You’re far from alone if you find it confusing trying to understand the differences between the numerous, varied Christian denominations. Here is a brief, straightforward introduction to the major Christian denominations.
What defines a “denomination” is how a Christian group views the Bible and specific beliefs based upon Scripture, as well as religious traditions.
There are over 200 Christian denominations in the US. Globally, the number is a massive 45,000, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
When it comes to denominations within Christianity, in large part, they can be divided into six main groups : Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Church of the East, and restorationism.
The groups were further divided into separate groups from there. For example, within Protestantism, you get major dominations such as Baptist, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and reformed Christianity. The latter group is more commonly referred to as Calvinism and breaks down into other denominations such as Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Church of England, and more.
The first-century Christian church (AD 27-AD 100) is only presented here to show how far the church has strayed from its roots. Early Christianity was a denomination of Judaism, being that Christ was a Jew, as were most of his earlier followers. They held on to many Jewish customs.
The Catholic Church is led by the Pope, who is viewed as Christ’s representative on earth and the successor to the apostle Peter. The Roman Catholic church relies on tradition as being as sacred as Scripture. It also relies on the catechism. All totaled on all five continents, there are over a billion Catholics, making it the largest Christian denomination in the world.
There are over 260 million Orthodox followers, making it the second-largest Christian denomination. Although sharing many commonalities with the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church does not accept the Pope’s authority and disagrees on minor rituals. It also puts a strong emphasis on holy tradition in addition to the Scriptures.
The Protestant movement broke away from the Catholic church and what’s known as the 16th century Reformation, a move instituted by a former Catholic monk, Martin Luther. He wrote his infamous 95 theses in a dissent against the Catholic church. A major component is justification (forgiveness of sin/salvation) by faith alone, rather than by faith with good works.
Like Martin Luther, French theologian John Calvin also began teaching a Reformation doctrine in Switzerland in 1519. Calvinism differs from Lutheranism by way of predestination, that some people are predestined to be saved and others to eternal damnation
The Anglican is a Protestant offshoot, which includes the Church of England. Anglicans are called Episcopalian in the US. There are about 110 million adherents worldwide. The fundamentals of Anglicanism come with traditions and writings, such as the Book of Common Prayer, as well as the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, and the catechism.
According to History, although Mormons identify as Christians, most Christians do not recognize Mormonism as a Christian denomination. Today, most Mormons refer to themselves as belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a distinction that rejects polygamy. Joseph Smith, who claimed to be a prophet and established the religion in 1830, said an angel named Moroni spoke to him and asked him to write the Book of Mormon. Mormons follow four texts: The Christian Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. However, Smith revised the Bible Mormons use, making changes to about 3400 hundred verses, claiming he was divinely directed to re-translate, adding phrases, and making significant changes.
Many Christian denominations consider Jehovah’s Witness to be a heretical cult. Charles Russell founded it in the late 1800s. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the idea of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus is the Archangel Michael. They believe the start of the “end times” began in 1914. They believe only 144,000 people will be accepted into the highest level of heaven, and they reject the idea of a literal hell, believing souls pass out of existence upon death. They reject the idea that Christ’s rose from the dead in the flesh and that God disposed of his body, and Jesus, after death, was re-created again as the Archangel Michael. According to Bible Reasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses see themselves as the one true church, with the others being imposters created by Satan.