AskDefine | Define Christianity

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Christianity

Noun

1 a monotheistic system of beliefs and practices based on the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus as embodied in the New Testament and emphasizing the role of Jesus as savior [syn: Christian religion]
2 the collective body of Christians throughout the world and history (found predominantly in Europe and the Americas and Australia); "for a thousand years the Roman Catholic Church was the principal church of Christendom" [syn: Christendom]

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English

Pronunciation

  • italbrac RP /ˌkrɪstiˈænɪti/
  • italbrac US /ˌkrɪstʃiˈænɪti/, /%krIstSi"

Extensive Definition

portal Christianity Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. As of the early 21st century, it has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents, representing about a quarter to a third of the world's population. It is the state religion of at least fifteen countries.
Its followers, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is 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 a teacher, the model of a pious life, 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. Christians describe the New Testament account of Jesus' ministry as the Gospel, or "good news".
The Trinity is often regarded as an essential doctrine of mainstream Christianity. The common understanding of the Holy Trinity, espoused in the Nicene Creed, is one God who exists in three Persons Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who are coequal, co-eternal, of the same substance. "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.
The disciples were first called Christians (Greek ), meaning "followers of Christ", in Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch was the first Christian to use the label in self-reference. The earliest recorded use of the term Christianity (Greek ) was also by Ignatius of Antioch, around AD 100.
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.

Beliefs

In spite of important differences of interpretation and opinion, Christians share a set of beliefs that they hold as essential to their faith.

Jesus Christ

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 (Christos) is the source of the English word "Christ". Christians believe that, as the Messiah, Jesus was anointed by God as ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.
While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, Christians generally believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead," he ascended to heaven, is "seated at the right hand of the Father" and will return again to fulfil the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and final establishment of the Kingdom of God.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and 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 well documented in the Gospels contained within the New Testament. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.

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. According to the New Testament, Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, was crucified, died, buried within a tomb, and resurrected three days later. 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 Jesus' Ascension. Jesus's death and resurrection are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and are commemorated by Christians during Good Friday and Easter, particularly during the liturgical time of Holy Week. Arguments over death and resurrection claims occur at many religious debates and interfaith dialogues.
As Paul the Apostle, an early Christian convert, wrote, "If Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless". The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events in Christian Theology, as they form the point in scripture where Jesus gives his ultimate demonstration that he has power over life and death and thus the ability to give people eternal life.
Generally, Christian churches accept and teach the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus. 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 myth.

Soteriology

Soteriology is the branch of Christian 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.

Trinity

Trinitarians

The term trinitarian denotes those Christians who hold to a belief in the concept of Trinity. Trinity refers to the teaching that the one God comprises three distinct, eternally co-existing persons; the Father' (from whom the Son and Spirit proceed), the Son (incarnate in Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit''. 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). The distinction lies in their relations, the Father being unbegotten; the Son being eternal yet begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit 'proceeding' from Father and (in Western theology) from the Son. Regardless of this apparent difference in their origins, the three 'persons' are each eternal and omnipotent. This is thought by Trinitarian Christians to be the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ came to deliver to the world, and is the foundation of their belief system.
The word trias, from which trinity is derived, is 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 may have been in use before this time. Afterwards it appears in Tertullian. In the following century the word was in general use. It is found in many passages of Origen.

Non-trinitarians

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 AD 325. 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.
Casper Schwenckfeld and Melchior Hoffman advanced the view that Christ was only divine and not human. Michael Servetus denied that the traditional doctrine of the Trinity was necessary to defend the divinity of Christ. He claimed that Jesus was God Himself in the flesh. Modalists, such as Oneness Pentecostals, regard God as a single person, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considered modes or roles by which the unipersonal God expresses himself, in this way they parallel ancient Sabellians. Latter-day Saints (commonly called Mormons) accept the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but deny that they are the same being. Rather, they believe them to be separate beings united perfectly in will and purpose, thus making up one single Godhead. They believe that the Father, like the Son, has a glorified physical body.

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 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 .

Interpretation

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
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.
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".
Protestant
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." 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:

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.
wikisource Apostles Creed
The Apostles Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum) was developed between the second and ninth centuries. It is the most popular creed used in worship by Western Christians. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator. Each of the doctrines found in this creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period. The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. wikisource Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though not accepted 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 nevertheless perfectly united into one person.
The Athanasian Creed, received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance."
Most Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox accept the creeds. Restorationists oppose the use of creeds.

Afterlife and Eschaton

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.
Universal Reconciliation is the view that all will eventually experience salvation, rejecting the concept that hell is literally everlasting. Christians espousing this view are known as Universalists, not to be confused with Unitarian Universalists.

Worship

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:

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Christendom, Christianism, Christlikeness, Christliness, Judeo-Christian religion, Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, angelicalness, beauty of holiness, fear of God, godlikeness, godliness, godly-mindedness, goodness, heavenliness, heavenly-mindedness, holiness, holy-mindedness, odor of sanctity, otherworldliness, pureness, pureness of heart, purity, righteousness, sainthood, saintlikeness, saintliness, saintship, sanctitude, sanctity, seraphicalness, spiritual-mindedness, spirituality, unearthliness, unworldliness
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