Today Christianity has around 2.42 billion people as adherents, divided in to many sects, the major ones are:
- Catholic Church – 1.285 billion.
- Protestantism – 900 million.
- Eastern Orthodox Church – 270 million.
- Oriental Orthodoxy – 86 million.
- Restorationism and Nontrinitarianism – 35 million.
- Independent Catholicism – 18 million.
- Minor branches – 1 million.
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Christianity with official patronage got a big boost through sympathy of Emperor Constantine-I, who despite initial inclination to Council of Nicea in 325C.E was later baptized by an Arian (monotheistic) bishop. Hence Arianism regained ascendancy but lost in last quarter of 4th century. However Arianism continues to play its role even now under different names and titles. However gradually through historic process Christianity got divided in to three main groups; The Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholics and Protestants. The fourth group may also be added as monotheists or Unitarians (Anti-Trinity), gradually gaining popularity. The institution of Papacy played major role in this division.
Papacy & Its Role:
Papacy is the system of central government of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishops led the early church, the bishop of Rome being accorded special respect by the end of the 1st century C.E in part because of the belief that St. Peter was the first bishop of that city. In the early church, especially in the 3rd–5th century, Pope was a title of affectionate respect for any bishop. It is still used for the Eastern Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria and for Orthodox priests, but around the 9th century it came to be reserved in the West exclusively for the bishop of Rome, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic doctrine regards the pope as the successor of St. Peter the Apostle and accords him supreme jurisdiction over the church in matters of faith and morals, as well as in church discipline and government.
St. Cyprian challenged that position of honour of Pope in the 3rd century and in the 4th–5th century the power of the see of Constantinople rose to challenge that of Rome; the rivalry would culminate in the Schism of 1054 between the Eastern and Western churches.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the papacy found protection under the wing of Charlemagne and his successors; in the 9th–10th century the German emperors controlled it. In 1059 Pope Nicholas-II responded by vesting the right to name a new pope exclusively with the College of Cardinals. To establish the papacy’s supremacy in Christian society, Gregory-VII excommunicated Henry-IV of Germany for disobedience to papal commands and decreed that civil rulers could not invest churchmen with temporal power. In the next centuries, the papacy developed into one of the most important and influential institutions in Europe, and Urban-II, Innocent-III, and Gregory-IX were among the most significant popes of the period.
The worldliness and corruption of the papal court that emerged at the same time and the “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy at Avignon led to the Western Schism and eventually to the Reformation. The Council of Trent, the 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church (1545-63), is highly important for its sweeping decrees on self-reform and for its dogmatic definitions that clarified virtually every doctrine contested by the Protestants.
In the 19th century the papacy lost its remaining temporal powers when the Papal States were incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy. It maintained a conservative religious position. Papal infallibility in matters of doctrine was asserted by the First Vatican Council in 1870. The idea that the pope is the absolute ruler of the church was espoused. The Second Vatican Council gave the bishops, clergy, and laity more voice.
One of the three major branches of Christianity, is officially known as Orthodox Catholic Church. Its adherents live mostly in Greece, Russia, the Balkans, Ukraine, and the Middle East, with a large following in North America and Australia. The titular head of Eastern Orthodoxy is the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul), but its many territorial churches (including the huge Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church) are governed autonomously by head bishops or patriarchs, who must be unmarried or widowed even though lower orders of the clergy may marry. Eastern Orthodoxy also boasts a strong monastic tradition. The separation of the Eastern churches from the Western, or Latin, branch began with the division of the Roman Empire into two parts under Constantine. The formal break was made in 1054 C.E.
Doctrinally, Eastern Orthodoxy differs from Roman Catholicism in that it does not accept the primacy of the pope or the clause in the Western creed that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father (God) and the Son (Jesus). The Orthodox Church accepts the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils as well as several later ones. It maintains that there are seven sacraments and has a worship service that is theologically and spiritually rich. In the early 21st century, Eastern Orthodoxy had more than 200 million adherents worldwide.
