentine's Day, play a prominent role in Western popular culture.