|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
Christianity is a monotheistic religion that originated in what is now Israel in the 1st century A.D. as an offshoot of Judaism. It is based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish rabbi whose followers identified Him as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and who was executed by Roman and Judean authorities for His heresy. Christianity teaches that a day will come when the world will end and all of mankind will be judged by God, and that only those who follow Jesus and accept His sacrifice on their behalf will be spared from eternal punishment. Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, despite systematic persecution of Christians, and in the 4th century became the official religion of the Empire, and thereafter the dominant religion throughout Europe and the western world.
That doesn't even begin to describe it.
The world's biggest single religious group tends to be a bit misunderstood at times, even by its own adherents. Since only one-in-three people worldwide describe themselves as Christians, it follows that at least two out of three people are a little vague on what it is all about.
A few basic points that the majority of Christians agree on; any disagreement will be mentioned in the entry for the appropriate sect!:
- Christianity is a monotheistic religion from the perspective of modern adherents. The most prevalent view is that the one God subsists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Needless to say, a lot of philosophy and theology has been devoted to understanding this and it's still a Mind Screw for many; some sects do away with it entirely, probably for that reason.
- God is omniscient (i.e., knows everything that has ever transpired or will transpire, past, present, and future), omnipotent (i.e., capable of doing anything He desires to), and omnibenevolent (i.e., He loves everyone and everything). As above, a lot of philosophy has been dedicated to comprehending how these qualities interact with each other, and how they can coexist given the seemingly contradictory nature of the world man exists in; the general answer being that God is playing a long game the understanding of which is beyond man's comprehension.
- Christ is not Jesus' last name but His title designating His role as Messiah and Savior; it comes from the Greek Christos meaning "anointed", in turn a translation of Māšîăḥ. This is why phrases like "Passion of the Christ" make sense. Note that this also means that referring to Jesus as "Christ" or "Jesus Christ", rather than just "Jesus", constitutes an implied claim that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah, and thus should be avoided when you're trying to draw a distinction between the Christian view and the "historical" secular view of Jesus.
- Jesus was the incarnation of God on Earth. In the person of Jesus, God walked among us and experienced human life as a human, including its sufferings and its privations. (Don't ask whether Heaven had an "Out of the Office, Will Return In [X] Years" sign on it whilst Jesus was alive. That view is called "modalism", and nobody really knows.)
- Christianity is an expansion on or replacement of the covenant established between God and the Jewish people in the Old Testament. Key to this is the concept of blood sacrifice - when sin transpires, blood must be spilled in its atonement. Whereas the ancient Jews fulfilled this necessity with intermittent animal sacrifices, Christ offered His own blood as a substitute, permanently, once and for all. Hence the sobriquet "Lamb of God"; whereas lambs were the preferred animal for sacrifice in the temple, Jesus became the lamb for the entire world.
- Sin is an inexorable part of the human experience, owing to Adam's original act of defiance to God by eating the forbidden fruit (i.e., Original Sin). No matter how pious a life one may try to lead, it is inevitable that at some point one will commit a sin intolerable to God - and thus, divine salvation is necessary for all souls.
- Most Christians, now and throughout history, obviously have had sex. While sexual morality, most universally in the form of refraining from sex outside of marriage, is of great importance for many Christians, others view it more like the pork issue in Judaism/Islam. See Shakers for an example of a sect that does not believe in sex at all. A lot of the negative views towards sex and sexuality stem from the influence that Greek philosophy had on early Christianity, most specifically Platonism. This was later reinforced in modern times with Victorian sensibilities. But to say that a significant number of modern-day Christians have a negative view of sex would be misleading - many, including most 'mainline' Protestants and the Catholic Church, simply view it as sacred and best confined to married couples. The only actual statements of Jesus re. sex were telling an adulterous woman to "sin no more" and also saying that sex after divorce is adultery. Further specified as she was particularly mentioned as sleeping with married men.
- The Christian faith is by no means restricted to those who are "perfect,"- in fact, Jesus Himself often lectured hypocrites, especially those who saw themselves as "perfect", and hung out with sinners (a fact that really pissed off His opponents). Christianity is in fact a religion that embraces sinners; this doesn't mean you keep sinning, though. The emphasis is on trying to avoid sinning with God's help. It's not a "Get out of Hell free card", but rather the idea that, since God's love and grace are absolutely infinite, there isn't a sin you could imagine that He wouldn't forgive you for if your desire for forgiveness were sincere.
- Traditional grammatical convention dictates that pronouns relating to God or to Christ use capitals (e.g. 'Him', 'You'). This also includes pronouns referencing Jesus and the Spirit, as they are also Him. This is done simply out of respect and is not a requirement, nor is it always practiced by non-Christians (never mind how thorny this would be for scripts that don't have capitalization, such as Hebrew, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean). Recent English-language Bibles rarely employ this practice. In addition, God's "gender" is an issue of huge debate; it's implied in the Bible that God doesn't have a gender, and Him is just a convenient handle, while others see the Bible as implying God as definitely male.
- A side issue: Jesus' historicity. The question of His holiness, position as Christ, and so on are obviously beyond the scope of scientific inquiry as they are not falsifiable. Jesus Himself left no writings that have survived to the present day, and the earliest Christian writings known today (i.e., the Biblical Gospels and the Gospels of Thomas) date to several decades after His life. It is generally accepted as fact that Jesus, as in the individual described in the Bible, did, in fact, historically exist. This continues to be dicey, since the claim that Jesus the guy exists needs to be sorted for different notions of "exists". Was there an itinerant preacher guy named Yeshua somewhere in Judaea around AD 20-40 who made a stir and got offed by the powers that be? Almost certainly. Did that guy say or do anything ascribed to him in the Bible? Less certain. Was He born on December 25th of the year 1 B.C.? Almost certainly not, since modern archaeologists believe King Herod (during whose reign Jesus is said to have been born) to have died several years prior, and the date of Christmas to have been set by the early medieval church to coincide with competing winter solstice festivals.
The simplest definition of "Christian" is a person who call themselves a Christian, unhelpfully enough, this doesn't actually cover all Christians (such as Messianic Jews), and it most certainly doesn't do anything to inform us of who is actually practicing the religion and who simply says they are. A slightly more complicated definition would be one who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ and strives to live their life in accordance with His teachings. Of course, depending on who you ask, this means different things.
- Mainline Protestant Christians believe a Christian is one who acknowledges s/he is a sinner, accepts Christ's offer of salvation, is forgiven by God on Christ's behalf, repents and changes his or her life to reflect this, and spreads the word to others. Although, there's a bit of variation between denominations regarding whether humans have to initiate this process to be saved, or if God just does it anyways regardless of explicit acceptance. Protestants also claim that the Bible is the ultimate and only necessary authority for knowing how to live a Christian life, but also say that it is largely up to the individual to interpret the Bible's instructions as to how to live their own life (though the learned advice of the clergy is not to be discounted).
- Catholics believe that The Pope is the rightful successor of St. Peter, who was given the authority by Jesus to guide and direct the Christian Church on Earth and that faith alone isn't sufficient except combined with acts. Basically, same as above but the Church (e.g. Pope) is the final earthly authority for figuring out how to actually do it and that it isn't enough just to believe in Christ, you also have to act like you believe. Contrary to common misunderstanding, they do believe in the Bible as strongly as Protestant Christians do, but their belief in the Church's authority simply means they do not believe that God's word consists of the Bible alone- it didn't end with the last period of Revelation, but rather, has continued throughout history.
