BELIEFS OF CHRISTIANITY
Christianity is one of the most significant religions in human history and is one of the most common religions today along with others, including: Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Christianity is by far the largest religion in the world, holding the most members out of all the others with 2.4 billion believers. This means that nearly one third of the world’s total population is Christian. Also, it is a monotheistic religion, which means that it centers on the idea that the world was created by one god and not a series of gods. However, what is it about Christianity that makes it so popular? How did it become the organization and faith that it is today?
Christian faith and belief centers on a few main factors, known as a creed. A creed is best defined as a formal statement of belief. The most widely held creed in Christianity is the Apostle’s Creed which dates from the 4th century. The main points of the Apostle’s Creed (and Christian faith) are:
- Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (Trinity)
- Belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
- Belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ and Judgement Day
In order to understand more about the main beliefs and denominations behind Christianity, it’s important first to understand a bit about the history of the religion. (Click here for a more in-depth article on the history of Christianity). Christianity first emerged from Judaism in the Middle East in the mid-1st century. It began in the century after the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom the religion is based around. In fact, Christianity is centered on the teachings and life of Christ.
Our understanding of the life of Christ today comes from the accounts in the Gospels. These were written by four of the twelve disciples, which were the people who followed Jesus and helped to spread his teachings. These twelve disciples believed him to be what is referred to in Christian ideology as a Messiah, or the chosen prophet talked about in the Old Testament teachings. In the Gospel we learn that Jesus taught people during his life and built a considerable following among the poorest. As part of his teachings, Jesus taught his followers to reject sin and instead follow the code passed down in the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount was a series of teachings on morals found in the Gospel of Matthew. The purpose of Jesus’s teachings was in preparation for Judgement Day when God was said to reward the righteous and condemn the sinners. These teachings and writings later were solidified into a book known today as the Holy Bible. The Gospels pertaining to Jesus are contained in the New Testament of the Bible. There are several significant factors related to the beliefs of Christians. First, Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for the sins of humanity. As such, Christian believe that in order to obtain eternal life they must accept and believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important factors of Christian faith. Christ’s following at the time caused anger among some people and ultimately led to his death. The Romans, under pressure from local religious leaders, arrested him and crucified him (meaning that he was nailed to a large wooden stake) around 30 CE. According to the New Testament, his body was placed within a tomb shortly after and resurrected (rose to heaven) three days later. This belief about the life, death, and rising again of Jesus is why the Cross is considered an important part of the religion, as it signifies his death for the sins of the world.
Furthermore, Christians believe that Jesus will return, and that judgement will be passed on humanity. Judgement Day will guarantee some people’s salvation while others will be damned. As such, Christians believe in an afterlife with either eternal life or eternal damnation. For example, the following passage is from the Nicene Creed and is a widely held Christian belief: "...he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in his glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. ... We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." The Nicene Creed originates from the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. The Council was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine I and led to the first agreed upon Christian doctrine.
Finally, Christian faith centers on the idea of the Trinity. This is the notion that there is only one God, but that God is represented by three distinct persons: The Father (God), The Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. For Christians, all three entities are God and thus they do not represent three different people, but rather all three of the them together are God.
While not all Christians believe in the same interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ and the Trinity, they are central components of Christian faith. The variation in belief is due to the long and turbulent history of Christianity. For example, different events such as the Protest Reformation caused the Church to divide at times. This has led to several different denominations of faith with each having a slightly different interpretation of the Holy Bible. With that said, for most Christians, the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Holy Bible are representative of the word of God. As a result, the Gospels represented in the Bible are held in high regard. As stated previously, there are currently 2.4 billion Christians on the planet, meaning that about one third of all people identify themselves as Christian. This makes it the largest religion on the planet today. Of the 2.4 billion total Christians in the world, approximately 1.1 billion of them are Catholic, with another 800 million identifying as Protestant. There is another 300 million or so that are other forms of Christianity such as Orthodox.