Christianity grew out of Judaism and began as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the mid-1st century. Originating in the Roman province of Judea, it quickly spread to Syria, Europe, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Transcaucasia, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Indian subcontinent, and by the end of the 4th century it had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Following the Age of Discovery, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world through missionary work and colonization.
Christian theology is summarized in creeds such as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. These professions of faith state that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, descended into hell and rose from the dead in order to grant eternal life to those who believe in him and trust in him for the remission of their sins. The creeds further maintain that Jesus physically ascended into heaven, where he reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit and that he will return to judge the living and the dead and grant eternal life to his followers. His incarnation, earthly ministry, crucifixion and resurrection are often referred to as "the gospel", meaning "good news". The term gospel also refers to written accounts of Jesus' life and teaching, four of which—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—are considered canonical and included in the Christian Bible, as established by the 5th century for the ancient undivided Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, a period sometimes referred to as the Great Church, before the East–West Schism in 1054.
Throughout the history of Christianity, theological and ecclesiological disputes have resulted in schisms, with many distinct denominations. Worldwide, the four largest branches of Christianity are the Catholic Church, Protestantism, the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy. The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches broke communion with each other in the East–West Schism of 1054 and the Chalcedonian schism in 451. Protestantism, while not a single denomination but a collective term, emerged in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, splitting from the Catholic Church.
There are many important differences of interpretation and opinion of the Bible and sacred tradition on which Christianity is based. Because of these irreconcilable differences in theology and a lack of consensus on the core tenets of Christianity, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox often deny that members of certain other branches are Christians.
Concise doctrinal statements or confessions of religious beliefs are known as creeds (from Latin credo, meaning "I believe"). They began as baptismal formulae and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries to become statements of faith.
Many evangelical Protestants reject creeds as definitive statements of faith, even while agreeing with some or all of the substance of the creeds. The Baptists have been non-creedal "in that they have not sought to establish binding authoritative confessions of faith on one another.":p.111 Also rejecting creeds are groups with roots in the Restoration Movement, such as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada and the Churches of Christ.:14–15:123
The Apostles' Creed is the most widely accepted statement of the articles of Christian faith. It is used by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, most visibly by liturgical churches of Western Christian tradition, including the Latin Church of the Catholic Church, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Western Rite Orthodoxy. It is also used by Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists. This particular creed was developed between the 2nd and 9th centuries. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator. Each of the doctrines found in this creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period. The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome.