Four main branches of Christianity in the early centuries
Three divisions of Christianity stemmed from “Jewish-Christians” in Jerusalem (Book of Acts). The apostles established several Christian churches in Europe and parts of Asia. They are traditionally labeled as the Oriental, Eastern, and Western Orthodox groups.
Western Roman Catholicism went far and wide in influence. The fourth branch are Protestants who broke from Rome and restored apostolic teachings.
Protestantism is not a branch of Catholicism
Although it could be argued that it’s a scion, it could also be said that Protestantism is unique given they used a new Bible translation. They also purged the sacraments and refused the authority of the Pope.
The word “Catholic” (καθόλου) means “in general,” referring to all believers in Jesus regardless of religious affiliation. Thus “Catholic” can refer to (1) Orthodox (2) Roman Catholicism, (3) Protestants.
1. Oriental Orthodox Church
In the 5th and 6th Centuries, some communities split from mainline Christianity. Some that survived are known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches. They are the descendants of those condemned at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the Council of Chalcedon. Although there are Oriental groups that claim they are non-Chalcedon.
Founders: Apostolic tradition
Population: 60 Million worldwide
Current Head: The Oriental Orthodox do not have a patriarch or Pope. However, its biggest church in Alexandria has a patriarch, Pope Tawadros II, the 118th successor, from 2012 to the present.
Six Autocephalous Churches:
Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
Armenian Apostolic Church
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
2. Eastern Orthodox (Catholicos)
The Eastern Orthodox Churches are Greek-speaking Christians in the Byzantium Empire, the last vestige of the Roman Empire. Eastern split with the Western (Roman Catholic or RC) Church. The RC “absorbed” the fallen Roman Empire and became the Holy Roman Empire or Western Roman Catholic.
Constantinople, established by Saint Andrew, is currently in Turkey
Alexandria established by Saint Mark, currently in Egypt
Antioch, established by Saint Peter, currently in Syria
Jerusalem, established by Saint James
Population: 220 million members worldwide
Current Head: Patriarch Bartholomew I (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), 270th in succession, 1992 to present.
14 Autocephalous Churches
Patriarchate of Alexandria
Patriarchate of Antioch
Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Russian Orthodox Church
Serbian Orthodox Church
Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Romanian Orthodox Church
Georgian Orthodox Church
Church of Cyprus
Church of Greece
Orthodox Church of Albania
Polish Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia
2. Roman Catholicism (Catholics)
The Western Catholic (Roman Christianity) rose above all other branches because of their seat of power. They took over with what’s left of the once-mighty Roman Empire.
Hence, the Pope became known as Pontifex Maximus (Supreme Pontiff), previously used by the Emperors of Rome. They grew in political power and influenced the Spanish monarchy, which helped spread Roman Catholicism.
Roman Catholicism church grew from within the Roman Empire in Rome, which ruled Jerusalem. With its power and influence, Rome was able to reclaim Christian relics and manuscripts for safekeeping.
Founders: Saint Peter and Saint Paul
Population: 1.2 Billion worldwide
Current Head: The Vatican Pope
Anglicans (Church of England)
3. Protestants (Christians)
The Protestant Reformation was a period when priests and Bible scholars left the Catholic church for its unbiblical doctrines. The Protestant movement began with Martin Luther in Germany in 1517.
Today there are several Protestant denominations. There is NO unified leadership in Protestantism. Instead, denominations are divided into minor theology.
The Act of Supremacy: King Henry VIII established the Church of England and became the “Supreme head of the church.” He remained pro-Catholic. His daughter Queen Elizabeth I, was pro-Protestant.
She used the title “Supreme Governor of the church.” Anglicanism in England or Episcopalians in other countries developed after the reformation.
Founder: Martin Luther ignited the reformation.
Population: 800 Million worldwide
Current Head: There is no ecumenical patriarch.
Protestant division and denominations:
4. Non-Denominational Churches
After WW2, a new wave of evangelicalism swept the world. Non-traditional churches were established, and by the 1980s to 2000s, “mega-Churches” sprung out of nowhere. Religious cults also proliferated.
There are also non-denominational churches that adopted a reformed Protestant tradition.
Prominent “mega-churches,” founded by Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen, sprung from the claim of divine inspiration. However, their preaching is geared toward Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, prosperity gospel, and Christian humanism.
Philippines, the new frontier of evangelism
A Christian revival that began in the 1980s gave rise to several mega-churches in the Philippines. For example, Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF) started in a garage in 1982, after the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Today, CCF is the biggest influencer spreading the Gospel through social media. They have at least 2 Million followers, exceeding that of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church.
Since 2000, the growing appeal of “Evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition” increasing. A fitting “resistance” to the ever-increasing threat of modern apostasy spread by other non-denominational churches today.
Founder: Apostolic tradition, mixed, and Holy Spirit movement.
Current Head: There is no ecumenical patriarch.
Population: At least 150 million worldwide.
USA: 40 Million
Europe: 35 Million
China: 40 Million
Philippines: 1.2 Million
South Korea: 15 Million
The mix of non-denominational evangelical churches today:
Reformed Christian Churches
Born-again Christian Churches
Full-Gospel Christian Churches
Independent Christian Churches