Christian Denomination

Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, leadership and doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, meaning the large majority, all self-describe as churches, whereas many Protestant denominations self-describe as congregations or fellowships. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, ecclesiology, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as “branches of Christianity”. These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.

Individual denominations vary widely in the degree to which they recognize one another. Several groups claim to be the direct and sole authentic successor of the church founded by Jesus Christ in the 1st century AD. Others, however, believe in denominationalism, where some or all Christian groups are legitimate churches of the same religion regardless of their distinguishing labels, beliefs, and practices. Because of this concept, some Christian bodies reject the term “denomination” to describe themselves, to avoid implying equivalency with other churches or denominations.

The Roman Catholic Church, which has over 1.3 billion members–slightly over half of all Christians worldwide–does not view itself as a denomination, but as the original pre-denominational Church, a view rejected by other Christians. Protestant denominations account for approximately 37 percent of Christians worldwide. Together, Catholicism and Protestantism (including Anglicanism, and other denominations sharing historical ties) comprise Western Christianity. Western Christian denominations prevail in Western, Northern, Central and Southern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Oceania.

The Eastern Orthodox Church, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, is the second-largest Christian body in the world and also considers itself the original pre-denominational Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church is itself a communion of fully independent autocephalous churches (or “jurisdictions”) that mutually recognize each other. The Eastern Orthodox Church together with Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East constitute Eastern Christianity. There are smaller groups of Eastern Catholics which are in communion with the Bishop of Rome as well as Protestant Eastern Christians that have adopted Protestant theology but have cultural and historical ties with other Eastern Christians. Eastern Christian denominations are represented mostly in Eastern Europe, North Asia, the Middle East, Northeast Africa, and India (especially South India).

Christians have various doctrines about the Church (the body of the faithful that they believe Jesus Christ established) and about how the divine church corresponds to Christian denominations. Both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox hold that their own organizations faithfully represent the one holy catholic and apostolic Church to the exclusion of the other. Sixteenth-century Protestants separated from the Catholic Church because of theologies and practices that they considered to be in violation of their own interpretation. Generally, members of the various denominations acknowledge each other as Christians, at least to the extent that they have mutually recognized baptisms and acknowledge historically orthodox views including the divinity of Jesus and doctrines of sin and salvation, even though doctrinal and ecclesiological obstacles hinder full communion between churches.

Since the reforms surrounding the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, the Roman Catholic Church has referred to Protestant communities as “denominations”, while reserving the term “church” for apostolic churches, including the Eastern Orthodox. But some non-denominational Christians do not follow any particular branch, though they sometimes are regarded as Protestants.

A cross marked in ash on a worshiper's forehead

A cross marked in ash on a worshiper’s forehead


Each group uses different terminology to discuss their beliefs. This section will discuss the definitions of several terms used throughout the article, before discussing the beliefs themselves in detail in following sections.

A denomination within Christianity can be defined as a “recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church“; major synonyms include “religious group, sect, Church,” etc. “Church” as a synonym, refers to a “particular Christian organization with its own clergy, buildings, and distinctive doctrines”; “church” can also more broadly be defined as the entire body of Christians, the “Christian Church“.

Some traditional and evangelical Protestants draw a distinction between membership in the universal church and fellowship within the local church. Becoming a believer in Christ makes one a member of the universal church; one then may join a fellowship of other local believers. Some evangelical groups describe themselves as interdenominational fellowships, partnering with local churches to strengthen evangelical efforts, usually targeting a particular group with specialized needs, such as students or ethnic groups. A related concept is denominationalism, the belief that some or all Christian groups are legitimate churches of the same religion regardless of their distinguishing labels, beliefs, and practices. (Conversely, “denominationalism” can also refer to “emphasizing of denominational differences to the point of being narrowly exclusive”, similar to sectarianism).

The views of Protestant leaders differ greatly from those of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, the two largest Christian denominations. Each church makes mutually exclusive claims for itself to be the direct continuation of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, from whom other denominations later broke away. These churches, and a few others, reject denominationalism.

