Over the last 500 years, Christianity has gained more new followers than any
other religion, usually replacing local indigenous religions. Its origins in the
Middle East notwithstanding, by 1450 Christianity had become almost
exclusively a white European religion. Then, because of advances in
navigation, it moved out to traverse the world. It has always been a
missionary religion (the Apostle Paul was its first major missionary figure),
with explicit missionary teachings within its scriptures and within the tradition
of the faith. Organizations within Christianity, like Islam, place a structural
and financial emphasis upon taking their message to other peoples, as well
as to non-practicing members of their own faith.
Christianity has three major branches. The Roman Catholic Church and
Orthodox Church, originally the eastern and western wings of the same
Church, finally split into two sections in 1054. Differences over interpretation
of authority and theology brought out tensions between the newer, Eastern
Roman Empire based on Constantinople and the older Western Roman
Empire based on Rome. The 16th century Protestant revolution reacted
against Roman Catholicism and created new denominations. Some, such
as Lutherans and Anglicans, essentially continued the old style of Church
with bishops and other Catholic practices, but made kings head of the
Church, rather than the Pope. Over time, other Protestant denominations
developed which rejected bishops and the Catholic theology of the state
churches. Presbyterians, Congregationalists or Quakers all sought to
develop models of leadership and theology that they believed were those
practiced by the early church.
Source: Joanne O’Brien and Martin Palmer, The State of Religion Atlas, 1993.
Worldwide: The largest religion with almost two billion adherents, and along
with Islam, fast growing.
Source: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1994.
United States: According to the 2001 ARIS study, 76.5 percent of the U.S.
population claims this faith. Table
U.S. Demographic Map: Methodist/Wesleyan
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism