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Brief summary of Christianity

Current status of Christianity

church tower Current status of Christianity:

Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with a litle over 2 billion members. About one third of the world's population currently identifies themselves as Christian. 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.

Christianity is also the largest religion in the U.S. and Canada, with profoundly deep influences on American and Canadian culture and politics. In particular, 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 20,000 denominations, sects, faith groups, etc. 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 denoninations 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 coencide 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.

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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-2015-DEC, at this rate of decline, the percentage of Christians in the U.S. would probably be below 70% for the first time 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 adult of the faith group in which they were raised.

However, there was growth detected within two relgious 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 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.

bulletSome 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.
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 books of the Bible 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

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., -- it is difficult to find a single belief upon which everyone will agree completely.

Different Christian faith groups often define terms such as Protestant, Christian, salvation, 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:
  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:
  3. ""Homophone," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-01, at:

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Copyrighted © 2009 & 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAR-24
Last updated 2015-DEC-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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