Historically, Catholics would label members of certain Christian churches (also certain non-Christian religions) by the names of their founders, either actual or purported. Such supposed founders were referred to as heresiarchs. This was done even when the party thus labeled viewed itself as belonging to the one true church. This allowed the Catholic party to claim that the other church was founded by the founder, while the Catholic church was founded by Christ. This was done intentionally in order to “produce the appearance of the fragmentation within Christianity”–a problem which the Catholic side would then attempt to remedy on its own terms.

Although Catholics reject branch theory, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II used the “two lungs” concept to relate Catholicism with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Major branches

Christianity can be taxonomically divided into five main groups:

Protestantism includes many groups which do not share any ecclesiastical governance and have widely diverging beliefs and practices.

Christianity has denominational families (or movements) and also has individual denominations (or communions). The difference between a denomination and a denominational family is sometimes unclear to outsiders. Some denominational families can be considered major branches. Groups that are members of a branch, while sharing historical ties and similar doctrines, are not necessarily in communion with one another.

There were some movements considered heresies by the early Church which do not exist today and are not generally referred to as denominations. Examples include the Gnostics (who had believed in an esoteric dualism called gnosis), the Ebionites (who denied the divinity of Jesus), and the Arians (who subordinated the Son to the Father by denying the pre-existence of Christ, thus placing Jesus as a created being), Bogumilism and Bosnian Church. The greatest divisions in Christianity today, however, are between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and the various denominations formed during and after the Protestant Reformation. There also exists a number of non-Trinitarian groups. There also exist some non-traditional groups that the majority of other Christians view as apostate or heretical, and not as legitimate versions of Christianity.

Comparisons between denominational churches must be approached with caution. For example, in some churches, congregations are part of a larger church organization, while in other groups, each congregation is an independent autonomous organization. This issue is further complicated by the existence of groups of congregations with a common heritage that are officially nondenominational and have no centralized authority or records, but which are identified as denominations by non-adherents. Study of such churches in denominational terms is therefore a more complex proposition.

Some groups count membership based on adult believers and baptized children of believers, while others only count adult baptized believers. Others may count membership based on those adult believers who have formally affiliated themselves with the congregation. In addition, there may be political motives of advocates or opponents of a particular group to inflate or deflate membership numbers through propaganda or outright deception.


Denominationalism is the belief that some or all Christian groups are legitimate churches of the same religion regardless of their distinguishing labels, beliefs, and practices. The idea was first articulated by Independents within the Puritan movement. They argued that differences among Christians were inevitable, but that separation based on these differences was not necessarily schism. Christians are obligated to practice their beliefs rather than remain within a church with which they disagree, but they must also recognize their imperfect knowledge and not condemn other Christians as apostate over unimportant matters.

Some Christians view denominationalism as a regrettable fact. As of 2011, divisions are becoming less sharp, and there is increasing cooperation between denominations. Theological denominationalism ultimately denies reality to any apparent doctrinal differences among the “denominations”, reducing all differences to mere matters de nomina (“of names”).

A denomination in this sense is created when part of a church no longer feel they can accept the leadership of that church as a spiritual leadership due to a different view of doctrine or what they see as immoral behaviour, but the schism does not in any way reflect either group leaving the Church as a theoretical whole.

This particular doctrine is rejected by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Oriental Orthodoxy. In these churches, it is not possible to have a separation over doctrinal or leadership issues, and any such attempts automatically are a type of schism. Some Protestant groups reject denominationalism as well.

Major denominational families in Christianity

Not shown: non-Nicene, nontrinitarian, and some restorationist denominations


Historical schisms and divisions

Christianity has not been a monolithic faith since the first century or Apostolic Age, if ever, and today there exist a large variety of groups that share a common history and tradition within and without mainstream Christianity. Christianity is the largest religion in the world (making up approximately one-third of the population) and the various divisions have commonalities and differences in tradition, theology, church government, doctrine, and language.

Diagram of Non-denominational systems in Christianity

Diagram of Non-denominational systems in Christianity

The largest schism or division in many classification schemes is between the families of Eastern and Western Christianity. After these two larger families come distinct branches of Christianity. Most classification schemes list six (in order of size: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Church of the East, which was originally referred to as Nestorianism but in modern times is embodied by the Assyrian Church of the East).