- Orthodox Christians agree with Catholics on the role of the Church as the earthly authority that can make statements of doctrine. But instead of the Pope, they rely on ecumenical councils (basically, gatherings of all the bishops in the world, where each of them gets one vote) as the final authority. The last ecumenical council recognized by the Orthodox was held in the 9th century, though the Catholic Church has held councils of its own since then, and the Orthodox have held synods (similar meetings of bishops on a smaller scale) numerous times since.
- Some liberal denominations reject the notion of external salvation entirely, and only focus on Jesus' message of compassion and forgiveness while not focusing so much, if at all, on His teachings on personal morality and sanctification. Others keep the focus on the personal morality and sanctification, but express it through acts of charity and giving- many major charity organizations around the world are run by Christians, and many hospitals and ambulances worldwide originated as Christian organizations.
As you probably already know Christians are not one collective bunch. Disagreements over theology and dogma have resulted in everything from quiet splits to devastating wars, in the past and even today- much like most religions. In Christianity, this has resulted in the notable tendency to create new churches, and this in turn leads to the large number of different Christian churches.
Amongst these disagreements (and a comprehensive list would be literally impossible) are:
This section is not a test. These are rhetorical questions. Answering them is not something a wise person would do.
- The Nature of Jesus: How does Jesus being both Man and God work out? Is there a dual-nature, a unified single nature, or what?
- The Trinity: How can the doctrine of trinity be maintained without collapsing the persons into one or splitting them into three separate Gods?
- The Holy Spirit: Just what is that?
- Circumcision -- Paul says it's unnecessary, else God would have done it for us. Can we do it anyway? Are we still required to? Do we have to?
- Is gambling cool? Does insurance count as gambling?
- If Jesus turned water into wine, is drinking at all a sin? Was it really wine or just grape juice?
- May women be ordained? For that matter, do we really need ordination at all?
- Baptism -- as a child, as an adult, at all, full immersion, sprinkling on forehead will do, one time only, or can we all just agree that we're glad we don't have to be circumcised?
- What happens if I, despite being a model Christian, forget to get baptized?
- Communion: Did Jesus say that the bread literally was his body and the wine literally was his blood? Was it purely symbolic? Neither? Cannibalism? How does this square with vegetarianism?
- Is fighting and killing other "Christians" in a Just War okay with God? For that matter, what exactly is a Just War?
- Homosexuality: Can we all just agree that we have opinions on this matter and leave it at that? Or is the issue an important one that doesn't allow for compromise?
- Sex: Is it better to be celibate, married, or just fool around?
- When can someone get a divorce? Is divorce even real, or is it just a legal term instead of a spiritual reality?
- What exactly is God's name -- Jehovah? Yahweh? YHVH? Jesus? Yeshua/Yehoshua? Eloh? Al-Illah? Allah? Adonai? Abraxas? Lord? The Lord? God? All of the above? Or are we not supposed to ask?
- Evolution: A lie construed by Evil Atheist Scientists, or a legitimate way to interpret Genesis? Is the story of creation a literal account of how the Earth came to be, or a metaphor for events and lengths of time Bronze-Age man wasn't ready to comprehend?
- Intelligent Design: A viable fact, a diabolical attempt to pander to the pagans, a wishy-washy suck-up to the powerful proponents of evolution, or an unnecessary and pseudo-scientific attempt to "reconcile" evolution with faith when there is not really a conflict?
- Theistic Evolution: Is evolution just part of God's Xanatos Gambit where the causal chain from the big bang to the human soul is all part of His plan?
- Hell: What exactly is it? Is it a place? Is it eternal? Are there literal flames? Can you escape it? Is it maybe a metaphor? Is it layered, with some circles being worse than others, as in Dante's Inferno?
- Purgatory: Do some/many/most/all souls need to finish being purified after death in order to enter Heaven?
- What happens to the righteous unbelievers? Are the worthy heathens able to convert in the afterlife? Might they be given a chance to convert at the moment of death if they were sincerely doing the best with what they believed in? Does it even matter what they believe, or will their acts of good get them saved despite never accepting Jesus? Or does God suss out who's willing to accept Jesus and take extraordinary measures to ensure that the Gospel gets to them - not needing to go so far with the many who wouldn't accept even if they knew?
- What about people who died as unbelievers because they never heard about Jesus, or were too young or mentally infirm to understand? What about the millions of people who lived before Jesus? Is there a "Limbo" between Heaven and Hell where these folks' souls go, or do they get a free pass to Heaven, or are they condemned to Hell? And is this Limbo a place of joy, punishment, or both, or neither?
- Similarly, does a baptism performed on someone who doesn't understand it, or is too young to understand it, "count" as far as salvation goes? And what happens if this person later gains the ability to fully understand what baptism and salvation are all about? Do kids eventually reach an "age of reason", beyond which they're accountable to God for their beliefs and behavior, but before which God considers them too young to know any better?
- Is religion actually an example of God's love refracted through culture and history, or is belief more like a valid passport?
- Prophecy: How can I tell who's talking to Him and who's talking to himself?
- As a Roman Catholic priest, can I make babies or even get married?
- Did Henry VIII suck at running a church and screw up Anglican apostolic succession?
- And that entire Reformation business, justified? And whose fault is it?
- Resurrection: Who? When? How? And what happens in the meantime?
- The Apocalypse of John: What is this book about?! Is it a prophecy? Political allegory?
- Should every word in the Bible be taken literally, or should it be analyzed like a literary work for different symbols? Both? Neither?
- How does one go about interpreting the Bible literally? How literal is literal enough? Jesus taught in parables; does that mean the Bible as a whole should be taken as a spiritual parable? Or can we just pick and choose the bits to take literally and consign the rest to poetic allegory?
- What is the Bible? What books should compose it? Why is the Book of Jubilees in Ethiopian Orthodox canon but not Protestant canon?
- What about breaking up Biblical texts into chapter and verse?
- Was the Bible written and compiled by man, by God, or by both? If the text is "inspired," what does that mean?
- Saints -- should we care? Are some of them just poorly concealed rip-offs of local pagan deities? Or are they genuinely holy people who continue to care about people on Earth even after their own deaths? And how much power of intercession do they have anyways?
- Miracles - does God personally intervene in people's lives to their benefit, or is he more of a cosmic watchmaker who observes but does not interfere?
- If there are so many issues Christians disagree on, does this prove that God is a fan of the art of debate? Or is there one true church that is right about all the major issues, and everyone should join that one? And how in the world do you figure out who that one church is?
- Is the King James Version of the Bible a great Bible, or the greatest Bible? Or is it written in extremely outdated language and based on somewhat sketchy source material? Should my Bible be precise? readable? poetic? And don't even get started on whether words should be translated as "young women" vs "virgin."
- Speaking of archaic language, what's the deal with obsolete informal pronouns? Do they actually give a better sense of intimacy with God or do they just end up sounding even more formal because they're so rarely used?
- God: Does He/It/She have a gender?
- Was Jesus' manifestation in 1st-century Iudaea a one-time event? Is it possible that similar figures in other world religions were also manifestations of Him? If they are, does this mean these other religions are true? If intelligent life exists on other worlds, are they subject to the same covenant that human beings are?
- Judgment Day: Is it coming soon? Is the Book of Revelation a literal account of things to come, or an allegory for events occurring at the time it was written? Will the righteous ascend bodily into heaven before the Tribulation begins? Will there be a Tribulation at all, or will the end times sneak in like a thief in the night?
- Judaism: Do Jews need to accept Christ to be saved, or does the Old Covenant still apply for them?
