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Understanding Christianity

Christianity is the world's largest religion--and maybe its most divided. Let's face it, 1,500 sects is no small difference of opinion.

Submitted 3/30/2006 By rachelhiggi Views 39462 Comments 11 Updated 5/5/2006


Photographer : Steve Evans


Who are Christians?

Christians are followers of the teaching of Jesus Christ, also known as Jesus of Nazareth. They make up 33% of the world population (about 2.1 billion people). The countries with the biggest Christian populations are the US, Brazil and Mexico. About 67% of Australians classify themselves under the broad category ‘Christian’, although they are divided among several different sects.

Judaism’s (not so) little brother

Just like Jews, Muslims and Baha’i’s, Christians trace their roots back to the creation story of Adam. They also believe that Abraham is the patriarch of their religion.

Christianity began with those who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ during his lifetime (about 4 BCE–30 CE). These followers were called apostles. After Jesus’ death, the apostles began the early Christian church, but because they were all Jewish as well, they became known at first as Christian Jews.

As Christianity spread, it also divided. The first split was in 1054 when the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox forms of Christianity went separate ways. Later, in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church split again with the Protestant Reformation. In many ways, the Reformation was the spark that ignited a series of rifts in the Christian faith, leading to over 1,500 different sects today.

What makes Christianity different?

Judaism and Christianity are, in many ways, very similar. They have a common history and Christians even study the Hebrew Scriptures as a part of their holy book, the Bible (the Hebrew Scriptures are called the Old Testament by Christians). However, there are fundamental values that set Christians apart.

Because Christian sects (and individuals) differ so greatly in both their beliefs and practices, only the most basic and fundamental have been included here.

Jesus Christ

Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the prophesised Messiah (‘Christ’ means Messiah in Greek). According to Christian beliefs, Jesus was the son of God, born of Mary, a virgin. He came to earth to save humanity from sin and death.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans and died. Christians believe that he rose from the dead after three days and later ascended into Heaven, body and soul.

The belief in life after death is key to the Christian faith. Some Christians also believe that Jesus will come again to judge all humankind.

Sacraments

Christians celebrate the Sabbath, the holy day of rest, on Sundays, usually by going to some sort of church service. Each service differs according to the specific sect of Christianity.

Christians generally believe in two sacraments (stages of faith), although some sects believe in more. Christians must first be baptised into the faith. Baptism is usually performed with some sort of covering with water. Baptist Christians are fully dunked into a pool of water, while Roman Catholics only sprinkle it on the head.

Christians also usually practice the sacrament of Eucharist during church service. The Eucharist is a piece of bread that has been blessed by a priest. It is meant to symbolise the body of Jesus, which was given up for humankind, but some sects believe that the bread actually becomes the body of Jesus (a process called transubstantiation). The Eucharist is consumed during the service, sometimes along with red wine, to symbolise Jesus’ blood.

Holidays

While several minor holidays crowd the Christian calendar, two are the most prominent. Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Though most Christians now associate Christmas with Santa Claus and presents, many Christians observe the holiday by displaying manger scenes (depicting Jesus’ birth) and going to church.

Christians also celebrate Easter, a holiday commemorating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Like Christmas, Easter has also become associated with presents (this time from the Easter Bunny), but it is also a deeply spiritual holiday for many.

Sects

Like I said before, there are almost too many Christian sects to name, but I’ll give it a try. Here are just a few to start:
  • The Amish
  • Christian Science
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)
  • Quakers (Society of Friends)
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Unitarian Universalists
  • Protestants (which include Luthern, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches)

How do I know this?

Adherents.com, Major Religions Ranked by Size, http://adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

CIA, The World Factbook: Australia, http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/...

ReligiousTolerance.org, Introduction to Christianity, http://www.religioustolerance.org/christ1.htm

Discuss Now

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Fuller 13-Mar-2008

'thats why religion has been around since the first monkey evolved into a caveman.'

mumbles about common ancestors and basic biology



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adrienne 07-Jan-2008

i had no idea there were 1500 different sects of christianity, thats heaps!



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Barista 28-Aug-2007

I think its sad how much we have lost faith... Although I wouldnt consider myself very religious I believe in God but I also believe that if you were to search the universe twice over you will not find him. My beliefs may shape and change as I grow but deep down I know that thats the most important part - the believing in something greater, that there is meaning in everything in life - even in suffering and pain. When you start to believe you see beauty everywhere in the world, even when its not pretty. Whether there is a God or not we as people have an inherent need to believe in something - thats why religion has been around since the first monkey evolved into a caveman.

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NWOKILLER 18-Aug-2007

Amnesia, that's exactly what the Mafia would do. Go to church on Sundays and murder every other day of the week.

:P



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ippy 08-Jul-2007

I really hope there is a God watching us and listening to our prayers. But reason and logic tell me theres no evidence to support a God.

A typical Christian may pray for 20 trivial things today:

1. Pray for your car to start in the morning.
2. Pray for traffic to be light so you get to work on time.
3. Pray that you don't get fired for the mistake you made yesterday.
4. Pray that the coffee stain on your purse comes out.
5. Pray that it doesn't rain.
6. Pray that the price of a stock has gone up.
7. Pray that your computer doesn't crash.
8. Pray that your son got a decent grade on his math test.
9. Pray that there's enough money in your checking account.
10. Pray that the guy you went out with on Saturday calls you.
11. Pray that your mother in law cancels her trip for the weekend.
12. Pray for there to be an available washing machine at the Laundromat when you get there.
13. Pray that your car passes inspection.
14. Pray that they have your size in the shoes you are thinking about buying at the mall.
15. Pray that the envelope you are opening contains a check rather than a bill.
16. Pray that your cat didn't pee on the new sofa.
17. Pray for your baby not to wake you up tonight screaming so you can get some sleep.
18. Pray that you have the winning bid for that camera on EBay.
19. Pray that they have the video you want at the video store tonight.
20. Pray that your team wins the game on Sunday.

What happens? Some of your prayers would get "answered," some would not. If you are a believer, you handle each little prayer in the following way:

* If something nice happens, you attribute that to God -- he answered your prayer and is "looking out" for you.

* If you pray for something and it does not happen, or if something bad happens, you rationalize that it is part of "God's plan" . It is "his will" that this bad event happens.

I find it irrational for people to acknowledge all the suffering in the world(rape, death, disease, hunger, etc) and still think that god is listening to them and looking after them with their petty needs.

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