Friday, October 22, 2010

The Differences Between Christian Denominations

Q - is there any good way to find out about differences in beliefs between denominations? I know I've heard you say multiple times that you can't assume what someone believes based on what denomination that associate with, but I'm curious as to what the actual denominational beliefs are.

A - Thanks for the question. Because each different Protestant denomination has different doctrines and teachings, it would be impossible for me to go into the differences between them all in this space. But, there are some good resources that might help you.

Before I get to the resources, I want to point out a definition that is important. If we define a "denomination" as a group that has split off from the Church of Christ, then the Catholic Church is not a denomination. If you define it as a group with the same beliefs, then it could be considered a denomination. But the Catholic Church is just that - a Church. In fact, it is the one true Church. Thus, when Protestants broke off from The Church, they "denominated" from it. Thus, the Catholic Church is not just another Christian denomination.

Now, this isn't to say Protestants are bad, Catholics are awesome, etc. Rather, it is the way the Catholic Church understands the nature of the Church.

Now, as to the differences between Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church, there are somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 denominations. So, I know of no resource that lists them all - nor would anyone read it if there was!

But, there are resources that track the major differences between groups. One of the best is this book -
Handbook of Denominations of the United States. It is pretty comprehensive and gives a quick overview of beliefs, size, origin, etc.

I think knowing the history of Christianity helps understand the splits in the Body of Christ. So, I recommend the following books as well:

  • The Faith of the Early Fathers. Edited by W. A. Jurgens, 3 volumes,
  • Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church. By Henry Graham.
  • Triumph by H. W. Crocker III.
  • How the Reformation Happened by Hilaire Belloc
  • Characters of the Reformation by Hilaire Belloc
  • How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas Woods

If you want a quick chart on major differences, this one is fairly accurate.

I hope this helps.

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