What is Christianity? Founder, History, Scripture, and Beliefs

Marko Marina Author Bart Ehrman

Written by Marko Marina, Ph.D.

Author |  Historian |  BE Contributor

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Date written: March 1st, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

In the world of global religions, Christianity stands as one of the most widespread and influential, claiming the allegiance of over two billion people across diverse cultures and continents. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of more than 200 countries, there are approximately 2 billion Christians of all ages around the world.

This figure is not just a testament to the religion's expansive reach but also to its profound impact on the annals of history, art, philosophy, and law. From its humble beginnings in the Middle East to its pervasive presence in virtually every corner of the globe, Christianity has shaped the course of human civilization in innumerable ways.

This article aims to delve into the essence of Christianity, tracing its origins, charting its historical development, and elucidating its core scriptures, beliefs, and practices. By presenting key historical facts and analytical insights, it is our goal to offer a strong overview of Christianity that is both informative and thought-provoking.

What is Christianity - Founder, History, Scripture and Beliefs

What is Christianity? Basic Information

It seems that a brief definition of the Christian religion would be good to set the basis for our discussion. Christianity is a religion that holds a central belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of humanity, with its basis in the Bible as sacred scripture.

Let’s take a look at several other core tenets that virtually all Christians would agree on. They provide a common ground that defines the Christian religion.

At the heart of Christianity is monotheism - the belief in a single, omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God. This concept might seem straightforward today, but it represents a significant departure from the polytheistic beliefs that dominated human spirituality for much of history.

Even Judaism, which Christianity regards as its spiritual predecessor and shares the Old Testament with, is thought by some scholars to have begun as a polytheistic religion before evolving into the monotheistic faith we recognize today.

Christianity, building on the Jewish understanding of monotheism, introduced the doctrine of the Trinity, which defined God as one being in three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit, maintaining a complex unity in diversity that mirrors the faith's multifaceted nature.

"What is Christianity?" then, is a question that invites exploration into these foundational beliefs. Beyond monotheism, Christians universally affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection as the cornerstone of salvation and redemption for humanity.

The belief in the resurrection not only underscores the hope of eternal life but also establishes the framework for Christian ethical teachings and practices, emphasizing love, forgiveness, and compassion as reflections of God's character.

However, the Christian religion takes many forms and shapes. Gail Ramshaw aptly captures this diversity by comparing the Christian tradition to an interstate highway: “Studying Christianity isn’t simple. Like an interstate highway, the road called Christian is extremely broad. Some cars are traveling fast, others slow. Some are obeying the traffic regulations, while others are pushing the limits or ignoring some of the rules entirely.”

Christianity: A Crossroads of Faith with Judaism and Islam

Christianity's place among the world's religions is both prominent and unique. As the religion with the highest number of followers, it shares the category of great monotheistic religions alongside Judaism and Islam, with which it has a complex relationship marked by both cooperation and conflict throughout history. 

These religions not only share common geographical origins in the Middle East but also foundational narratives and figures, contributing to a rich tapestry of interwoven traditions and beliefs. For instance, both Jews and Christians revere the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, though they diverge in interpretation and in the significance they ascribe to certain texts.

This interconnectedness underscores a shared historical and spiritual lineage, while also highlighting the distinct path Christian religion has taken in articulating its own identity and beliefs within the broader religious landscape.

Adding to the existing exploration of Christianity's significance and its interconnectedness with other world religions, it's pertinent to note the dynamic landscape of Christian demographics over the past century. 

Number of Followers: Christianity Within the World

The number of followers of Christianity worldwide has seen substantial growth, reflecting not a decline but an expansion in various regions, contrary to the secularization theory posited by most sociologists (e.g. Peter Berger) in the 1960s. 

Initially, Berger and others anticipated that advancements in science and technology would lead to widespread secularization, predicting a decline in religious affiliation and belief. Berger himself defined secularization as “the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols.”

However, the reality of demographic changes in the last several decades tells a different story. In some parts of the world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, Christianity has experienced significant growth, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population.