Unlike Roman Catholicism, Protestantism is a general movement that has no universal governing authority. As such, diverse groups such as Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, Binitarians, Charismatics, Congregationalists, Evangelicals, Holiness churches, Methodists, Moravians, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Reformed, and Unitarians (depending on one’s classification scheme) are all a part of the same family but have distinct doctrinal variations within each group – Lutherans see themselves not to be a part of the rest of what they call “Reformed Protestantism” due to radical differences in sacramental theology and historical approach to the Reformation itself (both Reformed and Lutherans see their reformation in the sixteenth century to be a ‘reforming’ of the Catholic Church, not a rejection of it entirely). From these come denominations, which in the West, have independence from the others in their doctrine.

The Catholic Church, due to their hierarchical structures, are not said to be made up of denominations, rather, they include kinds of regional councils and individual congregations and church bodies, which do not officially differ from one another in doctrine.


The initial differences between the East and West traditions stem from socio-cultural and ethno-linguistic divisions in and between the Western Roman and Byzantine empires. Since the West (that is, Western Europe) spoke Latin as its lingua franca and the East (Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and northern Africa) largely used Aramaic and Koine Greek to transmit writings, theological developments were difficult to translate from one branch to the other. In the course of ecumenical councils (large gatherings of Christian leaders), some church bodies split from the larger family of Christianity. Many earlier heretical groups either died off for lack of followers or suppression by the early proto-orthodox Church at large (such as Apollinarians, Montanists, and Ebionites).

The first significant, lasting split in historic Christianity came from the Church of the East, who left following the Christological controversy over Nestorianism in 431 (the Assyrians in 1994 released a common Christological statement with the Catholic Church). Today, the Assyrian and Catholic Church view this schism as largely linguistic, due to problems of translating very delicate and precise terminology from Latin to Aramaic and vice versa (see Council of Ephesus).

Following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the next large split came with the Syriac and Coptic churches dividing themselves, with the dissenting churches becoming today’s Oriental Orthodox. The Armenian Apostolic Church, whose representatives were not able to attend the council did not accept new dogmas and now is also seen as an Oriental Orthodox church. In modern times, there have also been moves towards healing this split, with common Christological statements being made between Pope John Paul II and Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, as well as between representatives of both Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy.

There has been a claim that the Chalcedonian Creed restored Nestorianism, however this is refuted by maintaining the following distinctions associated with the person of Christ: two hypostases, two natures (Nestorian); one hypostasis, one nature (Monophysite); one hypostasis, two natures (Orthodox/Catholic).

Middle Ages

Main article: East-West Schism

In Western Christianity, there were a handful of geographically isolated movements that preceded the spirit of the Protestant Reformation. The Cathars were a very strong movement in medieval southwestern France, but did not survive into modern times. In northern Italy and southeastern France, Peter Waldo founded the Waldensians in the 12th century. This movement has largely been absorbed by modern-day Protestant groups. In Bohemia, a movement in the early 15th century by Jan Hus called the Hussites defied Catholic dogma and still exists to this day (alternately known as the Moravian Church).

Although the church as a whole did not experience any major divisions for centuries afterward, the Eastern and Western groups drifted until the point where patriarchs from both families excommunicated one another in about 1054 in what is known as the Great Schism. The political and theological reasons for the schism are complex, but one major controversy was the inclusion and acceptance in the West of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed, which the East viewed as erroneous. Another was the definition of papal primacy.

Both West and East agreed that the Patriarch of Rome was owed a “primacy of honour” by the other patriarchs (those of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem), but the West also contended that this primacy extended to jurisdiction, a position rejected by the Eastern patriarchs. Various attempts at dialogue between the two groups would occur, but it was only in the 1960s, under Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, that significant steps began to be made to mend the relationship between the two.

Protestant Reformation (16th century)

Main article: Protestant Reformation

The door of the Schlosskirche (castle church) in Wittenberg

The door of the Schlosskirche (castle church) in Wittenberg to which Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses on 31st October 1517, sparking the Reformation.

