Christianity is the most popular religion in the world and, and unites a staggering 2 billion people under its umbrella. Within Christianity exists different religious groupings or bodies that are known as denominations. The differing denominations of Christianity arose out of conflicting schools of thought regarding the doctrines of the faith. According to a 2011 study, there are at least 41,000 separate schools of thought that include larger denominations like Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, and incredibly small or obscure denominations like Kimbanguism and Beanite Quakerism.
Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church can trace its creation back to the founding of Christianity. The church has an Episcopal structure composed of a hierarchy of religious officials like deacons, priests, monsignors, bishops and, at the top, the Bishop of Rome, known more commonly as the Pope. The Pope acts as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, communicates with the College of Bishops and is believed to be the voice of God on Earth.
Roman Catholic doctrine maintains that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ in the 1st century and is the One True Church over all other denominations of Christianity. The first Pope of the Catholic Church was the Apostle Peter, who was made responsible, by Jesus, to reinforce and preach the faith and religious doctrines of Christians. Catholic religious practices focus on the existence of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit as a Trinity, Liturgical teaching, Sacraments and ritual.
The Lutheran Church, or Lutheranism, is one of the many offshoots of Christianity. The denomination was founded by a German theologian named Martin Luther. Luther believed that the church, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, needed to be reformed in order to rid itself of the rampant corruption and greed of many church doctrines and officials. In 1521, with the Edict of Worms, Martin Luther was exiled for his heretical beliefs and interest in reformation.
One of the key tenants of Lutheranism is the belief that the New Testament, tied together with the power of the Holy Spirit, contains all the doctrines of the Christian faith. By extension, practices rooted in excessive ceremony, worship of objects like crucifixes and many other Christian traditions are unnecessary and even heretical. According to the teachings of Martin Luther, the special education that came with religious schooling aimed for an individual to join the papacy, was unnecessary. According to him the bible and its doctrines are simple ones that do not require translation or additional interpretation.
Justification is the other key tenant or doctrine of the Lutheran faith. Justification is the belief that humanity has been saved from the burden of their sins simply be the grace of God and through faith. The sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden are called Chief Sin, and are, "a root and fountainhead of all actual sins". This Chief Sin is also part of Lutheran teachings of the nature of sin--all humans are sinners, and even works of 'good' are plagued with sinful and selfish motives and should therefore be damned to Hell.
It was only out of God's love that he sent Jesus to, "govern us as a King of righteousness, life and salvation against sin, death and an evil conscience." The sacrifice and death of Jesus of Nazareth was God's way of opening an avenue for all damned souls to reach heaven through faith. That is to say, Lutheranism ascribes to the idea that the way to Heaven is found by trusting God and believing in His word; additional ceremonies like Confirmation are not necessary.
The Baptist Church was first formed in the North American colonies by Roger Williams in 1638. The denomination was created largely due to the belief that only professing believers of Christianity, primarily adults, should be baptized rather than infants. Membership in the Baptist Church was not high at its inception and remained low until the 19th century. Today, the Baptist World Alliance has more than 150,000 congregations and alleges a membership upwards of 40 million worshippers.
Though the Baptist Church was founded on the implicit idea that only those who could make a conscious choice to be baptized should be baptized, most Baptists do not believe that Baptism itself is required for the salvation of the soul. Rather, the practice of Baptism symbolizes faithfulness and acts as a form of public affirmation in the Christian faith. Baptists, unlike denominations of Christianity that utilize Sacraments like Penance, believe that faith is a matter shared only between God and an individual. A third party like a priest or bishop is not necessary to confer with, pray to or otherwise worship God.
The Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England, despite often being referred to as a single denomination of Christianity actually unites several similar denominations under a single term. The Church of England was formed as a direct result of the Protestant Reformation, and the failings of the Roman Catholic Church, circa the 16th century. The Anglican Church boasts a membership of approximately 80 million members and constitutes the third largest communion of Christians in the world, surpassed only by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church.
England officially split ties from the Roman Catholic Church to create the Church of England in 1534 via the Act of Supremacy. The Act was passed by Parliament as the result of pressure from King Henry VIII, who desired a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragorn that the Pope refused to grant. Though the Anglican Church is a protestant denomination of Christianity, members still practice traditional Sacraments like Communion. In 1549 the Anglican Church released a book by Thomas Cranmer that detailed the rites and prayers of the church, called the Book of Common Prayer. The book was revised in 1552, and by the 20th century it had been made a mandatory part of the Anglican Church in both Wales and England.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally known as the Mormon Church, was founded by an American named Joseph Smith. Mormon doctrines and church teachings are based on the Old Testament, New Testament and one other holy document written by Joseph Smith. Within the Mormon Church, Smith is considered a modern-day prophet, and was gifted golden plates (by God) from which he transcribed he Book of Mormon, the third 'Testament' of the Mormon faith. Today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has upwards of 14 million members and missionaries all over the world.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can trace its inception back to Joseph Smith, on the exact date of April 6th, 1830. Smith was an outspoken Christian and even attempted to establish a "New Jerusalem", called Zion, in North America. The Book of Mormon, the third sacred text of the Mormon Church, details the writings and doctrines of prophets that allegedly lived on the American continent. According to Smith, the writings were carved into gold tablets and buried in a hill by an angel.
Joseph Smith was supposedly granted a vision of an angel who directed him to the golden plates and two sheer stones that allowed him to translate what he called, "reformed Egyptian" into English. In order for Smith to translate the tablets, however, it was necessary for him to read in darkness. The issue was resolved when Smith chose to place the golden tablets at the bottom of a hat and peer through the stones, to read. He then hired a Martin Harris to transcribe what he said.
The beliefs and doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses vary quite drastically from the majority of Christian denominations. The church was officially founded in 1931, and practitioners of the faith even utilize their own, specific translation of the bible called New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. The religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses are also well known for doctrines that disallow blood transfusions and military service.
Jehovah's Witnesses are part of a restorationist Christian movement that aims to practice the faith as closely to first-century Christianity as possible. The practitioners and doctrines of this denomination are overseen by a group of elders called the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses based out of Brooklyn, New York. Church doctrines focus especially on God, known by the name of Jehovah. The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses maintains that Jehovah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not part of a Holy Trinity, differing in practice from many other Christian denominations. Instead, Jehovah is the "Universal Sovereign", Jesus was His first creation, and the Holy Spirit the manifestation of Jehovah's power as either a force or state of being.
Other Christian Denominations
The Christian religioun is incredibly varied and includes a multitude of denominations, sub-denominations and movements. Among the denominations not mentioned in this article are Calvanists, Quakers, Restorationists, and thousands more.