Christianity / Organization /
Site of congregational and worship activities in Christianity. According to Christian theology, the church is the religious community as a whole.
The word "church" is also used as the term for a special orientation or demoniation in Christianity, like "Maronite Church" or "Roman Catholic Church". In this sense, the word "church" really defines a specific group, in contrast with Christians in general. More information on this is found in the article on Christianity.
As for the actual physical structure, few guidelines were developed because Christianity was proscribed by the government and members generally used existing houses. The only standard was, perhaps, a division between the area for performance of rituals and teaching, and the area for the worshippers.
Since the architecture and layout of the church were not defined in any holy scriptures, there have been several directions in its development. Church builders have generally been inspired by, and sometimes imitators of, existing architecture, and not only religious architecture.
There are two dominant types of plans: The basilica and the centralized church.
The basilica form is from a Roman building typically used for trade activities, gatherings or a court of law. The basilica type church is based upon an axis running from the doorway in one end to the altar at the other end.
The centralized has its centre in the middle of a circular or polygonal shape. In many cases, churches have been designed to utilize both the basilica and centalized type.
Some churches have often been laid out in the shape of a cross, where the two added arms to the standard axis usally serve little purpose beyond the visual symbol.
In larger churches, additional rooms have been added and used for rituals like baptism, treasuries and relics, robing of the clerics, administration, and additional chapels. Especially large and important churches, which serve as the seat of the bishop, are named "cathedral".
The building of churches flourished after Christianity's legitimization in the Roman Empire in 313. The styles of the Roman Empire churches would have great impact on church styles even in the areas of the Middle East and Africa that were not under Roman control. Actually, it is the Roman shape that has come to form the ideal for churches until the present era.
Some of the most important early churches were built around shrines, like the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, erected over the assumed place of Jesus' crucifixion and entombment, and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, built over the assumed grave of St. Peter.
Church architecture tended to influence the shape of sacred structures in other religions, as for example, in Islam. The building, its layout, the church, its tower or steeple and even decorations would prove to have a great impact on how mosques and minarets came to be designed.
Organization and Theology
The initial congregations of pre-Christians (see Jesus-Judaism) were modeled around the organization of the Jewish synagogue.
In the earliest churches, there was not even a clearly defined leadership, but this situation changed quickly during the emergence of mature Christian forms in the second half of the 1st century CE.
A religious leader and a administrative board was elected from the membership in the earliest church. This formed the basis for the system of priests and bishops existing until the present time, together with the broader system of parish administration.
The church has traditionally been defined by the four marks distinguished in the Nicene Creed (see Council of Nicaea): One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The oneness may seem to be condradicted by ethnic and doctrinal divisions within the Christian community, yet there is an understanding that all members of the church consist of baptized people, who together form one idealized body.
The church perceives of itself as an institution sanctified by the Holy Spirt, but it does not imply that all of its members are perfect. The term catholic is, at times, misunderstood. Initially, it meant a universal church distinct from the local congregations, and this is still what Christians confesss even if some mistakenly think the term applies the Church of Rome. Apostolic indicates that the church is historically a continuation of the apostles and hence the earthly life of Jesus.