Early History of Christianity

The founder of Christianity went by the name of Yeshua Ben Joseph; he was later given the title Jesus Christ (Jesus is the Greek version of Yeshua; Christ means Messiah, the anointed one). He was born in the Middle East probably circa 4 to 7 BCE, possibly in the fall. He was raised by his Jewish family of origin in Galilee. At the age of 30, he became an itinerant preacher whose message found an enthusiastic audience. Running afoul of the occupation army, Jesus was executed in Jerusalem circa 30 CE by the Roman authorities. Christians believe that, after his death, Christ was resurrected. They further believe that he later returned to earth for a time to inspire his followers and ascended to heaven.

Under the leadership of Simon Peter, his disciples interpreted Jesus' message as having been intended for the Jews. Saul of Tarsus, a Greek Jew, received a personal vision, and devoted the rest of his life to spreading Jesus' gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The Jewish Christians were scattered or annihilated in 70 CE when the Romans attacked and sacked Jerusalem. The churches that Paul established grew rapidly.

In 313 CE, after years of persecution, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It has since grown to become the largest religion in the world, claiming about one in three of the world's population as members.

Sacred Texts

The Hebrew Scriptures (sometimes referred to as the Old Testament) forms approximately 75% of the Holy Bible. To these books are added the Christian Testament (sometimes referred to as the New Testament). The latter begins with four gospels whose authorship is unknown. These are the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), and the Gospel of John. The gospels are followed by a number of short books which are mostly written by or about Paul.

Christian Beliefs

There are many hundreds of Christian groups in North America alone; each has their own set of beliefs and practices. However, a consensus exists of certain fundamentals of the faith:

Christian Sects and Denominations

The church's organization gradually evolved. By the early second century, the bishops' role grew in importance until they assumed a position of power over the local parish priests. Church doctrine and policy was determined by councils attended by all of the bishops. Gradually, the bishops from the larger Christian centres (Alexandria, Anitoch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome) became recognized as higher in rank. Siricius (384-399 CE) became the first bishop of Rome to take the title pope (father). Successive popes exhibited increasing control over the affairs of the entire church.

A lengthy power struggle between eastern and western Christendom culminated in a split between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Western Rite (Roman Catholic Church) in 1054. Many sects formed throughout the middle ages (Cathars, Knights Templars, etc). These were generally exterminated in wars of genocide. Martin Luther attacked certain policies and beliefs of the Church and the authority of the pope in 1517. He was followed by other reformers to produce a mass movement: the Protestant Reformation.

In present-day North America, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious group. About 15 Eastern Orthodox churches mirror the Orthodox churches of many countries of Eastern Europe. Protestant churches include Baptists, Church of Christ, Episcopalians (US) / Anglicans (Canada), Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostal, Presbyterians, and United Church of Canada.

In Canada, the 1991 census found that 85% of the population are Christian: 54% are Roman Catholics, 43% Protestants, 2% Eastern Orthodox, 2% other.

In general, the more conservative churches are rapidly growing in membership; the main line churches are in decline. The Unitarian-Universalist is growing. It is a liberal religion which is grouped with Christianity by Statistics Canada in the census; some would consider it to have left Christianity.

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