What is Christianity:

The essence of Christianity is following the teachings of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth (or Yeshua ben Yosef). He claimed to be the long-awaited "Messiah" of Israel, the “son” of God, whose death would inaugurate God's rule on earth, a kingdom in which he is king and which anyone (not just the religious) can enter if they seek God's forgiveness.
Christians meet in many different ways, and have many different peripheral beliefs, but most believe:
· Jesus' death was the means by which God's forgiveness can now be received by all who ask for it;
· following Jesus requires a new way of living, based on love and serving others, and assisted by God's Spirit who lives within all believers;
· Jesus is the "Son of God" and equal with God - the Father, Son and Spirit share the same nature and make up the "Trinity", three "persons" of the one being God (a difficult concept!);
· the Christian scriptures are the Bible, which consists of the Old Testament (basically the Jewish scriptures) and the New Testament (writings about Jesus) - "testament" means covenant or agreement, so the New Testament supersedes the Old in many ways;
· all of us will have to give an account of our lives to God; those who trust in Jesus for their forgiveness receive life in the age to come.
Therefore Christians believe all people must:
· recognise who Jesus was (and is),
· be willing to accept and live by his teachings and God's authority over us,
· seek God's forgiveness when we fail to do so, and to trust that his death is sufficent for us to receive that forgiveness (we don't need to earn it), and
· through prayer and obedience, to place our lives at his disposal and be willing to forgive even our enemies, seek to meet the needs of those who are doing it tough, and represent Jesus on earth.
Christians don't always fulfil these ideals, hence the need to for continued forgiveness and renewal. Nevertheless, Christians find joy and peace in together serving people and the living God.

How Christianity began:
Jesus lived in Israel between about 4 BCE and 30 CE and was an itinerant preacher and healer for the last couple of years of his life.
· He began his public teaching by announcing the coming of God 's kingdom on earth.
· He supported common people and the marginalised (which included women, non Jews, lepers, etc) against the religious establishment.
· He gave new twists to old ethical and religious teachings.
· He gained fame (and notoriety) as a healer and exorcist.
· He taught that forgiveness of sins could be received from him, not just via theJewish temple rituals.
· Increasingly he challenged the authority of the Jewish religious leaders, and his claim to be a king was an implicit threat to Roman rule.
· Jesus was executed for sedition, but his followers claimed he was resurrected and was seen alive by them for a period before returning to heaven.
Jesus's followers believed he had left them to carry on his mission, first to the Jewish nation, and then right throughout the Roman Empire. At first the new teachings were suppressed, sometimes by violent persection, because the early christians recognised Jesus, and not Caesar, as “Lord”. (Because they didn't worship all the Roman gods, the Romans called them “atheists”!) But the early christians were so committed that within 3 centuries they were the majority belief.
Who is a christian:
Most christians would say that those who choose to follow Jesus and allow him to renew their lives are “christians”. This is clearly an internal thing with outward actions following, so we cannot always know who is truly a christian. Statistically, people living in so-called christian countries, born into christian famiies or attending a church may be counted as christians, but obviously they may not in fact be actually following Jesus.

How is Christianity different from other religious views:
Christianity is different to most other religions in several ways:
· Most other religions see their founder as a messenger of a truth greater than themselves, but Christians see Jesus as the embodiment of their faith. Christianity is based on God coming to earth in the form of Jesus to seek and to save lost people. In most other religions (e.g. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism), the founder is considered to be a prophet, a guru or an exemplar, but not a divine person – they would find that blasphemous.
· While God's mercy is a feature of most religions, believers still have to earn that mercy by obeying certain teachings or laws. But in Christianity, God's mercy is freely given to all who trust in Jesus, regardless of their obedience; however following Jesus's teachings is expected as part of our response.
· Christians believe God's Spirit (the third person in the Trinity) is active in the life of each believer to empower, guide, convict and enlighten. No other religion has a similar belief.
· Christianity depends on the historical truth of Jesus's life, death and resurrection. The New Testament can, in principle, be verified by normal historical methods.
· Christianity is the world's largest religion in terms of nominal adherents – 2.1 billion, or about one third of the world's population.

A few misconceptions:
Probably the biggest misconception about Christianity (even among some believers) is that we need to be “good” to earn God's favour. It is natural for people to think this, but Christianity is unquestionably a religion of “grace” - God's undeserved but unwavering favour towards us.
An associated misconception is that Christians consider themselves better than other people. Some may do so, but generally christians believe that all of us fall short of the standards God sets for us.
Non-believers often characterise Christianity as being based on faith, which is the opposite of reason. But facts and reason are important for Christians, who have always been interested in the philosophical “proofs” for God's existence, and believe the ministry of Jesus is based on the evidence of history. Most Christians use faith to build on reason.
Many people blame Christianity for evil committed by the church or by apparent christians. Christians believe that any action contrary to Jesus's teaching should not be blamed on him, but on the person who committed it. It is unfortunately true that for a long period when the church was one of the most powerful organisations in Europe, it attracted many people who do not appear to have had genuine christian belief, but used the church for personal gain.
References:
Michael Grant: “Jesus, an Historian's Review of the Gospels”. The conclusions of an eminent historian and non-believer.
John Dickson: “A Spectator's Guide to Jesus”. The conclusions of a historian who is a believer.
Rodney Stark: “The Rise of Christianity”. An analysis of how Chrstianity converted the Roman world.