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Religious Tolerance logo

Brief summary of Christianity

Current status of Christianity

church tower Current status of Christianity:

Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with a little over 2.4 billion members -- about one third of the world's population. This percentage has been quite stable for decades. It is significantly larger than the second largest religion: Islam, which has about 1.6 billion members. Together, their followers form a slight majority of all humans.

Christianity is also the largest religion in the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, much of Europe and some other countries. Conservative Christians provide the main opposition to freer abortion access; equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, including the right for same-sex couples to marry; comprehensive sex education in public schools, etc. In contrast, liberal Christians promote these causes.

Worldwide, Christianity is now widely fragmented into approximately 30,000 denominations, sects, faith groups, etc. (Estimates differ). About 50% of persons worldwide who identify themselves as Christians are Roman Catholics.

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Classifying individual faith groups:

Many people view Christianity as a group of denominations rather than a single religious entity. Individual faith groups have been grouped as:

bullet Roman Catholic, the largest faith groups within Christianity;

bullet Eastern Orthodox Churches, 1 officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is often referred to as the Orthodox Church, and Orthodoxy. It is a communion of 14 autocephalous (independent) churches in various regions that often coincide with national boundaries. Examples are the Orthodox Church of Greece, Orthodox Church of Poland, Patriarch of Russia, Orthodox Church of Poland, etc.

bullet Fundamentalist, other evangelical, mainline, and liberal Protestant,

bullet Progressive Christian, and

bullet others.

Sometimes the Anglican Communion is considered part of Protestantism; other times it is classified as a separate group within Christianity.

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Distribution of Christian believers among the continents of the world:

  • About 33% of the world's population are Christian.

  • Africa is home to more Christians than any other continent: 630 million believers are spread among four dozen nations. Zambia, Seychelles, Rwanda are more than 93% Christian. The Pew Research Center estimates that that up to 40% of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan African nations by the year 2060,.

  • Next are:
    • Latin America with 600 million;
    • Europe with 571 million;
    • Asia with 388 million
    • North America (U.S. and Canada) with 277 million
    • Australia with 29 million.

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Decline of Christianity within the United States:

The percentage of adults in the U.S. who identify themselves as Christians is in steady decline. A Religious Landscape Study 2 was conducted by the Pew Research Center during 2007 and 2014. It showed that adult Christian affiliation decreased from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6 in 2014. This is a decline of 7.8 percentage points over the 7 year interval, or about 11 percentage points per decade. If the poll were taken again, at the time this essay was last updated in mid-2018, at this rate of decline, the percentage of Christians in the U.S. would probably be close to two in three -- the lowest value in centuries.

Further analysis of the Pew Research data shows that between 2007 and 2014, the share of the population who identify as:

  • Mainline Protestants dropped by 3.4% percentage points from 18.1 to 14.7%.

  • Evangelical Protestant dropped by 0.9% percentage points from 26.3% to 25.4%.

  • Roman Catholics dropped by 3.1% percentage points from 23.9% to 20.8%.

Part of these changes was probably caused by the general secularization of America. Part was caused by a major rejection by older teens and young adults of the teachings of the faith group in which they were raised.

However, there was growth detected within two religious groupings in the U.S.:

  • The market share of non-Christian faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc. rose by 1.2 percentage points from 4.7% to 5.9%.

  • Change among the religiously unaffiliated had by far the largest growth: by 6.7 percentage points from 16.1% to 22.8%.

    This group is commonly called the "nones." This is an unfortunate choice of terms because "nones" is a homophone 3 with the word "nuns." That is, they are two different religious words with the same sound and different meanings. Its use is confusing.

    We recommend the term "NOTA" which is derived from "NOT Affiliated." Unfortunately, "Nota" is the name of an a cappella vocal group from San Juan Puerto Rico, the name of a car manufacturing company in Australia, and the acronym for the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. However, "Nota" is used by the Election Commission of India, and similar groups in some other countries, to allow voters to express their support for "none of the above" candidates running for office.

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What their religious beliefs are based upon:

The main foundations for a Christian's beliefs are:

bulletThe Bible's Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament),
bullet Church traditions,
bullet A Christian's personal experience, and
bulletScientific knowledge.

Conservative groups tend to weigh the Bible and church tradition more heavily. Liberal groups tend to give greater weight to personal experience and scientific knowledge. To confuse matters further, different groups have derived different interpretations from the same biblical passages.

Many core beliefs are common to most Christian faith groups. e.g. the Trinity, the atonement, salvation by grace, etc. But many define the terms differently; they may agree on the name of the belief, but not its definition.

two BiblesInterpretation of the Bible:

Christian denominations approach the Bible with very different preconceptions. Although Christians largely agree on what the Bible says, they carry away very different beliefs about what the Bible means. They interpret the Bible in very different ways.

bullet Some conservative Christian groups view the original autograph copies of the books in the Bible as inerrant -- without error -- written by authors who were directly inspired by God. The Bible is viewed as totally consistent from Genesis to Revelation. Its teachings are valid from about 900 BCE when its first books were written, until today.
bullet More liberal groups often view the Bible as a collection of historical documents written by fallible authors, each promoting their own spiritual and religious understandings and those of their faith groups. They note major conflicts within the books of the Bible which are partly attributed to the authors' differing beliefs and partly due to the evolution of beliefs among the Jewish and Christian communities of the approximately 1,000 years during which the 66 books of the Bible (73 books in the Catholic Bibles) were written.

With such a different fundamental understanding of the nature of the Bible, denominations will inevitably disagree about the afterlife, criteria for salvation, atonement, nature of God, origin of the species, the Earth and the rest of the universe, divorce and remarriage, eligibility for marriage, the "fall" of humanity, concern for the environment, the moral implications of a homosexual and bisexual orientation, the moral implications of a transsexual gender identity, and  dozens of other topics

Unfortunately, there is no central authority within Christianity to whom Christians can appeal to resolve differences. Some pray to God for such resolution and believe that they obtain a response. However, there is some doubt about whether the response is actually coming from God. There have been a number of cases at denominational meetings where major disagreements ocurred. The moderator asked that the attendees go off by themselves and pray. When they returned, both sides felt that God had approved their original beliefs. Few had changed their mind.

Among the denominations and faith groups that define themselves as Christian -- including the Catholic Church, Mormon churches, Jehovah's Witnesses, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, the United Church of Christ, Unification Church, etc., -- there are few major beliefs upon which everyone will agree completely.

Different Christian faith groups often define terms such as Protestant, Christian, salvation, marriage, gender, etc. quite differently.

Every great moral and ethical conflict, including human slavery, the role of women, abortion access, homosexual and bisexual rights has produced a major conflict within Christianity. Some have led to actual schisms. Transsexual rights almost instantaneously became the latest major topic of conflict in mid-2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court settled the same-sex marriage debate across the entire United States.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Eastern Orthodox Church," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-15, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "America’s Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow," Pew Research Center, 2015-MAY-12, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
  3. ""Homophone," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-01, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyrighted © 2009 & 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAR-24
Last updated 2018-JUL-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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