What are the Christian denominations

Lexicon of Religions:

Different Christian schools and communities

Denominations (confessio = creed) are the names of the various Christian churches and ecclesiastical communities that differ from one another in doctrine and life practice. They are the result of church divisions through reform attempts that could not be implemented and through the rejection of resolutions by councils or popes. A selection of some important denominations in addition to the Roman Catholic Church:

  • Arians
  • Nestorians
  • Monophysites
  • Orthodox
  • Old Believers
  • Hussites
  • Bohemian brothers
  • Lutheran
  • Reformed
  • Anglican
  • Mennonites
  • Hutterites
  • Puritans
  • Quaker
  • Baptists
  • Methodists
  • Old Catholics


The Council of Nicaea (325) defined the identity of God the Father and the Son and rejected the theses of the Alexandrian priest Arius, who saw only God the Father as God, but Christ as created. Arianism spread over several centuries, especially among the Christianized Germans of the Great Migration.


The Council of Ephesus (431) agreed to give Mary the title “Theotokos”. On the other hand, Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, fought with the attempt to distinguish divine and human nature in Christ. But he did not prevail and was banished.

The East Syrian Christians under the rule of the Seleucids and later under the Muslim Abbasids distanced themselves, not least for political reasons, from the Council of the Eastern Roman Imperial Church and followed the theses of Nestorius. The East Syrian Church had 230 dioceses in the 14th century. Today this Church is scattered after many persecutions in Iran, Iraq, Syria, India, Russia and the USA.


The question of the relationship between human and divine nature in Jesus Christ also shaped a school of thought that focused on the divinity of Christ, which glows through his humanity like fire through iron. The Council of Chalcedon (451), the district of Kadıköy in today's Istanbul, condemned this doctrine called "Monophysitism". However, it spread to the southeast of the Roman Empire; the churches of this direction are summarized as "ancient oriental churches".

The resistance against Chalcedon still shapes the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of India (“Thomas Christians”), the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and in Egypt the Coptic Church. Recent theological discussions, initiated by the Viennese foundation “Pro Oriente”, have shown that these churches actually share the faith of the Orthodox churches, and that it was mainly political reasons that caused the separation at the time.


The Roman Church and the Church of the East with Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the imperial city had diverged politically and culturally for a long time. Still, the Roman Pope insisted on his primacy. An attempt to resolve the differences failed and led in 1054 to mutual excommunication. Since then, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (“orthodox”: orthodox) have stood opposite one another and to this day they have formed a mental and spiritual fault line between Western and Eastern Europe.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople was joined by the Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, and the Russian Orthodox Church declared itself a patriarchate in 1589. In the course of the pushing back of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan states created their own national patriarchates in the 19th century. As a result of migration, there are now Orthodox churches in Western Europe and the USA. The orthodox churches differ only slightly in their teaching from the Roman church, but they differ in their spirituality and their rites and worship services.

Old Believers

Groups within the Russian Orthodox Church opposed the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681). This led to the great schism, to the radicalization and persecution of the Old Believers, some of whom rejected the priesthood and sacraments. In the 18th century, moderate Old Believers succeeded in creating an ecclesiastical center and after the Second World War around 300 parishes gathered under their own archbishop in Moscow.


The heavily secularized church of the Middle Ages provoked various reform movements. Petrus Waldes (around 1140 to around 1206), a merchant from Lyon, sold his property according to the Gospel claim and gathered followers around him: the “poor of Lyon”. He began to preach and also allowed women to preach, which the bishop forbade him. The Pope initially gave him limited permission, and Petrus Waldes appeared at the 3rd Lateran Council (1179).

He opposed another ban on preaching, was excommunicated in 1184 and persecuted with his followers through new heretic legislation - more on the subject of persecuting heretics in the Inquisition entry. The Waldensians survived in small groups. It was not until the Italian unification in 1848 that the Waldensians guaranteed their civil rights. Today you are the Protestant Church in Italy with its own theological faculty in Rome.


Another reform movement emanated from Prague, inspired by the Englishman John Wyclif (1320 to 1384), who defended the independence of the person and the nation against papal claims. Jan Hus gave the impetus for demands, which he defended at the Council of Constance (1414-1418). Despite a letter of safe conduct from the emperor, he was condemned by the council and burned as a heretic. This intensified the resistance of the Czech Hussites. They demanded communion in both forms (bread and wine) and poverty for church and clergy. The radical wing under Jan Žižka offered military resistance against the emperor in the Hussite Wars (1419 to 1436).

Today's Hussite Church in the Czech Republic was only founded in 1919/1920 by former Roman Catholic priests who had advocated and rejected reforms at the end of the 19th century. The Hussite Church represents priestly marriage and women's ordination.

Bohemian brothers

The Czech Petr Chelčický, a layman, gathered followers from 1457 who wanted to shape their lives according to early Christianity. Taborites - the remaining Hussites - and Waldensians expelled from Italy set the tone. A particularly strict way of life was replaced by a milder brotherhood at a Prague synod under Luke of Prague in 1494.

The brothers withstood many Catholic persecutions, but could not come to an agreement with the reformers either because they adhered to the priestly celibacy and to the seven sacraments. They emigrated to Poland, where the important pedagogue Jan Comenius (d. 1670) was their bishop. In the 18th century, Nikolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf (1700 to 1760), who took in brothers who had fled from 1722, had a great influence on the communities and encouraged them to do missionary work. Zinzendorf's pietistic Herrnhuter Brothers Congregation emerged from the roots of the Bohemian Brothers. Their legacy is preserved today by the Hussite Church in the Czech Republic.


