A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church, convention, assembly, house, union, or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one denomination and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues including the nature of Jesus, Trinitarianism, Nontrinitarianism, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, conciliarity, and papal primacy among others may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations--often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties--are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity" or "denominational families" (e.g. Eastern or Western Christianity and their sub-branches).
This is not a complete list, but aims to provide a comprehensible overview of the diversity among denominations of Christianity and ecumenical organizations. Only those Christian denominations and organizations with popflock.com resource articles will be listed in order to ensure that all entries on this list are notable and verifiable. The denominations and organizations listed are generally ordered from ancient to contemporary Christianity.
Some groups included on this list do not consider themselves denominations. For example, the Catholic Church considers itself the one true church and the Holy See as pre-denominational. The Eastern Orthodox Church also considers itself the original Christian Church and pre-denominational. To express further the complexity involved, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches were historically one and the same, as evidenced by the fact that they are the only two modern churches in existence to accept all of the first seven ecumenical councils, until differences arose, such as papal authority and dominance, the rise of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the continuance of emperors in the Eastern Roman Empire, and the final and permanent split that occurred during the Crusades with the siege of Constantinople. This also illustrates that denominations can arise not only from religious or theological issues, but political and generational divisions as well.
Other groups that are viewed by non-adherents as denominational are highly decentralized and do not have any formal denominational structure, authority, or record-keeping beyond the local congregation; several groups within the Restoration Movement fall into this category.
Some groups are large (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans or Baptists), while others are just a few small churches, and in most cases the relative size is not evident in this list except for the denominational group or movement as a whole (e.g. Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism or the Latter Day Saints). The largest group is the Catholic Church with more than 1.3 billion members. The smallest of these groups may have only a few dozen adherents or an unspecified number of participants in independent churches as described below. As such, specific numbers and a certain size may not define a group as a denomination. However, as a general rule, the larger a group becomes, the more acceptance and legitimacy it gains.
Modern movements such as Christian fundamentalism, Pietism, Evangelicalism, the Holiness movement and Pentecostalism sometimes cross denominational lines, or in some cases create new denominations out of two or more continuing groups (as is the case for many united and uniting churches, for example). Such subtleties and complexities are not clearly depicted here.
Between denominations, theologians, and comparative religionists there are considerable disagreements about which groups can be properly called Christian or a Christian denomination as disagreements arise primarily from doctrinal differences between groups. As an example, this list contains groups also known as "rites" which many, such as the Catholic Church, would say are not denominations as they are in full papal communion, and thus part of the Catholic Church. For the purpose of simplicity, this list is intended to reflect the self-understanding of each denomination. Explanations of different opinions concerning their status as Christian denominations can be found at their respective articles.
There is no official recognition in most parts of the world for religious bodies, and there is no official clearinghouse which could determine the status or respectability of religious bodies. Often there is considerable disagreement between various groups about whether others should be labeled with pejorative terms such as "cult", or about whether this or that group enjoys some measure of respectability. Such considerations often vary from place to place, or culture to culture, where one religious group may enjoy majority status in one region, but be widely regarded as a "dangerous cult" in another part of the world. Inclusion on this list does not indicate any judgment about the size, importance, or character of a group or its members.
Early Christianity is often divided into three different branches that differ in theology and traditions, which all appeared in the 1st century AD. They include Jewish Christianity, Pauline Christianity and Gnostic Christianity. All modern Christian denominations are said to have descended from the Jewish and Pauline Christianities, with Gnostic Christianity dying, or being hunted, out of existence after the early Christian era and being largely forgotten until discoveries made in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. There are also other theories on the origin of Christianity.
The following Christian groups appeared between the beginning of the Christian religion and the First Council of Nicaea in 325.
Unlike the previously mentioned groups, the following are all considered to be related to Christian Gnosticism.
