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Major Christian Denominations and What they believe

It is said that there are over two billion Christians in the world.  However, according to TheTruthSource article Quantitative Analysis: the World (2016); although about 32% of the 7.3 billion people in the world identify with the Christian religion or 2.4 billion in 2017; only about 23% is more accurate to those that profess Christian beliefs (1.7 billion), and much less if looking at practicing Christians.  According to the Pew Research Center 2014 Religious Landscape Study, between 2007 and 2014, among the 15 largest Protestant Denominations in the USA: 8 loss membership, 5 had no growth or loss and 1 grew only .3% in 7 years.  Thus, the US like European nations is losing membership to the non-religious, while studies show Christianity growing on parts of Asia.

Every major Christian denomination proclaims its beliefs, often in what is call a ‘Statement of Fundamental Truths.’  Through Christ said, ‘whoever is not against us is for us (Mark 9:38-41);’ there can be significant differences in the beliefs and teachings of certain denominations.  These differences cause some to wonder if a few that come under the name of Christian denominations harm the Church or members of body of Christ and those to whom we reach out.  The following are charts of the top ‘Christian Denominations’ and a comparison of their beliefs; as well as a brief background of their origins.  Membership is based on stated numbers and not practicing.  By generous estimates there are about 1.1 billion that follow the Roman Catholic Church and about 700 million that fall under traditional Protestants (primarily: Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches such as the Presbyterian); about 300 million modern Protestants (Pentecostal, Non-denominational, Seventh-day Adventists, etc.); approximately 210 Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russia, etc.) and 75 million Oriental Orthodox.

According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are about 43,000 Christian denominations in the world; however the largest fall under about 20 or so major denominations.  And with tens of millions of members, even ‘non-denomination’ churches in America, such as Calvary Chapel and Vineyard, have become a denomination.   According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001), “World Christianity …is divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries… and 3.4 million worship centers.”  They defined ‘denomination’ as “an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition with a specific country.”  Two thirds are independent; about 9000 are Protestant, with another 168 Anglican; 781 Orthodox and 242 under Roman Catholic.    The largest few hundred are listed at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/denom/homepages.html

Comparison of Leading Christian Denominations (Part I)

(membership based on most recent numbers available 2010-2016)

(key: B=billions; M=millions)

Name Founded /members  

Brief Background

Catholic Church

(Roman Catholic Church)

Catholic (means:

‘Universal’) ‘Roman’ was not used by Second Vatican Council.

 

1st-4th

Century

 

1.1 B

The Catholic Church claims its origins back to 30 AD and the disciples of Christ, and its Popes back to the Apostle Peter (Act 15, Jerusalem Council does not confirm these).  Although there were bishops of Rome at some point after Paul was imprisoned there; the Church in Rome had little strength until Emperor Constantine (about 313 AD) and the First Council of Nicaea (Nicene Creed, 325). Its leading bishops (now called popes) had no more authority than any other bishop of Europe, Asia or Africa.  It was about the 5th Century that the bishop of Rome gain authority under Leo the Great.   The four Doctors of the Western Church or ‘Fathers of the Church’ are Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome, who wrote the Latin Vulgate.
Orthodox Church

 

Eastern Orthodox Church

 

Greek Orthodox

Church

Russian Orthodox

 

Founded:  1st-4th

Century

225 Million members

Orthodox is from the Greek orthos (right) and doxa (belief; opinion).  The Latin churches use the word Doxology (expressed belief).  The Eastern Orthodox churches were established first in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and like the Catholic Church claim Jerusalem and an origin from the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Early 4th century, the Eastern Church began to break away from the Western Church.  Papal authority was a significant factor.   The three Doctors or ‘Three Holy Hierarchs’ of the Eastern Church were John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen.  Although the Eastern Orthodox accepted several Councils, such as at Nicea in 325 (where most of the bishops were of the East) and three held at Constantinople, in 1054 they officially split from the Catholic (Western) Church in what is called the Great Schism.   Though the Greek Orthodox spread first, such as from Athens, Cyprus and Albania; the Russian Orthodox Church (after the baptism of King Vladimir in 988) would become the largest of the Orthodox branches.   Jesus Christ is declared in the Greek Constitution.
China:

Protestants;

Independent underground House churches; and Catholic

7th

Century

120+ M

Total

Ind: 60+M

Prot: 34+M

Cath:23+M

Christian beliefs vary and can be seen under other like or parent denominations.  Christians make up about 2% of China’s population; or 70+% of their religious.  Operation World 2010 had total Christians at 105 M; and China’s government Blue Book 2010: 23M; some people fear official surveys.  2025 estimate of Christians: 150+ M.  The first recorded missionary to China was Alopen or Olopan, who according to the Nestorian Stele of the Tang Chinese Steles came about 635 (Tang Dynasty) from a Syriac Christian Church of the East.
India:

