The world's biggest single religious group. Roughly one in three people worldwide describe themselves as Christians, or about 2.4 billion followers by most estimates. That means two things: Most people you meet have at least a passing acquaintance with the general idea of Christianity, but Christianity itself is an extremely diverse movement with lots of historical and cultural variation and nuance.
Christianity is an Abrahamic 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 rabbi and preacher whose followers identified Him as both the Messiah/Christ promised in the Old Testament and the Son of God, who was executed by Roman and Judean authorities for supposedly presenting Himself as such, and is said to have risen from the dead two days after His execution and continued to preach for a time before bodily ascending into Heaven. Originally one of several reformist sects of Judaism at the time, the movement of Jesus' followers opened its doors to non-Jews some time in the first hundred years after Jesus' death and gradually became a religion separate from if still linked to Judaism: Christianity. (According to the Acts of the Apostles, the name "Christian" is in fact an Appropriated Appellation: The followers of Jesus were mockingly called "little Christs" and decided it was actually pretty catchy.) 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.
Along with Classical Mythology, The Bible, the volume which contains all of Christianity's holy texts, is considered the bedrock of Western literature so reading it and having a good understanding of Christianity is essential to understanding the Western canon. Christianity has had a huge impact on world history and Judeo-Christian faith later inspired a new religion known as Islam founded by Muhammad. The Christian world in the Middle East fell to Islamic rule and the presence of Christianity there had greatly diminished even though it had been there the longest. The continued dominance of Christianity in Europe while other areas were forced to convert is why people view Christianity as a "Western religion" despite its Eastern roots. While Christianity shares many of the same principles with Judaism and Islam, it is also very different because of influence from the Church Fathers and Roman culture:
- Judaism and Islam both have dietary laws regarding meat, especially pork, but Christians are allowed to consume any animal.
- Modesty and humility is encouraged but Christianity (as a whole) has no specific dress codes.
- Judaism and Islam permitted polygyny but Christianity was almost entirely monogamous.
- Circumcision is not required nor forbidden.
- Judaism has Biblical Hebrew and Islam has Classical Arabic but Christianity has no single "sacred language"note due to its founding in an empire where people spoke multiple languages. Ecclesiastical Latin is the most famous because of the Christianity Is Catholic stereotype.
- Judaism and Islam stress orthopraxy (correct action) while Christianity emphasizes orthodoxy (correct belief). This led the other Abrahamic religions to view Christianity as more "liberal".
- Monasticism (a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work) plays an important role in many branches of Christianity. This is in contrast with Judaism where it only plays a marginal role and with Islam which forbids it.
Most Christians can agree on at least that much. Most, anyway. There are in-house disagreements on even these bare bones of its history. In fact, you can make a good case that a defining attribute of Christianity is the wide variety of ways the teachings are applied in religions.
BasicsA 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/Holy Ghost. This is generally known as the Holy Trinity or just the Trinity, though that specific term is not found in the Bible and is merely descriptive of the concept. 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 is that God is playing a long game, the understanding of which is beyond man's comprehension.
- 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.
- 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 is generally considered a heresy formerly known as Sabellianism.
- 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,note Christ offered His own blood as a substitute, permanently, by dying on the Cross. 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.
- As a sign of God's power and the coming Resurrection of the Dead, Jesus came back from the dead three days after his crucifixion. After appearing and preaching to his distraught followers for a few weeks, he ascended into Heaven.
- Most Christians, now and throughout history, obviously have had sex. Sexual morality, most universally in the form of refraining from sex outside of marriage, is of great importance for many Christians.
- 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 on the process of sanctification — becoming more conformed to God's will each day — 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.note
- Traditional grammatical convention dictates that pronouns relating to God or to Christ be capitalized (e.g. "Him", "You", "His"), as you may have already noticed while reading this page. 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, notably, Hebrew and Ancient Greek).
- 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 (the epistles of Paul) date to between fifteen and twenty years 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.
DefinitionsThe simplest definition of "Christian" is a person who calls themself 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. Within Christianity, there are four major (10+ million followers) currents of thought on the subject:
- Catholic Christians 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. This last bit means that a Christian, to a Catholic, is someone 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, with the Church (e.g. Pope) being the final earthly authority for figuring out how to actually do that; once you have done that, you have to do good things and actually act like you believe and try to be a better person to be saved. Contrary to common misunderstanding, Catholics 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 the Bible is the sole source of knowledge in determining how to be saved and live a moral life. The term "Roman Catholic" is both a misnomer and was once a derisive term. Their official name is simply "The Catholic Church," which has many liturgical variants, or rites, but all believing in the same core values mentioned. The Roman, or Latin Rite, is what resides in Rome and is the liturgy seem most by Westerners, including the U.S.
- Orthodox/Eastern 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; plans have been in the works for a new Orthodox council since before World War I. They have convened the Pan-Orthodox Council 19 to 26 June 2016.
- Apostolic/Oriental Orthodox Christians include the Armenian, Coptic, Indo-Syriac and Ethiopian Rites, will share communion, and are often misconstrued as Eastern Orthodox practitioners. However, the Apostolic Churches actually divorced from Catholicism during the Era of Council, i.e. before the Byzantine Schism, and have different beliefs regarding the nature of the relationship between Jesus and the Creator (Miaphysitism). In fact, the Apostolic and Orthodox communities have historically not gotten along well, with many Apostolic communities siding with the Muslim invasions against the Byzantines in exchange for a protected status due to persecution from their Orthodox overlords.
- Protestant Christians, whose doctrines began as a critique of Catholicism arising within the West (i.e. in places where Catholicism had deep roots), deny the role of both the Pope and the Church, and believe instead that the Bible is the ultimate and only necessary authority for knowing how to live a Christian life, and further say that it is largely up to the individual to interpret the Bible's instructions as to how to live their own life. The learned advice of the clergy is not to be discounted, but it is not authoritative. Because of the whole "up to the individual to interpret the Bible's instructions" thing, there is a lot more variation among Protestant sects than there is among the various subdenominations of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, with Protestant groups varying wildly on things like soteriology (does a human have to initiate the process of salvation or does God just do it Himself or is it some other thing?) and on more practical matters like church governance and what rituals are acceptable and how to conduct them.
There are also a few smaller groups with different views:
- Nestoriannote Christians today most prominently include the Assyrian Rite and the Persian Rite, and akin to the Apostolic Church broke away from Catholicism over disagreements about the relationship between Jesus and the Creator.
- Gnostic Christians today most prominently include the Yazdani Ritenote of Iraq/Syria, the Nasrani Ritenote of India, and the Yeshuite Mandaeansnote but are almost extinct outside of said communities. Notable for its syncretic infusion of Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Egyptian and Greek theology and philosophy, and its attribution of the dickish behavior of the Old Testament God to the Demiurge, a kind of Lawful Evil counterpart to the Chaotic Evil Devil, often referred to as the 'Usurper'.
- Esoteric/Hermetic Christians today most prominently include the Rosicrucian, NeoHermetic and Kabaalistic Rites, they broke away before the Protestant Reformation, and influenced the genesis of both the latter and the Masonic movement. Similar to Gnosticism in that it syncretized Kabbalistic and Pagan theology and philosophy with Christianity, it heavily influenced both the European School of Alchemy and the Muslim Persian School under Rhazes.
Note that 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.
DisagreementsAs you probably already know, Christians are not one collective bunch. Like in most religions, disagreements over theology and dogma have resulted in everything from quiet splits to devastating wars, in the past and even today. 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.
- The Nature of Jesus: How does Jesus being both Man and God work out? Is there a dual-nature (the "Chalcedonian" position, called "hypostatic union") a unified single nature (when claiming the unified nature is somehow fully human and fully divine, this is called "Monophysitism"), or what?
- How can the doctrine of the Trinity be maintained without collapsing the persons into one or splitting them into three separate Gods?
- Just what is the Holy Spirit, to be precise?
- Circumcision. Paul says it's unnecessary, else God would have done it for us. Can we do it (for non-medical reasons) anyway? Are we still required to? Do we have to? Is it encouraged but not required? Discouraged? Forbidden? What about female circumcision?
