The History of Christian Denominations

After a discussion with my wife about how many denominations there are and how it seems that the body of Christ has been sliced in to tiny pieces I decided to study where the main Christian groups got their roots from. To me this is a very interesting study looking at the reasons behind groups splitting but it’s also very sad to consider how 12 apostles of the 1st century church have become over 1,200 official denominations most of which have more problems with the others than they do unity and love.

Branches of Christianity from http://www.request.org.uk

The Great Schism 1054

The division of Christianity in to two groups: Western (Latin or Roman Catholics) and Eastern (Greek or Orthodox). Pope Leo IX and the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius excommunicated each other simultaneously which initiated the schism. However there were many long lasting aspects that lead up to the split such as political, theological, and geographical reasons.
Theological issues not agreed upon:

  • Whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only or from the Father and the Son.
  • Whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used in the Eucharist.
  • The definition of original sin
  • Free will vs. predestination
  • Purgatory and hell
  • If celibacy should be enforced on clergy

Eastern Orthodox

The Eastern Orthodox Church claims to be the original Apostalic church establish by Jesus Christ which began with the first church under the Apostles of Christ. The Easter Orthodox followers strive to become more like Christ in their spiritual journey of life.

Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • Use of 10 extra books not included in the typical 66-book Canon of the Bible,
    see canon comparison chart
  • Trinity
  • Original sin
  • Christ was fully God and Man
  • Obedience to traditional in Biblical interpretation
  • Reverence to Virgin Mary as the “God-bearer” or fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant
  • All believers known or unknown are saints but there are certain saints of good example
  • No purgatory
  • Baptism joins one with The Body of Christ and initiates membership to the church
  • Regards Revelation as a mystery but some take amillennialist view

Lutheran

Branched off of Catholicism under Martin Luther, a German reformer.The split officially happened in 1521 at the Edict of Worms where adherents to Luthers teachings were excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church. The split was mainly over theological issues concerning grace and forgiveness. Martin Luther believed the Bible to be the true Word of God and to be the end authority on doctrine rather than ones own reasoning or personal interpretation.
Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion
  • Predestination, see Divine Monergism
  • Divine providence
  • Good works are from God and a result of faith/salvation
  • No millennial reign of Christ

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic church, like the Eastern Orthodox, believes themselves to be the original church started by Jesus, that their bishops are successors to the original Apostles, and that the Pope is the successor to Peter. Their goals include spreading the Gospel, administering the sacraments, and engaging in charity. The source of doctrine is the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition which is spelled out in the Catechism, a collection of statements and answers on the universal beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. Ecumenical counsels were held to resolve doctrinal issues, these counsels were ran by theological teachers called “Church Fathers” and were believed to be infallible in theological decisions.

Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • Believes that Mary was born miraculously, without sin, ever virgin and the mother of God, see Who is Mary
  • Pope is the head of all bishops and Catholic churches
  • Believes Jesus instituted 7 sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony.
  • One receives the Holy Spirit during Confirmation
  • For forgiveness of sins one must confess to a priest and follow their assigned penance
  • For those who are saved but not free from sin and die they enter Purgatory to finish the process of purification
  • Beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed and detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Church of England

The church of England is the official denomination that has existed in England since the Gospel first came to the Britons between the 1st and 2nd century. They consider themselves Catholic in that they are part of the universal body of Christ, and stemmed from the early apostolic church. They also call themselves “Reformed” because of the influence of the Protestant Reformation upon it’s beliefs and it’s “Thirty-Nine Articles” established in 1563. The doctrine of the Church of England continued to be checked and reformed by many following authorities of the country. In 1986 women were first allowed to be ordained as decons, in 1992 as priests and in 2006 as bishops.

Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • Teach the writings of early church Fathers such as Origen when they lined up with the scripture
  • Acceptance of the Nicene Creed
  • Sacraments include Baptism and Communion
  • Spelled out their beliefs in the 39 Articles of Religion
  • Accepts 14 apocryphal books and 14 “other books” for instruction and example but not for doctrine
  • Believe Christ was both man and God and the only mediator between man and God
  • Believe we have no power in ourselves to do anything good or pleasing to God

Methodist

John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield are held to be the formers of this branch which separated from the Church of England in the 18th century because of revival that broke out of a desire for reform. The Evangelical Revival Movement among the Anglican Communion began with the Wesley’s bible study group and grew to be a group of people separate from the Church of England. John Wesley eventually adopted Armenian theology and Whitefield adopted Calvinistic theology which make up the two main branches of Methodism. Charles Wesley wrote approximately 6,000 hymns which expressed the beliefs and faith of the Methodists.

Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • Believes that God is Triune
  • Affirms the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed
  • Reads from the Church Fathers but believe they are not infallible like the scriptures
  • The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 as a result of a merger between the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church.
  • We are free to accept salvation just as we are free to reject it

Baptist

A protestant denomination that is known for their believe in what is called “believers baptism” as opposed to infant baptism. An English Separatist John Smyth is expected to be the first Baptism preacher in 1609. During the Great Awakening of the 17oo’s the Baptism group grew greatly.

Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • John Smyth believed that a scriptural church should consist only of regenerate believers who have been baptized on a personal confession of faith
  • John Smyth was convinced on the basis of his interpretation of Scripture that infants would not be damned should they die in infancy
  • The Southern Baptist Convention is not the only organization of Baptist churches but it is the largest
  • Qualification for church membership is baptism as defined as immersion in water based on the greek word baptizo
  • Baptists do not believe that the act of Baptism through immersion imparts any saving grace thus it is not necessary for salvation
  • Baptist church authority is comprised of the pastor, elder, and decon but no bishop

Presbyterian

The Presbyterian church was founded upon John Calvin’s Reformed teachings and ideas for church governance. It is believed that the origin of Presbyterianism is Scotland. The Presbyterian method of church government centers around elders and a presbyter as was believed the 1st century church was. After John Knox’s exile he returned to Scotland and helped create the new church government in the The Book of Discipline.

Theological beliefs/Church practices include:

  • Select allegiance Westminster Confession of Faith as their doctrinal standard
  • Infant baptism, adult baptism, through sprinkling or pouring but not immersion
  • Presbyterian churches or “meeting houses” were traditionally bare of decor, statues, images, and stained glass so as to not detract from ones focus on God and worship.

So there you have it! Those are the basics, i found most of this information on wikipedia and a few other sites. When I get to talking about denominations with friends the scripture always comes to mind where the Corinthians were becoming divisive and sectarian:

1Corinthians 1
11 – For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.
12 – Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”
13 – Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

1Corinthians 3
3 – for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
4 – For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
5 – Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?
6 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
9 – For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.
11 – For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I think that the after effects of the splitting and division, as well as the current state of the churches in America breaks God’s heart. I mean I can understand why most of the splits happened, it’s all documented and written out, mostly having to do with theological issues that two parties under the same roof did not agree on. But how many of these things are really crucial to salvation?

To what extent should we act upon our disagreements concerning issues that don’t save anyone or effect our eternity? Are we so self centered and church minded that we have not realized that even Paul himself knew to draw the line between what was a principle of the Lord and what was a preference of culture or opinion?

Where do you come from in the pantheon of denominations and sects?
What do you cherish or dislike from each group that you think is a valid element of the true body of Christ where it concerns the assembling of us together?

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19 thoughts on “The History of Christian Denominations

  1. An excellent overview of Church history, Daniel! The ‘denominations’ were never God’s plan; they were the result of 1) people following human leaders who taught their preferences and 2) a genuine desire for reform. As the Church came to be centralized in Rome, apostles were replaced w/ the organization. Local churches were maintstreamed into a mold, and their individual ‘flavor’ was lost.

    Ironically, this robbed them of the “Kingdom mindset” by which it had spread, and local congregational focus came to be itself, not the surrounding community: “local church thinking”. You can see this evidenced virtually everywhere in the West: churches who will not fellowship with each other, compete w/ each other, and are so busy w/ “church life” that they ignore the community around them. Their hope is that enough of the population will join their church, and they can “take their city for Christ”. “Revivals ” are redefined as evangelistic events, w/ the intent of snagging enough lost people that it will somehow change the spiritual climate of their locale.

    Until the Church regains Kingdom thinking – gets over its petty differences w/ each other and accepts the Five Fold ministry gifts (Eph 4) – we cannot have a genuine, universal move of God. “Revivals” will be regional and short-lived, and still leave surrounding communities mostly unchanged.

      • Paul was never worried about every contribution always being “right.” It is the legacy of the Papal crowd that anyone has the audacity of proclaiming that they are the “right” people, via creeds and dogmas. Paul said “we all know from a limited perspective.” No one is always right. So one speaks, and the others evaluate.

        But what Paul denounced vociferously as “carnal” so that he said to the Corinthians “I stand in doubt of you” is that policy of forming named sects. “A sectarian man,” Paul wrote, “rebuke once or twice, and if he doesn’t desist, abandon, since he has already given himself a death sentence.”

        The problem with “Trinity” is not that so much that is wrong, but that one can’t buy or sell unless one has the trinitarian number on one’s forehead. We all have a limited perspective. But those who “draw the line in the sand” and make dogmas of their errors are committed to death.

