An Overview of Christianity
In this introduction to Christianity there are sections on:
• Early History
• Sacred Texts
• Beliefs and Practices
• Sects and Divisions
The disciples originally called themselves "Christian Jews"
but soon this changed to be just Christians or 'little Christs'. The
number of Christians grew very quickly during the 50 years after the
death of Jesus. St.Peter went to Rome and preached about Jesus. St.
Paul travelled widely and converted many people to the new religion.
The other disciples also travelled all over the Middle East and further
afield. Some people believe that one of the disciples reached India
! When Roman soldiers became Christians they took the new religion
all over the Roman Empire as far north as the borders of Scotland,
south to North Africa, West to Wales and East to modern day Russia.
After the Roman Empire was defeated in 410 Christianity suffered but
soon it was on the way up again. In 625 St.Augustine came to Britain
and established Canterbury as an important cathedral. However Christianity
in the Middle East and North Africa was challenged by the spread of
the new religion of Islam. By the year 1000 all of Europe was Christian,
and the majority of Europeans Christians. In 1054 the church in the
East split away from the church in the West. This was known as the
great Schism and Rome became the "capital" of the Western
(or Roman Catholic) church, and Constantinople (now called Istanbul)
the capital of the Eastern (or Orthodox Catholic) church.
In 1517 Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 "protests" on
the door of a church in Wittenberg and this was the start of the Protestant
movement. One of the main groups to split away from the Roman Catholic
church was the Church of England (or Anglican) church. Over the next
300 years many other groups split away from either the Roman Catholic
or Church of England.
In the 1700s and 1800s the major European nations were expanding and
creating empires around the world. They took their religion with them.
The "flavour" of Christianity depended on the country that
was colonising. Soon Christianity was established and growing in Africa
(mainly Protestant) and South America (mainly Roman Catholic). By
the end of the 1800s Christianity was established all over the world.
In the 1900s Christianity has continued to grow in Africa, South America
and in the last few decades in South East Asia, only in Europe are
the number of Christians diminishing.
Today there are over 2,000,000,000 Christians in the world. All this
from a handful of disciples following a man called Jesus of Nazareth
in a small country 2,000 years ago.
While some of the associated sects have their own texts the vast majority
of Christians have only one sacred text known as the Bible (from Greek
Bibles for book or record). The Bible is divided into two major and
one minor section.
• Old or Hebrew Scriptures*: These are shared with Jews and
are used as the history of the world before the coming of Jesus
• The New or Christian Scriptures*: These tell the story of
the life of Jesus, the development and the writings of the Early Church
and the prophecies about the end of the world
• The Apocropha: A collection of prophets and writings which
are not commonly agreed by the major sects.
*These are the commonly agreed sections found in all Bibles.
Belief and Practice
There is an enormous range of belief among Christians. However the
majority of Christians would, probably, agree on three main areas:
• God is a montheistic deity, revealed in the works of creation,
in the person of Jesus and in the presence of the spirit. God is the
judge of all and the supreme authority.
• Jesus. Most Christians give a place of authority to Jesus
Christ. They acknowledge his special relationship with God and his
teachings form the basis of much of Christian belief and lifestyle.
• The Bible has an important place as the written authority
on the commandments (laws) of God, on the life of Jesus and on the
life of the early church. Most Christians would regard the bible as
an important part of their understanding of God and as a special part
of their understanding of the way they should live.
The Christian year starts at Advent and runs through the year in a
series of seasons. The seasons of Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation
for the two most important festivals, both linked to events in the
life of Jesus.
• Christmas - celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to
Mary and Joseph
• Easter - celebrating the death, resurrection and eventual
rising of Jesus to heaven.
Most Christians will have three elements at the centre of their worship:
• Eucharist: The recreation of the last supper when Jesus ate
with his disciples before his crucifixion. The elements of bread and
wine are used to represent Jesus' body and blood.
• Exposition: Using the message of the bible, the teachings
of Jesus and those of other Christians to explain the workings of
the world and to formulate responses to situations in the world today.
• Prayer: Communication with God in supplication, confession,
adoration and thanksgiving both corporate and private.
Sects and Divisions
In Europe alone there are over a 1000 formal Christian organisations
ranging from extreme conservative to extreme liberal. They agree on
little. A committee consisting of one member from each of: Anglican,
Baptist, Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah's Witness, Methodist,
Mormon, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Unity Church
would probably fail to reach a consensus on almost any basic Christian
belief or practice. In fact, some committee members would probably
refuse to recognise some of the others as fellow Christians. It is
possible to divide the world's Christians in 5 main groups
• Roman Catholics, based in Rome under the authority of the
• Orthodox, split into two main groups Russian and Greek
• Protestants, split into many differing factions, but with
a priestly / ministerial structure
• "Free Church" individual self governing church groups
• Associated sects - which have some common ground with mainstream
With thanks to the Religious Tolerance Organisation of Ontario for
the Information on this page
Holy Days in Christianity
1. Lent, a period of fasting and prayer begins on Ash Wednesday, 40
days before Easter Sunday.
2. Palm Sunday is recognized 7 days before Easter Sunday; it is the
beginning of Holy Week.
3. Holy Thursday, (also called Maundy Thursday), remembers the Last
Supper. The term "Maundy" was derived from the old Latin
name for the day, "Dies Mandatum," -- "the day of the
4. Good Friday, (also called Holy Friday), commemorates the execution
of Jesus by the Roman army of occupation.
5. Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.
6. Ascension Thursday, (also called Ascension Day), occurs 40 days
after Easter Sunday; it commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
7. Pentecost, (also known as Whit Sunday), is the 7th Sunday after
Easter, the day when the Holy Spirit is reported as having descended
upon the Apostles.
8. The first day of Advent is the Sunday which is closest to November
30; it foretells the coming of Christmas.
9. Epiphany, on Jan-6 celebrates the visitation of the 3 wise men
to Jesus after his birth.
10. Christmas is the day associated with Jesus' birth. It is celebrated
on Dec-25 by Western churches and on Jan-7 the following year by Eastern
11. Advent Sunday (also called the First Sunday of Advent) is the
first day of an approximately 40 day period of preparation for Christmas.
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