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Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament.
Adherents of Christianity, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible (the part of scripture common to Christianity and Judaism). The majority of orthodox Christian theology claims that Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected to open heaven to humans. They further maintain that Jesus ascended into heaven, and most denominations teach that Jesus will return to judge all humans, living and dead, and grant immortality to his followers. He is considered the model of a virtuous life, and both the revealer and physical incarnation of God. Christians call the message of Jesus Christ the Gospel ("good news") and hence refer to the earliest written accounts of his ministry as gospels.
Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion (see also Judeo-Christian). Christianity began as a Jewish sect] in the eastern Mediterranean, quickly grew in size and influence over a few decades, and by the 4th century had become the dominant religion within the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, most of the remainder of Europe was Christianized, with Christians also being a (sometimes large) religious minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread to the Americas and the rest of the world.
Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization at least since the 4th century. As of the early 21st century, Christianity has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents, representing about a quarter to a third of the world's population and is the world's largest religion. In addition, Christianity, is the state religion of several countries.
In spite of important differences of interpretation and opinion, Christians share a set of beliefs that they hold as essential to their faith.
Creeds (from Latin credo meaning "I believe") are concise doctrinal statements or confessions, usually of religious beliefs. They began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries to become statements of faith.
The Apostles Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum) was developed between the second and ninth centuries. It is the most popular creed used in worship by Western Christians. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator. Each of the doctrines found in this creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period. The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Since the Apostles Creed is still unaffected by the later Christological divisions, its statement of the articles of Christian faith remain largely acceptable to most Christian denominations:
belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit
the death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Christ
the holiness of the Church and the communion of saints
Christ's second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful.
The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, and that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.
The Athanasian Creed, received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance."
Most Christians (Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants alike) accept the use of creeds, and subscribe to at least one of the creeds mentioned above. A minority of Protestants, notably Restorationists, a movement formed in the wake of the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century United States, oppose the use of creeds.
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