The Protestant Reformation began with the posting of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in Saxony on October 31, 1517, written as a set of grievances to reform the pre-Reformation Western Church. Luther’s writings, combined with the work of Swiss theologian Huldrych Zwingli and French theologian and politician John Calvin sought to reform existing problems in doctrine and practice. Due to the reactions of ecclesiastical office holders at the time of the reformers, these reformers separated from the Catholic Church, instigating a rift in Western Christianity.

In England, Henry VIII of England declared himself to be supreme head of the Church of England with the Act of Supremacy in 1531, founding the Church of England, repressing both Lutheran reformers and those loyal to the pope. Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the Reformation, in a form compromising between the Calvinists and Lutherans.

Old and Liberal Catholic Churches (19th-20th centuries)

The Old Catholic Church split from the Catholic Church in the 1870s because of the promulgation of the dogma of papal infallibility as promoted by the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870. The term ‘Old Catholic’ was first used in 1853 to describe the members of the See of Utrecht that were not under Papal authority. The Old Catholic movement grew in America but has not maintained ties with Utrecht, although talks are under way between independent Old Catholic bishops and Utrecht.

The Liberal Catholic Church started in 1916 via an Old Catholic bishop in London, bishop Matthew, who consecrated bishop James Wedgwood to the Episcopacy. This stream has in its relatively short existence known many splits, which operate worldwide under several names.

Eastern Christianity

Main article: Eastern Christianity

In the Eastern world, the largest body of believers in modern times is the Eastern Orthodox Church, sometimes imprecisely called “Greek Orthodox” because from the time of Christ through the Byzantine empire, Greek was its common language. However, the term “Greek Orthodox” actually refers to only one portion of the entire Eastern Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes itself to be the continuation of the original Christian Church established by Jesus Christ, and the Apostles. The Orthodox and Catholics have been separated since the 11th century, following the East–West Schism, with each of them claiming to represent the original pre-schism Church.

The Eastern Orthodox consider themselves to be spiritually one body, which is administratively grouped into several autocephalous jurisdictions (also commonly referred to as “churches”, despite being parts of one Church). They do not recognize any single bishop as universal church leader, but rather each bishop governs only his own diocese. The Patriarch of Constantinople is known as the Ecumenical Patriarch, and holds the title “first among equals”, meaning only that if a great council is called, the patriarch sits as president of the council. He has no more power than any other bishop. Currently, the largest synod with the most members is the Russian Orthodox Church. Others include the ancient Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the Georgian, Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian Orthodox churches, and several smaller ones.

A 6th century Nestorian church, St. John the Arab, in the Assyrian village of Geramon.

A 6th century Nestorian church, St. John the Arab, in the Assyrian village of Geramon.

The second largest Eastern Christian communion is Oriental Orthodoxy, which is organized in a similar manner, with six national autocephalous groups and two autonomous bodies, although there are greater internal differences than among the Eastern Orthodox (especially in the diversity of rites being used). The six autocephalous Oriental Orthodox churches are the Coptic (Egyptian), Syriac, Armenian, Malankara (Indian), Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. In the Aramaic-speaking areas of the Middle East, the Syriac Orthodox Church has long been dominant. Although the region of modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea has had a strong body of believers since the infancy of Christianity, these regions only gained autocephaly in 1963 and 1994 respectively. The Oriental Orthodox are distinguished from the Eastern Orthodox by doctrinal differences concerning the union of human and divine natures in the person of Jesus Christ, and the two communions separated as a consequence of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, although there have been recent moves towards reconciliation. Since these groups are relatively obscure in the West, literature on them has sometimes included the Church of the East, which, like the Oriental Orthodox, originated in the 1st century A.D., but has not been in communion with them since before the Council of Ephesus of 431.

Largely aniconic, the Church of the East represents a third Eastern Christian tradition in its own right. In recent centuries, it has split into three Churches. The largest (since the early 20th century) is the Baghdad-based Chaldean Catholic Church formed from groups that entered communion with Rome at different times, beginning in 1552. The second-largest is what since 1976 is officially called the Assyrian Church of the East and which from 1933 to 2015 was headquartered first in Cyprus and then in the United States, but whose present Catholicos-Patriarch, Gewargis III, elected in 2015, lives in Erbil, Iraq. The third is the Ancient Church of the East, distinct since 1964 and headed by Addai II Giwargis, resident in Baghdad.

