Historical Biblical Christian Faith
“Universal/Worldwide = catholic” Jesus Christ 30 A.D.
Click: Denomination Family Tree to see the information Below in a “Family Tree” Format. I have color-coded the seven family groups mentioned below to differentiate the direct and indirect relationships they bear to one another.
- There are seven major families of denominations which comprise the Biblical Historical Christian faith: Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Four Protestant Families
- 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”, the first to be referred to by that title with the 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 and Kings and emperors influencing who would be “Pope”. The office of “Pope” would begin to be authoritatively enforced under Pope Gregory the Great (c.AD 600) and the iron-fisted reign of the popes would start to wane with the introduction of the Waldensians (earliest reformers) and the office would become a laughing stock in the 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.
- Pre-Reformers – These are the groups of believers which broke from Roman Catholic oppression prior to Luther’s German Reforms
- Waldensians – Founded by Peter Waldo, perhaps the earliest of all true reformers. Waldo decried the lavish lifestyle of monks and priests amidst the squalor of the common people. He petitioned for the Scriptures to be translated from Latin (educated tongue) to French – the language of the common people. He also believed in preaching in the common language as well. The Roman Catholic church for some strange reason believed that all masses should only be “said” in Latin – a language which most common people could not understand. Waldo also believed in personal evangelism. His efforts would earn him infamous hatred and notoriety that would dog his followers, the Waldensians, for centuries BEYOND the great reformation! The Waldensians are perhaps the most persecuted Christian denomination in Church history, mostly due to their challenge of the Roman Catholic Pope’s authority.
- Moravians or Unity of the Brethren – began by secret small study groups formed by John Hus, the Czech pre-reformer – originally called “Hussites”, they closely mirrored the reform teachings of John Wycliffe who died prior to Hus’ martyrdom at the hands of the Roman Catholic faith. Half of the “Hussites” or “Unity of the Brethren” fled the persecution of Czechoslovakia to join the Moravians – both groups are still in existence today.
- Lutheran – started by Martin Luther and although some Lutheran pastors have left to join or start other movements, Lutherans have tended to produce other varieties of Lutherans but there have been no other significant denominations that broke from the Lutheran tradition and subsequently trace their roots to Luther. I believe that this can be considered a credit to Lutheran unity.
- Anglican – Began as a state issue and not a doctrinal issue, King Henry VIII “seceded” from Roman Papal authority, declaring himself as “Head of Church and State”. The Church of England would endure hardship at the hands of the Roman Catholic Mary Stuart or “Bloody Mary” but eventually, reformers like Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and compromiser Elizabeth I would bring about distinction for this Christian family. Most denominations trace their roots to this branch: Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc.
- Reformed – A large number of denominations consider the Reformed church as their historical foundation: Presbyterians, Amish, Evangelical Free, and Christian and Missionary Alliance.
- The Denomination Drop Down Menu Below is in chronological (not alphabetical) order of each denomination’s place in history: from the date of its formation to its historical relation to the Christian Family Tree.
- The list below gives a greater understanding of the historic origins that the chart could not accommodate. The following information is based on research from individual denominational web pages (when they exist), Bruce Shelley’s “Church History in Plain Language”, Mead’s “Handbook of Denominations” and to some extent “30 Days to Church History” and specific denominational user groups.
- Click each Denomination heading box below to reveal a page of information for that particular denomination.
To see a flowchart of how the denominations above came into existence and inter-relate to one another, visit our Denomination Family Tree page.