- Should we be baptized as in Matthew 28:19 - in the Trinity, or as in Acts 2:38 - in Jesus' name?
- 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 you, 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, regardless, we share the world with everyone and leave it at that? Or is the issue an important one that doesn't allow for compromise? Does the prohibition only apply to situations of rape or dubious consent, or does it apply to consenting adults as well? Are same-sex marriages valid?
- Sex: Is it better to be celibate, married, or just fool around? Is it OK to have sex with someone you love and are in a long-term relationship with (and maybe eventually will marry), but are not legally married to, or do you have to have a wedding ceremony first? And as per above: If marriage is required, can people of the same sex marry each other?
- When can someone get a divorce? Is divorce even real, or is it just a legal term instead of a spiritual reality? Can someone remarry after a divorce, or must they remain celibate?
- What exactly is God's name? Jehovah? Yahweh? YHVH? Jesus? Yeshua/Yehoshua? Eloh? Al-Illah? Allah? Adonai? Abraxas? Lord? The Lord? God? Bob? All of the above? Or are we not supposed to ask?
- Is 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?
- Is 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 plan where the causal chain from the big bang to the human soul is according to His will?
- What exactly is Hell? Is it a place or state? Is it eternal or temporary? 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? How long does that take? What might it entail? Can/should people on Earth pray for deceased relatives and friends to get them out of Purgatory faster?
- 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, 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? If so, what is that age?
- 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?
- 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?
- What is the Apocalypse of John 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?
- Should we care about saints? 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 influenced by political concerns? 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?
- Does God have a gender? If so, does that mean that that gender is superior to any others, or that people of other genders are not truly made in God's image, or only reflect that through the "superior" gender?
- Was Jesus' manifestation in 1st-century Judea 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?
- Is Judgment Day 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?
- 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 dislikes it but allows it? God liked it? It was the invention of machist writers? If we permit polygyny, do we or should we permit polyandry?
- 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?
- If a couple gets married in a civil ceremony, is that valid in the eyes of God, or does the marriage only count if they are married in a church? What about cohabitation? Interfaith marriages? Does a marriage in another faith count? Can/should such a couple renew their vows within this particular church?
- Does "outward holiness" matter, or is it what's on the inside that counts? If it does matter, then how does one define a "godly" appearance?
- Is it OK to wear makeup and jewelry, or to have cosmetic surgery?
- Is it OK for women to wear pants or cut their hair short, or for men to grow their hair long or wear a skirt? Or are men and women supposed to look and dress a certain way?
- Contraception: is that OK? A gateway to abortion, or a completely separate thing? Are married couples supposed to produce as many children as they possibly can? Can they limit the number of children they have, or choose not to have any children at all? What method(s), if any, are permissible? Was/is "be fruitful and multiply" an order, or was it more of a blessing or a suggestion? How does that mesh with being stewards of a planet with finite resources? Is using birth control "messing with God's will," or is God's will flexible?
- May infertile couples who wish to have children use drugs or IVF to conceive, or just pray, have sex, and hope for the best? What about the "extra" embryos produced in IVF? Is infertility a divine punishment on one or both halves of the couple? A test of faith? Just random? Might they be called to do something other than start a family?
- At what point does life begin? Is killing an embryo the same as killing a newborn? Are there any circumstances under which an abortion might be permissible, or do Good Girls Avoid Abortion always?
- How much influence does God have in the day-to-day lives of humans? Why does God allow bad things to happen?
- Is there actually a Satan, or is that just an excuse for our bad behavior? If there is such an entity, how much influence do they have? Does denying the existence of Satan deny the existence of God and/or vice versa?
- Can Christians fall from grace or be in danger of Hell, or is it that once they're saved (however that happens), they're guaranteed to go to Heaven?
- Are men and women equal, or has God ordained one to be superior to the other? Is one spiritually weaker inherently, or is that on an individual basis? How much power and influence can a wife have over her husband? Must she always submit to him? Does she even have to? How much power and influence can a husband have over his wife? Are men and women meant to be in separate spheres? Can a woman own a business or work outside the home? If so, does she need permission from her husband (or her nearest male relative) to do so? Does she have to give up her career once she's married or has children? Is she restricted to "feminine" careers, like teaching or nursing, or can she hold any career she wants? Is a man who chooses to stay at home with the kids violating the natural order of things, or does he have the right to do that?
- Is dating permitted? If so, does it always have to be with the end goal of marriage? Does a suitor require the approval of the woman's father? Is a chaperone required to supervise the couple's "interactions?" Is it OK for a Christian to date or marry a non-Christian? Is it more trouble than it's worth? Are Arranged Marriages the way to go?
- Do bad things only happen to bad people, or can good people experience tragedies, too? Can prayer, good deeds, and living a certain lifestyle influence what does or does not happen to you? Why does a supposedly loving and compassionate God allow tragedies to happen? Why does He/She/It choose to intervene in some people's lives and not others'?
- How much responsibility do we have to take care of the Earth? Are we meant to conquer it, or to care for it? Do we get a new Earth in the afterlife, or is this it?
- Can living a "godly" lifestyle make you (materially) wealthy? Is it OK to be rich, or to become rich? How much of your income, if any, must you give up? Do money and material goods necessarily corrupt people? Should church buildings be austere, or is it OK for them to have valuable items? How much can a pastor make? Should they generate income at all?
- Is tithing necessary? Do you have to donate 10% of your income to your church, or is that just an arbitrary number? What about people who can't pay this "church tax?" Are they still welcome?
- Who makes the decisions pertaining to a denomination or a congregation? A pope? A bishop or parson? A council made up of ordained leaders? Lay people? Both? Neither?
- Are we rewarded for believing the "right" things and/or doing good deeds here and now on Earth? Or is our reward solely an afterlife thing? What forms might these rewards take? Should we even be concerned about that?
- Who can become a monk or a nun? What kind of training do they get? Is this a lifelong thing, or can they leave? Are they strictly contemplative, or do they do other stuff, too? Can a parent dedicate their son or daughter to be a monk or a nun, or must that be up to the individual? Can monks and nuns be married, or are they to be celibate? Can they own property? If not, to whom do any possessions they might have or make use of belong?
- Is a marriage dissolved when one spouse dies, or is it eternal? What if a widow(er) gets remarried; to which of their earthly spouses (if any) are they married in the afterlife?
- Do we have to follow the Jewish dietary laws, or no? What about the other laws, such as ones concerning ritual hygiene, or how Ancient Israelite society was to function? If consumption of blood is forbidden, does that extend to transfusions? What purpose do/did those laws serve, anyway? Were they really handed down from God, or are they human inventions? Are any of them relevant today, or are they only relevant to a particular society at a particular point in history?
- How concerned do we have to be about "causing others to stumble?" Does this extend only to people we know personally, or do we have to worry about causing strangers to stumble?
- Are the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus referred to in The Bible literal or figurative? Might they be Joseph's children from a previous marriage? Did Mary have marital relations with Joseph after the birth of Jesus, or did she remain a virgin her whole life? Does it matter, and if so, why?
- Is human sexuality inherently evil? Good? Neither? Is it only to be used within a marriage for procreation, or can a married couple enjoy sex for its own sake? Can they have oral or anal sex? Is there such a thing as marital rape, or is marriage "implied consent"? Is masturbation OK, or is that a sin? Is noticing an attractive person tantamount to sex with that person, or is thinking about doing something different than actually doing it? Is there any such thing as Technical Virginity, or is it an "either you are or you aren't" kind of thing?
- What is Heaven like? Is it a state of being? Is it a literal place?
- Is it permissible to use modern medicine to treat sicknesses and injuries, or do we just pray and hope for the best?
- Is euthanasia permitted under any circumstances? Is "pulling the plug" and letting someone die naturally the same thing? Should extraordinary measures be taken to keep someone alive? Is keeping someone on life-support machines or even giving them CPR or defibrillating them "messing with God's will?" Should Christians always have a "Do Not Resuscitate" order ready for them (or their families) to give to doctors, nurses, and EMTs?
