Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with over 2 billion followers around the world. It is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born around 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is now a Palestinian city in the West Bank, near Jerusalem. Jesus was born as a Jewish person to a Jewish family; His mother was Mary and His father was Joseph, but Christians say that He is the Son of God.
Christians believe that human beings live only one life, and that how they live their life decides what will happen to them after death. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ will enjoy bliss in heaven forever. Those who do not believe will suffer in hell.
Like Jews, Christians believe there is only one God. Therefore, Christianity is a monotheistic religion. In fact, since Christianity developed from Judaism, Christians understand God in the same way Jews do: God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good (= omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent). Jews believe that one day God will send a Messiah to bring peace and justice to the world. Jews, on the other hand, believe that the Messiah has not yet come. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God. The idea of incarnation says that God became a human being. The reason God incarnated as Jesus Christ was to save human beings from sin. Christians believe that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. They lived in the paradise of The Garden of Eden, but they disobeyed God by eating from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Because of this sin, Christians believe that all Adam and Eve’s children (= all human beings) are born with the tendency to do evil. Christians call this idea “original sin.” Original sin explains why there is so much evil in the world. Even babies are born with a sinful character.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ “died for our sins,” and allowed human beings to be free from original sin. This is a difficult idea to understand, and different Christians understand it in different ways. Here is one way of understanding it: Disobeying God is the worst thing possible. When people do wrong they deserve punishment. Therefore, because original sin (= disobeying God) is the worst thing we can do, it deserves the greatest punishment. But God feels a conflict. God wants to punish us, but God also loves us (God is omnibenevolent), and doesn’t want us to suffer. So instead of punishing us, God decides to become a human being, and suffer our punishment for us.
God therefore became incarnated as Jesus Christ, lived a morally perfect life, and then suffered a painful death. As Jesus Christ, God suffered an undeserved punishment. If we recognize God’s sacrifice for us, then we can be forgiven for our original sin. On the other hand, if we don’t recognize God’s sacrifice for us, then we will continue to deserve punishment for original sin.
How did Jesus die? Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader in Jerusalem, was afraid that Jesus was a threat to Roman authority in the region. Therefore, around about 33 CE, Pontius Pilate had Jesus killed for trying to teach God’s message. Jesus was arrested and then crucified. Christians also believe, however, that after he was crucified, Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven. Christians think that if they believe in God and live by Jesus’ teachings, then they will be saved from sin and go to heaven after they die.
For Jesus to be able to die for our sins, he had to live a life without sin. He also had to be born to a mother who was pure. This is why Christians believe that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was born without sin. This idea is known as the Immaculate Conception. It means that when Mary was born, God removed all original sin from her. This was necessary so that she could be a good enough mother of Jesus Christ. Some Christians, especially Roman Catholics, respect Mary so much that they often pray to her as much as to Jesus.
Another central idea in Christianity is the idea of the Trinity. The Trinity is the idea that God can be experienced in three different ways (‘Tri’ = three): (i) As “God the Heavenly Father,” (ii) as Jesus Christ, “the Son of God” in human form, and (iii) the Holy Spirit, which is God’s spirit in the world that helps Christian believers.
It is difficult to speak of the Christian community because there are so many different groups within Christianity. There are, however, two major historical divisions in Christianity.
The first division is between Eastern Europe and Western Europe. In 1054, the Great Schism divided Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic Church is based in the Vatican, and is led by the Pope. Roman Catholics believe that the Pope is God’s representative on Earth, and is the leader of all true Christians. (Note that the word “church” above refers to the type of Christianity, not the buildings where all Christians worship. It can also refer simply to “Christianity.”)
The Eastern Orthodox Church, on the other hand, refers to several different churches, each with a different leader. The most famous of the Orthodox Churches are the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic Church has about 1 billion followers. The Orthodox Church has about 200 million followers.
The second division is between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. This division happened with the Protestant Reformation. In 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther made a list of complaints about the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther believed that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were too interested in power and money, and were not following the true teachings of Jesus Christ. His protests led to the development of a separate Church, called the Protestant Church. Protestants (followers of the Protestant Church) believe that each person can understand Jesus’ teachings on their own, without needing the guidance of the Roman Catholic Pope.
Over time, many Protestant groups developed. These have many different leaders and practices. Today, there are about 1 billion Protestants in the world, and over 30,000 different Protestant groups. Some of the major groups are Anglicans (80 million), Lutherans (80 million), Baptists (100 million), Methodists (80 million), and Presbyterians (75 million). Some of the main differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant Churches are listed below.
Practices & Rituals
Christianity’s practices, rituals and festivals all celebrate Jesus as the Son of God. Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth. Western Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25th, and the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates in January. At Christmas time, Christians participate in family gatherings, special worship services, and feasts.
Easter is the festival that celebrates Jesus’s resurrection, or his rising from the dead. Easter is celebrated on a different date each year, according to the lunar calendar. It is the most important Christian festival, and lasts for one week.
Another special ritual is the Eucharist, which remembers the “last supper” of Jesus. The day before Jesus died, he had a special meal with his followers. He shared bread and wine with them. Today, Christians remember this meal by drinking wine and eating bread at their weekly services. These services are held on Sundays, to remember the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
Baptism is also an important ritual in all Christian churches. Baptism is a purification ritual that involves washing people with water. Christians believe that when they follow Jesus Christ they are saved from original sin. When people become Christians, they are thus baptized to symbolize the washing away of sin.
The main text for Christians is the Bible. The Bible is a collection of stories, history, songs, and letters. There are two main parts of the Bible – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible that is the sacred text of the Jewish people. The New Testament is made up of writings that recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus in a series of books called “The Gospels”. Some of these stories tell about miracles performed by Jesus: how he healed the sick, made the blind see, and made the dead live again.
Because Christianity grew out of Judaism, some of the Jewish laws and ethics also apply to Christianity. For example, Christians also accept the 10 commandments. However, the main ethical principle in Christianity is love. Jesus Christ said you should “love your neighbor as yourself.” He even taught that you should love your enemies and people who try to harm you. Jesus also taught that only people with a good heart, who work for peace, and who try to help the poor, will go to heaven. People who care only about money and power will go to hell when they die – a place of great suffering.
Objects & Sacredness
The most famous Christian symbol is the cross. Jesus was crucified and died on a cross; it is therefore a symbol of Jesus’ suffering. It is also a symbol of Christians’ belief that they can have life after death.
In addition to praying to Jesus, some Christians, especially Catholics, also pray to Mary (the mother of Jesus), as well as Saints and Angels. Saints are men and women who lived great and holy lives. Angels are spiritual beings who serve God.
– written by Christopher Johnson with help from Morksensei
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