The grievances in the Roman Church of the late Middle Ages worsened, but reform proposals did not prevail. The 5th Lateran Council (1512 to 1517) ended with practically no results on March 16, 1517. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther published his theses against the indulgence trade. Under the protection of German princes, for whom the dependence on Rome had long been a thorn in the side, Luther was able to translate the Bible into German and, despite the papal bull of excommunication from 1521, formulate his theology: he invoked scripture and not tradition and gave faith takes precedence over any “righteousness by work”.

The liberation from Roman and imperial tutelage spread the Reformation to half of Europe. At the end of the 16th century, Austria was also about 90 percent Protestant. The Council of Trent (1551 to 1552 and 1562 to 1563) started the Catholic Counter-Reformation, but was unable to restore church unity. Today's Protestants form the Protestant churches with different roots and folds, in many churches the ordination of women is practiced.


Ulrich Zwingli (1484 to 1531) carried out the Reformation in Zurich and Johannes Calvin (1509 to 1564) in Geneva. Your concepts are different. Calvin established strict church discipline and advocated the doctrine of predestination, the predestination for salvation as a consolation for the persecuted Protestants who sought refuge in Geneva. There were differences between Martin Luther and the Swiss reformers about the meaning of the Lord's Supper.

To this day there are two confessional documents: the “Confessio Augustana” (AB) for the Lutheran Churches penned by the Luther employee Philipp Melanchthon (1497 to 1560), who is considered an important theologian of the Reformation, and the “Confessio Helvetica” (HB ) for the Reformed Churches. Reformed Calvinist influences were the Huguenots in France, who were persecuted with blood until the 16th century and who fled to the Netherlands, Prussia and America to spread Reformed Christianity. In many Reformed churches, women can exercise ministry.


In England, King Henry VIII (1491 to 1547) tried unsuccessfully to have his first marriage annulled by the pope. On this occasion and following the example of the spreading Reformation, the King of Rome renounced himself and declared himself head of an independent Anglican Church in 1534. The Queen of England is still her head.

In many ways this church preserves the Catholic tradition, mixed with Lutheran and Calvinist theology. In some provinces women are admitted to the diaconal and priestly office. Resistance also arose within England.

John Knox (d. 1572), a disciple of Calvin, reformed Scotland and formed the first Presbyterian Church. Calvinist theology and a church constitution without state supervision shape them and caused persecution and expulsion by the Anglican Church. The Presbyterians are common today in the United States, Canada, and Australia.


The Anabaptist Movement is known as the left wing of the Reformation. She tried to orientate herself on early Christian models, refused child baptism, oaths and military service. Nonetheless, their most spectacular attempt to establish themselves was the tyranny of the “Thousand Year Reich” of Münster, which lasted only one year (1534 to 1535).

Other branches of the Anabaptists rejected violence, such as the Dutchman Menno Simons (1496 to 1561), initially a Catholic priest, who, however, joined the Anabaptist movement and worked throughout northern Germany. His followers, the Mennonites, were first recognized in the Netherlands, many of them emigrated to America, where they professed religious tolerance and non-violence.


The South Tyrolean Jakob Hutterer (1500 to 1536) founded Anabaptist communities that were persecuted and expelled more than other groups during the Reformation. Hutterer himself was executed in Innsbruck. Settlements of the Hutterites, who live according to the model of the Jerusalem early community in community of property and still cultivate their Tyrolean dialect, emerged in Eastern Europe and from 1884 in the United States and Canada.


Other denominational variations of Reformed Protestantism emerged mainly in England. Puritanism, which strictly condemned all amusements and amusements, turned against the state tutelage of the Anglican Church, came to power under Oliver Cromwell (d. 1658) and was pushed back by the Catholic House of Stuart, to give way again to Anglicanism after this interlude do.


In the 17th century, the Quakers, who called themselves “Society of Friends”, turned against the state church. They trusted in an “inner light” that is accessible to everyone, rejected oaths and military service and were therefore persecuted and driven out. In America, the Quaker William Penn founded the Free State of Pennsylvania, whose constitution first proclaimed freedom of religion.


Also in the 17th century a free church was established in England, which committed itself to the baptism of adults.

Under the direction of the former Anglican priest John Smyth, a group emigrated to Amsterdam in 1608 and constituted a congregation and later introduced the baptism of believers for adults. Today the Baptists are particularly widespread in the USA, they represent a Calvinist theology and are involved in education and social work.


The Englishman John Wesley (d. 1791) is considered to be the founder of the Methodists. He and his brother Charles represented a conscious, methodically controlled pursuit of sanctification. In 1795 the Methodist Free Church was founded.

The Methodists in America and Canada followed a strictly Calvinist concept and initially separated from their English origins. A reunification did not begin until after the Second World War. In the 19th century, the Methodists were the largest Christian denomination in the United States.

Old Catholics

The first Vatican Council (1869-1870) declared the Pope's infallibility to be a dogma. Above all, German theologians protested against this. A first international congress in Munich in 1871 decided to set up its own church organization. The Old Catholic Church in Germany and Austria correspond to the Christian Catholic Church in Switzerland, the Polish Catholic Church in Poland and in the USA the Polish National Catholic Church, founded by emigrants.

The doctrinal basis of the Old Catholics is the "Utrecht Declaration" of 1889. In it the Pope is only granted an honorary primacy, the Marian dogmas and the doctrine of transubstantiation in the Lord's Supper are rejected. Priestly celibacy has been abolished since 1877. The Old Catholic Church has also been ordinating happy people to the priesthood for a number of years.

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