There are also the Eastern Catholic Churches, most of which are counterparts of those listed above, sharing with them the same theological and liturgical traditions, but differing from them in that they recognize the Bishop of Rome as the universal head of the Church. They are fully part of the Catholic communion, on the same level juridically as the Latin Church. Most of their members do not describe themselves as “Roman Catholics”, a term they associate with membership of the Latin Church, and speak of themselves in relation to whichever Church they belong to: Maronites, Melkites, Ukrainian Catholics, Coptic Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, etc.

And finally the smallest Eastern Christian group founded in early 20th century is Byzantine Rite Lutheranism where accept Byzantine Rite as Church’s liturgy while retaining their Lutheran traditions like Ukrainian Lutheran Church. It is considered part of Reformed Eastern Christianity.

Western Christianity

Main article: Western Christianity

The Latin portion of the Catholic Church, along with Anglicanism and Protestantism, comprise the three major divisions of Christianity in the Western world. Catholics do not describe themselves as a denomination but rather as the original Church; which all other branches broke off from in schism. The Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran churches are generally considered to be Protestant denominations, although strictly speaking, of these three, only the Lutherans took part in the official Protestation at Speyer after the decree of the Second Diet of Speyer mandated the burning of Luther’s works and the end of the Protestant Reformation.

Anglicanism was generally classified as Protestant, but since the “Tractarian” or Oxford Movement of the 19th century, led by John Henry Newman, Anglican writers emphasize a more catholic understanding of the church and characterize it as more properly understood as its own tradition—a via media (“middle way”), both Protestant and Catholic. The American province of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church USA, describes itself as a modern via media church in this tradition. A case is sometimes also made to regard Lutheranism in a similar way, considering the catholic character of its foundational documents (the Augsburg Confession and other documents contained in the Book of Concord) and its existence prior to the Anglican, Anabaptist, and Reformed churches, from which nearly all other Protestant denominations derive.

One central tenet of Catholicism (which is a common point between Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some other Churches), is its practice of apostolic succession. “Apostle” means “one who is sent out”. Jesus commissioned the first twelve apostles (see Biblical Figures for the list of the Twelve), and they, in turn laid hands on subsequent church leaders to ordain (commission) them for ministry. In this manner, Catholics and Anglicans trace their ordained ministers all the way back to the original Twelve.

Catholics believe that the Pope has authority which can be traced directly to the apostle Peter whom they hold to be the original head of and first Pope of the Church. There are smaller churches, such as the Old Catholic Church which rejected the definition of Papal Infallibility at the First Vatican Council, and Anglo-Catholics, Anglicans who believe that Anglicanism is a continuation of historical Catholicism and who incorporate many Catholic beliefs and practices. The Catholic Church refers to itself simply by the terms Catholic and Catholicism (which mean universal).

Sometimes, Catholics, based on a strict interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“Outside the Church, there is no salvation”), rejected any notion those outside its communion could be regarded as part of any true Catholic Christian faith, an attitude rejected by the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Catholicism has a hierarchical structure in which supreme authority for matters of faith and practice are the exclusive domain of the Pope, who sits on the Throne of Peter, and the bishops when acting in union with him. Most Catholics are unaware of the existence of Old Catholicism which represents a relatively recent split from the Catholic Church and is particularly vocal in rejecting their use of the term Catholic.

Each Protestant movement has developed freely, and many have split over theological issues. For instance, a number of movements grew out of spiritual revivals, such as Pentecostalism. Doctrinal issues and matters of conscience have also divided Protestants. The Anabaptist tradition, made up of the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites, rejected the Roman Catholic and Lutheran doctrines of infant baptism; this tradition is also noted for its belief in pacifism. Still others formed out of administrative issues; Methodism branched off as its own group of denominations when the American Revolutionary War complicated the movement’s ability to ordain ministers (it had begun as a movement within the Church of England). In Methodism’s case, it has undergone a number of administrative schisms and mergers with other denominations (especially those associated with the holiness movement in the 20th century).