The Church of the East split from the Parthian Church during the Sassanid Period. It is also called the Nestorian Church or the Church of Persia. Declaring itself separate from the Imperial Roman Church in 424-427, liturgically, it adhered to the East Syriac Rite. Theologically, it adopted the dyophysite doctrine of Nestorianism, which emphasizes the separateness of the divine and human natures of Jesus, and addresses Mary as Christotokos instead of Theotokos. The Church of the East by the 15th century was largely confined to the Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrian communities of northern Mesopotamia, in and around the rough triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia--the same general region where the Church of the East had first emerged between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD.
Its patriarchal lines divided in a tumultuous period from the 16th-19th century, finally consolidated into the Eastern Catholic Chaldean Church (in full communion with the Pope of Rome), and the Assyrian Church of the East. Other minor, modern related splinter groups include the Ancient Church of the East (split 1968 due of rejecting some changes made by Patriarch Shimun XXI Eshai) and the Chaldean Syrian Church. Together, the Assyrian, Ancient, Chaldean Syrian and Chaldean Catholic Church comprised over 1.6 million in 2018.
Assyrian Christianity comprises churches who keep the traditional Nestorian Christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East after the original church reunited with the Catholic Church, forming the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1552. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East together have over 0.6 million members as of 2018.
Oriental Orthodoxy is the fourth largest communion of Christian churches, with over 76 million members. The Oriental Orthodox communion rejects the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and those after it. Other denominations, such as the Orthodox Church, often erroneously label the communion as "Monophysite"; however, as the Oriental Orthodox do not adhere to the teachings of Eutyches, they themselves reject this label, preferring the term Miaphysite. Some of the Oriental Orthodox churches, especially the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, claim origination by Saint Mark and his 1st-century missionary journeys.
Historically, many of the Oriental Orthodox churches consider themselves collectively to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Jesus founded. Some have considered the Oriental Orthodox communion to be a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, a view which is gaining increasing acceptance in the wake of ecumenical dialogues between churches such as the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
The Eastern Orthodox Church consists of jurisdictions in communion with each other. The church has over 250 million members, making it the second largest church. Some of them have a disputed administrative status (i.e. their autonomy or autocephaly is only partially recognized), but all remain in communion with each other as one church. The Orthodox claim continuity (based upon apostolic succession) with the early Church, and consider themselves pre-denominational, being the original Church of Christ before 1054.
The Catholic Church is composed of 24 autonomous sui iuris particular churches: the Latin Church and the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Catholic Church considers itself the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded, and which Saint Peter initiated along with the missionary work of Saint Paul and others. As such, the Catholic Church does not consider itself a denomination, but rather considers itself pre-denominational, the original Church of Christ. Continuity is claimed based upon apostolic succession with the early Church. The Catholic population exceeds 1.29 billion as of 2016.
The Latin, or Western Catholic Church, is the largest and most widely known of the 24 sui iuris churches that together make up the Roman Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Roman Rite, which is one of the Latin liturgical rites, not a particular church). It is headed by the Bishop of Rome--the Pope, traditionally called the Patriarch of the West--with headquarters in Vatican City, enclaved within Rome, Italy. As of 2015 , the Latin Church composed 1.255 billion members.
All of the following are particular churches of the Catholic Church. They are all in communion with the Pope as Bishop of Rome and acknowledge his claim of universal jurisdiction and authority. They have some minor distinct theological emphases and expressions (for instance, in the case of those that are of Greek/Byzantine tradition, concerning some non-doctrinal aspects of the Latin view of Purgatory). The Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Church (which together compose the worldwide Catholic Church) share the same doctrine and sacraments, and thus the same faith. The total membership of the churches accounts for approximately 18 million members.