        Consider the **hubris** in the Athanasian Creed!!:

        http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Statements-of-Belief/The-Athanasian-Creed.aspx

        I challenge you to show me where any of these 40 assertions are made in scripture (other than the innocuous, “there is one God”).

      • I have never heard of that Creed nor do I have any reason to defend it since I do not claim that it has any authority in my life above the Word. Why do tend to give more weight and authority to creeds than they do the Word.
        But since you mentioned it they do seem to draw about John 1 in it’s mention of Jesus the Word being God and eternally uncreated.

        Also in scriptures talking about salvation through Jesus it does mention the necessity of accepting that Jesus is the son of God the Father.

        Jhn 20:31 NKJV – but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
        1John 4:3 – and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

        Concerning Jesus being both God and man it is quite obvious in the gospels and afterward that he was a physical historical human being and that he was at the same time more than a human being and a human form of God to mankind for their salvation. 1 Tim 3:16, Jhn 1:14, Phl 2:6, Col 2:9, Heb 1:1-3, Jhn 8:58

        And here are some scriptures that came to mind when reading the last few assertions:

        He suffered death for our salvation. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.
        Hbr 13:12, 2Ti 1:10
        He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
        Eph 4:9-10, Mat 12:40, Mar 16:19
        He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
        2Ti 4:1, Rom 2:16
        At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds. (Don’t know if I agree with this one, see the scripture)
        Rev 20:12-15
        Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire. (It’s not ones good that earns eternal life but Christ’s good being applied to them)
        Rev 20:14-15

        I don’t feel like taking the time to go through that whole thing though for obvious reasons!

  2. >>>I have never heard of that Creed nor do I have any reason to defend it since I do not claim that it has any authority in my life above the Word. Why do tend to give more weight and authority to creeds than they do the Word.

    So then which chapter and verse teaches “The Doctrine of the Trinity” which you *do* defend?

    >>>But since you mentioned it they do seem to draw about John 1 in it’s mention of Jesus the Word being God and eternally uncreated.

    Where in John 1 is the assertion that Jesus *is* the Word, or *is* God or that Jesus is “eternally uncreated?”

    >>>…I don’t feel like taking the time to go through that whole thing though for obvious reasons!

    I noticed, though, that you did not defend any of the assertions prior to the ones unrelated to “The Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.” The reasons *are* obvious! They are decidedly *not* scriptural assertions.

  3. The understanding of the concept of the trinity is explained across numerous scriptures. Although I do admit that there is no single scripture that said explicitly “Yahweh has three parts to His character – Father, Son, and Spirit”.

    I feel explaining the trinity through scripture and reasoning would be in vain since you will not accept it and I at this time cannot accept that it is a false teaching.

    So instead, please tell me from your Unitarian view who Jesus Christ is in relation to God, what His origin is, how He is “from” God, how is God His Father, and how He managed to be righteous enough beyond sin so as to save us. Also I’d like to know from your view point what the Holy Spirit is.

    I ask this because you are educated as to why the trinity is not Biblical or true, but I am not educated in those things so I would honestly just like some simple explanations of the things that us trinitarians interpret as being parts of God.

    Also please don’t assume why I do and don’t do things, the reason which I thought was obvious is that it would take a lot of my time up and honestly I’m just not up to that right now. Also it would not accomplish a lot since you are presumably educated in the Word and above that seem to be unchangeable in your views.
    It was not because I could not conjure up some proof texts to support my views as you assume.

  4. >>>…who Jesus Christ is in relation to God,

    Jesus is:

    * the embodiment of God’s NT message;
    * the promised human being (son of man) under whom God would place all things (temporarily);
    * the adopted son of God;
    Plus other stuff, like high priest, etc.

    >>>what His origin is,

    He was born. God was his father, Miriam his mother.

    >>>how He is “from” God,

    He was sent to the lost community (“the world”) as a light, etc.

    >>>how is God His Father,

    He was uniquely conceived by God and was adopted by God upon his resurrection/ascencion.

    >>>and how He managed to be righteous enough beyond sin so as to save us.

    He wasn’t. It is God who justifies. Jesus was a sinner.

    >>>Also I’d like to know from your view point what the Holy Spirit is.

    I think I mentioned in another post: Every occurence of “spirit” is a mistranslation of “breath.” There is no such thing in scripture as “spirit.”

  5. Yeshua the Messiah’s Body is Kehilla: Ecclesia; the out-called ones — and Not “church”

    There is a huge difference between the Kehillah – Ecclesia: the called out ones; Yeshua’s Body, and the institutional religious system – babylon.

    There a huge difference between the clergy system and the people who populate it.

    There’s a huge difference between the denominational system and Yahweh Elohim’s people who identify themselves by a denominational label.

    Yeshua the Messiah – did not die for a religious system. He died for ecclesia; you and me.

    The system is manmade, but ecclesia is a Living entity (Adat HaE-L Chai; community of the Living Elohim).

    Read: Eph 1,22-23. Kehillah (ecclesia) wich is in His Body — the fulness of Yeshua, that filled all in all.

    When Yeshua said: “I will build My assembly” — He wasn’t talking about a denominational false system — but He was speaking of His Body.

    The kehillah or ecclesia is a spiritual house built of Living stones.
    1 Pet 2,5 and Eph 2,20-20.
    Great stones — costly stones — hewed stones to lay foundation of the house”, tell us of the ecclesia; Built upon the foundation of the Tamidim and Prophets, and Yeshua Himself is the Chief Cornerstone.

    Ye also, as Living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an set apart priesthood (Kehunah) — to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to Elohim by Yeshua Ha’Mashiach.

    And the stone were All cut to the exact size needed and filled exactly into place, as each believer in ecclesia.

    We can say with the Pslmist: Let the beauty (and Holiness) of Yahweh our Elohim, be upon us.

    May Yahweh’s house; ecclesia be a joyful place for our feet.
    Hosea 14,6: Like the posts of the door were of olive -the wood of beauty.

    And Pomegranates speaks of fruitfulness – the fruit of Shalom from Sar Shalom; Prince of Peace; Yeshua the Messiah.

    Proverbs 1,7: The fear of the Yahweh, is the beginning of knowledge.

    Tehillim 84,10: For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the Beit Elohai, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness, amein.

    Come out of babylon My people !

    ——-

    Titus 3,10-11: Reject a divisive man — after the first and second warning — knowing that such one is perverted — and sins, being self-condemned.

    A heretic is a trouble-maker, a factious person. This person or persons – viciously seeks to build their own various “church” communities – divisions; hairesis – (religious false system) — to the destruction of the body of Yeshua the Messiah (ecclesia; the called out ones ).

    1 Corinthians 2,2: For I decided not to know any thing among you — except Yeshua the Messiah, and Him crucified.

    Reject a divisive man – after the first and second warning !

    Achdus; Unity – One (local Spritual) – Unity in Y’shua Ha’Mashiach.

    • Very interesting stuff you have written. So are all local Churches bad and “babylon”? What does the body of Christ do and look like in everyday life? Should we assemble? If so how would it be different than the typical church service?

  6. 1 Corinthians – the whole letter – has as its primary theme “how to handle differences of opinion”. He completely and explicitly rejects sects (“denominations”) as a “carnal” approach. Then he introduces his “better approach”:

    1Co 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way [“a better approach to unity”].

    >>>What does the body of Christ do and look like in everyday life? Should we assemble? If so how would it be different than the typical church service?

    In his approach, he gives very specific direction on how to accommodate differnces of opinion:

    1Co 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
    1Co 14:27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
    1Co 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
    1Co 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
    1Co 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
    1Co 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
    1Co 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
    1Co 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
    1Co 14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
    1Co 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
    1Co 14:38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
    1Co 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
    1Co 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

    This is Paul’s paradigm, but it is universally ignored in preference to the Roman model, with Popes, denominations, dogmas…

    This is “recognizing the lord’s body”.

  7. Fascinating, brief, readable, understandable and informative. Love the diagram too. Funny if after all that trouble you took you became a Hindu!! Nevermind, just a premonition I had while reading all that. Of course when you said ‘it would break Gods heart’ to see the splits I know that you also realised that when god invented DNA, that’s Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid for to the Layman, that Diversity was implicitly included. A bit like Biodiversity. Also that God was not prone to suffering from religious prejudice like most…well…how should we put it? How about practising Christians, Muslims & Jews? I think it would be Hilarious if you ended up in heaven and the angels had to put you through some type of institution to wash you free of your beliefs and indoctrinations and prejudices before they let you in. And when you got in you found there to be no religion in heaven. Bit like that line in Lennons ‘imagine’. Wouldn’t it be even funnier if because you are a christian that they sent you back down and you reincarnated as eg a Muslim? Ie into the religion of peace and torerance, to be filled with antichristian hatred and Malice? Anyway I hope you found this post interesting and May the blessings of Buddha land on your head like the apple on Newtons! I think you need to add Swedenborgian church to your list of denominations.

    • That’s a lot of “what if’s” but interesting thoughts none the less. I don’t think there will be any religion in heaven per se. Only a full, open, and real relationship with our Father. It will be no more religious than being a child and loving your parents is. The spiritual family will finally be complete. Perhaps I don’t understand the term “biodiversity” but how much diversity does my DNA hold? Can’t I only create another creature of my own same species? Brings to mind how in Genesis it says “according to it’s kind”.

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