- Liturgical language: What language should be used for public worship? The local vernacular? Or Latin? Greek? Coptic? Angelic tongues?
- Polygyny existed in Old Testament, the New Testament and onward (thus, today); it is allowed? Forbidden? Discouraged? God just happened to made exceptions in the past? God actually dislike it but allow it? God liked it? It was invention of machist writers?
- Predestination: Does God know the future before it happens? If so, does that mean that some people are elected to be saved before they are even born, while others are damned? Or does human free will allow the future to change in ways that even God can't foresee?
There are a lot of different denominations all with their own slightly different beliefs, practices, tropes, and what not. Broken up by type:
We're going to define the Catholicism type as Churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church as well as those churches that broke off recently, as in the last couple centuries.
Roman Catholic Church
The largest sect in raw numbers (about one in six human beings are Catholic) and one of the many types of Christianity hailing from about AD 300. The leader of the Catholic Church, the Pope, is the Bishop of Rome just as St. Peter was; in practice, the real authority of the Church is with its Bishops, each of whom is responsible for passing on the teachings of the church intact within their dioceses. It should be kept in mind that Catholicism is comprised of diverse segments of believers and that inevitably, there's bound to be some arguments amongst themselves, and let's leave it at that.
Catholicism is generally best known for its rituals and a rather authoritarian approach to religious and moral doctrine. It is believed that the church's teachings on these subjects are "infallible" - without error - because the Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to be in error; debate remains, however on how to interpret this infallibility. There are three sources of infallible teachings, two of which are not controversial. First, there is the "Magisterium" of the Church: the teachings of the church that are considered universal by the Pope and Bishops. Second are the teachings of Church Councils - meetings of all the bishops within the Church, called by the Pope to settle in a democratic fashion questions of an extraordinary nature. The Catholic Church recognizes 21 Councils as having occured in its history, the most recent of which was the Second Vatican Council held from 1962-1965 (which, among many other changes, allowed Mass to be said in languages other than Latin). The last source, and the most controversial, is the Pope himself; Catholics believe the Pope is infallible when he speaks on matters of faith or morals, leaving no wiggle room. This circumstance is known as ex cathedra, which literally means "from the chair." When the Pope solemnly defines a doctrine or dogma, he is speaking ex cathedra. In the grand scheme of the Church it is a very new idea, first officially pronounced in 1870, and which modern theologians recognize as having been exercised only seven times in the history of the church, most recently in 1950.
Many people debate just how solemnly, and what language a pope has to speak to be doing so, however, if the term anathema (a bad thing, as in "let him be anathema") shows up, you're probably in ex cathedra territory. As a note, infallibility has nothing to do with impeccability, that is, sinlessness (Peter the Apostle, considered to be the first Pope by Catholics, denied Christ three times in The Bible).
Infallibility is viewed as a negative power, that means the pope is incapable of speaking falsely when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals. This does not extend to private letters, most public discourses, theological musings and what not, though they are to be accorded respect. Note that due to the principle of doctrinal development in Catholicism (the belief that new dogmas are simply existing beliefs that have been better understood and now explicitly defined, as opposed to doctrinal innovation which means coming up with new doctrine or changing existing ones), this rule applies retroactively. But in practice, infallible teachings from the Pope are very rare; the Church doesn't keep a list, but by one theologian's count, there have only been seven in the entire 2000-year history of the Church, the most recent in 1950.
Catholicism recognizes seven "sacraments," signs of God's grace: Baptism, Communion (a remembrance of the Last Supper, and where Catholics believe Jesus acting through the priest turns the bread and wine into Himself), Confirmation (when people choose to become full members of the Church as adults), Marriage, Holy Orders (where clergy take their vows), Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick (sometimes, and not quite correctly, called "Last Rites"; Last Rites often includes the sacraments Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation, but is not itself a sacrament). An important difference between Catholicism and some Protestant sects is that Catholics do not believe the Bible is entirely literal, only "divinely inspired." For example, Popes have endorsed the theory of evolution as both plausible and consistent with Catholic teaching, referring to the Creation story of Genesis as a metaphor or a poetic way of describing the creation of man by God. This reflects the greater emphasis that Catholicism puts on human reason and philosophy in terms of theological learning. Scholasticism, popularized by St. Thomas Aquinas, is a major influence on this way of thinking.
Another important Catholic tradition is the remembrance of Canonical Saints: people who have been found by the Church to have led holy lives, are considered examples for Catholics to follow, and are believed to have demonstrated they are in Heaven and have God's favor by granting what the church considers miracles (usually, healings without a certain medical explanation) to those who ask saints to "intercede" for them with God. There are at least 5,000 Canonical Saints (the most important being "The Virgin" Mary, who was Jesus' earthly mother), though some of them may be more legends than real people. Note that the word "saint" is often misinterpreted to mean an especially good person. In Catholic theology, anyone currently in heaven is a "saint" (hence the fact that the Church does not Canonize living people); thus, anyone who died in a state of grace is a saint, regardless of what sort life they led. When people talk about "saints", they usually mean Canonical Saints. When the Catholic Church formally declares that someone is a saint, that person is said to be "canonized", and someone who has been canonized is a Canonical Saint. Whether someone has been canonized, however, is irrelevant to whether they are a saint. Despite common usage, the Pope does not "make" people saints; only God can do that. The Pope is merely reporting on current events.
In 1964, the Second Vatican Council announced a number of major reforms in Catholic practice, including the removal of a number of traditional saints from the (universal) feast calendar, the de-emphasizing of meatless Fridays (except during Lent) to the horror of fish sellers, and the adoption of a Mass that may permissibly said in the vernacular as opposed to Latin. Some of these changes proved quite controversial, though a modified version of the Latin Mass could still be said if you filled out the right paperwork (Pope Benedict XVI, who's known for being quite conservative, has made the process a little bit easier -- technically, there doesn't need to be actual paperwork, just a steady, willing congregation and a priest who knows what he's doing). A small group of traditional Catholics continue to observe these pre-Vatican II practices of the Church.
A number of conservative Catholic groups chose to disavow the Church and the Pope over Vatican II, and continue to this day to observe pre-Vatican II practice without Rome's blessing. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, has made efforts to reconcile these groups with the Church, most notably making it easier to say the Latin Mass, though a full reconciliation is unlikely in the near future. A famous group was led by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, becoming known as the Society of St. Pius X. A flap emerged in 2009 when Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of several bishops Lefebvre had ordained twenty years prior (ordination without papal approval being grounds for excommunication), it having not been widely known before then that at least one of them was an ardent Holocaust denier. On the very fringes of traditional Catholicism are the Sedevacantists (sede vacante meaning the chair is empty) who claim that there hasn't been a validly elected Pope since John XXIII, and the Conclavists (who choose to elect their own Pope instead).
Actor/director Mel Gibson was one of the best known of Traditionalists with questionable standing with Rome.
Old Catholic Church
Which split off at the First Vatican Council, primarily because of their opposition to the dogma of Papal Infallibility. Funnily enough, despite their name, their beliefs are among the most liberal of the Christian denominations.
Polish National Catholics
An American offshoot, annoyed by the predominance of Irish immigrants in the American Catholic hierarchy, they joined the Old Catholic Church, but not to be outdone, then broke off with the Old Catholic Church over ordination of women.
