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- For other uses of the term Christian, see Christian (disambiguation).
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A Christian is a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, referred to as the Christ. Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God, who lived a life befitting that of the creator of the universe, free of sin and full of love, who at the end of his earthly life was crucified, and then on the third day, rose from the dead, and later ascended into heaven. These beliefs are held by the vast majority of Christian denominations.
Christians believe that Jesus offers the only path to salvation, and that it is only possible because of him. Paul of Tarsus' Epistle to the Ephesians, a key work in early development of Christian doctrine, states, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Christians believe humans cannot earn salvation, but must accept it as a gift from God. Good works, however, are a result of living according to the Word of God.
Christians identify themselves as monotheistic, believing that there is one God. However, most sects incorporate God as a perichoresis of three persons: Father (the Source, the Eternal Majesty); the Son (the eternal Logos or Word, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth); and the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete or advocate). Today, it is estimated that there are around 2.1 billion Christians in the world making up 33% of the world population, with the largest Christian denomination being Roman Catholicism.<ref>Religions by Adherents Adherents.com.</ref>
Some Christians or denominations do not necessarily hold the above beliefs, see Liberal Christianity.
 Usage of the word
As a noun, Christian is an appellation and moniker deriving from the appellation "Christ", which many people associate exclusively with Jesus of Nazareth. The first known usage of this term can be found in the New Testament of the Bible, in Acts 11:26: "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Gr. Χριστιανός and variant Χρηστιανός, Strong's G5546). The term was first used to denote those known or perceived to be disciples of Christ.
As an adjective, the term may describe an object associated with Christianity. For many this also means to be a member or adherent of one of the organized religious denominations of Christianity. The term Christian means "belonging to Christ" and is derived from the Greek noun Χριστός Khristós which means "anointed one," which is itself a translation of the Hebrew word Moshiach (Hebrew: משיח, also written "Messiah"), (and in Arabic it is pronounced Maseeh مسيح). According to the New Testament, those who followed Jesus as his disciples were first called Christians by those who did not share their faith, in the city of Antioch. Hebrew is the only known language to not call Christians "Christians" but "Nazarenes" (Hebrew: נוצרי Notzri), because Jesus was from the province of Nazareth, hence the name Jesus of Nazareth or ישוע הנצרת, Yeshua Ha-Natzerat in Hebrew). Also, because calling Christians "Christians" is like the Jews saying followers of the Messiah, and Jesus being the Messiah of the Jews is considered heresy to them, Jews, and particularly Israelis rarely ever say Jesus Christ in Hebrew because that would be heresy to the most ultra-orthodox Jews. Israelis and others who speak Hebrew just say ישו (Yeshu in Hebrew) when referring to Jesus. Xian or Xtian is another word that has been used to describe Christians and is similar to using Xmas in place of Christmas; the X or Xt used as a contraction for "Christ" ("X" resembles the Greek letter Χ (Chi), the first letter of "Christ" in Greek (Χριστός [Christos]). Some Christians find these terms offensive and equate it to taking Christ out of the term.
The term "Christian" is used by various groups with diverse beliefs to describe themselves. Some people, including many born-again Christians, use a fairly specific definition of "Christian". They believe that in order to be a Christian, one must follow Jesus, and that the proof of this is found in agreeing to and following the doctrines set forth in their interpretation of the Bible.
In some areas of the world, the term "Christian" is not necessarily a person who believes in Jesus Christ at all, but is seen as an ethnic group, as the term Jew does not necessarily mean an adherent to the religion of Judaism. This point of view is most popularly held in the Arab Muslim world.
Many Christians are grouped into ecclesiastical communities called denominations which are separated by certain aspects of their respective beliefs and theologies. The liturgical denominations, including Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Roman and Eastern Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism, along with many constituent components of the reformed traditions of Presbyterianism, Methodism, Moravianism, et al., teach that the title Christian is honorifically bestowed upon those who have accepted the command of Jesus Christ (in Mark 8:34) to "take up your cross and follow me", and that the public mark of a Christian is to receive the sacrament of Baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Many denominations advocate infant baptism, in addition to that of adult converts. However, proponents of believer's baptism contest that there is no specific passage in Scripture that mentions infant baptism.
Others who refer to themselves as Christians require only that one believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died and was resurrected from the dead, believing that those who do will follow the command of Christ to "take up your cross and follow me". Certain other denominations (The Church of Christ, International Churches of Christ, and the Independent Christian Churches) teach that the definition of a Christian is someone who has been baptized as a repenting adult. For them, adult baptism is the transition from non-Christian to Christian. These varying definitions arise from different biblical interpretations and differences regarding the authority of scripture in the bible in context with tradition.