Below, you can see the list of countries with the biggest number of Christian followers, showcasing the diverse global landscape of Christianity's reach:

  • United States (c. 230,000,000)
  • Brazil (c. 180,770)
  • Mexico (c. 107,780)
  • Nigeria (c. 88,400,000)
  • Philippines (c. 86,500,000)

This unexpected trend led scholars such as Berger to reassess their earlier predictions about the inevitability of secularization. Although, it’s important to note that some scholars such as Steve Bruce, still assume the overall truth of the secularization theory. 

The resilience of the Christian religion underscores the complexity of predicting religious trends and the enduring appeal of faith-based communities. This phenomenon highlights not only the adaptability of Christianity to diverse cultural contexts but also its capacity to thrive in an era marked by profound technological and scientific advancements.

Furthermore, the interaction between science and religion, particularly within the context of Christianity's growth, reveals additional layers of complexity contrary to the simplistic narrative of conflict often portrayed. 

In an illuminating study by Elaine Ecklund, it was found that approximately 50% of scientists still identify as religious, encompassing not only Christians but adherents of other religions as well. 

Moreover, Ecklund's research indicates that the majority of those scientists who don’t profess a religious faith are not inherently hostile towards religion. Their irreligiosity is attributed to reasons not directly related to their scientific endeavors, suggesting a nuanced landscape of belief and non-belief within the scientific community.

Such insights contribute to a broader understanding of Christianity's resilience and relevance in an age dominated by scientific and technological advancement, further complicating the narrative of secularization. 

Founder of Christianity

Christianity distinguishes itself from many polytheistic religions of the ancient world, whose adherents did not necessarily prioritize the historical authenticity of their myths.

Instead, Christianity is deeply rooted in the historical events and figures that define its very foundation. In this section, we’ll delve into the annals of history to uncover the origins and establishment of the Christian religion, examining the pivotal roles and events that contributed to its creation. So, who started Christianity? Let’s take a look! The answer might surprise you. 


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Who Created Christianity?

When answering the question “Who started Christianity”, it’s important to clarify a common misconception: Jesus of Nazareth didn’t initiate Christianity. To put it more bluntly, Christianity is the religion about Jesus, not the religion of Jesus

This distinction is significant; Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jew. His earliest followers, including Peter and John, were also Jews. They didn’t view themselves as founders of a new religion but as part of the continuation and fulfillment of Jewish faith and prophecy.

Jesus' life and teachings, set against the backdrop of 1st-century Judea, were deeply influenced by the apocalyptic worldview. His message centered on the apocalyptic notion of the Kingdom of God—a realm of justice, peace, and divine sovereignty imminent in history.

Moreover, he was renowned for his acts of compassion and his ethical teachings, which often transcended social, ethnic, and religious boundaries, challenging the status quo and inviting a reevaluation of traditional values and laws.

The genesis of Christianity as a distinct religion began with the conviction among some of Jesus' followers, including women and men alike, that he had been resurrected from the dead. This belief, contrary to the assumptions of earlier scholars like Wilhelm Bousset who suggested a later development, emerged shortly after Jesus' death.

Bart D. Ehrman, in his detailed study "How Jesus Became God," argued that this conviction likely stemmed from profound religious experiences reported by individuals such as Paul, who claimed encounters with the risen Christ. 

These experiences and the fervent belief in Jesus' resurrection catalyzed the gradual transformation of Jesus' followers from a Jewish sect into a new religious movement. In other words, the answer to the question “Who created Christianity”, is intrinsically connected to the religious experience of Jesus’ earliest disciples. 

Armed with the conviction of Jesus' resurrection and the anticipation of his imminent return alongside the impending Judgment Day, his disciples embarked on a mission to spread their faith. This missionary endeavor led some of them from Jerusalem, across the Mediterranean basin, to Rome, and beyond, laying the foundations for what would become a global religion. 

The triumph of Christianity in this era can be attributed to a combination of pivotal elements, notably the universal appeal of its message and an unprecedented missionary zeal that distinguished it from other religious movements of the ancient world.

With the question “When was Christianity founded” being answered, we now turn our attention to the subsequent chapters in its history, tracing its evolution through various epochs up to the modern era.