A group of autonomous "particular Churches" of the Eastern traditions that are in full communion with Rome and recognize the Pope as head of the Church. Almost every Eastern Rite has a counterpart among the Eastern Orthodox and other Eastern churches, and largely keep the same traditions. They are pejoratively termed "uniates" by their counterparts that are not in communion with Rome. "Roman Catholicism" as it's commonly known in the West (you know, Latin, priestly celibacy, Mass, unleavened bread, old ladies wearing headcovers praying the Rosary in front of a statue of Mary) is actually more properly called the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. Eastern Catholics have Divine Liturgy (not Mass) and use leavened bread at communion. Most Eastern rites don't require priests to be celibate (a discipline of the Latin Rite, not a dogma of the Catholic Church). Byzantine Catholics cross themselves right-to-left just like their Eastern Orthodox brethren. Among the one billion or so Catholics in the world, only about 17 million are from one of the Eastern Rites. Eastern Catholics are every bit as Catholic (in terms of being in communion with Rome) as the Latin Rite Catholics, but due to their small numbers and their more prominent Orthodox counterparts, most people (heck, most Latin Rite Catholics) don't even know that they exist.
Announced in October 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, in the wake of the growing schism within Anglicanism regarding the ordination of openly gay priests, this is a new structure designed to accommodate those Anglicans who wish to convert to Catholicism while retaining their Anglican identity. The precise nature of the arrangement has yet to be revealed in an "Apostolic Constitution", but it is expected that it will enable the use of Anglican Liturgy and, to a degree, the retention of married clergy. Several Anglican groups have already indicated that they will accept the offer.
Various Churches that broke with the Church in Rome a millennium ago or more (they say Rome broke with them, others see it as a clean break both ways). Many branches are in active discussion with the Catholic Church over reuniting, some almost a millennium:
- Eastern Orthodox-- Established as a distinct entity in 1054 when the Pope and the Byzantine Patriarch mutually excommunicated each other (the question of who exactly broke off from whom is a millennium-old flame war, literally). Similar to Catholicism in theology and practice, the Eastern Orthodox Church is a collection of related churches, usually of an ethnic or cultural makeup. Whatever language this group traditionally used is the language of their religious ceremonies (as Latin was for the Roman Catholic Church until recently). The main triggers for the split were Papal supremacy and whether the phrase filioque (and the Son) should be inserted into the Nicene Creed, as Eastern Orthodoxy insists that it throws off the delicate balance of the Trinity's interrelationship, which they labored so hard to establish intellectually. A further divergence from Western Christianity arose during the Hesychast Controversy of the 14th century, which resulted in the official denial of absolute divine simplicity, a view held by Roman Catholics as well as most Protestants and which (ironically) is too complex to describe here. The most commonly known churches in this group are the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox church. Widely known for their practice of iconography, the making of small icons that depict saints, martyrs and other holy figures. Also on a different calendar than the Western churches, so that Easter (or Pascha, rather) and related holy days don't coincide with the ones being observed around them. (Convenient when Orthodox Christmas falls after Western Christmas - can you say clearance sale?) Like Catholics, Orthodox Christians recognize seven sacraments and venerate saints, many of whom they share in common with Catholics.
- Oriental Orthodox -- Not to be confused with Eastern Orthodox, this is a collection of national churches structured similar to the Eastern Orthodox Church who do not accept the Council of Chalcedon (451). The Coptic (i.e. Egyptian), Ethiopian, Syrian, Indian and Armenian Churches are examples. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants sometimes label them as Eutychians (who believe that the human nature of Christ was united with and overwhelmed by the divine nature), but they self-define themselves as miaphysites (who believe in one ('mia') united nature ('physis') in which the human attributes are not overwhelmed). They consider the dyophysitism of Chalcedonian Christians to be at best crypto-Nestorian. (If you didn't understand any of that, don't worry, you've got something in common with 99% of us Christians). Much in the way that the Eastern Orthodox recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as first among equals, the Oriental Orthodox recognize the Patriarch of Alexandria (who confusingly lives in Cairo), the head of the Coptic Church, as the first-among-equals "head" of the communion; despite the style "Pope," he actually has no authority over the rest of the churches (merely influence). The most recent Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, died in 2012.
- Churches of the East -- Technically Three Churches:
- Assyrian Church of the East -- On its own since 424, that while traditionally based in Mesopotamia it's expanded all over the world.
- Ancient Church of the East -- Split off from the above over reforms in 1964, based in Baghdad.
- Chaldean Catholic Church -- Technically a Rite in the Catholic Church that would fall under eastern Catholicism above this church left the Assyrian Church of the East in 1553 to join the Roman Church.
Not one sect, but an umbrella term for hundreds of churches who broke with Catholicism, most of which claim descent from Martin Luther's stand in 1521, Protestantism eschews most Catholic sacraments and the veneration of saints, and encourages individual study of Scripture. Generally, Protestants do not practice the sacraments of confession, confirmation, or anointing of the sick. Baptism is performed by many Protestant groups, though when (birth vs. adult conversion) and how (sprinkling vs. full immersion) differs from church to church. Frequency of celebrating Communion varies greatly within Protestant denominations, anywhere from never to being practiced during every service. Typically, churches with more formal liturgy (orders of service) and more Catholic trappings will celebrate it more frequently, while those lacking such liturgy will usually celebrate it infrequently and usually on an informal basis. Belief in transsubstantiation is almost unknown, but liturgical churches typically believe in a doctrine of Real Presence that is extremely similar. Around half of Protestants, by population, are members of churches that confess a doctrine of Real Pressence. Due to Protestantism's distrust of having an official hierarchy to maintain orthodoxy and emphasis on biblical interpretation, the original sect from the Reformation splintered very quickly. Protestant churches now include Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and Methodists, among many others. If a sect of Christianity doesn't fall into any other category, it usually gets filed under Protestantism.
- Anglican Christianity -- An offshoot of Roman Catholicism originating in 1534 when Henry VIII claimed dominion over the English church with the Act of Supremacy. Largely identical to Catholicism in terms of ceremonial practice. The sacrament of Confession is not practiced, but Confirmation is. It should be noted that Anglicanism is considered a Protestant church in a historical context; as the acceptance of the Pope as temporal head of the church is required for conciliation with the Roman Catholic denomination, Anglicans by definition are not RC. Although, it did not split from Catholicism in the same way as the original Protestant Movement. Note also that Henry's schism with Rome allowed many sincere Protestants within England to preach. Further note that many "low" Anglican churches are firmly committed to independence from Rome.
Some "highs" on the other hand are "More Roman than Rome" in terms of worship practice. Anglican Churches recognize two sacraments - Baptism and the Eucharist, as primary, since those were the only two that Jesus himself presided over. Anglicans, on the whole believe in the real presence of Christ in communion, though it is officially left a mystery just how that looks.
- Interestingly, within Protestantism generally, belief in the Real Presence of Christ in Communion tends to be less common the "lower" the church. This is not, however, the case in Anglicanism for rather peculiar reasons. The Anglican church uses its Book of Common Prayer as its "rule of faith." This includes the "39 Articles," which are basic statements of doctrine. These state that the bread and wine actually "partake" in the body and blood of Christ. Generally speaking, high church Anglicans consider the "39 Articles" to be of historical but not doctrinal interest, but due to their closeness to Catholics they do affirm the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Low church Anglicans, on the other hand, take the 39 articles seriously and so they also believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Communion. Likewise, it also specifies the various necessary services (daily prayer, sunday services, weddings, funerals, etc.) as well as the set readings from the Old and New Testaments as well as Psalms.