Protestantism is a movement within Christianity which owes its name to the 1529 Protestation at Speyer, but is originated to the year 1517 when Martin Luther began his dispute with the Catholic Church. This period of time, known as the Reformation, began a series of events resulting over the next 500 years in several newly denominated churches (listed below.) Some denominations were started by intentionally dividing themselves from the Roman Catholic Church, such as in the case of the English Reformation while others, such as with Luther's followers, were excommunicated after attempting reform. New denominations and organizations formed through further divisions within Protestant churches since the Reformation began. A denomination labeled "Protestant" subscribes to the fundamental Protestant principles--though not always--that is scripture alone, justification by faith alone, and the universal priesthood of believers.
The majority of Modern Protestants are members of Adventism, Anglicanism, Baptists, Calvinism (Reformed Protestantism), Lutheranism, Methodism and Pentecostalism. Nondenominational, Evangelical, charismatic, neo-charismatic, independent and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity.
This list gives only an overview, and certainly does not mention all of the Protestant denominations. The exact number of Protestant denominations, including the members of the denominations, is difficult to calculate and depends on definition. A group that fits the generally accepted definition of "Protestant" might not officially use the term. Therefore, it should be taken with caution. The most accepted figure among various authors and scholars includes around 900 million Protestant Christians.
Proto-Protestantism, or the Reformation prior to Luther refers to movements similar to the Protestant Reformation, but before 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546) is reputed to have nailed the Ninety-Five-Theses to the church door. Major early Reformers were Peter Waldo (c. 1140-c. 1205), John Wycliffe (1320s-1384), and Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415). It is not completely correct to call these groups Protestant due to the fact that some of them had nothing to do with the 1529 Protestation at Speyer which coined the term Protestant. In particular, the Utraquists were eventually accommodated as a separate Catholic rite by the papacy after a military attempt to end their movement failed. On the other hand, the surviving Waldensians ended up joining Reformed Protestantism, so it is not completely inaccurate to refer to their movement as Protestant.
Lutherans are a major branch of Protestantism, identifying with the theology of Martin Luther, a German friar, ecclesiastical reformer, and theologian. The whole of Lutheranism has about 70-90 million members.
Pietism was an influential movement in Lutheranism that combined its emphasis on Biblical doctrine with the Reformed emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. Pietists who separated from established Lutheran churches to form their own denominations are known as Radical Pietists. Although a movement in Lutheranism, influence on Anglicanism, in particular John Wesley, led to the spawning of Methodism.
The Anabaptists trace their origins to the Radical Reformation. Alternative to other early Protestants, Anabaptists were seen as an early offshoot of Protestantism, although the view has been challenged by some Anabaptists. There are approximately 2.1 million Anabaptists as of 2015.
Anglicanism has referred to itself as the via media between Catholicism and Protestantism. It considers itself to be both Catholic and Reformed. Although the use of the term "Protestant" to refer to Anglicans was once common, it is controversial today, with some rejecting the label and others accepting it. In Protestantism, Anglicans number over 85 million. Note Episcopal Churches are a type of Anglicanism.
There are numerous churches following the Anglican tradition that are not in full communion with the Anglican Communion. Some churches split due to changes in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women, forming Anglo-Catholic communities. A select few of these churches are recognized by certain individual provinces of the Anglican Communion.
The Holiness movement involves a set of beliefs and practices which emerged from 19th-century Methodism. As of 2015, churches of the movement had an estimated 12 million adherents.
Reformed Protestantism, also known as the Reformed tradition, or more commonly Calvinism, is a movement which broke from the Catholic Church in the 16th century. There are from 55-100 million Christians identifying as Reformed.
Baptists emerged as the English Puritans were influenced by the Anabaptists, and along with Methodism, grew in size and influence after they sailed to the New World (the remaining Puritans who traveled to the New World were congregationalists). Note some Baptists fit strongly with the reformed tradition theologically but not denominationally. There are about 75-105 million Baptists.