History/Age of Christianity

Being 2000 years old, the history of Christianity is characterized by a wealth of traditions, communities, and developments. As we embark on this journey through the key historical stages of the Christian religion, we’ll explore how this religion has evolved and adapted through time, influencing and being influenced by the cultures and societies it has touched.

Here are the ten pivotal stages in the history of the most popular religion that will help us understand the answer to the question “How old is Christianity”. 

#1 The Birth of Christianity and Jesus’ Earliest Followers (1st century)

With the teachings, crucifixion, and belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the formation of the early Christian communities by his disciples in Judea, the first stage in the history of Christianity was marked by the strong religious experience and the fusion of the Greco-Roman and Jewish tradition. Christian date of origin, therefore, can’t be exactly pinned down. It was a gradual process that began shortly after Jesus’ death. 

#2 The Apostolic Age and Spread Throughout the Roman Empire (1st Century)

This period was marked by the dissemination of Christian teachings beyond Jewish communities, primarily through the missionary journeys of apostles like Paul, leading to the establishment of Christian communities throughout the Roman Empire.

According to most scholars, these early Christian missions found limited success among Jewish populations, and by the end of the 1st century, the majority of converts were from pagan backgrounds.

This shift underscores the early Christian movement's adaptability and its growing appeal among diverse groups, reflecting a significant transition in the composition of the Christian community - a transition that helps explain the origin of some of the most important Christian beliefs such as heaven and hell.

#3 The Patristic Era and the Establishment of Orthodoxy (2nd - 5th Century)

A period marked by the development of Christian theology, the formation of the New Testament canon, and the establishment of the ecclesiastical structure. This era also saw significant councils, such as Nicaea and Chalcedon, defining orthodox Christian beliefs against various heresies and the rise of important Church individuals such as bishop Eusebius.

To learn more about the establishment of orthodoxy check out Bart Ehrman’s captivating bestseller “Lost Christianities”. If you want to take a different perspective, make sure to read an excellent book by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger.

#4 The Division Between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity (1054)

The next important period within the history of Christianity is related to The Great Schism of 1054, where doctrinal, theological, political, and cultural differences led to the formal division between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The repercussions of the Great Schism are still profoundly felt today, as the division between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church remains one of the most significant and enduring splits in the long age of Christianity.

#5 The Crusades and the Further Expansion of Christianity (11th - 13th Century)

A series of military campaigns, often sanctioned by the Catholic Church, aimed at recapturing the Holy Land from Muslim rule, impacting Christian-Muslim relations marked another important stage in the history of Christianity.

The Crusades, despite their initial intentions, ultimately failed to secure the Holy Land for Christianity, with these territories remaining under Muslim control. The legacy of the Crusades has left a deep imprint on Christian-Muslim relations, serving as a historical point of contention that continues to affect the dynamics between the Western and Muslim worlds in the Near East.

#6 The Reformation and the Birth of Protestantism (16th Century)

Initiated by figures like Martin Luther and John Calvin, this movement led to the creation of Protestant churches, challenging the authority and doctrines of the Catholic Church, and dramatically altering the religious landscape of Europe.

The division between the Catholic Church and the various Protestant churches not only redefined the contours of Christian faith and practice but also had profound socio-political ramifications, leading to wars of religion, shifts in power, and the emergence of religious freedom as a central concern, forever changing the fabric of European society.

Even though Martin Luther didn’t initially intend to establish a new (separate) Church, his actions and teachings had a lasting impact that extended far beyond Europe, profoundly influencing the entire course of Christendom and reshaping the religious, cultural, and political landscapes of the world.

The Protestant Reformation, therefore, represents a significant development in the history of Christianity.  

#7 The Counter-Reformation and Catholic Revival (16th - 17th Century)

Isaac Newton wasn't wrong! For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This principle finds a poignant echo in the religious upheavals of the 16th century, as the Catholic Church mounted a formidable response to the challenges posed by the Protestant Reformation. 

Through a series of significant reforms, doctrinal clarifications, and intensified missionary efforts that went beyond Europe into China, India, and South America, the Catholic Counter-Reformation sought to address the criticisms leveled by reformers.

