Just the facts on religion.

Christian Denominations

Divisions within Christianity, known as "denominations," number into the thousands by some counts. Most began in America in the last 200 years, though some of the largest date from the sixteenth century. Nearly all Christian denominations have their roots in the Protestant Reformation, when, for the first time, a large number of Christians began to question the church's long-standing firm control over doctrine.

For the first thousand years of Christianity, there were no denominations within Christianity as there are today. Various offshoot groups certainly existed, but most were small and quickly snuffed out as "heresies."

The first major division within Christendom came in 1054, with the Great Schism between the Western Church and the Eastern Church. From that point forward, there were two large branches of Christianity, which came to be known as the Catholic Church (in the West) and the Orthodox Church (in the East).

The next major division was the Protestant Reformation, sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther's publication of 95 Theses against certain Catholic practices. By 1529, German princes were demanding the right to choose between Lutheranism and Catholicism in their territories. (These demands were published in a document titled Protestation, giving the Protestant movement its name.)

Meanwhile, "Reformed" Christianity developed in Switzerland based on the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. When it spread to Scotland under John Knox, the Reformed faith became Presbyterianism. Switzerland was also the birthplace of the Anabaptists, spiritual ancestors of today's Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and Baptists.

Anglicanism was established in 1534 when England's King Henry VIII broke from the authority of the Pope. Anglicanism is often regarded as a "Middle Way" between Catholicism and Protestantism , while others categorize it as Protestant. Anglicanism became Episcopalianism in the United States. Methodism, based on the teachings of John Wesley, also has its roots in Anglicanism.

Those who remained within the fold of Roman Catholicism during the Reformation argued that central regulation of doctrine is necessary to prevent confusion and division within the church and corruption of beliefs. Protestants, on the other hand, insisted that it was precisely this policy of control that had already led to corruption of the true faith. They demanded that believers be allowed to read the Scriptures for themselves (it was previously available only in Latin) and act in accordance with their conscience. This issue of religious authority continues to be a fundamental difference in perspective between Catholic and Orthodox Christians on one hand, and Protestant Christians on the other.

With its emphasis on individual interpretation of scripture and a measure of religious freedom, the Reformation marked not only a break between Protestantism and Catholicism, but the beginning of Christian denominationalism and sectarianism as we know it today. And perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most interesting developments in Christianity have occurred in the United States, where individual freedom in all things is intensely valued. Christian Science, Mormonism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses are just a few of the major religious movements that have developed in this context.

Today, Christianity encompasses an astounding variety of denominations, sects, and churches. Relationships between these groups range from mutual respect and cooperation to denial that the other group is really "Christian." Many Christian groups would also refuse the label of "Christian denomination," considering themselves the only true form of Christianity, not one among many.

At ReligionFacts, we simply list any group that self-identifies as Christian and/or is based significantly on the life or teachings of Jesus under the broad category of "Christianity."

  • Anglicanism

    A branch of the Christian religion, the Anglican Communion is an organization of autonomous national churches connected with the Church of England, which has its roots in the 16th century Protestant Reformation... full article →
  • Cathari

    (Greek katharoi, "pure ones"). Also Cathars. Heretical sect especially influential in southern France and nothern Italy in the 13 and 14th centuries, and characterized by a dualistic worldview and strict asceticism. full article →
  • Catholicism

    Roman Catholicism represents the continuation of the historical organized 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 veneration of saints and use of the rosary. full article →
  • Charismatic movement

    In the Christian religion, the charismatic movement is characterized by the manifestations of experiences, which have been traditionally categorized as Pentecostal, occurring in non-Pentecostal churches, like mainline Protestant denominations as well as in the Roman Catholic church... full article →
  • Christian Science

    Christian Science, officially called the Church of Christ, Scientist, is a religion that emphasizes physical healing through prayer and a recognition of the nonexistence of matter and illness... full article →
  • Donatism

    Fourth century North African Christian faction, named for Bishop Donatus. The Donatists believed the church should be pure, and therefore church leaders who had handed over scripture during persecution (traditores) should not retain their positions... full article →
  • Eastern Orthodox Church

    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. full article →
  • Jehovah's Witnesses

    The group now known as the Jehovah's Witnesses was founded in 1879 by Charles Taze Russell, a Pennsylvania businessman. Russell's Adventist background and study of the Bible led him to conclude, among other things, that the second coming of Christ would occur in 1914, that Hellfire did not exist, and God was not a Trinity... full article →
  • Mormonism

    Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith in the mid-19th century Northeast United States.{ref:1234} The largest Mormon religious body is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS for short)... full article →
  • Protestantism

    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, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Evangelicals. full article →
  • Seventh-Day Adventism

    The Seventh-day Adventist Church (abbreviated SDA) is a Christian denomination that grew out of the prophetic "Millerite" ) movement (i... full article →
  • Westboro Baptist Church

    What is Westboro Baptist Church? Why do they picket funerals and other churches? These are just some of the questions people have about the Westboro Baptist Church, which appears regularly in the news... full article →

Article Info

Title Christian Denominations
URL www.religionfacts.com/christianity/branches
Short URLrlft.co/1625
Published
UpdatedNovember 18, 2016
MLA Citation“Christian Denominations.” ReligionFacts.com. 18 Nov. 2016. Web. Accessed 8 Dec. 2016. <www.religionfacts.com/christianity/branches>

Share This Page