Christianity

Christianity is the world’s most prolific religion, with more than 2.4 billion followers, and churches and chapels on every continent including Antarctica. Many of those are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Church of Nativity, Bethlehem.
St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow
Skogskyrkogården, southern Stockholm.

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life

—Gospel of John, 3:16

Christianity is a monotheistic (believing in one god) Abrahamic (believing to be descended from the religion of Abraham who may or may not have lived in the second or first millennium B.C. in the ancient Middle East) religion and is today one of the most widely practiced religions in the world. Christianity believes that Jesus of Nazareth (who most likely lived from approximately 7 BC to roughly 30 CE), who is often called Jesus Christ (from the Greek word Χριστός (Christós), meaning “the anointed one”) was the “Messiah” promised to the Jewish people by various prophecies. Christians believe that Jesus was conceived by Mary as a virgin, that as the Son of God is the only one who can be considered free from sin in his own right, and that his crucifixion was the sacrifice necessary to cleanse humanity of its sins. According to the Biblical account, Jesus was resurrected after his death on the cross and subsequent burial, and appeared before his disciples. Jesus was then raised to heaven where he awaits the world’s decline into sin and tribulation, after which he would return to Earth and pass the final judgment on humanity.

The vast majority of Christians today also believe in some form of Trinity, which is the belief that Jesus, God (the Father) and the Holy Spirit are one God in three Persons. The exact specifications of the Trinity, whether saints or icons should be venerated and how this should be done, and questions of church administration caused a number of schisms, destructive wars, and a large number of Christian denominations in existence today. The most notable denominations are the Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic church and various Protestant churches. While the great majority of religious people in some countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, most of Europe, and Latin America are at least nominally Christian, Christianity is a minority religion in most of Asia (with the exception of the Philippines and East Timor), Africa (with the exception, mainly, of southern Africa) and the Middle East. Christianity has influenced the culture of the countries it is or has been dominant in and has been influenced by preexisting local cultures, traditions and religions as well, and many important buildings bear witness to the Christian faith of today and bygone eras.

Some main types of Christian buildings and sites are:

  • Abbey: A church headed by an abbot/abbess, who is the leader of a community of monks/nuns
  • Cathedral: A prominent church, the seat (cathedra) of a bishop
  • Church: A building dedicated to church services (called mass in Catholicism), prayer and ceremony
  • Chapel: A similar, non-inaugurated building
  • Monastery: A place where monks live and worship communally
  • Convent: A place where nuns live and worship communally
  • Cemetery: Can be tied to a Christian congregation or be multi-religious

One important difference between Catholic or Orthodox churches and many Protestant churches is that while Orthodox Christians and Catholics venerate icons of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and saints, many Protestant churches are iconoclastic (rejecting the use of icons and in some cases in the past, outright destroying them), with simple churches that are not ornate and feature just a symbolic cross, rather than a crucifix showing the body of Christ in their churches. Protestant churches that do use icons to some degree and sometimes elaborate architectural decorations include Anglican and Lutheran churches, though the Anglican church also went through an iconoclastic period, during which they destroyed most English Catholic sculpture.

As in other religions, interpretations of scripture can also differ significantly between different Christian denominations. For example the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches tend to prefer a more figurative interpretation of the Biblical text, and generally allow for the theory of evolution and other scientific theories that do not match Biblical accounts. Conversely many Evangelical churches, including the Pentecostal and Baptist churches tend to follow a strict literal interpretation of the Bible, and thus do not allow for evolution and other scientific theories.

Christianity’s principal religious text, the Bible, comes in many different editions. The Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox bibles contain differing numbers of books, and the translations from the original texts (mostly written in ancient Greek) into most modern languages often also result in rather different interpretations.

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