- May certain drugs (for example, peyote) be used in Christian worship? May Christians use any kind of drugs outside a worship context, or no?
- Are some sins worse than others, or are all sins equal in the eyes of God? Might there be mitigating circumstances? Are all sins forgivable, or are there some that cannot be forgiven? Is there a point where it's too late for forgiveness?
- Should we actively go out and preach, or simply wait for people to come with questions? Is there "a time and a place?" How important is it to "win souls for God?" Does doing so win you points for the afterlife?
- Is dance appropriate for Christian worship? Should we dance at all? Are there certain kinds of dances that are not appropriate?
- Do we have to get dressed up for church, or does God not care what you wear (or don't wear)?
- Can we be possessed by demons? How do we know who's possessed, and who has a mental or physical illness? How might people become possessed, and is there any way to prevent it? Who can perform an exorcism?
- What role might angels play? Do they walk among us? Are they really Winged Humanoids, or might they take other forms? Do they have free will? Can they fall from grace?
- Can we bring complaints to God in our prayers, or is prayer for praise only? Is it OK to say a Prayer of Malice? Is it bad to Rage Against the Heavens?
- Do children sit in the pews with their parents, or do they go to Sunday school while the adults worship? Who is considered an adult within the church?
- Are people who are Driven to Suicide automatically barred from Heaven if they succeed? Or does God show compassion for what motivated them to that point? Does God even care about why someone did anything?
- Are we permitted to use violence and/or weapons to defend ourselves, our loved ones, or our property? Or are we to be Actual Pacifists?
- Are we obligated to obey our parents as adults, or only as children? How much (if any) say do parents get in their child's choice of mate? Do parents have the right to use corporal punishments? Should they, or is there another way?
- Should parents keep their children sheltered from the world, or allow them to participate in worldly activities? Should children be educated at home, religious school only, or can they attend secular school?
- Do we have to go to church every Sunday? Or Saturday? Every day? Once a month? Are Christmas and Easter enough? Are there Holy Days of Obligation? Is it OK to do certain jobs on the Sabbath? What about partaking in leisurely and/or social activities?
- How often do we have to receive Communion? Is that even necessary? Who can receive Communion?
- Is cremation a permissible practice, or must the deceased be interred in a casket? How does that mesh with finite space on Planet Earth? What about when people die en masse, as during The Plague or a war? Will people who are cremated be able to be resurrected at the end of time?
- Is it OK to verify that a needy person is actually needy, or are we to hand over money to whoever has their hand out? Should we help people directly, or can we donate through charities? Should we support social welfare programs? Is it OK or even better to help someone out in non-monetary ways?
- Will our pets be able to join us in Heaven? Are animals accountable to God for the way they live? Do they have souls? Can they be considered sentient? If so, does that mean eating meat is a bad thing?
- Are we permitted to attempt to communicate with the dead? Is that dangerous? What about trying to predict the future? Is it OK to read the horoscopes in the newspaper Just for Fun, or is that sinful? Do certain people have psychic abilities, and might these abilities be gifts from God? Is it OK for such people to use their abilities for good purposes?
- If some people are saved, and some people are not, how do we know who is saved and who is not? How do we know what our own status is? Might that status change? Is there any point in living if you are not among the Elect?
- How does the concept of Hell mesh with the concept of a loving, compassionate, and forgiving God? Is there a limit to God's forgiveness or compassion?
- How does the concept of a murderer/rapist/child molester/thief/etc. being able to get into Heaven provided he/she repents mesh with the concept of a holy and just God?
- Is it OK to view and worship God as the chief deity of a larger pantheon, or must the very notion of other gods be renounced?
- Is Jesus meant as a "personal Savior," or did he come to help all of humanity? What does it mean to develop a relationship with Him?
- Is it OK to donate ill-gotten money to the church, or is that money "contaminated?"
- Are we obligated to forgive all offenses against us or people we care about? Is it bad to hold a grudge for something big? Or are some things unforgivable? Is it OK if we need time to get through our anger and hurt, or are we obligated to swallow our grief and forgive instantaneously? Does forgiving someone mean we are obligated to be friends with them? Is there such a thing as righteous or justified anger? Can parents disown their children?
- Do we as humans have the right to bargain with God? Do certain humans have that right and not others? Is God's will flexible, or is it set in stone?
- Should our religious beliefs have any influence on who we vote for? Should we be living in The Theocracy?
- Is it OK to listen to secular music, read secular books, watch secular TV, etc?
- Are we obligated to confess our sins to a religious leader, or is it enough to pray privately for forgiveness? How often should we do it? If we confess, is that confidential? Or can the person who hears confessions report what they heard, such as to police?
- Can you be a good person without believing in God? Can people from other faiths be considered good, or do they have to convert first?
- Does the Bible contain a solution or a commentary on every conceivable problem one might face, or are there issues we face in modern times that wouldn't have come up at the time it was written?
- What does it mean to dress modestly? Covering up most of the body? How high can hems be? How short can sleeves be? How low can necklines be? Or does it mean keeping clothing and other adornment simple? What does that mean?
- Are we accountable to God for minor mistakes? Are mistakes distinct from sins? Can you commit a sin by mistake?
- Are we obligated to help impoverished people worldwide, or is it enough to take care of local problems?
- Are we obligated to fast during Lent and such? Or is that voluntary? Are certain people, such as the elderly, the sick, children, or pregnant women excused if it's normally obligatory? Does it mean abstaining from any food, or simply eating less? What does fasting do for us on a spiritual level?
- Does God have a certain race or ethnic group ordained as "chosen people?" Who are they? Can there be more than one? Does it even make a difference in this day and age? What about intermarriage?
- If a Christian chooses to marry a non-Christian, are their children Christian by default? Does it depend on the couple's choice? Must they be raised in the faith, or can they choose for themselves later? What holidays do they celebrate, and how? Does the non-Christian have to convert for the marriage to be valid? Should they? What if the marriage doesn't work out? Should Christians avoid this problem entirely by marrying only other Christians? If "winning souls" is important, is interfaith dating/marriage an appropriate means to that end?
- Is it more important to believe the "right" things, or to do good things? Or both?
- Are natural disasters and wars "acts of God," or just random events? Can they be both? If they are acts of God, what purpose do they serve? Are they The Scourge of God? Can they be prevented by prayer and/or doing right? Is there any such thing as a random event or a coincidence, or does everything happen for a reason?
- Could other religions be just another way of understanding and worshipping God, and therefore not "wrong," but "different?" Or is Christianity the only way to go? And if it is...then what kind?
- Salvation: Does it come from grace, good works, both, or neither?
- Is God loving and forgiving, or vengeful and angry? Both? Neither?
- Should Christians live in communes, or can they live in individual homes and/or own property of their own?
- Do we have to publicly identify as Christian, or make a public statement of faith, or can that be private? Do we have to recite the Sinner's Prayer in order to be saved, or to truly be a Christian?
- If a Christian professional is asked to do something that's contrary to their beliefs or forbidden by their faith, can they (or should they) refuse to do it? (For example, a cake baker who's asked to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, or a doctor who's asked to perform an abortion.) Or should they leave their personal beliefs at the door and do the job? Are there, or should there be, certain professions that Christians shouldn't do? If this professional happens to be the owner of a business with employees, should the owner's religion have any bearing on benefits that are provided?
- Mental health: Is that a medical sickness, or something along the lines of Demonic Possession, or a sign of lacking faith? Can Christians receive therapy and/or take medications such as antidepressants or tranquilizers?
In other words, pretty much everything is up for debate outside of specific denominations.
There are a lot of different denominations, all with their own slightly different beliefs, practices, tropes, and what not. Broken up by type:
CatholicismWe're going to define the Catholicism type as Churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church as well as those churches that broke off.
Roman Catholic Church
The largest sect in raw numbers (about one in six human beings are Catholic) and one of the two oldest types of Christianity, having coalesced in the 4th century AD after the Roman government began allowing Christians to practice openly. 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 them, and let's leave it at that.