Many churches with roots in Restorationism reject being identified as Protestant or even as a denomination at all, as they use only the Bible and not creeds, and model the church after what they feel is the first-century church found in scripture; the Churches of Christ are one example; African Initiated Churches, like Kimbanguism, mostly fall within Protestantism, with varying degrees of syncretism. The measure of mutual acceptance between the denominations and movements varies, but is growing largely due to the ecumenical movement in the 20th century and overarching Christian bodies such as the World Council of Churches.

Christians with Jewish roots

Main articles: Jewish ChristianMessianic Judaism,

Messianic Jews maintain a Jewish identity while accepting Jesus as the Messiah and the New Testament as authoritative. After the founding of the church, the disciples of Jesus generally retained their ethnic origins while accepting the Gospel message. The first church council was called in Jerusalem to address just this issue, and the deciding opinion was written by James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem and a pivotal figure in the Christian movement. The history of Messianic Judaism includes many movements and groups and defies any simple classification scheme.

The 19th century saw at least 250,000 Jews convert to Christianity according to existing records of various societies. Data from the Pew Research Center has it that, as of 2013, about 1.6 million adult American Jews identify themselves as Christians, most as Protestants. According to the same data, most of the Jews who identify themselves as some sort of Christian (1.6 million) were raised as Jews or are Jews by ancestry.

The Hebrew Christian movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries consisted of Jews who converted to Christianity, but worshiped in congregations separate from denominational churches. In many cases, they retained some Jewish practices and liturgy, with the addition of readings from the Christian New Testament. The movement was incorporated into the parallel Messianic Jewish movement in the late 1960s.

Modern history


Main article: Quakers

Some denominations which arose alongside the Western Christian tradition consider themselves Christian, but neither Catholic nor wholly Protestant, such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Quakerism began as an evangelical Christian movement in 17th century England, eschewing priests and all formal Anglican or Catholic sacraments in their worship, including many of those practices that remained among the stridently Protestant Puritans such as baptism with water. They were known in America for helping with the Underground Railroad, and like the Mennonites, Quakers traditionally refrain from participation in war.

Latter Day Saint movement

Main articles: Latter Day Saint movement, Mormonism, List of sects in the Latter Day Saint movement, Mormonism and Christianity

Most Latter Day Saint denominations are derived from the Church of Christ (Latter Day Saints) established by Joseph Smith in 1830. The largest worldwide denomination, and the one publicly recognized as Mormonism, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although there are various considerably smaller sects that broke from it after its relocation to the Rocky Mountains in the mid-1800s. Several of these broke away over the abandonment of practicing plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto. Most of the “Prairie Saint” denominations (see below) were established after Smith’s death by the remnants of the Latter Day Saints who did not go west with Brigham Young. Many of these opposed some of the 1840s theological developments in favor of 1830s theological understandings and practices. Other denominations are defined by either a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet or acceptance of the Book of Mormon as scripture. Mormons generally consider themselves to be restorationist, believing that Smith, as prophet, seer, and revelator, restored the original and true Church of Christ to the earth. Some Latter Day Saint denominations are regarded by other Christians as being nontrinitarian or even non-Christian, but the Latter Day Saints are predominantly in disagreement with these claims. Mormons see themselves as believing in a Godhead comprising the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as separate personages united in purpose. Mormons regard traditional definitions of the Trinity as aberrations of true doctrine and emblematic of the Great Apostasy but they do not accept certain trinitarian definitions in the post-apostolic creeds, such as the Athanasian Creed.

Second Great Awakening

Main articles: Second Great AwakeningRestorationism, and Restoration Movement

The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening (1790–1870) of the early 19th century. The movement sought to restore the church and “the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament.” Members do not identify as Protestant but simply as Christian.

The Restoration Movement developed from several independent efforts to return to apostolic Christianity, but two groups, which independently developed similar approaches to the Christian faith, were particularly important. The first, led by Barton W. Stone, began at Cane Ridge, Kentucky and called themselves simply as “Christians”. The second began in western Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia) and was led by Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander Campbell; they used the name “Disciples of Christ”. Both groups sought to restore the whole Christian church on the pattern set forth in the New Testament, and both believed that creeds kept Christianity divided. In 1832 they joined in fellowship with a handshake.