This period of self-examination and renewal within the Catholic Church not only aimed to counter the spread of Protestantism but also to reinvigorate the Catholic faith among its adherents, leaving an indelible mark on the religious landscape of the time.

#8 The Enlightenment and the Rise of Religious Tolerance (18th Century)Enter your text here...

The Enlightenment represents another important stage in the history of Christianity. It was a period marked by the emergence of ideas advocating freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, influencing the role of Christianity in society.

Moreover, this era also witnessed a watershed moment in the history of Christianity: the advent of scholarly biblical examination. For the first time, a systematic effort was undertaken to understand the Bible, including the New Testament, from a scholarly perspective.

The reaction from certain quarters of the Catholic Church was predictably intense, with various leadership factions resisting these nascent scholarly pursuits. Despite such opposition, the endeavor to study the Bible and the history of Christianity through an academic lens flourished.

Indeed, this triumph of scholarly examination over doctrinal rigidity not only illuminated the path of Christian theology but also paved the way for this very article. So, as you navigate through these insights, remember: it's the rigorous scrutiny of the past that allows us to present you with such delightful reads today.

#9 The Global Spread of Christianity (19th - 20th Century)

The next significant step in the history of Christianity happened during the 19th and 20th centuries. Through colonization and missions, the Christian religion spread to the Americas, Africa, and Asia, leading to a global Christian community with diverse expressions of faith. 

The emergence of a global Christian community is vividly illustrated by the dramatic increase in the number of Christians in regions like Africa.

Before the 19th century, the Christian presence in Africa was relatively minimal, largely confined to specific areas such as Egypt and Ethiopia. However, by the end of the 20th century, the continent witnessed exponential growth in its Christian population. 

#10 The Rise of Evangelicalism and the Religious Revival Movements in the United States (20th Century)

This period in the history of Christianity marks a transformative phase in American Protestant denominations, characterized by the explosive growth of evangelicalism and the occurrence of several major religious revival movements

Furthermore, the 20th century witnessed the emergence of the evangelical movement as a dominant force in American religious life, emphasizing personal conversion experiences, the authority of the Bible, and active evangelism. This era also saw the proliferation of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement, both of which introduced a renewed focus on spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues, healings, and prophecies.

These movements significantly influenced the religious landscape of the United States, contributing to the shaping of contemporary American Christianity's identity and its global missionary outreach. 

Having journeyed through the intricate tapestry of Christianity's historical development and pivotal moments, we now turn our focus to the foundational aspects that unify this diverse faith: the scripture, beliefs, and practices of Christianity.

This next section aims to delve more closely into the core tenets that have sustained Christians across centuries and continents, offering insights into the spiritual and communal life that defines this global religion.


Scripture, Beliefs, and Practices of Christianity

What do Christians believe? As you probably know, Christianity is a religion of profound depth and breadth, characterized by a rich tapestry of Scripture, beliefs, and practices that span across various cultures and historical periods. 

As we explore the fundamental aspects of Christianity, it’s essential to approach this task from a scholarly perspective. We aim to list and elucidate the basic Scriptures, practices, and beliefs of Christianity without venturing into an evaluation of their truthfulness.

Through this lens, we endeavor to provide a scholarly overview that respects the diversity of Christian values, beliefs, and expressions, while highlighting the core elements that unite its adherents. 

Christian Scripture

As Harry Y. Gamble explains in an excellent study, Christianity distinguished itself from most ancient religions by being fundamentally centered not just around a sacred text but the Christian books in general.  

This orientation underscored the religion's development, shaping its theology, liturgy, and ethical teachings. The Christian Scriptures, comprising the Old Testament and the New Testament, serve as the cornerstone of the Christian religion, encapsulating the religious, historical, and moral ethos of Christianity.

The Old Testament (or the Hebrew Bible for the Jews) forms the first part of Christian Scriptures and includes a rich collection of texts such as the Torah (the Law), the Prophets, and the Writings. These documents chronicle the history of the Hebrew people, their covenant with God, and their understanding of God's law and justice. 

For Christians, the Old Testament lays the groundwork for the coming of Jesus, foretold as the Messiah who, in their perspective, fulfills the prophecies contained within these ancient texts. 

The New Testament, unique to Christianity, recounts the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the early development of the Christian church.

It consists of the Gospels, which offer four different and sometimes contradictory perspectives on the life and ministry of Jesus; the Acts of the Apostles, detailing the early church's expansion; the Epistles, letters written by early Christian leaders offering theological guidance and moral instruction; and the Book of Revelation, a prophetic text concerning the end times and the final judgment. 

Together, the Old and New Testaments provide the basis not just for the beliefs of Christianity but also for Christian values.

Furthermore, this emphasis on Scripture highlights Christianity’s unique contribution to the religious landscape of the ancient world and underscores the central role that the Bible plays in the daily life and worship of Christians across the globe. Now, let’s take a closer look at the core beliefs of Christianity.

Beliefs of Christianity: A Closer Look

In exploring the rich tapestry of the most popular religion in the world, understanding Christianity’s key beliefs is essential. These foundational tenets articulate the core of what Christians across diverse traditions and denominations hold to be true, shaping their understanding of God, the universe, and humanity's place within it.

Here, we delve into the central doctrines and beliefs of Christianity, providing insight into the forces that have guided Christianity through centuries. 

#1 Monotheism

At the heart of Christian doctrine is the belief in one, omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God. This monotheistic stance distinguished Christianity within the polytheistic panorama of the ancient world. Moreover, as Larry Hurtado explains, the emphasis on the notion of a loving (or benevolent) God was an element that carried a particular identity marker mostly unknown in the pre-Christian time. 

This monotheistic conviction led early Christians to explicitly differentiate their worship from that of the polytheistic practices prevalent in Rome and Greece, viewing the pantheon of pagan gods not as benign deities but as malevolent entities.

The Apostle Paul, addressing the community of Christians in Corinth—a city steeped in the polytheistic traditions of ancient Greece—emphasized this exclusivity of devotion with a clear admonition: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons (1 Cor 10:21).

#2 The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Along with monotheism, probably the most important belief in Christianity is the idea that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. This belief underscores the unique nature of Jesus as both fully divine and fully human, sent to save humanity from sin. 

However, the nuanced understanding of the incarnation as a cornerstone of Christian doctrine didn’t emerge instantaneously. Instead, it was the product of decades, and even centuries, of theological polemics, debates, struggles, and ecumenical councils - a process meticulously documented in the comprehensive studies of Jaroslav Pelikan.

Through these intense deliberations, the early Church clarified and codified the doctrine of Jesus Christ as both fully divine and fully human, a belief that became fundamental to Christian identity and theology. And no, Constantine didn’t invent Jesus’ divinity! This is a notion popularized by Dan Brown’s infamous novel, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

#3 The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Christians hold that Jesus' crucifixion and subsequent resurrection are pivotal events that offer salvation and eternal life to humanity. This belief in the resurrection of Jesus not only affirms the victory over sin and death but also provides a model of hope and renewal for believers, emphasizing the transformative power of God's love and grace.

This debate offers valuable insights into the scholarly perspectives surrounding one of Christianity's key beliefs, encouraging a deeper understanding and dialogue on this pivotal event. Whether you're a believer, a skeptic, or simply curious, this discussion promises to enrich your exploration of the complexities and convictions at the heart of Christian faith.

#4 Salvation by Grace through Faith (and Works?)

Christianity teaches that salvation comes from God, but the different denominations disagree about certain details. A key distinction lies between the Protestant concept of "sola fide" (faith alone) and the Catholic emphasis on the interplay between faith and works.

Protestant denominations largely adhere to the principle that salvation is achieved through faith in Jesus Christ alone, independent of human actions or merits. This belief is rooted in the idea that God's grace, bestowed through faith, is sufficient for salvation.

Conversely, the Catholic Church teaches that while God's grace is indeed indispensable for salvation, human cooperation through good works is also necessary. This perspective is based on the understanding that faith must be living and active, manifesting in acts of love, charity, and obedience to God's commandments.