Protestants;

Independent;

Catholic;

Orthodox;

Anglican & other

 

1st to 4th

Century

75+ M

Prot: 27 M

Cath: 19 M

Ind: 19 M

Orth: 2.5 M

It has been said that Thomas the Apostle evangelized in India about 52 AD.  Nevertheless, Syrian and Persian Christians went to India before the 4th Century.  It is recorded that ‘Thomas Christians’ were in Malabar in 345 AD.   In the 16th Century Catholic missionaries and Jesuits established Catholicism in India.  After the British warred with and entered India about 1750s, Protestants missionaries began to go to India. According to India’s Census of 2011 there were about 28 million Christians; yet, Operation World 2010 reported 33 million members of Denominations and a total of 71 million with affiliates (non-member children and non-member adherents).
Anglican

(Church of England;

Episcopal Church)

 

Founded between

1534 and 1563

77 Million members

Episcopal Church

in America: 1789

(about 2M)

The Anglican (England) Church traces its roots back to when Pope Gregory of the Catholic Church sent St. Augustine to Britain and more so even back to when Christians in the army of the Roman Empire landed in Britannia in the 2nd Century AD.  England’s first church historian was the English monk Bede, who about 731 wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People from Julius Caesar’s 55 BC invasion to the letters of Pope Gregory about 600.  However, the Anglican Protestant church did not begin as a denomination until after its split with the Catholic Church in Rome, primed from disputes between King Henry VII (1529) and the Pope.  In 1534, Henry issued the ‘Act of Succession’ making him ‘head’ of the English Church.  Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549 and its liturgy completed in the 1662 version.   In the 1560s, Queen Elizabeth formalized the Church.  The Church of England in America was established in 1607.  The Anglican Communion is in at least 160 countries. The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglicans; the first parish in America was at Jamestown in 1607.  In 2003, they ordain the first openly gay bishop; and in 2015, by General Convention, voted to allow same-sex marriages.  In 1776 the Episcopal represented almost 16% of all religious adherents in America; after 2003 and LGBT ministers; they have continued to decline to about 1%.   At least 100,000 left to form the Anglican Church in North America (2009).
Lutheran World

Federation:

 

Origin: 1517

Founded: 1947

70+ Million

members

The Lutheran World Federation is ‘a global communion of churches in the Lutheran tradition’ from 98 countries (2017).  In 1923 it formed as the Lutheran World Convention; and in 1947 had 47 churches from 26 countries attend the conference in Sweden where it became the LWF.  The LWF traces its origins back to the Reformation led by Martin Luther (1517).  The Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in America came together in 1748; through the ELCA state, ‘we trace our roots back through the mid-17th century when early Lutherans came to America.’  In 2017 the LWF ‘commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the 12th Assembly of the LWF.’ ‘Member churches’ include the: Ethiopian Evangelical Church (7.8+M); Church of Sweden (6.5+ M); (ELC) Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (6.4+M); ELC Denmark (4.3+M); ELC Finland (4+M); Church of Norway (Den Norske Kirke: 3.8+M);  9+ M in Evangelical Churches in Germany; and the ELC America (3.8+M; ELCA formed 1988; American Lutheran Church, Association of ELC and the LCA merged).
Assemblies of God

(AOG)

 

1914

65 M

The General Council of the Assemblies of God came out of the ‘Pentecostal movement,’ revival period (Bethel Bible School 1901 and Azusa 1906) and conferences (such as at Moody’s Bible School at Northfield).  In 1916 the AOG issued its Statement of Fundamental Truths.   Now only about 3.2 million of its members are in the US.
Ethiopian Orthodox

Tewahedo

Church (EOTC)

Founded 4th Century

44+ Million

Ethiopia is the second country, after Armenia, to declare Christianity as its state religion (Axsumite King Ezana c.330).  The book of Acts (8:27) spoke of Philip converting an Ethiopian eunuch who served their Queen.  And about 10th century BC, King Solomon of Israel meet the Queen of Sheba Ethiopia.  The EOTC states that ‘the birth of the Ethiopian Church took place at a time when the Arian heresy was at its peak.  When Frumentius was …the Patriachate of Alexandria (c. 347).’    In 1959 the EOTC became independent from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria when it was granted its own Patriarch.  It is considered Oriental Orthodox.  The EOTC has suffered much persecution in the last decades.
Coptic Orthodox Church of (Egypt)

Alexandria

 

 