The Catholic Church claims to be the exact same Church as the one holy apostolic Church of the New Testament that Jesus founded. From this it follows that all Christians ought to be part of the Catholic Church, and that the teachings of Catholicism are Christian truth, since Catholic tradition has its origin in Christ and the Holy Spirit has been working throughout history to make sure the flawed human beings who run the Church don't go completely off the rails. As a result Catholicism is known for having a rather authoritarian approach to theological and moral doctrine. In fact, definitive teachings on those subjects are held to be infallible — guaranteed by God to be without error. There are three sources of infallible teachings. First, there is the "ordinary magisterium" of the Church: those teachings which are authoritative because within the Catholic Church they have been believed "everywhere, always, and by all," even if they have never been written down and defined explicitly. Then there are the two kinds of "extraordinary magisterium." One is the canons of an ecumenical council, where the bishops of the Church throughout the whole world meet together to explicitly defend the truth and condemn error. The Catholic Church recognizes 21 ecumenical councils, from the First Council of Nicaea in 325 which declared that Christ is truly God incarnate, to the Second Vatican Council from 1962-65 which sought to reorient Church teaching to be more compatible with the modern world.
Finally there is the other kind of extraordinary magisterium, and historically the most controversial: the pope himself. The pope is infallible when he speaks on matters of faith or morals, and in his role as the teacher and shepherd of all Christians. The latter condition is known as speaking ex cathedra, which literally means "from the chair"; when a pope expresses his personal views as a theologian, or gives an opinion in an informal context such as an interview with a journalist, he is not speaking ex cathedra and is not infallible. The doctrine of papal infallibity was officially pronounced at the First Vatican Council in 1870—that's one of the ecumenical councils we were talking about before. The council did not claim to be inventing the infallibity of the pope out of thin air (that would be impossible), but clearly expressing a belief that had always been implicit in the role of the papacy; and in fact it is easy to find examples of popes throughout history speaking with the authority that infallibity implies. The earliest clear example may be the Tome of Leo, a statement adopted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, wherein Pope Leo I explains that the incarnate Christ had both a human nature and divine nature, so intimately combined as to be inseparable, but with neither swallowing up the other. More recently, in 1950 Pope Pius XII infallibly defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which holds that at the end of her natural life the Virgin Mary was taken up bodily into heaven. In both cases the popes were seeking only to define clearly what the Church had always believed, not to make a creative contribution to new doctrine; in the case of the latter, for example, the feast of the Assumption is one of the oldest in the Church, and is celebrated also by Orthodox Christians who reject the pope's authority. There is no official or agreed-upon list of all the dogmas that have been declared infallibly by a pope; generally there is less dispute about the infallibility of declarations that concern key theological issues, which are declared very solemnly and unambiguously, and more dispute about those declarations that concern moral issues.
Catholicism is also known for its emphasis on ritual. In particular, there seven sacraments: ritual signs which, when performed correctly by an appropriate minister, objectively and efficaciously impart the grace that they signify. They are:
- Baptism: an immersion in or pouring on of water which erases all sin, original and actual, and makes the one baptized a member of the body of Christ, the Church.
- Confirmation: an anointing with a special oil blessed by a bishop called chrism, which seals a baptized Christian with the gift of the Holy Spirit that was given at Pentecost. In the West confirmation always comes after the age of reason, but in the East infants are confirmed immediately after baptism.
- Eucharist: in the central part of the Mass, the priest takes bread and wine and repeats over them the words of Jesus: "this is my body," "this is my blood." The elements are then miraculously transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ, while retaining all the outward appearances and properties of bread and wine—this is the Eucharist. The faithful consume one or both consecrated elements in Holy Communion.
- Confession (aka Reconciliation or Penance): the confession of one's sins to a priest, after which the priest gives absolution and assigns a penance in reparation for one's sins (typically saying a few prayers). Especially important for one who has sinned mortally, that is, in a way serious enough to expel the saving grace of God and to make one unworthy to receive Holy Communion.
- Marriage: the joining of a Christian man and woman in matrimony as husband and wife. Of course non-Christians can get married as well, but Christ raised marriage between Christians to the special dignity of a sacrament.
- Holy Orders: the laying of hands of a bishop on a man which specially conforms him to Christ, allowing him to serve in a clerical role. There are three degrees of holy orders: deacons, who have no special sacramental powers but may administer communion and perform certain other roles; priests, who may celebrate the Mass and consecrate the Eucharist; and bishops, who possess the fullness of the priesthood and may in turn administer holy orders to other men.
- Anointing of the Sick (aka Extreme Unction): an anointing with oil typically given to those in danger of death, which remits their sins and gives them the grace to persevere in faith until the end.
An important difference between Catholicism and some Protestant sects is that Catholics do not believe the Bible is meant to be read in its entirety like a historical textbook, rather conveying truth by means of every genre between poetry and letter-writing. For example, Popes have endorsed the theory of evolution as consistent with Catholic teaching, referring to the Book of Genesis as describing the creation of man by God "in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little culturednote ." 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 veneration of saints: honoring Christians who have lived holy lives and now see God in heaven, and praying to them to intercede to God on behalf of those who haven't made it there yet. The most important of all the saints is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is given unique special honor and whose intercession is invoked constantly—there are few people better at chatting with God than his mom. Additionally there are some 5000 other canonized saints, that is, saints who have been specifically recognized by the Church as deserving of universal public veneration. These are who you normally think of when you hear the phrase "Catholic saints"; but you are free to pray for the intercession of anyone you sincerely believe is in heaven, even, say, a beloved late grandmother. In fact, every saint is privately venerated first before the official process of canonization begins; the usual rule is that a formal cause of canonization should not be opened until the possible saint has been dead for around 100 years, so that enough time has passed for everyone to make a clear and impartial judgment. Under the current (long and involved) process, someone is beatified (given the title "Blessed") if a miracle can be attributed to their intercession. (These miracles are almost always healings that doctors are unable to explain scientifically.) Beatification gives permission for a limited group of Catholics to honor that person publicly in the liturgy —those in an associated geographical region or religious order. If another miracle can be confirmed, the beatified person can be canonized as a saint by an act of the pope, which declares infallibly that the new saint is in heaven with God, and holds him or her up as a saint to be venerated and emulated by all Catholics.
In 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, which sought to bring the Church to terms with the modern world. Although the Church maintains that Vatican II did not contradict or change any prior teaching, it sharply changed the Church's official attitude towards non-Catholics such as Protestants and Jews, suggesting much more strongly that they might achieve salvation outside of visible union with the Church. Soon after the council closed in 1965, the Church completely overhauled the liturgy, rewriting the Mass and all the other rituals and giving permission for them to be translated into local vernaculars, effectively ending the formerly exclusive use of Latin in the liturgy. All this combined with a general spirit of reform into a complete overhaul of Catholic practice, devotion, aesthetics, and even belief.
Many Catholics were not happy about all this, and those who oppose the new rites and other changes that came out of the council are known as traditional Catholics or "traditionalists." note One of the earliest and most prominent traditionalists was French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who condemned the council and started a society of priests, the Society of St Pius X, to continue as best they could the rites and practice of the Church prior to Vatican II. Lefebvre and the newly founded SSPX soon got in trouble with the larger Church, and when he consecrated four bishops without the permission of Rome, Pope John Paul II declared both Lefebvre and the new bishops excommunicate.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the traditional Mass was not and could never be prohibited (as Lefebvre had claimed all along). Benedict also lifted the excommunications on the SSPX bishops, bringing them closer to regular status within the Church (although one of them promptly got himself re-excommunicated when it emerged that he had suggested the number of victims of the Holocaust was exaggerated and when he ordered a bishop without permission of the Pope in order to preserve the SSPX Resistance). As a result, traditionalism has become much more mainstream in the Catholic Church; perhaps surprisingly, there is a growing contingent of young Catholics who seek out traditional worship despite never having experienced it growing up, and there are now multiple Vatican-approved traditional priestly societies and religious orders, as well as many ordinary parishes that offer the traditional Mass.
