Over the centuries, Christianity has divided into numerous denominations. Each denomination has its own distinctive beliefs or practices, but they are generally considered a branch of mainstream Christianity if they agree on core doctrines like the divinity of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. Relationships between denominations range from mutual respect and cooperation to denial that the other group is really "Christian."
The three main branches of Christianity are Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestant. Some regard Anglicanism as a fourth branch that fits in none of these categories, while others categorize it as Protestant.
Roman Catholicism represents the continuation of the organized Christian church as it developed in Western Europe, and is headed by the Pope. Distinctive beliefs of Catholics include the doctrines of Transubstantiation and Purgatory, and distinctive practices include devotion to the saints and Mary and use of the rosary.
Eastern Orthodoxy (which includes the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and several others) is the continuation of the historical organized church as it developed in Eastern Europe. It differs from Catholicism in its refusal of allegiance to the Pope, its emphasis on the use of icons in worship, and the date it celebrates Easter. Other cultural, political, and religious differences exist as well. Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism separated in 1054 AD, when the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope excommunicated each other.
Protestantism arose in the 16th century during the Reformation, which took place mainly in Germany, Switzerland, and Britain. Protestants do not acknowledge the authority of the Pope, reject many traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church, emphasize the importance of reading the Bible and hold to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Protestantism encompasses numerous denominational groups, including Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians (or Anglicanism), Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Evangelicals.
Most of the denominations that exist today developed in the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation and fall under the "Protestant" branch. This section provides information on some of the major denominations that exist today, along with a brief history of how there came to be so many.