This distinction reflects broader theological debates within Christianity about the nature of faith, grace, and human agency in the process of salvation, illustrating the diversity of thought and practice that characterizes the Christian tradition.

#5 The Authority of Scripture

Among Christianity’s key beliefs, the authority of Scripture stands out. Christian doctrine asserts the Bible as the authoritative word of God, providing the foundation for belief, moral guidance, and spiritual growth.

This reverence for scripture underscores its role as a primary source of divine revelation, informing Christian practice and theology throughout history. In other words, the Bible’s authority transcends mere historical or literary significance; it’s viewed as a dynamic and active presence in the life of the church, shaping doctrine, personal faith, and communal practices. This ongoing engagement with the Bible underscores the centrality of God's Word in fostering spiritual growth, ethical conduct, and the transformative power of faith across generations within the Christian community. To paraphrase Paula Friedriksen’s words, for Christians, the Bible stands as the “trans-temporal” source of key beliefs, practices, and moral values. 

#6 The Second Coming of Christ

The last key belief of Christianity is strongly related to its apocalyptic beginnings. Most Christians today believe in the Second Coming of Christ - an event that’ll usher in the final judgment and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on Earth. 

This belief in eschatology (the study of end times) shapes Christian perspectives on the future, emphasizing themes of accountability, redemption, and the hope for a new creation. 

Within the broad spectrum of Christian eschatological beliefs, there have been instances where specific communities attempted to predict the exact date of the Second Coming of Jesus, only to see these predictions go unfulfilled.

Notably, the Millerites, followers of Baptist preacher William Miller, anticipated Christ's return between 1843 and 1844, an event that culminated in what is known as the "Great Disappointment" when the prophecy did not materialize. 

Similarly, Harold Camping, a Christian radio broadcaster, made headlines with his prediction that the world would end on May 21, 2011, a date that, as far as we know, passed without an end-of-world incident.

However, much of the Christian tradition has a cautionary stance and rejects the possibility of knowing the exact date of Jesus’ return. Having explored pivotal beliefs of Christianity, let’s take a look at Christianity’s practices! 

For those intrigued by the historical and theological dimensions of Jesus' resurrection - central among the beliefs of Christianity - we invite you to explore further through engaging discussions such as the online debate between Bart D. Ehrman and Mike Licona titled "Did the Resurrection of Jesus Really Happen?". 

Christianity’s Practices

Christianity, since its inception, has been as much a religion of practice as it is of beliefs. These practices are not merely rituals or traditions, but expressions of faith and avenues for spiritual growth, community building, and living out the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Christianity's practices are diverse, reflecting the faith's broad cultural and denominational spectrum, yet there are fundamental activities that unite Christians across the world in their pursuit of a devout life.

#1 Worship and Liturgy

Central to Christian life is the practice of worship, which varies in form and frequency among denominations but universally serves as a time for believers to come together to praise God, reflect on Scripture, and receive sacraments.

Many of my students are surprised to learn that the earliest Christians convened in private homes, not in dedicated church buildings, which didn’t emerge as separate structures until the end of the 2nd century C.E. 

This practice of meeting in domestic spaces played a significant role in shaping the communal and inclusive nature of early Christian worship. Moreover, it provided a platform for women to exert considerable influence within the early Christian community.

Given that these gatherings occurred within the private sphere—a realm traditionally managed by women—they played pivotal roles not only in facilitating worship but also in leadership and organizational aspects of early Christian life.

Liturgy, the set form of public worship and firmly related to the organizational structure of the Church, encompasses elements such as prayers, hymns, the reading of the Bible, and sermons. For many Christians, participating in liturgy is crucial for spiritual nourishment and community fellowship.

#2 Sacraments

Sacraments are rites believed to have been instituted by Christ that confer grace. Among the most universally recognized are Baptism and the Eucharist (also known as Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper or more commonly, “taking communion”). Baptism, typically involving water, signifies the believer's initiation into the Christian community and a personal commitment to Christ.

The Eucharist commemorates Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples, involving the ceremonial consumption of bread and wine, symbolizing the body and blood of Christ. While the number and nature of sacraments vary, these two are foundational practices that virtually all Christians observe.

