Christianity is an Abrahamic religion based on the life, teachings, death by crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. Although Christians are monotheistic, the one God is thought, by most Christians, to exist in three divine persons (Greek Hypostasis), called the Trinity. Most Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah of the Jews as prophesied in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible). Christianity encompasses numerous religious traditions that widely vary by culture, as well as thousands of diverse beliefs and sects; over the past two millennia, Christianity has been grouped into three main branches: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. It is the world’s largest single religion, with over 2.2 billion followers.

The term “Christ” is derived from the Greek noun Χριστός Khristós which means “anointed one”, and is a translation of the Hebrew word Moshiach (also written “Messiah”). Christian means “belonging to Christ” or “of Christ”.

Christianity originated in the first century. According to Acts 11:19 and 11:26 in the New Testament, Jesus’ followers were first called Christians by non-Christians in the city of Antioch, where they had fled and settled after early persecutions in Judea. After Jesus’ death, early Christian doctrine was taught by Paul of Tarsus and the other apostles.

Jesus, a descendant of Judah, is reported to have declared himself to be the long awaited Messiah (John 8:23-24, John 14:11), but was rejected as an apostate by the people generally considered to be the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:63-64). He was condemned for blasphemy and executed by the Romans around the year 30. The formal charge cited in his execution was leading a rebellion (Luke 23:1-5): he was called the “King of the Jews” by Pontius Pilate (John 19:19-22, see Luke 16:8) on the titulus crucis or statement of the charge hung over the condemned on the cross.

The Gospels indicate that the Roman charge was actually an attempt to appease the Jewish authorities, although some scholars argue that it was an ordinary Roman trial of a rebel. According to Christians, the Old Testament predicted the death and humiliation of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. Examples include the book of Isaiah that alludes to the slapping (Matthew 26:67-68, Isaiah 52:14-15, Isaiah 50:6, Mark 14:65, Luke 23:63-64), whipping (Isaiah 53:5, John 19:1, Matthew 27:26) and general humiliation that is centred on the given references.

Jesus’ apostles were the main witnesses of his life, teaching and resurrection from the dead, although some of the early traditions of the church name numerous disciples (as many as 70 including James Adelphos, Mark, Luke, Mary Magdalene, etc) who also followed Jesus in his travels and witnessed his miracles and teachings. After his crucifixion, his apostles and other followers claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, and set out to preach the new message. The original apostles may have written some portions of the New Testament’s Gospels and Epistles; however, the four gosples are not conisidered to have been written eponymously by their respective namesakes.

Many of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books were written by Paul of Tarsus. Twelve Epistles name him as writer, and some traditions also credit him as the writer of the book of Hebrews. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are stated as having been written by Luke, whom many believe to have been under Paul’s direct influence. Acts cites Paul as a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a leading figure amongst the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34-40) and a noteworthy authority in his own right (Acts 28:16-22) considering that the Jews of Rome sought his opinion on Christianity. Paul was the principal missionary of the Christian message to the Gentile world.

Churches and denominations

The four primary divisions of Christianity are the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.[41]: 14 [344] A broader distinction that is sometimes drawn is between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity, which has its origins in the East–West Schism (Great Schism) of the 11th century. Recently, neither Western or Eastern World Christianity has also stood out, for example, African-initiated churches. However, there are other present[345] and historical[346] Christian groups that do not fit neatly into one of these primary categories.

There is a diversity of doctrines and liturgical practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups may vary ecclesiologically in their views on a classification of Christian denominations.[347] The Nicene Creed (325), however, is typically accepted as authoritative by most Christians, including the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and major Protestant (including Anglican) denominations.[348]

Catholic Church

Pope Francis, the current leader of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church consists of those particular churches, headed by bishops, in communion with the pope, the bishop of Rome, as its highest authority in matters of faith, morality, and church governance.[349][350] Like Eastern Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, through apostolic succession, traces its origins to the Christian community founded by Jesus Christ.[351][352] Catholics maintain that the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” founded by Jesus subsists fully in the Catholic Church, but also acknowledges other Christian churches and communities[353][354] and works towards reconciliation among all Christians.[353] The Catholic faith is detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.[355][356]

Of its seven sacraments, the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in the Mass.[357] The church teaches that through consecration by a priest, the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Catholic Church as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, honoured in dogmas and devotions.[358] Its teaching includes Divine Mercy, sanctification through faith and evangelization of the Gospel as well as Catholic social teaching, which emphasises voluntary support for the sick, the poor, and the afflicted through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Catholic Church operates thousands of Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages around the world, and is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world.[359] Among its other social services are numerous charitable and humanitarian organizations.

