How can journalists begin to comprehend all those labels that divide Christians?


WENDI’S QUESTION (paraphrased):

Denominational. Non-denominational. Fundamentalist. Baptist. Mormon. Methodist. Assembly of God. Etc. Etc.: How do we know what type of beliefs these are? Why or why not claim to be ‘Christian’ without anything else added? This is confusing me.


Wendi has good reason to be confused, especially about the incredibly complex situation in the United States this article will seek to unscramble. By contrast, one or two churches often denominate in European countries and there are fewer minorities. The same was once generally true in developing nations that now have an ever-increasing variety of churches.

Contrast that with the New Testament, where followers of Jesus Christ were simply “Christians” or adherents of “the way.” Jesus himself prayed to God the Father that his followers “may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent me and loved them even as You loved me” (John 17:23).

On the church’s founding day, Pentecost, barriers of language and ethnicity miraculously vanished (Acts 2). The Apostle Paul taught that “there is neither Jew nor Greek” in God’s kingdom “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and that Christians share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

Such is the Christian ideal. But does this spiritual unity require membership within one organization, as the ancient churches -- Catholic and Orthodox -- believe (though they have many distinct subgroups)? Are separate organizations based on culture or doctrinal details appropriate?

This is the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation and The Religion Guy, who’s Protestant, grants that Protestantism’s emphasis on individual conscience initiated the huge variety of separate denominations that number in the untold thousands globally.

For the most comprehensive information about U.S. Christian and non-Christian bodies, Wendi and others can consult the new 9th edition of “Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions” (Gale) by Baylor University expert J. Gordon Melton. If your local public library lacks Melton’s e-book or print edition, demand a purchase.

The ever-invaluable “Encyclopaedia Britannica” -- in print or electronically at all libraries and searchable online at -- has authoritative articles that explain the major Christian groupings. That said, The Religion Guy will provide this basic road map:

In the U.S., the Catholic Church is one of many distinct organizations (some say “denominations”) and by far the largest.

Christianity’s other ancient branch is Orthodoxy, with two main sectors. Eastern Orthodoxy is united with an honorary figurehead, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Turkey, while so-called Oriental Orthodoxy has certain doctrinal differences. Orthodox churches dominate certain foreign nations but are relatively small in the U.S., where jurisdictions remain divided on the basis of Old World ethnicities.

After Martin Luther’s initial protest of 1517, the Protestant Reformation spread across Europe. There were “Lutherans,” the Calvinist “Reformed” churches (“Presbyterian” in the British Isles), and “Anglican” or “Episcopal” churches stemming from the Church of England. John Wesley’s Anglican revival gave rise to “Methodist” churches that prospered in the U.S.

Others remained apart from those Protestant blocs. Most notable were “Baptists,” who dissented on the doctrine and practice of baptism and became the largest segment in U.S. Protestantism. Many others could be listed.

Continue reading "How can we begin to comprehend all those labels that divide Christians?", by Richard Ostling.


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