Church History The following flow chart or “family tree” is based on historic schisms and/or splits due to theological disagreements, reformation, or geo-political relocation.
There are seven major families of denominations which comprise the Biblical Historical Christian faith: Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Four Protestant Families. I have represented these families in the chart below.
Oriental Orthodox - Not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox denominations - the Oriental Orthodox churches broke off in the earliest of schisms in Church history. Some were Nestorians, others were "monophysites" (a complex understanding of Christology unfairly declared heretical). This family still has a representation of denominations dating back to the third century - Coptic Christians in Egypt (heavily persecuted by Muslims), Church of India (established by the Apostle Thomas), Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (possibly dating as far back as the Biblical encounter between the Apostle Philip and the influential Ethiopian eunich in Acts 8
Roman Catholic - This group emerged distinctive at the point of the Great Schism in 1054, but had been forming for hundreds of years via the dogma of "Papal Primacy" originally introduced by Leo, then the head of the Church at Rome, who fought to establish Rome as the "primary see" and its Bishop as the "primal Papacy" (which of course at the time, was none other than himself!) He would emerge from this contested ecumenical council as "Pope Leo" and was the first to be referred to by that title with the official meaning of "Primal Papal Office". This office would be further solidified in the west by the combination of church and state with the Pope appointing kings and emperors while those kings and emperors would, in turn, influence who would be "Pope". The office of "Pope" would begin to be authoritatively enforced under Pope Gregory the Great (c.AD 600) which would last for nearly a thousand years. This iron-fisted reign of the popes would begin to wane with the introduction of a pre-reformer group called the Waldensians (earliest reformers) The office of Pope would reach an all-time low, essentially becoming somewhat of a laughing stock among the genuine Christian world with the "Great Papal Schism" of the 14th century where the Roman Catholic church had THREE Popes at once - none of which wanting to give up their authority!
Eastern Orthodox - Eastern Byzantine empire - began forming alongside the "Roman Church" with the division of the Roman empire into east and west. The Eastern church - primarily Greek and North African, spoke a different language, enjoyed a different culture, and eventually held to a different governance ecclesiology over time. The emphasis of the primacy of see of Rome and its Bishop as possessing chief papal authority (Pope) the Eastern Orthodox church had already begun to operate independently of Rome. The final spark occurred with the addition of the filioque (from the Son) to the Nicene creed which led to sharp criticism of the Roman Church with Patriarch Michael Cerularius accusing Pope Leo IX of overstepping his authority. The Pope was incensed and sent Cardinal Humbert to deliver a Papal Bull excommunicating Cerularius. Cerularius in turn, excommunicated Cardinal Humbert, AND Pope Leo IX who sent him. Both East and West churches emerged separate and distinct and have not rejoined since. This has come to be known as the "Great Schism" of 1054 AD. However it should be called the Great Schism of the 3rd - 11th centuries!
Protestant (Four Family 'sub' groups) - A term used to describe those Christians who sought to "reform" the Roman Catholic church. Contrary to popular misnomer, the word did not arise as a result of "protesting" the Pope or the Roman Catholic church. Rather, the etymology of "Protestant" is tied to a group of German princes, civic centers, and authorities all of whom voiced their dissent from the Diet of Speyer which was decidedly against Luther reforms. It has since come to be known as a term for "anti papist" groups and although it primarily referred to German reformers (Lutherans) and the term "Reformed Churches" referred to Swiss and French reformers, the term protestant has today come to represent all denominations besides the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox denominations.
On the chart, I have colored each family separately to differentiate the direct and indirect relationships they bear to one another. Upon closer investigation of this chart, you will discover that the greatest contributor to the list of denominations is the Anglican church, followed by the Reformed family of denominations.
The chart is chronological from top down and works much like a family tree with the origin or “roots” of a denomination shown by a vertical line and a similarity or “sibling kinship” to another denomination drawn by a horizontal line. the top or beginning of the tree can be dated 30 A.D. and the bottom or last major denomination formed can be dated 1993 (International Church of Christ, formerly known as the Boston Church of Christ)
Much of this research has been compiled from the books “Church History In Plain Language” by Bruce Shelley, Frank Mead’s “Handbook of Denominations”, and Max Anders’ “30 Days to Understanding Church History” along with the historical information provided by a particular denomination’s official website.
To explore a more in-depth description of the history, reasons for, and origins of schisms and splits of the denominations below, visit our Christian Denominations page.
**Disciples of Christ is the result of an 1832 merger between two groups of Presbyterian(Stone) and Baptist influence (Campbellites).
***It is worth noting that missing are the groups: Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostal, Christian Science, New Apostolic Reformation or NAR - (C. Peter Wagner, Rick Joyner, Bill Johnson, etc), United Pentecostal Church, The Apostolic Church, The Unitarian Church, and a few others. These belief systems veer from the essential, historic Christian proper theological belief (Nature, Person of God, i.e the Trinity, Christological belief such as the person and work of Jesus Christ, Deity of Jesus, etc. these doctrines are what categorise certain groups of being a cult and determine whether a group is to be included within the Biblical, historical Christian faith. See our DENOMINATION OR CULT page for more information.
The excluded groups named are mostly (if not entirely) based on the private interpretations of a charismatic leader or leaders, whereby the gods revealed by these “prophets” and “teachers” are wholly and completely different from the God of Christianity (despite having the same or similar names for their gods). It is for this reason that Christianity on the whole does not consider these groups e.g. LDS church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Christian Science to be part of the Biblical and historic orthodoxy of the Christian church.
For more information about the differentiation between a denomination and a cult visit our page: Denomination or Cult.
To explore a more in-depth historical description of the schisms, splits, and origins seen on the chart above, visit our Christian Denominations page.
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