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 is one of the best known traditional Catholics 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). However, unlike Eastern Rite priests and like their Latin Rite counterparts, bishops may not be married in the Eastern Rite; much like the Orthodox, much of the upper Eastern Rite hierarchy is therefore taken from the ranks of monks and monastics. 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 except in places where they are locally prominent, like western Ukraine or certain parts of the Middle East, and places with significant diasporas of people from those places (e.g. Pittsburgh for western Ukrainiansnote or New Jersey and Detroit for Middle Eastern communities).
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. This has taken the form of parishes joining the Catholic Church en mass, but instead of becoming part of the usual local diocese, reporting to a individual "ordinay" (essentially a bishop in practice, but not so formally ordained) covering the whole of the respective country; three have been established: one for the UK, one for the U.S. (with a division for Canada) and one for Australia and New Zealand. They are permitted the use of an Anglican-influenced liturgy and the retention of married clergy. Even the ordinaries thus far appointed have been former Anglican bishops who have been ordained as Catholic priests (which, since no Catholic or Orthodox ordained bishop is permitted to be married, is why the ordinaries are not ordained as bishops; the Anglican bishops who have converted were married and could only be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church). This may eventually lead—and many Catholicizing Anglicans advocate—to the establishment of an "Anglican Catholic Church" along the lines of the Eastern Catholics, but for varying reasons (including the fact that the Anglicans are originally a Western rite and a desire not to step on the toes of the actual Anglican Communion, with whom Rome has maintained reasonably good relations of late) the Church is a little leery towards taking such a step.
Roman Catholics in People's Republic of China
Not exactly a formally recognized group but a fairly large subset of Catholics in an ambiguous category. After their victory in the Chinese Civil War, the Communist Party has required that all religions in mainland China sever ties to foreign bodies, such as the Vatican, and submit to the authority of the Chinese state. Those Catholics who refused to renounce the Vatican went underground and have been subject to persecution, especially before 1980's. Those who did were organized as the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) that maintained the same practices and doctrines as Catholics elsewhere but did not recognize the authority of the Pope, at least in an official sense. Technically, this would make the CPCA a "schismatic" group in Catholic terminology and several Catholic groups, especially those opposed to the government of the People's Republic of China consider them as such. However, the Vatican itself considers the situation as taking place under duress due to the complex situation that is mostly political in nature and accepts the CPCA churches as being in full communion with Rome. This means all sacraments at CPCA churches are considered valid and those who are baptized by CPCA priests and attend masses therein are as Catholic as any other. While CPCA bishops are formally appointed by the Chinese government (after having been "elected" by appropriate bodies) without official input by Vatican, most of them are given informal recognition by the Vatican as well. Still, because CPCA is subject to the authority of the Chinese government, it often bends its doctrines to accommodate the latter's wishes, even on matters of religious doctrine. The status of the CPCA, in addition to the more common problem concerning Taiwan, is a major stumbling block preventing a formal relationship between the Holy See and the People's Republic from being established. In contrast, the "One Country, Two Systems" policy implemented in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau ensures the free practice of religion without intervention from the state, and the Catholics who live there are considered to be in full communion with Rome.
- Eastern Orthodox — Established as a distinct entity in 1054 when the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople mutually excommunicated each other (the question of who exactly broke off from whom is a millennium-old flame war, literally).note 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 the Second Vatican Council held from 1962-1965). 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.note A further divergence from Western Christianity arose during the Hesychast Controversy of the 14th century, which resulted in the official denial of understanding of absolute divine simplicity held by Roman Catholics and most Protestants 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, a particular artistic tradition for making images of Christ, Mary, and other holy figures that may be venerated, often with kissing. 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. While Greeks and others use a calendar otherwise similar to the Gregorian, some churches, such as the Russian and Serbians, use the Old Julian Calendar, so that even fixed observations are fixed to different dates. This translates to excellent clearance discounts on Christmas shopping. 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 which did 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 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).
Politically speaking, these churches arose in the eastern parts of the Eastern Roman Empire, partly for historical reasons and partly because the doctrinal dispute was a good cover for criticism of the Imperial regime in Constantinople. While both sides had followers across the Empire, "monophysites" (of various persuasions not relevant to our purposes) tended to be dominant in the non-Greek-speaking imperial East (Syria, the Armenian lands under Roman rule, and most especially Egypt), while the Greek-speaking western end of the Empire was more firmly Chalcedonian. There was never a clean break with the main Chalcedonian Church; Chalcedonians and "monophysites" lived uncomfortably with each other in the same hierarchies for centuries while the Empire continued to hold its eastern territories.
What crystallized the doctrinal differences into separate church structures was the conquest of the Byzantine East by the Muslim Arabs. The Muslims did not care about the interminable debates about Christology, leaving Chalcedonians and monophysites/miaphysites to form their own churches. To the extent the Arabs got involved in this at all, it was to slightly favor the monophysites/miaphysites, since their new separate church hierarchies had little if any loyalty to Constantinople, while the local Chalcedonians frequently had some kind of institutional link with the church inside the Empire.note Meanwhile, the Chalcedonian hierarchy in Constantinople squelched competing Christologies within the Empire in the name of Christian unity.
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. The Patriarch of Alexandria (who lives in Cairo) is (confusingly) formally titled the Pope of Alexandria, even though he actually has no authority over the rest of the churches (merely influence). (Also confusingly, the Coptic Popes have been calling themselves that 300 years longer than their more famous Roman counterparts.) The current Coptic Pope, Theorodos II, is 118th in a line originating with St. Mark himself, and was selected (as all Coptic Popes are selected) by a complicated process involving a synod, the President of Egypt (who—confusingly—is as a practical matter always Muslim), and a blindfolded child literally pulling his name out of a container at random (out of a pool of three candidates).
- 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.
Protestant ChristianityNot one sect, but an umbrella term for hundreds of churches who broke with Catholicism, most of them claiming 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 (though in churches that practice adult baptism the ceremony shares commonalities with confirmation), or anointing of the sick. Baptism is performed by many Protestant groups, though when (birth vs. joining the church as an adult) 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 Presence.
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.
Despite the chaos of Protestant denominations, there are some useful ways to group them, arising out of their structure and doctrines. Thus general, one can categorize Protestant churches along two axes: church polity and doctrinal soteriology.
- Polity refers to the structure of the denomination: i.e. how the church is organized and how it handles its internal affairs. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of church polity:
- Episcopal polity: Not to be confused with the Episcopalian denomination. This polity is hierarchal, and broadly similar to that which exists in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition. It is built on bishops (episcopos="bishop" in Greek): if a denomination has bishops, it's a fair bet that it has an episcopal polity. Bishops are ordained and consecrated church leaders, generally claiming Apostolic Succession in the same way that Catholic and Orthodox bishops do: that is to say, they were consecrated by a bishop who was consecrated by a bishop who was consecrated by a bishop, etc., etc., etc., up until one of the Twelve Apostles. Protestant churches with an episcopal structure generally have a somewhat flatter structure than Catholicism and Orthodoxy; there are usually archbishops, but no popes, cardinals, or patriarchs. Usually, a synod or assembly of the bishops of the denomination determines doctrinal issues and appoints/elects new bishops and promotes existing bishops to higher positions (e.g. archbishop) to run the day-to-day operations of the whole denomination or a large chunk of it. Each bishop is responsible for the day-to-day operations of his/her diocese (diocese="church organization within a particular territory, run by a bishop"), and it is the bishop who appoints parish priests and so on.
- Presbyterian polity: Not to be confused with the Presbyterian denomination. This polity is essentially a federal democracy. Each individual congregation (i.e. local group of worshipers) elects a "session" of presbyters or elders ("presbyter"="elder" in Greek), roughly equivalent to a town council or corporate board of directors, and they handle the running of the congregation, including the hiring and firing of the congregation's minister. Congregations are grouped, usually regionally, to form a presbytery; each congregation sends one elder and its minister to join some other divines (e.g. theological college profs) to form the presbytery, whose duties typically include such things as ordaining ministers. Presbyteries can also be grouped into synods, and all of a country's synods are typically grouped into a General Assembly; these higher bodies generally have authority to determine Church doctrine and maintain Church discipline.
