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Six Main Branches of Christianity

Major differences between the six main religious branches of Eastern, Western, Protestant, Reformed, and Non-Denominational Catholic churches today

By tradition, Eastern Christianity refers to itself as “Catholicos” while Western (Roman) Christianity is “Catholic.” Both come from the Greek word katholou, which means universal or general.

The apostles established several churches in various places. Two major groups developed, who both claim apostolic succession—Eastern and Western Catholics. In 1535, Martin Luther appealed to reform the church. Instead, the pope excommunicated Luther, and Protestantism was born.

There were other religious movements that protested Rome, as well as schisms within the protestant movement. Today, there are Catholics (East and West), Protestant denominations, and non-denominational churches.

Six major branches of Christianity today

1. Eastern (Catholicos)

Also called Eastern Orthodox, they established themselves in Eastern Europe. Their seat of power was in Constantinople until it fell in 1453. The church remains today, and they also have a pope.

2. Western (Catholics)

Roman Catholicism was established when the Roman Empire was about to collapse. The influence of the emperors brought them clout and power. The pagan origin of the Roman papacy is rooted in the empire’s College of Pontiff.

Protestants are not a branch of Roman Catholicism. Although the founding fathers were former priests, they were excommunicated. Their teachings are rooted in scriptures (not Catholic dogma) and assert that it is apostolic preaching.

3. Protestants

Martin Luther wanted to reform the Roman Catholic church. His influence was confined to the German clergies, but his thesis sparked religious reformation across Europe by the 1600s. Another reformist was John Calvin, a French theologian who led the reformation in Geneva in the mid-1500s. [See Luther’s thesis in 1517]

Luther had no intention of leaving the clergy. His refusal to recant led to his ex-communication. Later, his followers were called protestants (because they protested the church). The word was later used to describe people leaving the Catholic church and following the teaching of the reformists.

Examples: Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Baptists, and Anglicans.

4. Calvinists (Protestants)

A breakaway from Roman Catholicism, John Calvin, like Luther, wanted to preach the true Gospel of Jesus. He and Luther agreed on several reformed doctrines.

Calvinists are sort of “reformed protestants.” Calvinism spread from central Europe to North America.

Examples: “Strong or weak Calvinists,” Presbyterian, Reformed tradition.

5. Reformed Tradition

These are independent groups of churches that follow a reformed protestant tradition. Today, they are the strongest voice when it comes to doctrine and Biblical interpretation.

Examples: The popularity of apologists like R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and the late J.J. Packer triggered a resurgence of (strong or weak) Calvinism. Pastor Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message” on YouTube in 2002 on repentance and sanctification inspired a new movement of young reformists. [Tim Challlies]

6. Non-Denomination

Various independent churches were established by a preacher or group whose teachings followed a combination of the protestant tradition and varying interpretations of the scriptures. Others refer to themselves as part of a “new” Holy Spirit movement.

Examples: Evangelicals (Broad description). Charismatic and Pentecostal are “Holy Spirit movements.” The Adventists (Ellen G. White), Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watch Tower), and LDS (Book of Mormon) have extra-Biblical sources for their doctrines.

OTHERS: Liberal, Progressive, and Ecumenical Churches

Generally, these churches claim Christian roots but do not necessarily follow the Bible in a strict sense. Also called “progressive churches,” they focus on humanism and universalism. For them, Jesus is one of many ways to reach God.

Although Unitarian and Universalist churches are often associated with Christianity, they are not Christians. Other non-denominational churches like Mormonism, Iglesia Ni Cristo, and a host of other fanatic groups claim a new kind of apostolic revelation.

Examples: Christian scientists, unitarians, free thinkers, humanists, and other liberal woke churches.

Authority

Eastern CatholicsHoly Bible
Western Roman CatholicsHoly Bible, Catechism, Papacy
LutheranHoly Bible
CalvinistHoly Bible
Reformed ProtestantsHoly Bible
Non-DenominationHoly Bible
OthersHoly Bible, Liberal, Humanist, Universalism, Ecumenism, Holy Spirit movement, modern apostles

Holy Trinity

Eastern CatholicsYes
Western Roman CatholicsYes
LutheranYes
CalvinistYes
Reformed ProtestantsYes
Non-Denomination Yes
OthersYes (With exceptions)

Salvation

Eastern CatholicsJesus Christ
Western Roman CatholicsJesus Christ, Mary Co-Mediatrix, Sacraments, and indulgence.
ProtestantsJesus Christ
CalvinistJesus Christ
Reformed ProtestantsJesus Christ
Non-DenominationJesus Christ (some combined with good works)
OthersGood work, and character.

Process of Redemption

Eastern CatholicsFaith in Jesus, sacraments
Western Roman CatholicsFaith in Jesus, confession to a priest, penance (rosary, novena, flagellation), sacraments, indulgence, and purgatory
LutheranFaith in Jesus
CalvinistFaith in Jesus, repentance
Reformed ProtestantsFaith in Jesus, repentance
Non-DenominationFaith in Jesus, baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues
OthersGood work, character

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