42 / 451

17 M

They claim their founding from 42 and the apostles.  They operate under a ‘Pope,’ currently Tawadros II (2017).  There is great conflict between the Muslim majority and Christians in Egypt.  In the 19th century the Aigyptioi Christians began to call themselves Coptic Orthodox so not to be confused with the Coptic Catholics.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church

 

Founded: 1863

16.8 million members

In 1833 William Miller began to preach that the Lord Jesus would return (his Second Advent) in 1844; those who followed him were called ‘Millerites.’  After 1844, many Millerites continued to meet and also have Bible conferences from which their beliefs were agreed upon.  According to their website, ‘…1863 delegates from all those American states with Seventh-day Adventist congregations formed the ‘General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.’  Ellen White was recognized to be a prophetess by the group in the 1850s.
Southern Baptist

Convention

 

Founded: 1845

16 million members

 

 

John Calvin of France (1541) is known as the ‘father of the Reformed Church.’  The earliest known Baptist church was in Amsterdam (1609).  The First Baptist Church in America began in 1638 (by Roger Williams in Rhode Island); and the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1707.  The General Missionary Convention of Baptist was held in 1814.  In 1845, at a convention in Georgia, the South Baptist Convention was created after a split from northern Baptist churches due to the slavery issue and upcoming Civil War.  The northern churches later formed under the American Baptist Churches (1907; became Northern Baptist Convention; now A. B. Convention).  The National Baptist Convention of mostly African-Americans formed in 1880 was a split from the SBC; and other black members joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1816).
Church of J.C. of Latter-day Saints

(Mormons)

 

Founded: 1830

 

12.5 Million members

According to certain Mormon teaching, Lehi the Jew came to America in 7th century B.C. and had two linages, the Nephites and Lamanites – though there is no proof of it at all.  Some original teachings also came that Jesus appeared in America after His crucifixion.  They say that a Nephite prophet named Mormon left the story of his people and it became the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith, the founder of the church published the Book of Mormon in 1830 after the angel Moroni led him to gold plates and gave him special ‘spectacles’ to read them – none of which or the cities in the book can be produced.  The Book allows for ‘polygamy.’  In 1826 Smith was arrested for fraudulent use of seer stones.  After publishing and selling his book, Smith began to announce over 60 revelations.  In 1835 he published Doctrine and Covenants with about 138 of his revelations.  In 1838 they came to Missouri from Ohio troubles; and in 1838 a Missouri militia came against the Mormons, 17 (including children) were killed and Smith arrested.  In 1839, Brigham Young led the Missouri Mormons to Illinois.   Smith escaped to Illinois that year.  Before Smith was jailed and killed by a mob in 1844; it was report in 1887 LDS records that he had up to 28 wives.   Brigham Young became the 2nd President of the church in 1847 and led the Mormons to Utah and he founded Salt Lake City and became the Governor of the territory.  It was recorded that Young had 55 wives and 56 children before his death in 1858.  H. Grant, 7th president from the ended of WWI to the end of WWII (1945) was the last leader to practice polygamy.

 

United Methodist

Church (UMC)

 

Founded: 1729-

Members: 12.5 M

In 1850, Methodist was the largest denomination in the US – 34% of all adherents.

In 1724 John Wesley graduated from Christ Church in Oxford, England.  In 1729, Charles Wesley and a few others at Oxford began a ‘Holy Club,’ which John soon after joined and led.  Because of their method or religious disciplines, they became known as ‘Methodists;’ although Wesley claimed he never left the Anglican church.  Charles who write about 6,000 hymns before his death.  George Whitfield (‘Great Awaking’ evangelist) joined the group shortly before John went to South Carolina in 1737.   In 1744 Wesley held their first conference of preachers.  In 1758 John baptized two ‘Negro slaves.’  In 1784 the Methodist Episcopal Church was established.  In 1816 the African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed.  In 1830 the Methodist Protestant Church was organized.  The UMC was formed in 1968 when the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged.
New Apostolic Church

 

Founded: 1863

Members: 8.9 M

According to their website (nak.org): “The roots of the New Apostolic Church date back to …around 1830 …in England and Scotland” when individuals ‘prayed for an outpouring to the Holy Spirit… in 1863 the congregation in Hamburg separated from the Apostles of the Catholic Apostolic Church…”  They state they have about 7.5 million members in Africa and less than 228,000 in America.  In 1930 their name was changed from the New Apostolic Congregation to the New Apostolic Church.
Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

(Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society)

 

1879

8.3-12+ M

About 1870, a Bible study group, influenced by Millerites, began meeting.  In 1879, the very wealthy Charles Russel began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower… journal. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was formed in Pennsylvania in 1881.  In 1931, Judge Rutherford named the group ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.’  Their website states 8.34 million (3/2017), yet other sources add non-member affiliates and claim over 12 million.
Armenian Apostolic

