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Brief summary of Christianity

Current status of Christianity

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Current status of Christianity:

Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with a litle over 2 billion members. It is significantly larger than the second largest religion: Islam, which has about 1.6 billion members. About one third of the world's population currently identifies themselves as Christian.

Christianity is the largest religion in the U.S. and Canada, with profoundly deep influences on American and Canadian culture and politics. In particular, conservative Christians provide the main opposition to freer abortion access; equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, including the right for same-sex couples to marry; comprehensive sex education in public schools, etc.

Worldwide, Christianity is now widely fragmented into tens of thousands of faith groups, large and small. About 50% of persons who identify themselves as Christians are Roman Catholics.

Classifying individual faith groups:

Many people view Christianity as a group of religions rather than a single religious entity. Individual faith groups have been classified as:

bulletRoman Catholic, the largest faith groups within Christianity;
bulletEastern Orthodox;
bulletFundamentalist, other evangelical, mainline, and liberal Protestant,
bulletProgressive Christian, and
bulletothers.

Sometimes the Anglican Communion is considered part of Protestantism; other times it is classified as a separate group.

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The basis for their religious beliefs:

The main foundations for a Christian faith group's beliefs are:

bulletThe Bible's Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament),
bulletChurch tradition,
bulletPersonal experience, and
bulletScientific knowledge.

Conservative groups tend to weigh the Bible and church tradition more heavily. Liberal groups tend to give greater weight to personal experience and scientific knowledge.

Many core beliefs are common to most Christian faith groups. e.g. the Trinity, the atonement, salvation by grace, etc. But many define the terms differently; they may agree on the name of the belief, but not its definition.

Interpretation of the Bible:

Christian denominations approach the Bible with very different preconceptions. Although Christians largely agree on what the Bible says, they carry away very different beliefs about what the Bible means. They interpret the Bible in very different ways.

bulletSome conservative Christian groups view the original autograph copies of the books in the Bible as inerrant -- without error -- written by authors who were directly inspired by God. The Bible is viewed as totally consistent from Genesis to Revelation.
bulletMore liberal groups often view the Bible as a collection of historical documents written by fallible authors, each promoting their own spiritual and religious understandings and those of their faith groups.

With such a different fundamental understanding of the nature of the Bible, denominations will inevitably disagree about the afterlife, salvation, atonement, nature of the deity, origin of the species, the Earth and the rest of the universe, divorce and remarriage, the "fall" of humanity, concern for the environment, and  dozens of other topics

Among the denominations and faith groups that define themselves as Christian -- including the Catholic Church, Mormon churches, Jehovah's Witnesses, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, the United Church of Christ, Unification Church, etc., -- it is difficult to find a single belief upon which everyone will agree completely.

Different Christian faith groups often define terms such as Protestant, Christian, salvation, etc. quite differently.

Every great moral and ethical conflict, including human slavery, the role of women, abortion access, homosexual and bisexual rights has produced a major conflict within Christianity. Some have led to actual schisms. Transsexual rights appear to be next topic on the horizon.

Copyrighted © 2009 & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAR-24
Last updated 2010-JUN-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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