#3 Prayer and Meditation

Prayer is the personal and communal means by which Christians communicate with God. It can be formal or spontaneous, individual or collective, and it encompasses adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.

Meditation, including contemplative reading of the Scriptures (“lectio divina”), offers a reflective, introspective practice, allowing believers to ponder deeply the mysteries of faith and seek spiritual insight and connection with God.

Related to this is the emergence of Christian monasticism which marks another fascinating chapter in the history of Christianity’s practices. Initially manifesting as a tapestry of diverse experiments in spiritual living, some scholars have aptly described early monasticism as "a laboratory" where various forms of religious life were tested and refined.

Despite this diversity, a unifying thread among these monastic communities was their profound emphasis on contemplation, the diligent reading of the Scriptures, and intense prayer. These practices were not merely routine; they were avenues for deepening one's relationship with God, cultivating a life of holiness, and seeking spiritual insights. 

#4 Service and Charity

Christianity teaches the importance of love and service to others, especially to the poor, sick, and marginalized. Acts of charity and volunteering are considered expressions of one's faith and obedience to Jesus' command to love one's neighbor. 

These activities not only provide practical help and support to those in need but also embody the Christian commitment to compassion and justice in the world.

This emphasis on service and charity within Christianity has its roots in the Jewish tradition of care for the marginalized, a principle that was exemplified in the life and teachings of Jesus himself. 

By embodying compassion and service, Jesus provided a model for his followers to emulate, which the early Christian community eagerly embraced and expanded into a systematic practice of charitable services. Needless to say, not all Christians joined the ride! 

However, Christianity’s practice of charity in the Roman world was effective enough to gather attention beyond the Christian community. Notably, the last pagan emperor, Julian (361-363 C.E.), recognized the strength and organizational prowess of Christian charity.

In an attempt to counter the growing influence of Christianity and to revive traditional pagan (polytheistic) practices, Julian allocated a significant sum of money towards establishing charitable services within the pagan religion.

This effort by Julian underscores the impactful and transformative nature of Christian charity, which had set a precedent for organized social welfare that even rival religious traditions sought to emulate.

#5 Observance of Holy Days and Seasons

Christians observe various holy days and liturgical seasons, such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. These times are marked by special practices, prayers, and rituals that commemorate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Today, Christmas stands as perhaps the most universally celebrated Christian holy day, with the majority of Christians observing it on December 25th. This day, rich in tradition and meaning, invites believers to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

For those curious about how this date was chosen and its significance within the broader context of Christian and cultural history, we invite you to explore one of our earlier articles. You might be surprised by what you find!

Conclusion: What is Christianity?

In navigating the expansive landscape of Christianity, from its earliest days to its present global presence, this article has sought to illuminate the essence of a faith that has profoundly shaped both history and individual lives.

"What is Christianity?" emerges not just as a query into the nature of a religion but as an invitation to understand a complex world of beliefs, values, and practices that have evolved over two millennia. At its core, Christianity is characterized by the narrative of hope, redemption, and transformation, rooted in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 

The beliefs of Christianity - encompassing the divine mystery of the Trinity, the incarnation, and the promise of salvation - offer a unique lens through which to view the human condition and our relationship with the divine. 

Coupled with this are the Christian values of love, service, and community, which manifest in the myriad practices from worship and sacraments to acts of charity and the observance of holy days.

As we've journeyed through the historical development of Christianity, its key beliefs, and its living practices, it becomes evident that Christianity is a complex phenomenon that has shaped our history and culture in many different ways. 

For those inspired to further explore the fascinating interplay between historical context and theological development within Christianity, we invite you to delve deeper into the dynamic relationship between Paul and Jesus.

"Paul and Jesus: The Great Divide," an online course led by renowned scholar of early Christianity, Bart D. Ehrman, offers an unparalleled opportunity to investigate, from a scholarly perspective, the lives and teachings of two pivotal figures in Christian history.


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Marko Marina

About the author

Marko Marina is a historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of Zagreb (Croatia). He is the author of dozens of articles about early Christianity's history. He works as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zagreb where he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending quality time with his family and friends.

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