- Episcopalianism: What the Anglican Church morphed into in the United States. It's not company-owned, but it's certainly the largest (and first) franchisee. The split came after the American Revolution when clergy swearing an oath of loyalty to the British monarch suddenly became a bit of a problem. Similar to Modern-Day Catholicism, albeit more liberal. Subject to the Archbishop of Canterbury (an Anglican bishop) in a "First amongst equals" sort of way, and thereby subject to the authority of the Anglican Communion as well. However, Episcopalians are not, technically, Church of England, and are therefore not subject to Her Majesty. Still keeps rituals the Catholic church has abandoned, such as incense and kneeling rails at the altar to receive communion. Like the Church of England uses the Book of Common Prayer, but with its own set of revisions, the most notable being the development of alternate rites for Sunday service with more modern language introduced in 1979. Sadly, the Episcopal Church in the United States has been falling apart lately, particularly over the issue of ordaining gay clergy, the uniqueness of Christ and the authority of scripture(this is probably where the stereotype of Episcopalians as "anything goes" types comes from). The actual "falling apart" piece of the Episcopalian Church is a rather small number of very vocal churches. That said, several other pastors have issues with the church, just not enough to break off. Furthermore, one could argue that the Episcopalian Church has been "breaking apart" for the better part of the 20th century, with issues including abortion, gay marriage, ordination of women and so forth causing certain churches to break off. A small group of these churches have petitioned the Anglican Communion to become a separate region of the Communion within the United States (these regions are normally defined by geography, not belief). The issue is complicated.
- Continuing Anglican/Traditional Anglican- The Aforementioned Offshoots, more religiously (though not necessarily politically) conservative than the Episcopal Church.
- Reformed Episcopal Church- Broke off long before (1873) other Episcopal Offshoots. They are usually not counted with "Continuing Anglicanism* due to the breakoff being over the belief that the Episcopal Church was becoming too Catholic rather than too Liberal.
- Ironically, the Reformed Episcopal Church is now considerably more Catholic than much of the Episcopal Church.
- Evangelical Christianity -- Somewhat synonymous to "Fundamentalism", a movement within Christianity unique to America beginning in the 19th century as a response to Modernity, and continued to gain popularity into the 20th. While early leaders of this movement shunned mainline churches, their followers instead stayed within their congregations and spread their teachings through these communities, injecting a particular flavor of Premillenialist theology into already-existing American Protestanism. However around the turn of the century the movement did start splitting from these mainline churches to create their own congregations and are now mostly associated with giant cross-denominational mega-churches. Evangelicals emphasize the potential imminence of Judgment Day and the importance of converting non-believers. Notable evangelical preachers of the 20th century include Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham (and later his son Franklin), Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. Most of these preachers are best known to the public through TV programs connected to their respective churches, and are thus sometimes called "televangelists". Evangelicals have a reputation for being highly, but not exclusively, conservative and in America are highly influential in politics, especially in the southern states.
- Pentecostal/Charismatic -- Another branch of Protestantism unique to America, this refers to Christians that believe in the continuance to the present day of miraculous 'Gifts of the [Holy] Spirit' mentioned in Acts and the Pauline Epistles. The gifts tend to materialize in the form of "speaking in tongues" (must be seen to be believed), faith-healing, or having the entire congregation spontaneously fall over in religious ecstasy. Needless to say, services can be noisy and emotional affairs. However, beliefs differ depending on which church type you go to. More traditional Pentecostal churches have interesting/old fashioned rules such as female church members not being allowed to wear pants due to them supposedly being too revealing. Also, traditional members are not allowed to listen to non-Christian music, watch movies or TV, or read non-Christian novels. As one can imagine, younger members are likely to sneak in "taboo" entertainment behind their parents' backs. However, newer churches such as Assemblies of God churches allow most things traditional Southern Pentecostal churches do not, but still have most of the same views on morality. Pentecostal churches split from mainline Protestant churches around the same time the Evangelical/Fundamentalist movement did, but both for different reasons. Pentecostals wanted to rediscover the emotional catharsis that was present in American Christianity around the 18th century, and Evangelicals instead sought to attack new ideas of Modernity (Darwinism, changes in social behavior, and the introduction of liberal theology). A lot of people tend to get them confused, and there is some overlap between the two movements in the modern day, particularly with the more visible televangelists.
- Lutherans -- A collection of predominantly Germanic denominations that broke communion with Rome under the leadership of Martin Luther. The most important issues were salvation by faith alone, the total bondage of the will to sin, and scripture as the only infallible authority. Believe in the objective presence of Christ in communion (but in a different way than Catholics. Catholics believe in "transubstantiation", or that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ. Lutherans believe in "consubstantiation", which teaches that Jesus is real and present in the meal, but doesn't necessarily specify in what way). Unusual among Protestants for their identification of being 'born again' with baptism. Their services are very similar to Catholic masses. Originally known as 'Evangelicals.' They only recognize the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
- Reformed/Presbyterians/Calvinists -- A set of similar denominations arising from the Swiss Reformation led by Huldrych Zwingli, a contemporary of Luther. Most famously promoted by John Calvin in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland. Known for believing in unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. Zwingli believed that communion is symbolic, but Calvinists (following their namesake) believe Jesus is "pneumatically" present. Unconditional election means that everybody going to Heaven has already been pre-ordained as such; no-one can "earn" the right regardless of their faith or good deed, in a way. Calvinist also believe in Total Depravity, which states that all men were born totally corrupted and wicked, (In Adam's Fall, we sin'd all), and so they cannot love God or do Good because they are so completely evil, therefore God grants a select few irresitable grace, which cannot be rejected, and is enough to make them goody-two-shoe Christian people. With that in mind, it is God alone who knows who the Elect. This emphasis on pre-ordination and the idea that God has planned (or simply knows) everything also leads into another Calvinist belief, namely that everyone has their own role or job to do on Earth, whether that be an occupation, a calling, service or whatever. This particular belief is what Max Weber termed the "Protestant Ethic", which emphasises hard work, obedience and productivity, and allegedly was the driving force behind Capitalism (this popular theory has been largely debunked, but its interesting for how many Calvinists sometimes see themselves, and why Protestantism is often linked to Capitalism). The impact of Calvinism on modern world history is, in a word, immense- the Huguenots, the opposition in the French Wars of Revolution, were Calvinists, while Presbyterianism in Scotland had a major impact on North America when Scots began emigrating across the Atlantic.
- Arminians -- An offshoot of Calvinism developed by Jacobus Arminius, Arminianism holds that election to salvation is conditional and that God's grace can be resisted. Many Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals hold to Arminian soteriology. 'Arminian' is often misspelled 'Armenian,' which is a totally unrelated ethnic group that has a totally unrelated form of Christianity (see "Oriental Orthodox" above).
- Baptists -- Baptists are defined from other Christian sects by practicing baptism when one becomes a Christian, rather than baptizing infants, and is generally divided into two groups: Southern Baptists and general Baptists. The Southern Baptist denomination is centered in the American Deep South, where it is a deeply ingrained part of traditional Southern culture, and often characterized as an exceedingly conservative organization and an important part of the community, especially in rural areas. Other Baptist churches and subdenominations vary widely in actual doctrine, often adhering closely to one of the other denominations mentioned on this page. Historically, many Baptists adhered to slightly modified Calvinist theology.