A small but significant minority of ecclesiastical groups are often referred to as Christian, whose creeds consider Jesus to be theologically significant but not God. Movements along these lines include Jehovah's Witnesses, see also Nontrinitarianism.
A letter ascribed in the Augustan History to the Emperor Hadrian refers to the worship of Serapis by residents of Egypt who described themselves as Christians, and Christian worship by those claiming to worship Serapis:
The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. (Augustan History, Firmus et al. 8)
 Early times
Church is taken by some to refer to a single, universal community, although others contend that the doctrine of the universal church was not established until later. The doctrine of the universal, visible church was made explicit in the Apostles' Creed, while the less common Protestant notion of the universal, invisible church is not laid out explicitly until the Reformation. The universal church traditions generally espouse that the Church includes all who are baptized into her common faith, including the doctrines of the trinity, forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial action of Christ, and the resurrection of the body. These teachings are expressed in liturgy with the celebration of sacraments, visible signs of grace. They are passed down as the deposit of faith.
Some minority traditions of Christianity have maintained that the word translated "church" in scripture most often properly refers to local bodies or assemblies. "Church" is a derivative of the Late Greek word "κυριακον", meaning Lord's house, which in English became "church". The Koine word for church is εκκλησία (ecclesia). Before Christian appropriation of the term, it was used to describe purposeful gatherings, including the assemblies of many Greek city states. Christians of this stripe maintain that a centralizing impulse in the church, present from the early days of the church through the rise of Constantine represented a departure from true Christianity. They therefore reject the authority of the Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed.
 The first millennium
Christian spirituality blossomed in the Roman Empire between 64 and 313 AD in spite of official efforts to suppress it. The earliest record of the use of the term is by Tacitus when he recorded that Nero blamed the "Christians" for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. Sometime around 200 AD, one leader, Tertullian, is quoted as saying, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed [of the Church]" to account for this phenomenon of persecution of Christians. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 2.25 recorded: "The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes as follows: "Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence."" In 313 AD, the Edict of Milan ended official persecution, and under the Emperor Constantine, Christians acquired powerful political influence, the results of which are controversial to this day, beginning with Constantine's First Council of Nicaea, sometimes called the Constantinian shift. In 390, Theodosius the Great declared Catholic Christianity the state religion of the empire (Codex Theodosianus).
Christians developed hierarchical structures to lead the visible Church over the course of many centuries. From the early formation of the Church until the Great Schism in 1054 AD, virtually all Christians subsisted within one Church as one visible organization, led locally by bishops, and regionally by patriarchs. However, minor divisions occurred over differences in doctrine as early as the Council of Chalcedon, and continued through the progression of ecumenical councils.
 Medieval times
In Medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was at its peak of Apostolic strength and spirituality. Not only was the Church and its organizations extremely devoted to Christianity, piously spreading the word of God through missionaries and established monasteries in many countries but through its dominant spiritual influence that eventually rivaled the political power of most Monarchs for support of the population. The majority of people of this age devoted their lives to God and it showed by the donations of land, money, and possessions to the church. In time, this made the Pope an important figure in the life of the continent.
This wealth often expressed itself in the building of beautiful cathedrals which showed their great devotion and adoration to God. The Church's monasteries were seats of learning and study which evolved into modern universities. They also provided the first hospitals for the care of the sick.
 Modern times
The history of the Christian faith in modern times must be studied movement by movement, such is its diversity. In the West, the Protestant Reformation profoundly introduced to Christianity the idea of self-interpretation and the denouncement of visible unity. Intellectual pressure from the Enlightenment led to a religious reaction in the North American colonies — called the Great Awakening — to which Protestant North American Christians owe much of their pattern of practice.
Widespread Christian missions, founded by all segments of Christianity in response to the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 (also known as the Great Commission), have created today's situation in which Christians are to be found in almost every part of the world.
Within Christian communities there are members who devote themselves to active participation in prophetic communication and miraculous healing (and anything else considered to be a 'spiritual gift') as represented in the early church, the pre-Christ prophets and in the Bible (most notably in the book of Acts). They are categorized as Charismatic Christians.
The opposing view is cessationalism. This was made popular in post-reformation times to discount several radical Protestant groups (e.g. Anabaptists) that emphasized new revelations and prophetic messages. Their opponents (Lutherans, Calvinists) then responded by stating that the power of the Holy Spirit (that they agree had been with the early church), left when the last apostle died.
