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Christian denominations

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Generally, based on population alone, churches are either Catholic or non-Catholic. What is interesting is that the Catholic Church today is the most singular, with a single head: the pope in Rome. It is a single ecclesiastical structure and can be thought of as the largest corporation in the world. There is no other church with nearly the same size and central administration. There is no religious authority above the Roman Catholic Pope in that church's structure.

The rest of the Christian world is organized in various ways. Taking an organizational view, where a church body is defined as an organization with no higher religious authority above it, then the next largest Christian church after the Roman Catholic is ____. We see this ranking by followers,

  • Roman Catholic church, 1.2b

  • Next largest church?

  • Next largest church?

On communions.

However, this would neglect the fact that there are communions. The non-Catholic Christian world can be looked at in terms of movements, churches, and communions. Based on number of followers and political power, the most important type of political and religious structure thus after the Catholic Church itself is the communion. Sometimes, a communion may call itself a church, which is a misleading use of the term.

  • There are movements, which are ideological beliefs which gained followers. For example, Martin Luther started a movement with a clear doctrine.

  • Churches, which follow various movements. For example, there is the Lutheran Church of ___, the Lutheran Church of __, and so forth.

  • Communion, which are groups of churches usually adhering to the same movements. For example, there is the Lutheran World Federation.

Usually, the communion will accept member churches based on ideological issues and self-identification. By their nature, communions are much less central compared to the Roman Catholic church. Member churches may pay dues for the operating costs of the communion organization, but otherwise remain financially independent. The tension between a communion and the indepenence of the churches is offset by the benefit in political power and the ability to gain followers collectively with clear messages. The communion may issue statements on behalf of the member churches, representing the stance of the movement; may act as a lobbying group on broader social issues to align society with their beliefs of right and wrong; they may act as a lobbying group on behalf of member churches fightng against local issues (such as the opening of a bar near the church); and they may try to engage any churches claiming to follow the movement to align themselves with the communion, even making doctrinal or other compromises to do so.

Some communions account for nearly all churches and followers identifying with a movement. Other movements may have no single communion covering a majority of the churches identifying with that movement. For example, the Lutheran World Federation accounts for nearly all Lutheran churches and acccepts membership based on _____. On the other hand, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest of the Baptist communions but only constitutes a plurality instead of anywhere near a majoriy. There are many other communions and independent churches that also identify as baptist.

At the communion level, we see this ranking by followers after the Roman Catholic church,

  • Roman Catholic Church, 1.2b

  • Eastern Orthodox communion

  • The World Communion of Reformed Churches

  • Oriental Orthodox communion

On church organization.

Internal church organization is not just a necessity of church function. The most traditional and common type of organiation is an episcopalian polity. It is hierarchical, with bishops organized over territories. There are archbishops over a larger region, ruling over regular bishops within subregions, down to the priest of a local congregation. The Roman Catholic church is an episcopalian polity. The adherence to this form of polity is often viewed as an integral part of the church's tradition and the holders of a bishopry may trace their office back more than a thousand years. However, the episcopalian polity is not the only type of polity. Some other types of organization are as important as the doctrine of the church itself and can be considered to be movements in themselves. Foremost among these are the presbyterian and congregationalist polity structures. For presbyterians, their community-focusd method of leadership (which were first described within the Reformist movemet) is core to the church. These reject hierarchical organizations led by a single bishop. Local churches are grouped together into a presbytery led by an assembly known as the classis. Presbyteries are sometimes grouped into synods. And then presbyteries and synods can group together into a general assembly, most often at the national level. Congregationalists were promulgated in the 17th century and believe each local church congregation is autonomous – by this view, mosques and synagogues can to a large degree be viewed as congregationalist.

  • Episcopalian polities have hierarchical bishops over regions and subregions.

  • Presbyterian polities have assemblies that rule over a local presbytery, and presbyteries can group together into synods and general assemblies.

  • Congregationalist polities view each congregation as its own church.

On movements.

Other churches generally began as movements which spawned various ideologically-aligned churches following the same treatises in various places, and which then organize into a signle aligned commnunion. The communion may act as a unit politically and in teachings, but there can also be some internal disputes.