Canon law (Latin: jus canonicum)[360] is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the hierarchical authorities of the Catholic Church to regulate its external organisation and government and to order and direct the activities of Catholics toward the mission of the church.[361] The canon law of the Latin Church was the first modern Western legal system[362] and is the oldest continuously functioning legal system in the West,[363][364] while the distinctive traditions of Eastern Catholic canon law govern the 23 Eastern Catholic particular churches sui iuris.

As the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution,[365] it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilization.[366] The 2,834 sees[367] are grouped into 24 particular autonomous Churches (the largest of which being the Latin Church), each with its own distinct traditions regarding the liturgy and the administering of sacraments.[368] With more than 1.1 billion baptized members, the Catholic Church is the largest Christian church and represents 50.1%[15] all Christians as well as one sixth of the world’s population.[369][370][371] Catholics live all over the world through missions, diaspora, and conversions.

Eastern Orthodox Church

St. George’s Cathedral in Istanbul: It has been the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople whose leader is regarded as the primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox Church.[372]

The Eastern Orthodox Church consists of those churches in communion with the patriarchal sees of the East, such as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.[373] Like the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church also traces its heritage to the foundation of Christianity through apostolic succession and has an episcopal structure, though the autonomy of its component parts is emphasized, and most of them are national churches.

Eastern Orthodox theology is based on holy tradition which incorporates the dogmatic decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Scriptures, and the teaching of the Church Fathers. The church teaches that it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church established by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission,[374] and that its bishops are the successors of Christ’s apostles.[375] It maintains that it practises the original Christian faith, as passed down by holy tradition. Its patriarchates, reminiscent of the pentarchy, and other autocephalous and autonomous churches reflect a variety of hierarchical organisation. It recognises seven major sacraments, of which the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in synaxis. The church teaches that through consecration invoked by a priest, the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the God-bearer, honoured in devotions.

Eastern Orthodoxy is the second largest single denomination in Christianity, with an estimated 230 million adherents, although Protestants collectively outnumber them, substantially.[15][13][376] As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.[377]

Oriental Orthodoxy

The Oriental Orthodox Churches (also called “Old Oriental” churches) are those eastern churches that recognize the first three ecumenical councils—Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus—but reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon and instead espouse a Miaphysite christology.

The Oriental Orthodox communion consists of six groups: Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India), and Armenian Apostolic churches.[378] These six churches, while being in communion with each other, are completely independent hierarchically.[379] These churches are generally not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church, with whom they are in dialogue for erecting a communion.[380] Together, they have about 62 million members worldwide.[381][382][383]

As some of the oldest religious institutions in the world, the Oriental Orthodox Churches have played a prominent role in the history and culture of Armenia, Egypt, Turkey, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and parts of the Middle East and India.[384][385] An Eastern Christian body of autocephalous churches, its bishops are equal by virtue of episcopal ordination, and its doctrines can be summarized in that the churches recognize the validity of only the first three ecumenical councils.[386]

Assyrian Church of the East

A 6th-century Nestorian church, St. John the Arab, in the Assyrian village of Geramon in Hakkari, southeastern Turkey.

The Assyrian Church of the East, with an unbroken patriarchate established in the 17th century, is an independent Eastern Christian denomination which claims continuity from the Church of the East—in parallel to the Catholic patriarchate established in the 16th century that evolved into the Chaldean Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Pope. It is an Eastern Christian church that follows the traditional christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East. Largely aniconic and not in communion with any other church, it belongs to the eastern branch of Syriac Christianity, and uses the East Syriac Rite in its liturgy.[387]

Its main spoken language is Syriac, a dialect of Eastern Aramaic, and the majority of its adherents are ethnic Assyrians. It is officially headquartered in the city of Erbil in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, and its original area also spreads into south-eastern Turkey and north-western Iran, corresponding to ancient Assyria. Its hierarchy is composed of metropolitan bishops and diocesan bishops, while lower clergy consists of priests and deacons, who serve in dioceses (eparchies) and parishes throughout the Middle East, India, North America, Oceania, and Europe (including the Caucasus and Russia).[388]

The Ancient Church of the East distinguished itself from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1964. It is one of the Assyrian churches that claim continuity with the historical Patriarchate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon—the Church of the East, one of the oldest Christian churches in Mesopotamia.[389]


The Anglican churches descended from the Church of England and organized in the Anglican Communion. Some, but not all Anglicans consider themselves both Protestant and Catholic.[393][394]

Since the Anglican, Lutheran, and the Reformed branches of Protestantism originated for the most part in cooperation with the government, these movements are termed the “Magisterial Reformation”. On the other hand, groups such as the Anabaptists, who often do not consider themselves to be Protestant, originated in the Radical Reformation, which though sometimes protected under Acts of Toleration, do not trace their history back to any state church. They are further distinguished by their rejection of infant baptism; they believe in baptism only of adult believers—credobaptism (Anabaptists include the Amish, Apostolic, Mennonites, Hutterites, River Brethren and Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptist groups.)[395][396][397][398]