Church

Founded: 1st century

Members: 7+ M

This is the national church of the Armenian people; it is also called the Armenian Orthodox Church.  The Armenian Church claims apostolic succession through the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus.  According to Eusebius and Tertullian, Armenian Christians were persecuted in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  King Trdat IV made Christianity the state religion about 301; and Gregory became the first Catholicos (‘universal bishop’).  The (2017) current ‘Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians’ is the 132nd successor to Saint Gregory the Illuminator.’
National Baptist Convention (USA) 1880

7+ M

The Baptist Foreign Mission Convention was formed in ‘1880 when 151 persons from 11 states met’ in Alabama.  The NBC was the result of a merger of 3 Black Baptist Conventions in 1895.
Church of God

Tennessee

 

1886

6.5 M

In 1886, 8 people ‘formed a Christian Union’ with former Baptist R. G. Spurling.  According to their website, in 1907 the ‘movement formally adopted the name Church of God… today COG …more than 7 million members in 178 nations.’
Church of God in Christ  

1907

6.5 M

The COGIC “is a Christian organization in the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition.  It is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States.  The membership is predominantly African-American with more than 6.5 million members… in 63 countries.”  It was founded by Elder Charles Mason in 1907 after a split between him and Charles Jones, a Baptist preacher who formed the Church of Christ (Holiness).
Universal Church of the Kingdom of God  

1977

6 M

In 1977 the UCKG was formed in Brazil.  It states that “it owes its origins to a successful evangelistic program by Bishop Robert McAlister, a Canadian missionary in the Pentecostal tradition.”  In 1986 it established a church and office in New York.  The UCKG is in 96 countries.
Anabaptist

 

Founded: c.1523

Members: 4+ M

They were several reformer groups in the 15th century that had similar beliefs as the Anabaptist; such as the Hussites and Waldensians.  The Anabaptist name came from their belief that infant baptism was not a freewill baptism.  Ana-Baptist (‘re-baptizers’) in Switzerland came from Zwingli’s congregations.  By mid-1500s they spread through France, Germany, Austria, Moravia (Czech, etc.) and the Netherlands; and from these came the Amish (1693: founder: Jacob Amman; split from Anabaptist) and Mennonites (1632: founder: Menno Simons).  They were persecuted severely due to their opposition to the Catholic Church and other Reformation groups.
Church of South India  

1947

3.8 M

According to csisynod.com “the Church of South India is the result of the union of churches of varying traditions Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian and Reformed.  It was inaugurated in 1947 …organized into 24 dioceses, each under the spiritual supervision of a bishop, the church as a whole is governed by a synod…”
Lutheran Church

(Missouri Synod)

 

Founded: 1847

Members: 2.6 M

According to lcms.org “the roots of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod trace back to 1847, when Saxon and other German immigrants established a new church body in America… (by) 12 pastors representing 14 congregations” from 6 states.  “Originally named The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, the name was shortened to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in 1947 on the occasion of our 100th anniversary.”
Presbyterian Church

USA

 

1541

1640

1983

2.5 M

Presbyterianism came from the reformers in the 16th century; and the first congregation was organized in America in 1640.  PCUSA was established in 1983 from a merger of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the USA.  About 1729 they adopted the Westminster Confession.  In 1776 Presbyterian was the second largest denomination in America with 19% of all religious adherents (Minister John Witherspoon signed the Declaration of Independence); and fourth in 1850 with 11.6%; now they represent less than 1% of the US population.  In 1884 the first Korean minister founded a church.  In 1889 they ordained their first woman minister.  They are led by an assembly of ‘presbyters’ (‘ruling elders’ or ‘bishops’).
Presbyterian Church of Korea and others

 

Split into two groups in 1959

 

1884

4 M

United Pentecostal

Church International

1916

1945

2.3 M

According to upci.org the “UPCI is a Oneness Pentecostal organization …formed in 1945 by the merger of the Pentecostal Church Inc. and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ.  From 521 churches in 1945, the UPCI has grown to 40,000 churches… and a constituency of 3,750,000 in 220 nations… The UPCI emerged out of the Pentecostal movement that began with a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 and with the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, CA in 1906.  It traces its organizational roots to 1916.” Pentecostal prayer meeting in Indonesia started about 1911, and in 1920 the Dutch Pentecostal Missionary Society sent missionaries to Indonesia.  Pentecostalism was introduced to Brazil in 1911 by 2 Swedish-American missionaries; one of which founded the Brazil Assemblies of God in 1914.
Pentecostal Church of Indonesia, Brazil  

I: 1.2 M

B: 1 M

Data: Denomination websites; Operation World; Adherents.com; Timeline Charts of the Western Church (1999)

 

 

 

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