About a third of the global population identifies itself as Christian. What began as the Second Temple Judaic sect in the mid-1st century, in what is now the Middle East, quickly spread to Europe, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt before becoming the official state church of the Roman Empire by the end of the 4th century. Today, it’s a diverse religion with thousands of different churches and interpretations of the Bible.
Here are five things you may not know about Christianity.
1. Under the Roman empire, sometimes referred to as the ‘Era of Martyrs’, Christians suffered routine punishment, including execution.
Romans referred to Christians as ’impious atheists’ because they didn’t worship the pagan gods. To them praising just one god was bad as denying the existence of all gods. Also, the Christian act of worship went against the laws of the time, which forbade secret society meetings. The government saw it as civil disobedience.
Christianity was punishable by death in the second century A.D., but a pardon was available to those willing to renounce their religion by offering sacrifice to the emperor or Roman gods. In February 303 A.D., on the Roman day of the celebration of the god of boundaries, known as 'terminalia', the empire carried out perhaps its greatest persecution of Christians. It's estimated up to 5000 were killed.
2. Christianity is persecuted in at least 50 countries including North Korea, China, Maldives, Myanmar and Central African Republic.
In North Korea, where citizens practice god-like worship of leader Kim Jon-Un, there’s little room for any religion. Any citizen discovered engaging in unauthorized religious activity is subject to arrest, detention, torture and execution. Open Doors, an organization tracking persecuted Christians worldwide, says there are up to 70,000 Christians in labor camps in North Korea.
In the Central African Republic where an internal revolution saw a coalition of rebels of mostly Muslim origin - the Seleka group - come to power, Christians face rape, robbery, kidnapping, torture and murder.
3. The word “Christian” appears only three times in the Bible: Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16. According to the Bible, a Christian is someone who responds to God's calling, and to follow the example set by Jesus Christ. In Acts, the Bible says in order to be a true Christian, a person much change - repent, be baptized and follow Jesus.
Jesus is mentioned more times in the Quran than Muhammad. Jesus - who’s referred to as the son of Mary - is portrayed as a miracle worker and sent to earth by Allah to do his work. But, the Quran says you’ll be cursed if you call Jesus the son of god.
“The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (9:30, Yusif Ali)
4. More people go to church on a Sunday in China than in the whole of Europe.
Early waves of Christianity in China began with the Jesuit missionary Matto Ricci in the late 16th century. The Bible was first translated into Mandarin in the late 19th century, which helped spread the word to the masses.
With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, widescale religious repression became the norm in mainland China. The Communist Party kept true to its Marxist roots and thus declared itself ‘atheist’. The end of the’Cultural Revolution’ (1966-76), Mao Zedong’s death and his successor Deng Xiaoping’s subsequent reforms reopened China to the outside world and freedom of expression began to be restored. Today, the PRC officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. The National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China and the China Christian Council form the only state-sanctioned (registered) Protestant church in mainland China.
China is on track to have the world’s largest Christian population by 2030 - potentially around 160 million according to one expert on religion in china.
China has witnessed a religious revival over the past four decades, in particular with the significant increase in Christian believers, accounting for 5 percent of the population, according to Pew Research Center data.
5. There are 33,830 different Christian denominations according to the world Christian encyclopedia. There’s one church in San Francisco that worships Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane as a Saint and uses his song lyrics are prayers. Seichō no Ie, literally "House of Growth", is a ‘New Thought’ Japanese religion that has spread since the end of World War II. It emphasizes gratitude for nature, the family, ancestors and, above all, religious faith in one universal God. By the end of 2010 it had over 1.6 million followers.
A Pew Research Centre demographic study of more than 200 countries in 2010 found that there are 2.18 billion Christians worldwide - nearly a third of the estimated global population of 6.9 billion at the time.
Europe and the Americas are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), but that share is shrinking - it was in 93% in 1910. The proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas.
In Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is growing. Christians in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 9% in 1910 to 63% in 2010, while in the Asia-Pacific region it rose from 3% to 7%.