An Overview of Christian Denominations

Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Adventist, Pentecostal—the proliferation of Christian denominations can be confusing, even overwhelming. Here’s a simplified look at what denominations are, some of the ones that have formed in Christianity, and what some of the differences between Christian denominations are.


What Is a Denomination?


A religious denomination is defined as “a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.” These subgroups are created through gradual differences in beliefs, or occasionally through rapid divergence following a split or schism.


In Christianity, church denominations may sometimes be conflated with sects, thanks to the complicated and varied usage of the term.Christian sects are generally considered to be very small subgroups, often breaking off from within denominations. Though sometimes the term can be used to refer to a denomination as a whole, it is often used in a negative context to refer to a group viewed as heretical.


Christian Denominations


There are many different types of Christianity, with as many as 45,000 Christian denominations estimated to exist around the world. However, these denominations can be broken down into three broad categories: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant.


  • Roman Catholic:Catholicism places priority on public, ritual worship. The Pope is the head of the Catholic church, “the key human authority over the church, who is infallible when speaking ex cathedra (from the full seat of authority on issues of faith or morals).”
  • Eastern Orthodox: The Orthodox church also prioritizes liturgical worship, but rejects the Catholic idea of an infallible Pope. 
  • Protestant: The Protestant church separated from the Catholic church during the Protestant Reformation. Protestants also reject papal primacy, and believe in justification through faith alone. There are many denominations within the Protestant church, including Baptist, Episcopalian, Evangelist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and many more.


What Is a Non-Denominational Christian?


Non-denominational churches are “those not formally aligned with an established denomination or those that remain otherwise officially autonomous.” Non-denominational Christians do not see themselves as belonging to any particular denomination; instead, they “have an inclination to regard the Bible itself as their authority rather than the customs of a distinct church.”


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