Any other Christian groups with a single authority are much smaller. They can be viewed as such,

  • Roman Catholic

  • Protestant

    • Historical Protestant

      • Lutheran

      • Reformed

          Continental / Episcopalian Reformed

        • Presbyterian Reformed

        • Congregationalist Reformed

      • Baptist

    • Anglican Protestant

    • Modern Protestant

      • Pentecostal

  • Orthodox

    • Eastern Orthdoox

    • Oriental Orthoox

  • Other

And with explanations,

  • Roman Catholic Church

    Based in Rome. It is a single church, with centralized leadeship.

  • Protestant churches

    These are not a single communion, but rather the family of all Christian doctrines descended from the schism that rocked Europe politically and religiously. In 1517, the Martin Luther published a treatise against the Catholic Church. The most basic view of Protestantism is that it is any non-Catholic church established after 1517. Deeper views add to this, looking at Protestant churches as sharing some cultural elements rooted in the earliest doctrines of the beginnign Proetestant churches. In this view, we have historic Protestant churches that broke directly from the Catholic church during the period of 1517 to 1649, and modern Protestant churches that were established after 1649 and ascribe to Protestant beliefs but did not break from the Catholic church directly. The gained followers from either Catholic or usually from other Protestant churches. Anglicanism occupies a third space because while it is otherwise a form of historical Protestant churches, it is uniquely tied to England in a way that makes it distinct.

    • Historical Protestant

      • Lutheran World Federation

        A communion churches totalling 74,000,000+ adherents. Lutheran Churches descend from the teachings of Luther, who started the Protestant movement. it is a direct branch off the Catholic Church. They are almost totally united largest governing body is the Lutheran World Federation, and mostly differ in their country/region of operations without doctirnal disagreements.

      • The World Communion of Reformed Churches

        Reformist Churches. A movement with various intellectual leaders, including John Calvin in the 16th century. It had begun before him and was diverse, but is often called Calvinist but that was started by Lutherans who opposed it. Altogether its churches have 100,000,000 adherents. It is currently with an administrative head calld the General Secretary.

        • Episcopalian Reformed churches are mostly the Continental Reformed Church, which were the country-level Reformed breakaways of the Cathoilc church, about 20,000,000+ followers.

        • Presbyterian Reformed churches are Refromed churches with presbyterian polities, about 40,000,000+ followers.

        • Congregationalist Reformed churches are Refromed churches with presbyterian polities, about 5,000,000 followers.

      • Baptist Churches

        ___ adherents. They descend from the teachigns of John Smyth in the 17th century. There is no single community for a majority of Baptist churches, but the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest denomination.

    • Anglican Communion

    • Modern Protestant

      • Pentecostal World Fellowship

        200,000,000-300,000,000 adherents. The pentecostal movement began in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. Most churches following Pentecostalism are part of this fellowship, which maintains a statement of faith and screens churches seeking membership

  • Orthodox Churches
    Broke from the Catholic Church in the early centuries of Christianity.

    • Eastern Orthodox

    • Oriental Orthodox

  • There are also churches that were established after 1517 but do not fit into the traditional body of Protestant belief.

Based on how they developed historically, churches can be grouped as Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant churches. Originally there was one church and it split into two: the Roman Catholic church based in Rome, and the Byzantine (Orthodox) church based in Constantinople. Then some in Europe protested against what they saw as Catholic abuses and split apart from the Catholic church to form the Protestant groups. Protestant Christianity is comprised of various churches who align with one another into a number of communions. Thus, it is not a single church. Within the Orthdox Church, there is the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox churches. The eastern

The individual churches have been in constant interaction, cooperation, and competition. New churches have sprung up, and so have cults. There are many flavors. Restoration churches are founded with the belief they are restoring a pure and perfect Christianity, and that all the other practicing Christians are practicing a corrupted form of their religion. Milleniarian churches believe there is a coming change, such as the end of society, and only they are equipped with the godly knowledge of how to endure either physically, spiritually, or both. And there are many more lenses with which to look at the Christians.

On churches.

ChurchMovementCommunionPopulationCommunionsDistinguishing factor

Roman Catholic

Roman Catholic


One communion?

These are mostly Latin-speaking church, headed by the pope. There ae some non-Latin speaking churhces, generally from their respective eastern churches enjoining but keeping their liturgy.



Many communions

These reject the pope. They are not a single denomination. Within the protestant church is the Anglican movement.

Eastern Orthodox


One communion

They are in a tight communian as a single denomination. Within them are various churches.

Oriental Orthodox


One communion

Various churches



Jehovah's Witnesses


Oneness Pentecostalism




Independent Catholics




Messianic Jews