- Anabaptists -- an extreme Reformation sect that practiced an extreme heresy in the eyes of the rest of the rest of Christianity: "believer's baptism," a re-baptism for people when they join the church, regardless of whether they were baptized as infants. In fact, Anabaptists didn't believe in baptizing infants at all. This ended up going badly for the Anabaptists it turns out that infant baptism is the kind of issue that makes strange bedfellows. In between killing each other, the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans teamed up to burn and drown the Anabaptists on this issue... Didn't really work, as the existence of modern day Amish and Mennonites can attest. A lot of Anabaptist descendants believe in nonviolence and separation from modern societies and countries. Anabaptists are not to be confused with Baptists, which are descended from more "mainline" Protestantism. Anabaptists are survived in the modern day by a number of different denominations including the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. These groups tend to be almost exclusively based in rural communities, though there are plenty of exceptions. To qualify the rosy portrait given above, it must be noted that many Anabaptists were violent theocrats. Incidentally, the Mennonites (from whom the Amish split in the 17th century) were always pacifists and separatists, which was the reason they survived persecution, not a result of persecution.
- Amish -- Probably the most well known of the Anabaptists, they are most well known for their disavowal of technology. They aren't hostile to technology per se, only its tendency to get in the way of leading a good Christian life. So they do allow Schizo-Tech -- case in point: horse drawn buggies with blinkers. Also famous for their barn raisings, quilts, and oddly enough, wild teenagers. They are also sects maniacs, schisms within schisms (based as often on what technology and/or dress is permitted as actual beliefs), to the point where many sects consist of a single congregation, and more than one of a single family. Outsiders tend to collectively refer to the horse-and-buggy, no-buttons sects as "Old Order".
On the wild teenager issue: it is referred to as Rumspringa or Rumschpringe, a method to short-circuit the "teenage rebellion" phase by giving said teens free reign to rebel for a short time (as many tropes on this site will tell you, teenagehood and strict religious moralizing are not the best combination for producing a mentally healthy adult). At age 16, teens are allowed to leave the Amish community and experience life outside, and unsurprisingly, the experience usually consists of a combination of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (at least, that is the Hollywood version of event, in most communities, Rumspringa tends to be quite tame, it simply involves the parents giving the teen more space to act out, be slightly more tolerant of "the lip", letting them wear "English" clothes, drive, drink alcohol. and such. The outrageous things are usually done more out of symbolic "been there, done that" idea then in actual defiance). The period ends when the teen is ready to return to receive baptism to join the church as an adult, or with him deciding to leave the church. Moral indiscretions in this period are usually quietly forgiven and forgotten. All things considered, leaving the church (which is not the same thing as getting the shunning treatment) is a very rare event. This practice also means that for a subculture that shun technology, every Amish knows how to drive.
- Mennonites -- Another modern day Anabaptist group, the Mennonites have much in common with the Amish, including similar beliefs (such as nonviolence, believers baptism, and the separation of church and state) and a penchant for sects and schisms. Their views on technology and interaction with the outside world are much less strict than the Amish, however, and run the gamut from complete isolation to immersion. They sometimes serve as the "Shabbat Goy" for their more resticted Amish brethen, providing services that the Amish cannot do themselves. Any two given Mennonite congregations could live drastically different lives, from communities indistinguishable from the Amish, to those who live in cities with modern technology such as cars and computers. The Mennonite Church in North America consists mostly of the latter kind of Mennonites; the conservative, Amish-looking Mennonites are a minority. Also, thanks to missionaries there are fast-growing Mennonite populations outside of North America, and Africa as a continent now has more Mennonites than North America does.
- Amish -- Probably the most well known of the Anabaptists, they are most well known for their disavowal of technology. They aren't hostile to technology per se, only its tendency to get in the way of leading a good Christian life. So they do allow Schizo-Tech -- case in point: horse drawn buggies with blinkers. Also famous for their barn raisings, quilts, and oddly enough, wild teenagers. They are also sects maniacs, schisms within schisms (based as often on what technology and/or dress is permitted as actual beliefs), to the point where many sects consist of a single congregation, and more than one of a single family. Outsiders tend to collectively refer to the horse-and-buggy, no-buttons sects as "Old Order".
- Quaker -- The correct name is Religious Society of Friends. At the very core they believe that God (or Jesus, or the Light, depending on where you are and who you ask) is in everyone. From this comes a number of other, better known values, such as nonviolence (would you kill God?), simplicity (so you can better hear the light), equality (well if God's in everyone...), and integrity (would you lie to God?). Very non hierarchical; they do not believe in ministers and "meeting for worship" consists of any one who wants to coming up and talking about whatever they want, amid vast amounts of silence (yes it's supposed to be "awkward"). Quakers show up in some of the most unexpected places; for instance, would you believe that Richard Nixon was a Quaker? (He wasn't particularly religious, though).
- Shakers -- got their name from the fact that they'd "shake the sin out of their fingers." Founded by Ann Lee, it dwindled to a current population of 4 (yes, four) due to the fact they don't believe in sex, helped along by a 1960 law that banned religious groups from adopting children. Renowned for their furniture. As of December 2009, it's down to three.
- Seventh-day Adventists -- The basics are in the name: they worship on the Jewish Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) instead of on Sunday, and they believe the Second Coming is imminent. They believe that they should honor the Sabbath each week, but, like most Christian sects, do not follow the scriptural teachings of the Sabbath Year (every 7th year) or the Jubilee Year (every 25th or 50th year). Also known for vegetarianism, a strong focus on healthy living (many adherents belonging to the medical field), and a belief in soul sleep. Adventist teaching is largely based on the work of a nineteenth-century writer Ellen G. White; Adventists refer to Mrs. White as the "Voice of Prophecy" and consider her writings second in authority only to the Bible. The SDA grew out of the Millerite movement which believe that the world would end on 22nd of October 1844. This day is now referred to as "The Great Disappointment" in a massive understatement. Many modern Adventists view "The Great Disappointment" as a result of misinterpretation of the of the date, stating that it was incorrectly meant to be the end of the world, when it was merely the start of "The Remnant Church" in preparation for the End Times.
- On the healthy-living front: The Seventh-Day Adventists ran numerous sanitariums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the Midwest (and most particularly in Michigan). While some SDA ideas did end up in modern nutrition, a lot of them (like eating bland food to suppress impure urges) didn't. They are, however, responsible for the corn flakes you ate for breakfast this morning, as well as a few other forms of breakfast cereal.
- Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement -- generally called some variant of Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ, or a generic Christian Church. Founded when Barton Stone and Thomas Campbell independently came up with the idea that all these creeds and churches named after a founder is wrong. Individual churches are autonomous and believe on full immersion baptism. Southern Churches of Christ tend to be strictly non-instrumental vs the northern Christian Churches use instruments. Disciples of Christ formally split from the others when they formed an ecumenical council.
- In many cases, the independent "Christian Churches" that schismed off in the 20th Century are basically Baptists in practice, descended from Presbyterians (the Campbells were Scots-Irish), and refuse to use any sectarian name more specific than "Christian." (The term "Campbellite Baptist" was applied by outsiders, and is not used by the sect.) Quite a small sect, and of course they insist they're not a sect, they're just Christians. Very confusing, and then they start calling themselves Christian in contrast to other Christian sects, thus taking the name of a major world religion for their tiny schism of same.
- Christian Scientists -- more properly "The Church of Christ, Scientist." Founded by a Boston woman, Mary Baker Eddy, whose sickness was not healed by "animal magnetism" (which worked by inadvertently hypnotizing the patient) but did get better after praying. Their main difference from other types of Christianity is denying the existence of the physical world (which peculiarly sounds rather like Buddhism). This leads to the conclusion that there is no need to rely on drugs and medical treatment, since these imply a reality to the physical. In practice, failing to be good enough at seeing that there is no physical world is not a sin, so members are allowed to seek medical help as a second resort. They also deny the existence of evil, Satan and any need to evangelize or proselytize. They are very much in favor of reading though. Not to be confused with the Church of Scientology. The sect established The Christian Science Monitor as a response to criticism and ridicule of Eddy early on; it eventually became a top outlet for high-quality journalism in the United States.