- Congregational polity: Not to be confused with the Congregationalist denomination. This denomination runs on the theory that each congregation is its own church and can do what it likes. As in a presbyterian congregation, a board or some such body of congregation members is elected to run the affairs of the congregation. However, there is no higher authority than that board. Congregational churches can and do enter into networks with other congregations with whom they agree, but they do not need to do so, are not bound by decisions taken by the governing bodies of those networks, and may change their affiliation or abandon all affiliations at any time.
- Soteriology is the theory of salvation: how does Jesus save the human soul? And which human souls does He save? This was one of the major points of contention between the Reformers and the Catholic hierarchy during the Reformation, and the reformers all came up with different theories for why the Church was wrong, and as a result they ended up arguing with each other at least as much as they argued with Rome.
- Calvinism: A soteorological theory first developed by Huldrych Zwingli, a contemporary of Luther. Promoted and refined by John Calvin in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland. Built on three points: unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. 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. This all ties into another central Calvinist doctrine, 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 are. Calvinists believe in "double-predestination"; people are predestined to either heaven or hell. The fundamental tenets of Calvinist doctrine, sometimes called "the Five Points", can thus be remembered by the mnemonic device "TULIP": Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. 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.
- Arminianism: A response to Calvinism developed by Jacobus Arminius, it holds that election to salvation is conditional and that God's grace can be resisted. Many Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals (see below) 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). Critics of Arminianism claim it promotes the notion that one can "choose to be saved", or that one can "save themselves". Arminians deny these accusations, saying the critics are actually describing semi-Pelagianism.
- These are the two major soteriological streams in Protestantism. There are others: Luther had his own soteriology, roughly halfway between the Calvinist and Arminian (although it predates the Arminian, Luther having been dead for about ten years by the time Arminius was born), which only the Lutherans really buy. Then there's Universalism, which is, simply put, "everyone is saved"; a few churches have bought into that over time. And then there's the aforementioned (semi)-Pelagianism, in which being saved is a choice you make; this doctrine would be more or less not worth mentioning, except that Mormonism (whose place in the Christian tradition is peculiar and a bit uncomfortable) has been described by a (somewhat eccentric) Mormon theologian as having a "completely Pelagian" soteriology (most Mormons who care about the subject would insist that they are, if anything, Arminians, but it's still a point of contention). Also of interest to tropers, some modern mythographers have begun associating the Christianity of King Arthur with Pelagianism.
- Anglicanism — An offshoot of Roman Catholicism originating in 1534 when Henry VIII claimed dominion over the English church with the Act of Supremacy. Very similar to Catholicism in terms of ceremonial practice. 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. However, it did not split from Rome in the same way as the original Protestant Movement, though Henry's schism with Rome allowed many sincere Protestants within England to preach. Initially Anglicanism was (as might be expected given its origin) simply Catholicism with the King of England replacing the Pope, but over time it evolved into its current form which is described by the Church itself as "both Catholic and Reformed"note . As a result, Anglicanism is episcopal in polity; its soteriology is neither Arminian nor Calvinist nor any of those other things, but rather essentially Catholic, with a few Lutheran-inspired modifications (honestly, the Anglicans never got what the fuss over soteriology was). 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.
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 a rather peculiar reason: the 39 Articles. These are statements of Anglican doctrine first formulated in a reactionary manner against the perceived abuses of the Roman Catholic Church at the time and are notably Reformed. They 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. Some churches, such as the Church of England, require assent to the 39 Articles for one to be ordained. Others, such as the Episcopal Church, do not use them in any doctrinal manner.
Currently the majority of Anglicans worldwide are members of the Anglican Communion a group of autonomous churches which trace their shared history and theological outlook back to the Church of England. The Church of England acts as a mother church to the communion while its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, acts as primus inter pares or first among equals to the rest of the Communion. He is regarded as a spiritual head but has no authority over the other churches. Most if not all of these churches have their own version of The Book of Common Prayer, which is a collection of all the rites, prayers and ceremonies of that particular church. Likewise, it also specifies set readings from the Old and New Testaments as well as Psalms used for each Sunday service and the Daily Office. First created in the Church of England by Thomas Cranmer, The Book of Common Prayer is often regarded as a cornerstone of Anglican practice and identity.
A word that you might encounter in England is "Nonconformist", which sounds like a sect but isn't. Nonconformism is simply a term used as a catch-all for all the Protestant denominations that can be found there other than the Anglican Church of England. These were also historically known in England (and Wales) as "Dissenters", and historically they came in all flavours (Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, Quaker, Methodist, Unitarian...). They were historically marginalised in English society, although not as much as the Catholics, but despite (and in some ways because of) this marginalisation they had a profound effect on both the history of the United States and of Great Britain, but now we're getting ahead of ourselves.
- The Episcopal Church: The United States based member church of the Anglican Communion. It's not company-owned, but it's certainly the largest franchisee (and one of the first, if not the first, depending on how you regard the Scottish Episcopal Church). 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. Episcopalians are not Church of England and are therefore not subject to Her Majesty, nor are any other Anglican churches outside of the Church of England. The separation of the Episcopal Church from the Church of England is often seen as the first step towards the formation of the Anglican Communion.
** Fundamentalism — A movement within conservative Christianity unique to America beginning in the early 20th century as a response to modernity and theological liberalism. It has a heavy focus on Dispensational Premillennialism (a belief in an imminent rapture, the rapid decline of the world, the belief that ethnic Jews remain God's favored and Chosen people, and that national Israel — rather than the Church — is God's primary focus in history). Dispensationalism is a doctrine developed in the 1830s by Anglican theologian John Nelson Darby, and popularized by the widespread circulation of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909 - rev. 1917). This theology was woven into the fabric of fundamentalism and remains a key feature of much of evangelicalism to this day. Both Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are highly Arminian.
- Evangelical Christianity — Somewhat synonymous to "Fundamentalism", without the combativeness and reclusiveness of the former. 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 that was born in 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, the larger Pentecostal denominations 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 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.
Pentecostal churches are almost invariably congregational in polity. Pentecostal soteriology remains highly Arminian in North America, but is decidedly Calvinist in other places, like South Korea.
- Lutherans — A collection of predominantly Germanic and Scandanavian 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 the "sacramental union", 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. Episcopal in polity; their services are very similar to Catholic masses. Much like the Anglicans, they have a split between catholicizing "high church" and reforming "low church", although none of the catholicizers are quite as high-church as the Anglican ones. Originally known as 'Evangelicals.' They only recognize the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Lutherans believe that people are predestined to heaven, but not to hell. Lutherans reject dispensationalist theology.
- Methodists — Offshoot of Anglicanism started by John Wesley in Britain, this movement focused on holiness, pietism, and Christian Perfection. Wesleyan Methodism is very Arminian as a whole, although his colleague George Whitefield was a Calvinist. In polity, Methodism is episcopal, albeit without a strong emphasis on Apostolic Succession, and with a strong presbyterian influence on their structure. The modern United Methodist Church is largely Arminian in soteriology, while Methodists in Korea are decidedly Calvinist.
- Reformed/Presbyterians: As the name implies, these have a presbyterian polity; also, following the Reformed tradition of Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox, they typically have a Calvinist soteriology. The major origin point for this denomination is Geneva, but most extant churches originate in either the Netherlands (where the Reformed church became dominant for a number of reasons) or Scotland (where Knox successfully converted the Lowlands). In general, if a church calls itself Reformed, it's probably in the Dutch tradition (with Dutch actually having two words for "Reformed", the hervormde being somewhat laxer Calvinists and the gereformeerde being stricter and more doctrinaire), while if it calls itself Presbyterian, it's probably in the Scottish tradition.
Zwingli believed that communion is symbolic, but Calvinists (following their namesake) believe Jesus is "pneumatically" present.
- Baptists — Baptists are defined from other Christian sects by practicing baptism when one "becomes a Christian"—which is to say, sometime, past the age of reason, when the person can consciously understand Christianity, and decides to choose to accept it—rather than infant baptism. Officially, Baptists reject the Apostle's, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds—electing to accept "no Creed but the Bible". Unofficially, virtually all Baptists basically accept all three creeds (especially if you define "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" as loosely as other Protestants), being Trinitarian Christians without serious Christological disputes with other Protestant denominations (or the Catholics or Orthodox; again, the split between Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant is less on Christology and more on polity and soteriology).