The term Protestant also refers to any churches which formed later, with either the Magisterial or Radical traditions. In the 18th century, for example, Methodism grew out of Anglican minister John Wesley’s evangelical revival movement.[399] Several Pentecostal and non-denominational churches, which emphasize the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, in turn grew out of Methodism.[400] Because Methodists, Pentecostals and other evangelicals stress “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior”,[401] which comes from Wesley’s emphasis of the New Birth,[402] they often refer to themselves as being born-again.[403][404]

Protestantism is the second largest major group of Christians after Catholicism by number of followers, although the Eastern Orthodox Church is larger than any single Protestant denomination.[370] Estimates vary, mainly over the question of which denominations to classify as Protestant. Yet, the total number of Protestant Christians is generally estimated between 800 million and 1 billion, corresponding to nearly 40% of world’s Christians.[13][274][405][406] The majority of Protestants are members of just a handful of denominational families, i.e. Adventists, Anglicans, Baptists, Reformed (Calvinists),[407] Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians/Hussites, and Pentecostals.[274] Nondenominational, evangelical, charismatic, neo-charismatic, independent, and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity.[408]

Some groups of individuals who hold basic Protestant tenets identify themselves simply as “Christians” or “born-again Christians”. They typically distance themselves from the confessionalism and creedalism of other Christian communities[409] by calling themselves “non-denominational” or “evangelical”. Often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations.[410]


A 19th-century drawing of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic priesthood from John the Baptist. Latter Day Saints believe that the Priesthood ceased to exist after the death of the apostles and therefore needed to be restored.

The Second Great Awakening, a period of religious revival that occurred in the United States during the early 1800s, saw the development of a number of unrelated churches. They generally saw themselves as restoring the original church of Jesus Christ rather than reforming one of the existing churches.[411] A common belief held by Restorationists was that the other divisions of Christianity had introduced doctrinal defects into Christianity, which was known as the Great Apostasy.[412] In Asia, Iglesia ni Cristo is a known restorationist religion that was established during the early 1900s.

Some of the churches originating during this period are historically connected to early 19th-century camp meetings in the Midwest and upstate New York. One of the largest churches produced from the movement is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[413] American Millennialism and Adventism, which arose from Evangelical Protestantism, influenced the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement and, as a reaction specifically to William Miller, the Seventh-day Adventists. Others, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Christian Church in Canada,[414][415] Churches of Christ, and the Christian churches and churches of Christ, have their roots in the contemporaneous Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, which was centered in Kentucky and Tennessee. Other groups originating in this time period include the Christadelphians and the previously mentioned Latter Day Saints movement. While the churches originating in the Second Great Awakening have some superficial similarities, their doctrine and practices vary significantly.[416]


Within Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Transylvania, Hungary, Romania, and the United Kingdom, Unitarian Churches emerged from the Reformed tradition in the 16th century;[417] the Unitarian Church of Transylvania is an example such a denomination that arose in this era.[418] They adopted the Anabaptist doctrine of credobaptism.[419]

Various smaller Independent Catholic communities, such as the Old Catholic Church,[420] include the word Catholic in their title, and arguably have more or less liturgical practices in common with the Catholic Church, but are no longer in full communion with the Holy See.[421]

Spiritual Christians, such as the Doukhobors and Molokans, broke from the Russian Orthodox Church and maintain close association with Mennonites and Quakers due to similar religious practices; all of these groups are furthermore collectively considered to be peace churches due to their belief in pacifism.[422][423]

Messianic Judaism (or the Messianic Movement) is the name of a Christian movement comprising a number of streams, whose members may consider themselves Jewish. The movement originated in the 1960s and 1970s, and it blends elements of religious Jewish practice with evangelical Christianity. Messianic Judaism affirms Christian creeds such as the messiahship and divinity of “Yeshua” (the Hebrew name of Jesus) and the Triune Nature of God, while also adhering to some Jewish dietary laws and customs.[424]

Esoteric Christians regard Christianity as a mystery religion[425][426] and profess the existence and possession of certain esoteric doctrines or practices,[427][428] hidden from the public and accessible only to a narrow circle of “enlightened”, “initiated”, or highly educated people.[429][430] Some of the esoteric Christian institutions include the Rosicrucian Fellowship, the Anthroposophical Society, and Martinism.

Nondenominational Christianity or non-denominational Christianity consists of churches which typically distance themselves from the confessionalism or creedalism of other Christian communities[409] by not formally aligning with a specific Christian denomination.[431] Nondenominational Christianity first arose in the 18th century through the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, with followers organizing themselves simply as “Christians” and “Disciples of Christ”,[note 7][431][432] but many typically adhere to evangelical Christianity.[433][434][435]

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