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What does the Bible say about denominations?

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
April 15, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 18, 2011 at 11:19 p.m.


For non-Christians and Christians alike, understanding church denominationalism can be overwhelming. With more than 10,000 Christian denominations to choose from - most of which fall under the umbrella of the religion's three main branches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant - one might wonder what biblical scripture says about specific denominations.

In biblical times, between A.D. 1-100, Christianity wasn't compartmentalized as it is today. The church during those formative years was known as the Church under the Apostles, advanced by Jesus' appointed apostles -primarily Paul - and comprised of one universal message.

Denominations therefore, do not appear in biblical scripture. Throughout centuries, denominational divides stemmed from personal, theological and political discrepancies within its followers.

Here's an abbreviated historical overview Christian denominations, concentrating on the Western Church.

A.D. 100-311

The Christian-Catholic church began to organize with clergy and lay people.

The Catholic church consolidates in opposition to heretics.

First Roman primacy, or appointment of a pope, appear in history.

Great Schism - 1054

First major change in early Christian church.

Eastern Orthodox Church of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), split from the Western Church, or the Church of Rome.

Protestant Reformation - 1517

German monk and theologian Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther challenged Pope's authority and Church for selling indulgences for sins already forgiven.

Luther's followers became the first Protestants.

Luther translates New Testament into German, common people have access to Bible.

Protestant Reformation - Switzerland, 1518

Huldrych Zwingli, pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich, starts similar Reformation in Switzerland.

Zwingli's criticizes church for corruption of hierarchy.

1530s

French theologian and pastor John Calvin splits from Catholic Church, moves to Geneva, Switzerland with Reformation.

Calvin teaches predestination.

Calvin's teachings began the Calvinist Reformed Churches.

Zwingli and Calvin's teachings form Presbyterian Churches, which later establishes the Baptist Churches in the early 1600s.

1529-1530s - The Church of England

Church of England emerges during Reformation of 1530s when Henry splits with Church of Rome.

King Henry VIII desires annulment from wife Queen Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, known as "The King's Great Matter." Pope Clement VII denies annulment. Henry appoints himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Origins of Anglican Church rooted in sixth century, but first broke ties with Church of Rome when Henry's annulment was denied. Church of England considered Mother Church of worldwide Anglican Communion.

Churches later derived from Anglican Church include Congregational Churches - 1567; Society of Friends, Quakers, 1648; Protestant Episcopal Church (U.S.), 1780s.

1618-48

Protestant-Catholic conflict in Germany known as the Thirty Years War.

1730s - Methodist

Methodism begins to take shape, headed by John Wesley, a theologian and Church of England cleric.

Wesley teaches Christian Perfection, or Christian holiness; having a perfect love, heart purity. Wesley invites people to experience Jesus Christ personally.

The Salvation Army forms in 1865, established in the United Kingdom by former Methodist William Booth.

Denominations formed later in the United States were Seventh-Day Adventists in Battle Creek, Mich. in 1863, and the Pentecostal movement in 1901, the Church of Christ in 1906.

Source: Bruce Rosdahl, Ph.D., Southwestern Assemblies of God University; Philip Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church; Advocate Staff Research.

Corrected April 19, 2011.

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