||Christianity is the name applied to the movement launched by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth after his death (c. Â AD29) which has mushroomed into a world religion. Following the onslaught of Islam in the 7th century and setbacks in China in the 10th, Christianity, having spread northwards with the conversion of the Slavs and the Scandinavians in the early Middle Ages, became predominantly European. The religious intolerance and persecution which followed the Reformation in 16th-century Europe caused whole communities to migrate to America, while in the Southern Hemisphere vast areas became nominally Catholic under the patroado system (whereby the pope in 1378 divided the world into Spanish and Portuguese â€˜spheres of influenceâ€™).
Sometimes Christian missionaries followed the colonializing forces, sometimes (like the Franciscan wandering monks of the 14th and 15th centuries or David Livingstone in the 19th century) they preceded them; but generally it is felt that although colonial development was an aid to evangelism in providing missionaries with transport and a degree of security, the cultural imperialism and the immoral lives of some settlers and traders proved a major obstacle to the incarnation of the gospel in non-Western cultures. Statistics are exceedingly unreliable, but nevertheless the majority of Christians are now Afro-Caribbean or non-Western; the proportion of Christians in the UK and India are practically identical (2-3 per cent of the population), although the former represents the major religion and the latter a small minority religion. In both cases practising Christians have a national influence out of all relation to their numbers, wealth and status. However, the demographical shift, which has come about partly because of the decline of Christianity in the West, following postwar demoralization and secularization, is going to have profound consequences for theology, spirituality and the ecumenical movement.
Originally there was little to distinguish the followers of Jesus from other great rabbis (teachers) of the 1st and 2nd centuries. They called themselves â€˜followers of the Wayâ€™, that is, the way of life in a new community that Jesus had taught them, and claimed that the new covenant promised by the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah had materialized. They took Jesus\' resurrection to mean that sin and death had been conquered, and after a charismatic experience on the day of Pentecost and subsequent experiences they felt compelled to preach Jesus\' message of repentence as a response to the imminence of the Kingdom of God. They celebrated the resurrection by meals as Jesus had shown them, and made baptism the means of entry into the community.
When the movement reached the Greek-speaking city of Antioch, they were dubbed â€˜Christiansâ€™ (Followers of Christ) as a pejorative term. Although the term is found in Tacitus in connection with the great persecution under Nero, and in Pliny (describing his interrogations of Christians in Trajan\'s reign), Christian writers avoided the term as pagan and political until the 3rd century.
It was the love of God for all humankind, Christians believe, which propelled them out of their Jewish cradle, into the Greek world on the initiative of Peter and Paul, then to penetrate the Roman administration and establish themselves in the Latin cities of the west and in North Africa, and to bring together Hebrew scriptures, Greek philosophy and Latin organization in a constant search for the truth. EMJ
See also Anglicanism; atonement; Catholicism; Christian art; covenant; ecclesiology; ecumenism; evangelicalism; feminist theology; gnosticism; Kingdom of God; liberation theology; monotheism; natural theology; orthodoxy; pentecostalism; Protestantism; sacrament; sect/sectarianism; syncretism; two kingdoms doctrine.Further reading Owen Chadwick, The Pelican History of the Church (6 volumes); , Bamber Gascoigne, The Christians; , C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; , Nathaniel Micklen, A Faith for Agnostics.