Different Types of Christianity:Christian History
Different Types of Christianity
Over the years, Christianity has amassed followers that it soon became the world’s largest religion in the world with over two billion adherents according to a 2015 demographic data published by PEW Research Center. And since then, it’s still continuing to grow and with its flourishment came the different forms and interpretations of the doctrine which gave birth to the different Christian beliefs to this day.
What do they believe in? Let’ s take a look at the different types of Christianity that have existed and exist today.
Before the jump to the complex branching and spread of Christianity all over the regions of the world, it’s important to know the foundation of its early statement of belief which is known as the Apostles’ Creed developed between the 2nd and 9th centuries.
The Apostles’ Creed is the most widely accepted and used confession of faith among Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes and is based upon the understanding of the canonical gospels of the Bible, in majority the New Testament. Its central doctrine is Trinitarian which affirms belief in three distinct and eternally co-existing personas of one God: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
The Creed also includes the belief in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ to Heaven, the holiness of the Church and the communion of saints, and last but not the least is the belief in Christ’s second coming or the Day of Judgement.
The Perspective: How are the Different Types of Christianity “divided”?
A quick search will prompt up a lot of resource materials attempting the categorisation of the branches of Christianity into “types”. Some have pointed out that the use of the word type is a loose and imprecise word to capture the growth of Christianity. Some do not even believe that Christianity has types at all and has stayed true to its core belief of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection alone. These different perspectives on the categorisation of Christianity provided varied answers as to how many different types of Christianity there are in the world.
The Common Answer: Three Major Different Types of Christianity
The most common answer that sources usually provide or what is considered an overview of a rather complex topic is that there are three major types of Christianity according to doctrine and jurisdiction namely the Roman Catholic Church which is the largest Christian denomination accounting for almost a billion of the Christian followers, next is Protestantism or also known as Protestant Reformation most popularly credited to the names of Martin Luther and John Calvin and constitutes a third of the Christian population and has diverged into many innumerable denominations throughout the years, and lastly the Eastern Orthodox which is mainly characterised by its roots to the apostolic church and liturgy which also extended to its territorial churches.
Historical Context on the 11th Century’s Great Schism: The Separation of East and West
The Great Schism or more commonly known as the East-West schism was a six century progressive tension between the Eastern and the Western Churches which ultimately resulted in the separation of Christianity into the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
This split is rooted from several doctrinal and political issues that surrounded Christianity at that time.
The major doctrinal dispute between the two is the issue of the Nicene Creed. Brushing over the history of Christianity, the Nicene Creed was the unifying confession of faith during the time of Constantine. Back then, there were three different beliefs in the persona of the one true God. The first one was the Arian belief by Arius who refused to acknowledge the existence of Jesus the Son as this was not consistent with the monotheism of Christianity or the oneness of God.
This was then refuted by the Origenists who followed the ideas by different types of Christianity and works of Origen who believed that Jesus the Son is uncreated and divine, an essence begotten from God the Father but they rallied that Jesus the Son was an inferior divinity compared to God the Father. Lastly, there was the Nicene party which held the truth of Origenists with Jesus as an essence begotten from the Father but refuted the comparison in divinity as these two personas were absolute and equal.
Then came the Holy Spirit among the different types of Christianity. This third persona was introduced by Roman Catholic into the Nicene Creed as an essence begotten not from the Father alone — which was the earlier teaching of the Church — but both from the Father and the Son which was not accepted by the Eastern Orthodox. This was considered as one of the major factors of the separation of the East and the West.
There were smaller differences in doctrinal practices between the two such as the issue of marriage regarding church authorities. The Roman Catholic Church practices celibacy among its popes, bishops, and priests while clergymen of the Eastern Orthodox are married. Aside from that, there were also conflicts over the issue of communion wherein Roman Catholics used unleavened bread as opposed to the use of leavened bread by the Eastern Orthodox.