The first Baptist church in the United States was founded by Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island in the year 1638, originally known as the First Baptist Meetinghouse, and later the First Baptist Church in America, also known as the First Baptist Church of Providence. 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. Baptist churches are nigh-universally congregationalist in polity; many Baptists adhered to slightly modified Calvinist soteriology.
- 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 modern 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. Collectively, the Amish, Mennonite, Quakers, and Church of the Brethern (also anabaptist) are known as the "Historic Peace Churches" because of their pacifism, and most of the American and European laws regarding conscientious objection in war were originally created with them in mind.
- 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, excellent homemade furniture 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 rein 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). It also allows the teens to make an informed choice about whether or not they want to join the church by showing them the "other side of the coin". 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 & Roll. At least, that is the Hollywood version of the 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 "Englisch" (the Amish refer to anything and anyone "not-Amish" as English, regardless of its actual nation of origin) clothes, drive, drink alcohol, and such. The outrageous things are usually done more out of a symbolic "been there, done that" ideal than 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 or her 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 shuns 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 restricted Amish brethren, 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, excellent homemade furniture 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".
- Quakers — 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 - some Quakers are non-theistic) 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 (if God's in everyone...), and integrity (would you lie to God?). In consequence, they were early supporters of race, gender, and gay equality, the abolition of slavery, and nuclear disarmament. 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.) (Herbert Hoover was also a Quaker.)note
- 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 2 (yes, two) as of January 2017 due to the fact they don't believe in sex, helped along by a 1960 law that banned religious groups from adopting children. The Covenant, an official document that all members must sign to be considered Shakers, was closed by the dwindling community in 1957, which means that this denomination will officially die out with this generation. Renowned for their furniture.
- 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.note 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)—today, the SDA runs the second largest "chain" of hospitals in the US, behind the Catholic Church. 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 Kellogg's food company, makers of the corn flakesnote you ate for breakfast this morning and 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 in full immersion baptism. Churches that call themselves "Churches of Christ" are (almost always) strictly non-instrumental in the South singing their hymns a cappella with just their voices, and more often than not non-instrumental elsewhere. Churches that go by "Christian Church" pretty much always use instruments. The Disciples of Christ formally split from the others when they formed an ecumenical council. Many of the Churches of Christ pattern their worship services and doctrine after the New Testament, eschewing any worship elements that aren't patterned after the first-century doctrine of the New Testament, and placing emphasis on the New Testament. One of their guiding principles is "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent."
- 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.
- The Salvation Army — Founded in the East End of London by Catherine and William Booth as the East London Christian Mission in 1865, the church's mission statement is "The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination." They started reaching out to the prostitutes, gamblers, addicts and other "undesirable" people of the London streets, expanding their mission work to Australia, Ireland and the United States in 1880, gradually expanding to other countries as time progressed. Many of their members traditionally wear uniforms with an accompanying rank such as soldier, musician, cadet, lieutenant, captain, or major, while some congregants or mission workers may prefer a more casual approach when working with their peers. They are noted for their charitable humanitarian disaster relief efforts, in addition to Salvation Army thrift stores which are found in or close to cities where the local congregation is located, as well as their bellringers who attend the donation kettles during the Christmas season. They generally don't include baptism or Holy Communion in their worship services, since the Booths believed that some Christians had come to rely on the outward signs of grace rather than grace itself, stating that enrollment as a Soldier by accepting the call to discipleship should be followed by a lifetime of continued obedient faith in Christ, and that while God's grace is readily accessible in all places and at all times, enrolled congregants may participate in Holy Communion if attending a service of worship in another Christian denomination if the church holding communion allows it. Members are strongly encouraged to abstain from such vices as drinking alcohol, smoking, drug addictions, and gambling.
- 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. Currently, the church is in the process of a long and slow decline brought about by the invention of antibiotics and chemotherapy. The denomination is generally grouped with other Metaphysical Christian movements spawned during the 19th Century such as Christian Spiritualism and the Unity Church, of which Christian Science is the largest of these denominations still extant.
- 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 15th century 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 Salemnote , 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.note There are also 26-pointed stars called Moravian stars that are often used as Christmas decorations; they did not get their start as religious symbols, but are called so because they were used as a geometry lesson at the Moravian Boys' School in Niesky, Germany. Funnily enough, most modern folks know them not for their theology, but their tasty traditional baked goods, especially super-thin Moravian cookies, gooey Moravian sugar cake, and sweet Moravian Lovefeast buns.
The Moravians were also 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.
Other denominationsThe 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 word, or Logos, 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 allegedly 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 all but wiped out during the Albigensian Crusade in the 14th century, making their final stand at the fortress of Montségur in southern France. (But not before they gave us the word buggery: they were often called bougres—"Bulgars" in French—because the sect allegedly began in Bulgaria, and so the name remained attached to their, um, practices even after they were all wiped out.) The voluntary poverty of the Dominican Order of Preachers was inspired by the Cathars, against whom Saint Dominic himself had preached with limited success. Note that as the Cathars never committed the details of their religion to paper, virtually all sources for actual Cathar beliefs are suspect, having been written by the Catholic Church, who had every reason to twist the truth and even outright lie about Cathar beliefs and practices.
- 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. 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. Messianic Jews sometimes are stuck in a bit of a inter-religious limbo: many Jewish groups dispute their self-identification as Jews (the Law of Return in Israel, for one, considers them a separate religion); meanwhile, quite a few Christian groups dispute their self-identification as Christians, as many Messianic Jews follow the Jewish understanding of the Messiah and thereby deny the Trinity and divinity of Christ. The fact that Jews have a very different concept than Christians of what it even means to be the Messiah explains why most mainstream Jews consider Messianic Judaism to be a Christian rather than Jewish sect.
- One of the best known branches of the movement is "Jews for Jesus", which was founded by and largely consists of former Southern Baptists—although the status of "Jews for Jesus" as Messianic Jews is somewhat complex, as many of them simply convert to Baptist Christianity and continue observing some Jewish customs, rather than the full-fledged "Judaism, but we believe Jesus is the Biblical Messiah" attitude of many other Messianic Jews.
- Mormonism — More properly known as "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 Saints 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). Although there are also LDS offshoots that headed in the other direction, repudiating many of standard Mormonism's more "out-there" doctrines to be closer to mainstream Christianity, the biggest of those being the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). 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. Composed of 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.
- There are some small unmistakably Christian Unitarian groups, maintaining the old traditions of Christian Unitarianism: that is, a combination of mild Calvinism with Deism, with Jesus being accepted as a great moral teacher and possibly the Biblical Messiah, after a (unique) fashion (they were rarely pure Deists). This wasn't particularly uncommon in the US in the 18th and 19th centuries, being a highly intellectual offshoot of standard New England Congregationalism. Four US presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft) were Unitarians in this sense (Taft actually had to fight accusations of atheism because of this, as he had been offered the presidency of then-Congregationalist Yale before he became President of the US and responded "I do not believe in the divinity of Christ" and had to explain that he meant that he was a Christian Unitarian, not an atheist). Thomas Jefferson was also a kinda-sorta Unitarian; his Christology and Deism match up, but even if he had been the churchgoing type, it would've been difficult to find a Unitarian church in Virginia (where Episcopalianism was the state religion until Jefferson himself signed the Virginia Charter of Religious Freedom in 1786, and which was not fertile country for Northeastern Congregationalisms of any kind until the Methodists softened the territory up enough for the originally-New Englander Baptists to take over the whole region).
- Jehovah's Witnesses — Jehovah's Witnesses treat The Bible as the only source of truth. They use God's name, Jehovahnote , 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. Their official website, with Frequently Asked Questions and other information, can be found here.
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 referred to as a stauros (upright stake) or crux simplex in Latin. 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 wicked will be destroyed (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,note but don't go to the lengths Jews go to to remove blood from meat—unlike Jews, Muslims and most other religions with taboos concerning blood, saving of a life does not trump the taboo, and JWs would rather die than receive a transfusion), 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 militarynote 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 (the latter to the point that in some places you can buy signs saying "No Jehovahs" for your door alongside more typical ones like "No Trespassers"). 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.) By contrast, his contemporary and rival Prince converted to the faith in 2001, and spent his remaining years a serious (if troubled) Witness.
- 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 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 Gary Gygax and maybe Isaac Newton too. 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, who originally had doubts about calling in the Roman military to quell rebellions over the argument, as he felt calling in earthly, political authority to settle church matters might set a bad precedent for later conflicts. Hindsight is 20-20, as they say. 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. 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 the 4th century after several groups decided to help them out and slaughtered all their members.
- Christian Identity — A sect based loosely on British Israelism, a now-discredited 19th century anthropological hypothesis claiming that the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Celtic peoples (i.e. modern Western/Central Europeans) were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. While other Christian groups concern themselves with baptism, interpretation of scripture, clerical authority, and other theological debates, Christian Identity is all about Mighty Whitey. They believe that white people are God's chosen race and the only ones capable of attaining salvation, while non-whites have no souls and thus cannot be saved. The modern Jews are descended from either Satan himself (the product of the intercourse between Eve and the serpent) or from the last thousand years or so and converts with no connection to the ancient Israelites.note This sect is almost exclusively found within white nationalist and far-right political movements within the United States, including the modern Ku Klux Klan.
- The most influential group preaching this message was Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, publishers of the British-Israelite Plain Truth magazine to be found as a free publication at newsagents and news-stands all over the USA and Britain. The WWCoG did not survive Armstrong's death in 1986, and has schismed into many mutually opposed groupings (including one that abandoned British Israelism and has since been accepted into mainstream evangelicalism). At least three schismatic groups currently offer their version of The Plain Truth online, thus perpetuating British-Israelism into a new century.
- Positive Christianity — A sect formed by Nazi Germany in order to provide a theological fig-leaf for their rule and win over the more religious Germans. It rejected the parts of the Bible descended from Judaism, including the entire Old Testament, and retconned Jesus into a full-blooded Aryan who fought against Jewish "corruption". Largely died out after World War II, for obvious reasons, and now a quaint footnote in the history of Christianity practiced only by a tiny smattering of neo-Nazi diehards.
- American Churches: This is just a list of all the different churches active in the United States.
- The Iglesia Ni Cristo(Filipino, for "Church of Christ"): an independent Christian group based in the Philippines, known for its Unitarianism, its neo-gothic architecture, and especially its practice of "bloc voting" during elections.
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.note
Tropes associated with or named by Christianity:
- Ambiguously Christian: A character might be Christian, though this is unconfirmed.
- Broken Base: Catholicism vs. Protestantism, the Protestant denominations vs. each other, Mainstream Christianity vs. Mormonism vs. Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.
- Capital Letters Are Magic: Or at least reverent, when used in words referring to God or Jesus.
- Caught Up in the Rapture: The belief held by some Christian denominations that faithful Christians will be taken up to Heaven at the end of the world, and spared the tribulation to come.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Because Catholicism is one of the bigger sects and one of the oldest, some people think everyone is like that.
- Church Militant: There were times when The Church had its own army or called one up, for instance, the crusades.
- Church of Saint Genericus: A church is shown, but it's not clear which denomination it is.
- Continuity Nod / Dis Continuity 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 considering what happened to the Founder. Traditional Christianity uses a wide range of crosses, with subtly different meanings. For example, St. Peter's symbol is an upside-down crossnote , which confuses some people who assume an upside-down Cross must be anti-Christian (many Satanists use it as a symbol).
- Crucified Hero Shot: Jesus' death is the Trope Maker. Images of Christ on the cross appear in a lot of Christian art and are displayed in many churches.
- 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).
- Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: Many people who aren't visibly Christian for most of the year make it a point to go to church services on major holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Even people who follow other religions may go to church for a special holiday service to celebrate with their Christian friends. note
- 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.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Also depending on the sect, Hell may or may be depicted as a firey place of pitchforks and Inquisition style torture.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: This is a Memetic Mutation of Christian doctrine and both Christian and pre-Christian folklore. Easter Bunny (same), Santa Claus (same)
- 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 the 20th century, as the rise of Christian Fundamentalism in America - the most powerful country in the world - has had repercussions all around the world.
- God: He is present in all the sects but they have disagreements on a lot of stuff.
- God Is Good: "God is good" and "all the time" are part of many sects. Counter-intuitively, God's benevolence is one of the more controversial bits of the faith to many outsiders. To almost all Christians, this may be the central point of the religion- explaining why it's so controversial.
- God in Human Form: According to pretty much all Christian beliefs, this is Jesus' identity but it's complicated; fully human and fully divine at the same time.
- Go and Sin No More: Essentially, this is the Christian belief about salvation; seek forgiveness for sin and then don't repeat the sin in the future. For bonus points the Trope Namer is Jesus.
- Good Shepherd: The Church is a large organization and some of its clergy has been more benevolent than other parts.
- Heaven: The place of God, His Angels, and where all Christians ultimately want to end up in.
- Hell: Most sects believe in it, but some don't. The general idea is a place where the angels that repelled against God ended up that is very unpleasant to say the least.
- Hijacked by Jesus: Obviously, if unintentionally. This certainly wouldn't be a Biblical edict. See also Seven Deadly Sins.
- Holy Pipe Organ: Trope Maker. Many Christian churches feature impressive pipe organs that are played during religious services, creating the association between organ music and religion.
- Humans Are Special: According to Christianity, humans were made in God's image. There is also some debate among Christians if only humans have souls and can go to heaven and hell, or if animals have one as well and can go to heaven and hell.
- Jesus Taboo: Obviously. Although it would be pretty hard to discuss Christianity without ever mentioning Jesus, you will sometimes find his name avoided out of reverence, such as calling him "Our Lord."
- 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.
- Knight Templar: The historical ones are a inversion; the bulk of them were pretty reasonable and involved with day-to-day banking but they are well known as zealots.
- The Legions of Hell: Armies of demons, devils, hellspawn etc. are often seen in art and literature.
- The Missionary: All the sects have people spreading the Good News but Jenhova's Witnesses consider this their hat.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: The trope naming scene is in the Gospel of Matthew.
- Nuns Are Mikos: When Christians went to Japan there was a miscomunication of some kind. It's likely because the locals are more familar with local traditions then something from across the globe.
- Nuns Are Spooky: If not spooky then Funny and/or Naughty. Yeah, ideas about what women who spent their lives in seclusion away from men did all day are diverse to say the least.
- Nuns 'n' Rosaries: To quote the page " just the basic stereotypical stuff."
- Pals with Jesus: Quite literally in some traditions, adherents are advised to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
- Raised Catholic: A person who was raised in the faith, and though s/he might have left it, still has some practices or hang-ups from the faith.
- 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. Sometimes he's 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.
- Scales of Justice: Though the trope originated in other religions it can be found here too with the Archangel Raguel who is sometimes portrayed with scales, since he's the angel of justice.
- 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 and Seven Heavenly Virtues: The Deadly Sins as we know them were compiled by Pope Gregory I as a condensed version of an older version of such a list. His Holiness's list became entrenched in Christian faith and culture, and eventually led to a Good Counterpart of sorts in the Seven Heavenly Virtues, conceived by the poet Prudentius in the fifth century and popularized in the Middle Ages.
- Sinister Minister: The Church is a large organization and some of its clergy has been more manevolent than other parts.
- True Meaning of Christmas: To Christians, Christmas is the holiday for commemorating the birth of Jesus. The holiday has of course become a gigantic cultural institution that is celebrated far more widely than just Christianity, but even many nonreligious people may give at least a nod to the Nativity story.
- The Vicar: These show up in the 16th century but it's safe to say the 'funny' associations didn't come until later.
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. Jews also do not believe that the Messiah's role involves any saving of souls, while Christians believe that to be the entire purpose of of the Messiah.