Christian Church

ecclesiological term

A Christian Church is a set group of Christians. They meet together to practice Christianity. "The Church" can also mean all Christians everywhere, also called the Catholic Church. It means every person who has ever accepted or ever will accept the Christian Faith.

Icon depicting the Trinity by Russian artist Andrei Rublev in the 15th century
This article is about the universal religious institution. For general information about Christianity or information about specific Christian denominations, see the appropriate page. For other uses, see Church (disambiguation).

The idea is that all these people together make up one "body" called "the Church". "The Church" (in this sense) is not thought of by Christians as an ordinary human organisation. It is thought of as being part of God's way to bring people close to him. "The Church" was begun by Jesus in the 1st century AD. It is called "The Christian Church" because Jesus was called "The Christ" (or holy one from God).

Today there are many churches in the sense of "church organisations". The different organised churches are called Christian denominations.

The main Christian beliefs are held by all major Christian denominations. These beliefs are often said aloud by Christian people in a "statement of faith" which is called the Creed. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican Communion and other Protestant churches all believe that God is the "creator and eternal father of all things", that Jesus was the "Christ" and son of God who died to save people from the punishment for their sins, and that the Holy Spirit is God's gift to help and comfort Christian people. Christians believe that these are three parts of One God.

There are many other beliefs that are different between different denominations. These differences have sometimes caused arguments and have caused the organised church to split into denominations. The different opinions are called controversies.

During Late Antiquity, the Christian Church started became the most important persecuting organization in human history.[1]: 201 



The English word church comes from the Greek κυριακή (kyriake) meaning "Master's (house)", or "Lord's (house)".[2][3] In modern English the word "church" is used for both a church building and "the Christian Church" throughout the world.

In 381 AD, at the a meeting of bishops known as the First Council of Constantinople, the Nicene Creed (a statement of beliefs) that was used at the time was changed to include a description of the Church. The words that were added to the Nicene Creed are "One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church". This important addition describes the four most important things that Christians were to believe about the Christian Church.[4][5]

These are the four words that are used in the Nicene Creed:

  • The Church is One. This means that there is only one true Christian Church. It is "universal".
  • The Church is Holy. This means that it is the Church of the true and living God.
  • The Church is Catholic. This means that the Church includes "everyone" who is a true Christian believer.
  • The Church is Apostolic. This means that it was begun by the Twelve apostles of Jesus and that Christian believers follow in their footsteps.[6]



One important controversy is simply the definition of the Christian or Catholic Church. To some degree this controversy comes from the Nicene Creed with its words One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which means universal church. Many denominations believe that all denominations are part of a world-wide Christian Church and think that the most important thing is the "common faith" and not a common organisation or tradition. ("Common faith" means "the faith that is the same". The word "common" does not mean "ordinary" in this sense.)

For many hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church has regarded itself as the only Christian Church and has called itself the Catholic (or "universal") church. In other words, only those people who were within the organisation of the Roman Catholic Church were believed to belong to the Universal Church. In the 20th century this view began to change and in the late 20th century there was a strong movement within parts of the Roman Catholic Church to reach out to other denominations.[7] The Eastern Orthodox Church has thought of itself in the same way, but in the late 20th century there has been much more discussion between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican Churches. Some smaller denominations such as Jehovah's Witnesses also believe that they are the one and only true Christian Church.


A simplified chart of historical branches within the Christian Church.
  1. de Ste. Croix, G. E. M. (2006). Whitby, Michael; Streeter, Joseph (eds.). Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy. Oxford University Press. pp. 201–252. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278121.003.0005. ISBN 978-0-19-927812-1. the Christian Church—or rather churches—became during the fourth and following centuries, and remained for more than a millennium and a half, the greatest organized persecuting force in human history
  2. church, Robertson's Words for a Modern Age: A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Words used in Modern English Vocabulary [1]
  3. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006
  4. Nicene Creed, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Christian Classics Ethereal Library [2]
  5. Apostle's Creed, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  6. Kenneth D. Whitehead, Four Marks of the Church, EWTN Global Catholic Network [3] Archived 2019-02-26 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 870


  • University of Virginia: Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Christianity in History, retrieved May 10, 2007 [4] Archived 2006-09-09 at the Wayback Machine
  • University of Virginia: Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Church as an Institution, retrieved May 10, 2007 [5] Archived 2006-10-24 at the Wayback Machine
  • Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ancient History Romans, BBC Home, retrieved May 10, 2007 [6] Archived 2017-08-21 at the Wayback Machine
  • Orthodox Church, MSN Encarta, retrieved May 10, 2007 [7] Archived 2009-10-28 at the Wayback Machine
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church [8]
  • Robert G. Stephanopoulos. The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church in America. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Retrieved on 2007-08-01. [9]
  • Mark Gstohl, Theological Perspectives of the Reformation, The Magisterial Reformation, retrieved May 10, 2007 [10]
  • J. Faber, The Catholicity of the Belgic Confession, Spindle Works, The Canadian Reformed Magazine 18 (Sept. 20-27, Oct. 4-11, 18, Nov. 1, 8, 1969) - [11]
  • Boise State University: History of the Crusades: The Fourth Crusade[12] Archived 2011-02-04 at the Wayback Machine
  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: ARTICLE 9 "I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH": 830-831 [13] Archived 2008-07-17 at the Wayback Machine: Provides Roman Catholic interpretations of the term catholic
  • Kenneth D. Whitehead, Four Marks of the Church, EWTN Global Catholic Network [14] Archived 2019-02-26 at the Wayback Machine
  • Unity (as a Mark of the Church), New Advent [15]
  • Apostolic Succession, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.[16] Archived 2007-02-17 at the Wayback Machine
  • Gerd Ludemann, Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity, Westminster John Knox Press, 1st American ed edition (August 1996), ISBN 978-0664220853
  • From Jesus to Christ: Maps, Archaeology, and Sources: Chronology, PBS, retrieved May 19, 2007 [17]