Adventism was a result from Restorationism and the Restoration Movement, which sought to restore Christianity along the lines of what is known about the apostolic early church which Restorationists saw as the search for a more pure and more ancient form of the religion. This idea is also called Christian Primitivism. Following the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, William Miller preached the end of the world and the second coming of Christ in 1843/44. Some followers after the failed prediction became the Adventists, while other splinter groups eventually became apocalyptic restorationists. Many of the splinter groups did not subscribe to trinitarian theologies. Well known restorationist groups related in some way to Millerism include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, World Mission Society Church of God, the Restored Church of God, and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ
These churches are the result of a merger between distinct denominational churches. Churches are listed here when their disparate heritage marks them as inappropriately listed in the particular categories above.
Many churches are non-denominational. These churches have emerged into their own quasi-denomination, with many similarities. Most of these churches have origins in a historic mainline Protestant denomination.
Evangelicalism is an inter-denominational Protestant movement which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement.
P'ent'ay (Ethiopian Evangelicalism) are a group of indigenous Protestant Eastern Christian Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Mennonite denominations in full communion with each other and believe that Ethiopian Evangelicalism is the reformation of the current Orthodox Tewahido church as well as the restoration of it to the original Ethiopian Christianity. They uphold that in order for a person to be saved one has to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the forgiveness of sins; and to receive Christ one must be "born again" (dagem meweled).
The Four Main Denominations:
These groups of Protestant churches or organizations diverge from historic Protestant and trinitarian theology (usually based on the council of Nicea) with different interpretations of Nontrinitarianism.
Most Latter Day Saint denominations are derived from the Church of Christ established by Joseph Smith in 1830. The largest worldwide denomination of this movement, and the one publicly recognized as Mormonism, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some sects, known as the "Prairie Saints", broke away because they did not recognize Brigham Young as the head of the church, and did not follow him West in the mid-1800s. Other sects broke away over the abandonment of practicing plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto. Other denominations are defined by either a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet or acceptance of the Book of Mormon as scripture. The Latter Day Saints comprise a little over 16 million members collectively.
(Seventh Day Sabbath/Saturday observing)
These are denominations, movements, and organizations deriving from mainline Protestantism.
These are Asian-initiated churches from Chinese and Japanese regions that were formed during or still under repression in authoritarian eras in their countries as responses from government crackdowns of their old Christian denominations which were deemed illegal or unrecognized in their countries states atheism or religion.
The following are independent and non-mainstream movements, denominations and organizations formed during various times in the history of Christianity by splitting from mainline Catholicism, Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy, or Protestantism.
The Independent Catholic churches self-identify as either Western or Eastern Catholic although they are not affiliated with or recognized by the Catholic Church. Independent Catholic and Independent Orthodox churches among others are recognized as part of the Independent Sacramental Movement.
These churches consider themselves Eastern Orthodox but are not in communion with the main body of Eastern Orthodoxy. Some of these denominations consider themselves as part of True Orthodoxy or the Old Believers as examples.
True Orthodoxy, or Genuine Orthodoxy, is a movement of Eastern Orthodox churches that separated from the mainstream Eastern Orthodox Church over issues of ecumenism and Calendar reform since the 1920s.
Syncretic Eastern Orthodox churches blend with other denominations outside of Eastern Orthodoxy and are not in communion with the main body of Eastern Orthodoxy.
The following churches affirm a Miaphysite Christological position but are not in communion with any of the ancient Oriental Orthodox churches for various reasons.
These are churches which blend with other denominations outside of Oriental Orthodoxy but retain a mostly Miaphysite Christological position, and are not in communion with the main body of the ancient Oriental Orthodox churches.
Parachurch organizations are Christian faith-based organizations that work outside and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism. These organizations are not churches but work with churches or represent a coalition of churches.
The relation of New Thought to Christianity is not defined as exclusive; some of its adherents see themselves as solely practising Christianity, while adherents of Religious Science say "yes and no" to the question of whether they consider themselves to be Christian in belief and practice, leaving it up to the individual to define oneself spiritually.
The relation of these movements to other Christian ideas can be remote. They are listed here because they include some elements of Christian practice or beliefs, within religious contexts which may be only loosely characterized as Christian.