There are of course various other (some older) versions of cessationalism, (including that held by christadelphians) although some tend to use different names. In some cases the one belief (charismatic or cessationalist) will occupy the entire denomination as doctrine, most famously in the Pentecostal movement (founded on such charismatic principles), whilst other churches allow a more liberal view as to how widely these 'gifts of the holy spirit' are present in the modern church. Consequently there are charismatic Catholics and Anglicans, as well as the cessationalist counter-parts. Indeed the so called 'charismatic movement' began in high churches first, despite being attributed to more low-church style of worship.
The life of a Christian is still characterized by faith in the figure of Jesus as represented in the New Testament. Sacraments aside, the concept of grace is still uniquely Christian: the idea that spiritual wholeness comes only as a result of a gift from God.
 Persecution of Christians
Christians have frequently suffered from persecution. From its foundation at the feet of a crucified leader, through the history of the early church with example such as Stephen, Paul, and the martyrdom of 10 of the 11 remaining disciples (recorded in extra-biblical sources), Christianity was persecuted from its inception. Adherence to Christianity was declared illegal within the Roman Empire, and, especially in the 3rd century, the Emperors demanded that their subjects (save only the Jews) participate in the imperial cult, where ritual sacrifices were made in worship of the traditional Roman gods and the Emperor, a practice incompatible with monotheistic Christianity.<ref>Religionfacts.com, Persecution in the Early Church</ref> Refusal to participate was considered akin to treason, punishable by death. Systematic state persecution of Christians culminated in the Great Persecution of Diocletian and ended with the Edict of Milan.<ref>ChristianityToday.com 313 The Edict of Milan</ref>
Persecution of Christians persisted or even intensified in other places, such as in Sassanid Persia.<ref>Macro History, The Sassanids to 500 CE</ref> Later, under Islam, Christians were subjected to social and legal proscriptions<ref>While they could legally practice their faith, this was subject to various restrictions: The performance of religious rituals had to be in a manner inconspicuous to Muslims, and they were prohibited from proselytizing.(Lewis (1984) p. 26)</ref> and at times also suffered violent persecution or confiscation of their property,<ref>Bernard Lewis wrote: "Sometimes, when a persecution occurred, we find that the instigators were concerned to justify it in terms of the Holy Law. The usual argument was that the Jews or the Christians had violated the pact by overstepping their proper place. They had thus broken the conditions of the contract with Islam, and the Muslim state and people were no longer bound by it."; see also Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.</ref> although that was not typical.<ref>Lewis, The Jews of Islam p. 44; Lewis (1984, p. 8.) states that "persecution in the form of violent and active repression was rare and atypical".</ref>
There was some persecution of Christians after the French Revolution during the attempted Dechristianisation of France.<ref>Mortimer Chambers, The Western Experience (vol. 2) chapter 21</ref> State restrictions on Christian practices today are generally associated with those authoritarian governments which either support a majority religion other than Christianity (as in Muslim states),<ref>Paul Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out; Worldnetdaily.com, Christians persecuted in Islamic nations</ref> or tolerate only churches under government supervision, sometimes while officially promoting state atheism (as in North Korea). For example, the People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches and has regularly suppressed house churches or underground Catholics. The public practice of Christianity is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. On a smaller scale, Greek and Russian governmental restrictions on non-Orthodox religious activity occur today.
Complaints of discrimination have also been made by Christians in various other contexts. In some parts of the world, there is persecution of Christians by dominant religious groups or political groups. Many Christians are threatened, discriminated against, jailed, or even killed for their faith. Christians are persecuted today in many areas of the world including Cuba, the Middle East, North Korea, China, the Sudan, and Kosovo.<ref>see persecution.org;christianmonitor.org; and Cliff Kincaid, aim.org Christians Under Siege in Kosovo</ref>
 Persecution by Christians
- Further information: Martyr#Persecution_among_Christians
Christians have also been perpetrators of persecution, which has been directed against members of other religions and against other Christians. Christian mobs, sometimes with government support, have destroyed pagan temples and oppressed adherents of paganism (such as the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was murdered by a Christian mob). Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands. Christian governments have suppressed or persecuted groups seen as heretical, later in cooperation with the Inquisition. Later denominational strife has sometimes escalated into religious wars. Witch hunts, carried out by secular authorities or popular mobs, were a frequent phenomenon in parts of early modern Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America. European Colonial efforts often placed emphasis on Christianity over indigenous religions.
 See also
- Christian denomination
- Christian meditation
- Criticism of Christianity
- Jesus in the Christian Bible
- List of Christians
- Christian clothing
 External links
- Christianity, as defined by the Roman Catholic Church
- Usage of "Christian" in the Bible
- Christianity at the Open Directory Projectaf:Christene
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