In terms of political issues, one major source of dispute was the claimed superiority and asserted primacy of the Latin-speaking Western Roman Catholics over the patriarchs of the Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox (Byzantines). The superiority shown by the Roman Catholics was built on the Apostles Peter and Paul and as such this authority had ascended into the Pope, bishops, and all other church authorities.
The Church boundary and control had been blurred and this translated into a full separation in domain. Geographical visualization of this separation showed the Western Roman Catholic Church covering Western Europe and the Northern and Western Mediterranean while the Eastern Orthodox had Asia Minor (present day Turkey), Middle East, and North Africa as their domain.
These were the happenings during the six century long tension between the East and West among different types of Christianity. The split did not happen until 1054 which was finally triggered by the mutual excommunication — or in some accounts termed as anathemas which was considered a more severe form of excommunication, a sentence given to Arius upon his refusal to sign the Nicene Creed — of Michael Cerularius (patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox) and St. Leo IX (pope of the Roman Catholic Church).
Although some sources and accounts pointed out that the excommunication was not the final schism rather it was the Fourth Crusade that finally sealed the separation. In 1204, a Crusade against Constantinople (the Sack of Constantinople) resulted in the death of many Eastern Orthodox Christians and desecration of many churches and religious icons. And this eventually led to the loss of the Byzantine capital to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453 which was never forgotten in history.
It was only in 1965 that the long withstanding mutual excommunication of the East and the West was lifted by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. Although there were no longer sour tension between the two, they remained as distinct churches and formed the first branching of Christianity.
Introducing the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Catholic Church as distinct Churches
Orthodoxy or “right believing” is the preservation of the true faith against heresies. This tradition was developed from the Eastern Christianity of the Roman Empire and shaped by socio-political pressures during that time. It is also called the Byzantine Christianity as it is placed in the Eastern capital of Rome, Byzantium.
The Patriarch of Constantinople acts as the nominal head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is constituted by several autocephalous churches described as canonically and administratively independent churches. In terms of belief, it essentially shares a lot of similarities with other Christian Churches that salvation is a gift from God and therefore cannot be earned only accepted but differs mainly in the way of life and worship which was the source of differences with the Western Roman Catholic Church.
On the other hand, Roman Catholicism is described as one of the major and decisive spiritual forces in the history of the Western civilization. It is the largest denomination of Christianity with around a billion adherents which is roughly half of the Christian population.
Unlike the Eastern Orthodox with Patriarch as its head, Roman Catholics have an elaborate structure of organization headed by the papacy or the Pope. This is considered the oldest and still continuing absolute monarchy. Catholics believe that the Pope is the successor of Apostle Peter (apostolic succession) who was considered the key person in spreading Christianity in Europe and appointed head of Church by Christ. Following this, the Pope is the superior and infallible authority in matters of faith and morality.
Catholic doctrine is known for its devotion to Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, and is believed to intercede between God and his people. In general, Catholics have placed great belief in the worship of saints which have been known around the world and even today to perform miracles.
The Protestant Reformation
Protestantism in demographic statistics (2010) is the second largest denomination of Christianity with thirty-seven percent of the Christian adherents next to Roman Catholic (which accounts for half of the Christian population).
This was largely credited to the names of Martin Luther, popular for his 95 Theses, and John Calvin in the 16th century. Reformation was a reaction against the Roman Catholic Church regarding corruption allegations and questionable theological practices. Most popular among the 95 Theses discussed by Luther were about the indulgence system of the Roman Catholics in connection with the papal authority teaching over purgatory and the worship of Saints.
Due to this, Martin Luther was then excommunicated from the church and Protestantism was introduced. It was a rejection of the Catholic doctrine of a one true church — instead it believed in the idea of an invisible church composed of all those who professed their faith in Jesus Christ — and its organizational structure headed by the papacy. In loose terms, Protestantism was derived from the Western Roman Catholic Church.
Looking at the bigger picture, Lutheranism and Calvinism are largely appropriated with the same doctrine differing only due to its geographical location. Lutheranism was spread in Germany and Scandinavia while Calvinism was founded in Geneva.