Among other things, they were united in the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that Christians should celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the first day of each week; and that baptism of adult believers by immersion in water is a necessary condition for salvation. Because the founders wanted to abandon all denominational labels, they used the biblical names for the followers of Jesus. Both groups promoted a return to the purposes of the 1st-century churches as described in the New Testament. One historian of the movement has argued that it was primarily a unity movement, with the restoration motif playing a subordinate role.

The Restoration Movement has since divided into multiple separate groups. There are three main branches in the US: the Churches of Christ, the Christian churches and churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Other U.S.-based groups affiliated with the movement are the International Churches of Christ and the International Christian Churches. Non-U.S. groups include the Churches of Christ in Australia, the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, the Churches of Christ in Europe. The Plymouth Brethren are a similar though historically unrelated group which originated in the United Kingdom. Some churches, such as Churches of Christ or the Plymouth Brethren reject formal ties with other churches within the movement.

Other Christian groups originating during the Second Great Awakening including the Adventist movement, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Science, founded within fifty years of one another, all consider themselves to be restorative of primitive Christianity and the early church. Some Baptist churches with Landmarkist views have similar beliefs concerning their connection with primitive Christianity.

Russian sectarianism

The Russian Orthodox Church has a long history of opposing heresies, beginning with Bogomilism and the Old Believers, a sect opposing the reforms introduced in the Russian Empire under Patriarch Nikon in 1666.

In 18th to 19th century Imperial Russia, there arose a new type of denominational schism grouped as Spiritual Christianity (духовное христианство). Many heresies, nicknamed by the church or government, called themselves “spiritual Christians”, such as: Dukhobors, Ikonobortsy (“Iconoclasts”), Khlysts, Molokans, Pryguny, Skoptsy, Shtundists, Subbotniki, etc. These sects often have radically divergent notions of spirituality. Their common denominator is that they sought God in “Spirit and Truth”, (Gospel of John 4:24) rather than in the Church of official Orthodoxy or ancient rites of Old Believers. Rejecting the official church, they considered their religious organization as a homogeneous community, without division into laymen and clergy.

In the 1830s, Ivan Grigorev Kanygin founded religious communities with communal practices in the Novouzensk region. They called themselves Communists or Methodists, but from the 1870s became known as “Mormons”, by comparison with the contemporaneous American movement. An unrelated community known as “Samara Mormons” developed near the Volga city of Samara. They avoided alcohol, tobacco, and swearing, cooperated in commercial enterprises, and governed themselves by “apostles” and “prophets”.

A more recent charismatic movement in Russia is the “Church of the Last Testament“, which established a substantial settlement in the Siberian Taiga in the 1990s.

Iglesia ni Cristo

Due to a number of similarities, some Protestant writers describe the doctrines of the Philippines originating Iglesia ni Cristo as restorationist in outlook and theme. INC, however, does not consider itself to be part of the Restoration Movement. On the other hand, some Catholic leaders viewed Iglesia ni Cristo as an offshoot or sect of the Catholic Church, since the then first leader or Executive Minister (Felix Ysagun Manalo) was a former Catholic member. However, INC is working and functioning spiritually and financially on its own, thus, completely independent from any religious body and communion.

The church hierarchical administration (Filipino: Pamamahala), centralized church governance, theological orientation, places of worship architectural design, adaptation to modern technology, very strong and strict discipline, and country of origin or establishment, are some of the INC features, polity and organizational structure that identify itself different from Restoration Movement, Protestantism, Catholicism and mainstream Christianity. Iglesia ni Cristo members are noted for bloc voting in political elections which is unique to the church due to their doctrine on unity and a practice that cannot be found outside INC.

New Thought Movement

Main articles: New Thought, History of New Thought

Another group of churches is known under the banner of “New Thought“. These churches share a spiritual, metaphysical and mystical predisposition and understanding of the Bible and were strongly influenced by the Transcendentalist movement—particularly the work of Emerson. Another antecedent of this movement was Swedenborgianism, founded in 1787 on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, who claimed to have received a new revelation from Jesus Christ through continuous heavenly visions which he experienced over a period of at least twenty-five years.

