Christians believe in one God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. His death and resurrection provided eternal life for those who believe in Him. The faith is based on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, which began as oral teachings of Jesus and His disciples. The Hebrew Bible expands on the Jewish Torah with the story of the life of the Hebrew people prior to the birth of Jesus. The New Testament, written in the 1st Century CE, provides stories and parables that support Jesus’ teaching to love and serve God and love your neighbor as yourself. The empty cross is the symbol of the resurrected Jesus, His crucifixion and the Christian faith of life after death.
Christianity evolved from Judaism and was formalized in the Middle East after the death of Jesus between 31-41 CE (Biblical scholars disagree on the date). The original twelve disciples carried the faith into Asia and Europe; later the teachings were written down to become the Holy Bible. All the original disciples were martyred for their faith and Christians were persecuted by Rome and the Jewish authorities until the 300’s. Christian groups were secret and fragmented until Emperor Constantine, in 312 CE declared Christianity to be the official religion of Rome; the persecution of Christians then stopped. Roman Catholicism was the predominant Christian religion at the time. In 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 theses (wrongs committed by the Roman Catholic Church) on the doors of the cathedral in Wittenburg, Germany. This was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, establishing religion that was not under control of the Pope. The three main theologies, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, are represented by 41,000 different denominations and include: Roman Catholic Church, historic Protestant and Anglican/Episcopal churches, Eastern Churches (Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East), Pentecostal churches and Evangelical (non-Pentecostal). Non-denominational, independent and sects exist within several of the denominations.
Customs and People
Christianity came to the U.S. when people migrated from Europe. The earliest pilgrims came to America to escape persecution for their conservative beliefs. Although many denominations have monks, nuns, ministers and priests who may wear special clothing, the majority of Christians have no noticeable attire, except maybe a cross or crucifix pendant. Christianity exists worldwide and the language of the region is usually the languages of the services; there are almost no dietary laws. Christians are encouraged to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and give water to the thirsty. Social justice is performed through organizations chartered by the individual denominations.
Church structure varies from denomination to denomination. Some continue an apostolic succession from Saint Peter and the church of Rome (Anglican/Episcopalian), while others ordain or call pastors/ministers/lay disciples from within the congregations. Others require education and ordination to be priests/deacons/bishops. Women may hold positions except in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Most financial support is raised through tithes, pledges and donations. New members are received through baptism, sometimes on holy days.
Christians celebrate two major holy days: Christmas – the birth of the Christ Child, and Easter – the time commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christmas is celebrated on December 25 with worship and a pageant of the birth story, family gatherings, gift giving, and feasts. In the spring, Lent is the forty days before Easter Day, starting with Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and Ash Wednesday; it is a time of reflection, penitence and anticipation of the resurrection. Many denominations celebrate Saint Days, depending on the nationality.
The Christian house of worship is usually called a church, and is decorated according to the dogma of that denomination. Some churches do not allow music or singing as part of the worship, while to others it is integral to the service. Worship space often contains pews/chairs and a baptismal font or tub for baptisms of new members. Most denominations celebrate ‘Communion’ or the ‘Lord’s Supper’ by sharing wine or grape juice and bread some time during the year. The more liturgical denominations celebrate a ‘Eucharist’ as part of their daily/weekly worship. Most services are held on Sunday, with additional weekly services in some denominations. These are conducted by a priest, deacon, pastor or minister and follow a formal liturgy of Bible readings, sermons and prayers. Sermons may be based on the Bible readings or address current world issues. Visitors are welcome to participate in most denominations without any membership requirements.
For more information
Visit the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/basics_1.shtml