Along with Judaism and Islam, Christianity follows the Abrahamic tradition, tract lots to Abraham and Sarah. Although Jews Christians share common scriptures in the portir 1 or the Bible known to Christians as the "Old Testan .ent,' they interpret them differently. The Christian teachings in the "New Testament" present a world view in which the old covenant between God and humans, as found in the Old Testament, is obsolete in light of God's offer of a new covenant to the followers of lesus, whom Christians believe to be God's only son (Matthews, 2004). As described in the New Testament, Jesus as born to the virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph. Aftera period of youth in which He prepared himself for the ministry, Jesus appeared in public and went about teaching and preaching, including performing a series of miracles-events believed to be brought about by divine intervention-such as raising people from the dead.
The central themes in the teachings of Jesus are the kingdom of God and standards of personal conduct for adherents of Christianity. Jesus emphasized the importance of righteousness before God and of praying to the Supreme Being for guidance in the daily affairs of life (Matthews, 2004). One of the central teachings of Christianity is linked to the unique circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. Just prior to His death, Jesus and His disciples held a special supper, now referred to as "the last SLIpper;' which is commemorated in contemporary Christianity in the sacrament of Holy-Communion. Afterward, Jesus was arrested by a group sent by the priests and scribes for claiming to be king of the Jews. After being condemned to death by political leaders, Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which made the cross a central symbol of the Christian religion. According to the New Testament, Jesus died, was placed in a tomb, and on the third day was resurrected-restored to life-establishing that He is the son of God. Jesus then remained on Earth for forty days, after which He ascended into heaven on a cloud. Two thousand years later, many Christian churches teach that one day Jesus will mark the end of the world as we know it. Whereas Judaism is basically an inherited religion and most adherents are born into the community, Christianity has universalistic crite~ for membership meaning that it does not have ethnic or tribal qualifications-based on acceptance of a set of beliefs. Becoming a Christian requires personal belief that Jesus is the son of God; that He died, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead; and that the Supreme Being is a sacred trinity-the Christian belief of "God the Three in One," comprising God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit-a presence that lives within those who have accepted Jesus as savior (Barna, 1996). To become members of the religious community, believers must affirm their faith and go through a rite of passage of baptism (Matthews, 2004). According to the teachings of Christianity, those who believe in Jesus as their savior will be resurrected from death and live eternally in the presence of God, whereas those who are wicked will endure an eternity in hell (Matthews, 2004). For centuries, Christians. Jews, and Muslims have lived together in peace and harmony in some areas of the world; in others, however, 'they have engaged in strife and fighting. The wounds and animosities between Muslims and Christians have remained since the early Christian era; nevertheless, some religion scholars believe that there is hope for a genuine Christian- Muslim dialogue in the future (Cox, 1995). Today, almost one-third of the world's population (between 1.5 billion and 2 billion) refer to themselves as Christians. The majority of Christians live in North or South America or in Europe. According to Kurtz (1995), a sociological analysis of Christianity would reveal that it became the dominant religion not necessarily due to its theology but because of its alliancewith the power...&.tructuresof Western civilization, beginning with the fourth-century conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine and following with its expansion into Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Missionary movements helped spread Christianity 'outward from Europe to other regions of the world in the nineteenth century, as missionaries also conquered land. cultures, and the economic and political resources of indigenous populations (Kurtz. 1995). Ni Christianity moved across cultures, it underwent dramatic transformations and became, in actuality. a tremendous variety of "Christianities" rather than just one highly integrated body of religious beliefs and practices (Kurtz, 1995). Roman Catholics sent the first missionaries to North America, where they established 40 missions and converted about 26,000 Native Americans to Christianity before the early Protestant settlers arrived on this continent. From the earliest days of the British colonies in this country, a variety of religions were represented, including Anglicans (the forerunners of the Protestant Episcopal church),) Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans, Freedom of religion provided people with the opportunity to establish other denomination'; and sects and generally to worship as they pleased. The African American church was the center of community life first for slaves and freed slaves, and then for generations or blacks who experienced ongoing prejudice and discrimination based on their race. The theory of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience used in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. and largely orchestrated by the Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King, Ir., emerged from the African American church in the South. Over the years, members of other minority groups. including Latinos/as and Asian Americans, have benef ted from religious and social ties to various Christian denominations, including the R~man Catholic church. Today. about 160 million people in the United States are associated with Christian churches, of whom about 67 million consider themselves to be Catholics.