Largest single Christian denomination in the world, with some one billion members, or about 18% of the world’s population. The Roman Catholic Church has had a profound effect on the development of Western civilization and has been responsible for introducing Christianity in many parts of the world. It regards itself as the only legitimate inheritor of the ministry of Jesus, by virtue of an unbroken succession of leaders beginning with St. Peter the Apostle and continuing to the present day. It holds that the pope is the infallible interpreter of divine revelation. Church organization is strictly hierarchical. The pope appoints and presides over about 150 cardinals. Each of the church’s 500 archbishops is the head of an archdiocese. These in turn are divided into about 1,800 dioceses, each headed by a bishop. Within dioceses are parishes, each served by a church and a priest. Only men can enter the priesthood, but women who wish to enter holy orders can become nuns, who are organized into orders and convents. The basic form of worship is the mass, which celebrates the sacrament of the Eucharist. Theologically, Roman Catholicism differs from Protestantism with regard to its understanding of the sources of revelation and the channels of grace. With Eastern Orthodoxy it asserts that both scripture and church tradition are revelatory of the basis of Christian belief and church polity. It sets the number of sacraments at seven (baptism, penance, Eucharist, matrimony, ordination, confirmation, and anointing of the sick); its rich sacramental life is supplemented by other devotions, chiefly Eucharistic services and devotions to the saints. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) promoted the role of the laity in the church, abolished the Latin mass, and strove to improve relations with other religions. Pope John Paul-II actively promoted better ties with people of other faiths, especially with Jews, and remained a popular pope despite controversies over the role of women in the church, clerical celibacy, and church opposition to divorce, contraception by artificial means, homosexuality, and abortion. Although faced with many challenges, the church remained one of the largest and most significant religious bodies in the world at the start of its third millennium.
The Protestant movement; one of the three major branches of Christianity, originating in the 16th-century ‘Reformation’ culminating in break up with Roman Catholicism and the establishment of Protestant churches. The term applies to the beliefs of Christians who do not adhere to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. A variety of Protestant denominations grew out of the Reformation. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German theologian and leader of the Reformation. His opposition to the wealth and corruption of the papacy and his belief that salvation would be granted on the basis of faith alone rather than by works caused his excommunication from the Catholic Church (1521). Luther confirmed the Augsburg Confession in 1530, effectively establishing the Lutheran Church. The followers of Martin Luther established the evangelical churches of Germany and Scandinavia; John Calvin and more radical reformers such as Huldrych Zwingli founded Reformed churches in Switzerland, and Calvin’s disciple John Knox established a church in Scotland (Presbyterianism).
Another important branch of Protestantism, represented by the Church of England and Episcopal Church, had its origins in 16th-century England and is now the Protestant denomination closest to Roman Catholicism in theology and worship. The doctrines of the various Protestant denominations vary considerably, but all emphasize the supremacy of the Bible in matters of faith and order, justification by grace through faith and not through works, and the priesthood of all believers. In the early 21st century there were nearly 350 million Protestants in the world. There are many subgroups with in Protestants mainly Adventist, Baptist, Society of Friends, Mennonite and Methodism.
Yet there are many Christian groups believing in ‘Christian Monotheism’ based upon the Creed of Jesus: “..’Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark;12:29-30). Against the doctrine of Trinity they insist on the unity or unipersonality of God- hence name ‘Unitarian’. They believe in the universal salvation of all souls as opposed to Original Sin.
Some call themselves “Religious Liberals” or “Unitarians”. Jesus is considered as a teacher, prophet, fully and unequivocally human, to be honored but not worshiped. The Bible is considered as a human record of people’s long struggle to understand their origin, destiny and God. Bible as a book of wisdom for consideration and respect but not an inerrant unquestionable authority. Bible is read in the light of reason, insight of biblical criticism and scholarship. They accept existence of divergent views with reverence and believe in dialogue with people of other faiths. They claim their root in 16th century Reformation. Believe in the right of people to have direct relationship with God without mediation of priest or church. Keep reading>>> http://focusonthekingdom.org>>>>>
Christian Denominations in USA >>>>
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