The New Thought concept was named by Emma Curtis Hopkins (“teacher of teachers”) after Hopkins broke off from Mary Baker Eddy’s Church of Christ, Scientist—the movement had been previously known as the Mental Sciences. The New Thought movement includes Religious Science founded by Ernest Holmes; Divine Science, founded by Malinda Cramer and the Brook sisters; and Unity founded by Charles Fillmore and Myrtle Fillmore. The founders of these denominations all studied with Emma Curtis Hopkins. Each of one these New Thought Churches has been influenced by a wide variety of ancient spiritual ideas. Each of these churches identify to different degrees with Christianity, Unity and Divine Science being the most explicit in the use of the Bible.

The Christian Community

The Christian Community is a movement for religious renewal. It was founded in 1922 in Switzerland by the Lutheran theologian and minister Friedrich Rittlemeyer, inspired by Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and founder of anthroposophy. Christian Community congregations exist as financially independent groups with regional and international administrative bodies overseeing their work. There are approximately 350 worldwide. The international headquarters are in Berlin, Germany.

The Christian Community does not require its members to conform to any specific teaching or behaviour. Seven sacraments are celebrated within the Community: the Eucharist, generally called the Act of Consecration of Man, and six other sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, The Last Anointing, Sacramental Consultation (replacing Confession), and Ordination.

Way Followers Christian Institution

A Christian denomination founded in 2016 by Arthur David Beaman and approved as a tax-exempt church. It classifies itself as a contemporary version of the Ebionites. The original Jewish Christian Church in Jerusalem, headed by James the Just, was Ebionite. Members of the Way Followers Christian Institution (WFCI) follow the Seven Laws of Noah. They are not strict observers of the Torah. Rather, they interpret the Torah in a contemporary context, such as interpreting the dietary laws, Kashrut, as being God’s way of keeping the Israelites from eating unhealthy food in an age where disease was not understood as it is today. They also use contemporary relevant sections of the Didache in their religious ethics and services.

Contained within the WFCI is a religious order, the Society of James the Just (SJJ). The SJJ also serves as a charitable ministry within the WFCI, providing services for the poor.

Other movements

Protestant denominations have shown a strong tendency towards diversification and fragmentation, giving rise to numerous churches and movements, especially in Anglo-American religious history, where the process is cast in terms of a series of “Great Awakenings”. The most recent wave of diversification, known as the Fourth Great Awakening took place during the 1960s to 1980s and resulted in phenomena such as the Charismatic Movement, the Jesus movement, and a great number of Parachurch organizations based in Evangelicalism.

Many independent churches and movements considered themselves to be non-denominational, but may vary greatly in doctrine. Many of these, like the local churches movement, reflect the core teachings of traditional Christianity. Others however, such as The Way International, have been denounced as cults by the Christian anti-cult movement.

Two movements, which are entirely unrelated in their founding, but share a common element of an additional Messiah (or incarnation of Christ) are the Unification Church and the Rastafari movement. These movements fall outside of traditional taxonomies of Christian groups, though both cite the Christian Bible as a basis for their beliefs.

Syncretism of Christian beliefs with local and tribal religions is a phenomenon that occurs throughout the world. An example of this is the Native American Church. The ceremonies of this group are strongly tied to the use of peyote. (Parallels may be drawn here with the Rastafari spiritual use of cannabis.) While traditions vary from tribe to tribe, they often include a belief in Jesus as a Native American cultural hero, an intercessor for man, or a spiritual guardian; belief in the Bible; and an association of Jesus with peyote.

There are also some Christians that reject organized religion altogether. Some Christian anarchists – often those of a Protestant background – believe that the original teachings of Jesus were corrupted by Roman statism (compare Early Christianity and State church of the Roman Empire), and that earthly authority such as government, or indeed the established Church, do not and should not have power over them. Following “The Golden Rule”, many oppose the use of physical force in any circumstance, and advocate nonviolence. The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote The Kingdom of God Is Within You, and was a Christian anarchist.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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