Christian Denominations

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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."

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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...

Anglican Beliefs

Anglican Branches

Anglican Glossary

Anglican History

Anglican Organization

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.

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.

Catholic Beliefs

Catholic Glossary

Catholic Timeline

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...

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...

Christian Science Beliefs

Christian Science Glossary

Christian Science History

Christian Science Practices

Christian Science Timeline

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...

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.

Eastern Orthodox Glossary

Eastern Orthodox Timeline

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...

JW Beliefs

JW Ethics

JW Glossary

JW History

JW Holidays

JW Organization

JW Practices

JW Texts

Mormonism

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian but is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Rather, it is a restoration of the original church established by Jesus Christ...

Mormon Beliefs

Mormon Books

Mormon Branches

Mormon Ethics

Mormon Glossary

Mormon History

Mormon Holidays

Mormon Organization

Mormon Practices

Mormon Texts

Mormon Timeline

Protestantism

Protestantism arose in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, which took place mainly in Germany, Switzerland, and Britain. Protestants reject the authority of the Pope and many other Catholic traditions and beliefs, 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.

Protestant Branches

Protestant Glossary

Protestant Timeline

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