- Moravians -- One of the oldest Protestant sects, and one of the very few surviving that can lay claim to independence before Martin Luther's proclamation. The Moravians have their origins in 1400's Bohemia and Moravia, following the execution of Jan Hus, a priest who openly criticized the Catholic Church, particularly their practices of indulgences and not allowing texts to be published and said in the language of the people. He was burned at the stake in 1415; his followers organized and rebelled. Although they were successful, they were eventually overrun and scattered by the Catholic Habsburgs in 1621. A group of refugees managed to escape to Germany, where an open-minded nobleman, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, allowed them to settle on his estate at Herrnhut. Fascinated by their story and teachings, he eventually became a Moravian bishop, sent forth the first Protestant missionaries, and founded the American Moravian settlements of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Salem, North Carolina. Much like their early counterparts, modern Moravians strongly believe in a focus on the essential basics of Christianity, the freedom to choose styles of worship, tolerance towards others who believe differently, and a call of stewardship to dedicate time and talents to those who need them. The most famous Moravian practice is the Lovefeast, a simple meal, usually bread and a beverage, eaten as a congregation to show of fellowship and celebration. There are also 26-pointed stars called Moravian stars that are often used as Christmas decorations; they did not get their start as religious symbol, but are called so because they were used as a geometry lesson at the Moravian Boys' School in Niesky, Germany.
- The Moravians were a strong influence on John Wesley; he actually studied with Zinzendorf in Herrnhut for a brief time, though he ultimately disagreed with them on a few key theological points. These difference were enough for him to create what would become Methodism.
The following groups are pretty hard to fit into any of the above categories. Some of these sects are considered by some of the other sect to not be Christian. Most of them tend to disagree. We will all (mostly, somewhat) agree that they are definitely not Catholic, probably not Protestant, and that we really really really don't want to start a Flame War (literally or figuratively) about this issue.
- Gnosticism -- Non-'orthodox' sects which were active from approximately 100-400 AD. Orthodox Christian sects ended up disavowing them, which resulted in some rather interesting developments. Gnostic writers and their texts were far more common in the early centuries of the Church and have a very different flavor than the modern Bible. Today they are largely extinct, but a few holdouts still remain, especially with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in the 1940s. Gnosticism interpreted the teachings of Christ in the context of late Greek philosophy and local polytheistic religions. Gnostics identified the God of the Old Testament with a being called the Demiurge, a kinda sorta evil deity who created the world to trap human souls in flesh. They saw Jesus as an incarnation of pure wisdom sent by a good God to teach man to transcend his bodily form, but not as a universal "savior" in whom one must believe. Though Gnosticism itself is rarely heard of outside theological symposia these days, its influence can be felt in the Gospel of John, which shares much gnostic terminology, while subverting it (John 1:1, the
wordLogos became flesh, wah!?). Also in The Da Vinci Code, but that's another story.
- Catharism/Albigensianism was a particularly large offshoot of the gnostics. Taking root in France in the 11th century, they believed in poverty, avoidance of sex, and vegetarianism (but fish and anal sex were both OK, one because of confusion about how sexual reproduction works, the other because it can't lead to having kids). They were ultimately suppressed during the Albigensian Crusade, but not before they gave us the word buggery. The voluntary poverty of the Dominican Order of Preachers was inspired by the Cathars, against whom Saint Dominic himself had preached with limited success.
- Messianic Judaism -- A largely American and British phenomenon beginning in the late 19th century, Messianic Judaism attempts to reconcile the division between Christianity and Judaism by combining aspects of each. One of the best known branches of the movement is "Jews for Jesus," which was founded by and largely consists of former Southern Baptists. Messianic Jews tend to describe themselves as Jews who observe Jewish law and believe that Jesus is the messiah as described in the Hebrew Bible. Other Jewish groups dispute their self-identification as Jews. In addition, the Law of Return in Israel considers them a separate religion.
- Mormonism -- The correct name is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". Members of this church prefer to be referred to as LDS or Latter-day Saints, but understand that Mormon is the most generally recognized term for members of this faith. Established in the US in the 1830s by Joseph Smith, a prophet who claimed to have translated The Book of Mormon from golden tablets containing records of early migrants from the Middle East to the Americas (one group came over ca. 2200 BC, the other ca. 600 BC). They have very different ideas of what God is compared to mainstream Christianity, since LDS doctrine holds that there was a universal departure from what was taught in Christ's time, necessitating a restoration via Joseph Smith. The LDS church holds the view that there are living prophets on the Earth today relaying modern revelation, much of which is found in the book "Doctrine and Covenants". The canon of Scripture is: the Bible (in English-speaking countries, the King James version is official), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and a smaller, more miscellaneous volume called "Pearl of Great Price". The LDS view of the afterlife includes three possible levels that can be fairly described as "heaven" (and one level called "outer darkness", reserved for the most evil). Mormons believe if they do good works and live faithful lives now, they can be Gods in the afterlife and rule over their own planets. This is not to say that they believe they can 'earn' this on their own merits. They don't, but regard the Atonement made by Christ as essential to any of this and that even after becoming like gods they are still under the rule of God. (The fact that the word god has multiple meanings makes the topic somewhat confusing to talk about.) As in any major religious group, there are offshoots of the Latter-day Saint church, some of which are the source for the continuing stereotype of isolated polygamists. The mainstream LDS church, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, considers polygamy grounds for excommunication, and has since 1890, Divine authorization for this practice having been withdrawn (largely due to Congress' insistence on a ban on polygamy before granting statehood to Utah). As Mormon doctrine is wildly different from most other Christian churches, as noted above, some don't consider it to be Christian at all. Others (such as Latter-day Saints, obviously) take the view that Latter-day Saint theology is a restoration of original Christianity, without accretions and variances found in other Christian traditions. Rather good at keeping genealogical records, incidentally, due to the doctrine that families are meant to be eternal, they believe it is possible for dead people to be converted.
- Unitarian Universalists -- An offshoot of 18th-century Deism, the idea that God is a "cosmic watchmaker" who created the universe, and has spent the time since years watching his Great Work unfold perfectly, while not interfering any more than a watchmaker must once the watch he builds is activated. Two different denominations that merged, the Unitarians who, amongst other things, believed in the singularity of God and the non-divinity (though awesome person) of Jesus and the Universalists who believed that since God loves everybody, He's not going to let any of them go to hell. Currently it is the only major world religion that is either a path for finding one's own spirituality and beliefs or a church for people that don't like religion, depending on who you ask. Many Unitarians would probably not identify themselves as Christians and some might identify as Buddhists, Jews, agnostics, Wiccans, atheists, or just about anything and/or any combination imaginable. Why are they here? Because the world is weird, that's why.