Lutheranism is named after its founder, Martin Luther who is a German Augustinian monk and theology professor. Luther’s intention was the reformation of the western church although due to his excommunication, a diverged path from the western christendom has emerged. The Lutheran theology circles around the idea of salvation as independent of any good works. A Lutheran scholar by the name of Theodore Engelder published an article resting upon the main theology of Lutheranism: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide (by Scripture alone, by Grace alone, by Faith alone).
Calvinism has the same doctrine as Lutheranism and was referred to as “Reformed Theology”. Calvinism was founded by John Calvin but was largely advanced by his followers. It was Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, who spearheaded the doctrine of predestination largely followed by most Protestants of this time. Predestination, according to Calvinism, is the election of God — choosing those who will be saved and therefore receives God’s grace. This doctrine was developed into what is now called the Doctrines of Grace or TULIP which stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.
The Protestant Reformation had also some divergence within with the emergence of Arminians. Arminians questioned the concept of predestination and God’s sovereign grace and believed that salvation is earned through good works and not given by God’s grace thus “salvation through works” which is the exact contradiction of Lutheranism and Calvinism.
Arminian doctrine has flourished and this has become the founding doctrine of other emerging denominations in Protestantism. Those denominations that closely follow the Arminian doctrine are the Charismatics and the Pentecostal which emphasises on the gift of the Holy Spirit such as miracles.
The Uncommon Answer: Christianity divided into the Traditional and Modern Churches
This is another perspective to look at the different “types” of Christianity that we have today. This angle explores the major division in accordance to time and has introduced new “types” or denominations to the list.
The traditional churches are the churches that began in the estimated Early Middle Ages . This covers the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church which were discussed earlier among different types of Christianity. In addition to these two are the Oriental Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches adhere to the miaphysite Christology and theology which is the belief that the human and divine natures of Christ are united. True to the Orthodox style, the Oriental Othodox Church is also composed of autocephalous churches like the Eastern Orthodox. One major characteristic of this church is that they are generally considered conservative in matters of social issues unlike other types or denominations of Christianity.
On the other hand, the Assyrian Church or Assyrian Church of the East adheres to Nestorian theology, the East’s traditional Christology. The Nestorian Theology is actually still in contention among its believers and is interpreted differently. Although in contention, Nestorianism can be described as a theological doctrine that upholds many teachings that are distinct in the fields of Christology and Mariology. In this position called as radical dyophysitism, Nestorianism beliefs emphasize that the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ were joined by will.
The modern churches began in the interestingly modern age around AD 1500 and are largely accounted as those that rejected aspects of the traditional churches and separated. These are the discussed Lutheranism in Germany and Scandinavia and Calvinism in Geneva which were the products of Protestant Reformation.
Another Uncommon Answer: There is no other type of Christianity. There’s only one.
It requires belief in the core doctrine encapsulated in the Apostles’ Creed to be called a Christian. All of the “types” that have been discussed previously hold these core beliefs in their system and are essentially alike in fundamental belief, differing in some doctrinal interpretation, style of worship, organizational system which are considered not essential into the meaning of being a Christian. These differences have been somehow coded into different denominations and different types of Christianity. These are no type of Christianity but only variations.
Where are they on the map? Global Demographic Analysis of Christianity
Christianity with more than two billion adherents in two hundred and more countries are geographically widespread and it’s impossible to actually point to the geographical center of it.
Though different types of Christianity has clearly started in the Middle East-North Africa, domains of the Roman Empire, today, the concentration and number of Christians residing in this region has substantially declined. Although this is the case in this region, there was a substantial increase in the number and concentration of Christians in other major geographic regions. The largest number of Christians are found in the regions of Americas (US, Brazil, and Mexico), Europe, Asia-Pacific, and in sub-Saharan Africa which shows the global reach of Christianity.
Although Christianity is just a third of the world’s population, Christians live as a majority regardless of denomination in most countries.