- Jehovah's Witnesses -- Jehovah's Witnesses treat The Bible as the only source of truth. They use God's name, Jehovah, and are most widely known for their worldwide preaching activities, honoring Jesus' command to "make disciples of people of all nations." They do not consider Jesus to be God himself but rather the son of God and inferior to the Father. Each member of this faith has made an extensive study of the Bible and dedicated his or her life to Jehovah God to do his will. No one is required to preach for any set amount of time, nor do they receive any pay, for their witnessing is a lifelong volunteer work. They teach that Christ was not nailed to a "cross" but a stake, which was the common method of execution for criminals then, and which the Romans confusingly referred to as a "crux simplex" -- aka simple cross. They also believe that only 144,000 persons will reside in Heaven while the rest of the faithful will remain on earth to live forever in peace, and the non-faithful will disintegrate in God's fire (i.e. and not spend the rest of eternity getting tortured, a view not shared by most of Christendom). Focus on individual study of the Bible, the holiness of blood (they are not OK with blood transfusions, but don't go to the lengths Jews go to to remove blood from meat), and disbelief in the ability of earthly human governments to solve the world's problems (they obey the laws of the land in which they reside and pay taxes, but refuse to serve in the military or salute the flag). They are most known for their door to door preaching work, or "witnessing" which has both changed many lives and annoyed many others. FYI: Although the late Michael Jackson used to preach door to door, he had left Jehovah's Witnesses soon after the release of Thriller. (In his immediate family only his mother is an active member.)
- Arianism -- an offshoot of Christianity that sparked the first major heresy of the young religion. They believed that the Father created the Son, while the mainstream Christians believed they both always existed. Really really big outside of the The Empire and among the Germanic tribes. though it never really caught on with any group that didn't get conquered by someone else. Arianism is sometimes used to refer to believers in the creation of the Son who had no continuity with the original Arians, such as (possibly) Isaac Newton. Not, repeat, NOT to be confused with "Aryanism".
- Nestorianism -- The doctrine that Christ has two persons. Named after Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople 428-431, who taught that Mary could be referred to as 'the mother of Christ,' but not as 'the mother of God.' His opponent, Cyril of Alexandria, argued that this implied that Christ was really two persons rather than one. Nestorius was deposed by a council held at Ephesus before his supporters could arrive. Nestorianism flourished in Persia and extended as far as China and India. Most modern Nestorians hail from either Iraq or India. Notable for being the religion of many of Ghengis Khan's relatives and in-laws.
- Monophysitism -- The doctrine that Christ has only one nature. Divided between Eutychianism (now extinct) which taught that the human nature was overwhelmed by the divine like a drop of water in an ocean. Miaphysitism, which holds that the human nature was not thus overwhelmed, is the position of the Oriental Orthodox churches
- Donatism -- A sect in North Africa that split from Rome due to a controversy over the continued service of bishops and priests who had recanted Christianity while under torture. Best known for teaching that the validity of sacraments depends on the purity of the priest or bishop who administers it, concluding that if a person ever confessed to anything under torture they were unfit to be in a church position, and their association with the Circumcellion. Famously opposed by St. Augustine, Donatism was slowly reabsorbed into Catholicism before dwindling to nothing following Muslim occupation.
- Circumcellions -- Perhaps the most bizarre of them all. They decided that the primary virtue in the life of a Christian was martyrdom, and to that end, wandered the countryside with blunt clubs they called "Israelites." They would waylay armed travelers, taunting them and beating them lightly with the clubs while shouting "Laudate Deum!" in hopes of earning a swift martyrdom. No, I'm serious. They really did that. Obviously one of those sects that are universally regarded as "not getting it". Also probably got funny looks in the afterlife. This sect was wiped out in th 4th century after several groups decided to help them out and slaughtered all their members
Muddying the waters in regards to discussions of Christianity and its various denominations and branches is that the names of some of these branches come from concepts that most of Christianity adheres to. Words such as 'catholic', 'orthodox' and 'evangelical' have meanings beyond being the name of a kind of church.
Tropes associated with or named by Christianity:
- The Bible
- Broken Base: Catholicism vs. Protestantism, the Protestant denominations vs. each other, Mainstream Christianity vs. Mormonism vs. Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.
- Fundamentalism vs Spiritualism.
- Christianity Is Catholic
- Church Militant
- Continuity Nod / Discontinuity Nod: Several groups have claimed they can trace their group back to Jesus. Several other have questioned these claims.
- Corrupt Church: Let's just say every church has the possibility for this, and history is filled with examples of churches going horribly wrong. The bigger the institution, the more likely it is to have rogue elements while the smaller the institution, the more likely it is to fall under the sway of one corrupt leader.
- Creepy Cool Crosses: Obviously.
- Deep South: The region is also known in North America as the Bible Belt.
- Devil's Advocate: The Devil's Advocate (advocatus diaboli) is the popular name for the Promoter of the Faith (promotor fidei), a person appointed by the Catholic Church who argues against the formal recognition of someone as a Saint by, again, the Catholic Church. The job has been taken up on at least one occasion (Mother Theresa) by an outright atheist (Christopher Hitchens).
- Evil Counterpart: According to The Other Wiki, at least, some Christians believe in an evil counterpart to the Holy Trinity called the Unholy Trinity, consisting of Satan (evil counterpart to God), The Anti-Christ (evil counterpart to Jesus) and the False Prophet (evil counterpart to The Holy Spirit)
- Fanon: Much of Christianity's pop culture presentation comes from the work of artists and writers of non-Canon literature, perhaps most famously John Milton and Dante Alighieri. This may explain some of the non-source weirdness in Christian belief.
- God Is Good: Perhaps counter-intuitively, this is one of the more controversial bits of the faith to many outsiders. To almost all Christians, however, this may be the central point of the religion- probably explaining why it's so controversial.
- God in Human Form: According to pretty much all Christian beliefs, this is Jesus' identity.
- The Fundamentalist: No more of a problem with Christians than with any other religious faith, but no less so, either. In particular a bad phenomenon in recent years, as the rise of Christian Fundamentalism in America- the most powerful country in the world- has had repercussions all around the world.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: This is a Memetic Mutation of Christian doctrine and both Christian and pre-Christian folklore.
- Hell: Most sects believe in this, but some don't.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Also depending on the sect.
- Go and Sin No More: Essentially, this is the Christian belief about salvation; for bonus points the Trope Namer is Jesus.
- Hijacked by Jesus: Obviously, if unintentionally. This certainly wouldn't be a Biblical edict. See also Seven Deadly Sins.
- Jesus Saves: Obviously.
- Jesus Taboo: Obviously.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: Obviously. While you don't necessarily have to be Christian to agree (as the trope page proves), if you don't like Jesus, Christianity might not be for you.
- The Knights Hospitallers
- The Knights Templar
- Knight Templar
- The Legions of Hell
- The Messiah: Three guesses who.
- The Missionary
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod
- Nuns Are Mikos
- Nuns Are Spooky
- Pals with Jesus: Quite literally, at least to some traditions.
- Satan: Though the character goes back to Judaism or before, the mythology now associated with him is largely a Christian invention. His characterization has evolved continuously with the religion, growing from a rather buffoonish trickster/tempter figure in medieval folktales to an almost Manichean embodiment of evil in contemporary media. Has sometimes been thought to represent Man's capacity to do evil, and has thus grown as our ability to do harm to one another has grown.
- Saintly Church: Also what every church has the possibility to be. While there are plenty of atrocities in church history, there are also plenty of churches quietly trying to help people out. A large organization is bound to have some good elements, while a small church can have a genuinely good leader.
- Seven Deadly Sins
- The Teutonic Knights
- The Vicar
Also known for putting the Messianic in Messianic Archetype, though the trope itself is older than many of us think. The Messiah, just to let you know, is actually a Jewish Trope (and Judaism the Trope Namer). Mashiah actually means Anointed One, and refers to the King of Israel, born of David's line, who will usher in a new era of peace and restoration of the Davidic/Solomonic kingdom (the Golden Age, so to speak). Christians just happen to believe Jesus is that Messiah, whereas non-Christian Jews (obviously) don't.