General Question

dxs's avatar

What are the differences between types of Christianity?

Asked by dxs (11720 points ) April 29th, 2011

I hope this question isn’t too broad…I just wanted to know how/what things differentiate between all these types of Christians. Some I can think of off the top of my head are:
Protestant
Mormon
Baptist
Episcopal
Evangelist
Methodist
Jehovah’s Witness
Lutheran
There’s definitely more, and if there is by all means explain to me. A preference or even a way to help explain it would be to compare and contrast them with Catholicism. I am Catholic and am not looking to convert or anything, just curious. Thanks in advance for your help.
Oh, and I know that this is Fluther, but I don’t really expect/want a large discussion or debate to breakout. Only a disagreement, not a large debate…—Also, I don’t really think Bible Quotes are necessary either. If you absolutely must, fine. Thanks :)

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44 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

Generally, they each interpret the Bible differently, some saying it is very clear that there is a Trinity of God, Jesus, and a Holy Spirit. Some believe that celebrating a sacrament by taking wine and bread as a symbol of the blood and flesh of Jesus. Some believe that ostentatious worship is unholy, and keep their surroundings as free of outside distractions as possible.

The Protestants broke away from the Catholic church over a practice the Catholics once had of selling dispensations, so you could purchase the right to commit a sin.

zenvelo's avatar

Many Protestant denominations differed on printing the Bible and liturgy in the vernacular, rather than in Latin. Philosophically, they believed scripture should be more accessible, and not kept under control of the Church. I remember as a Roman Catholic child we never studied the Bible, but just Gospels from that week’s Mass.

(The Catholic Church finally changed that at Vatican II).

Many other denominations, those considered “evangelical” believe in salvation solely through faith and being born again; Catholics believe in an obligation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick. As Paul said, “Faith without works is dead”.

Many Christian denominations do not consider Mormons as “Christian”. Mormons believe in a different scripture (The Book of Mormon).

mcsnazzy's avatar

I know that methodists focus more on a personal relationship with God through the study of the scripture. They believe this is the only way to live a holy life. Jehovas Witness are very conservative in their beliefs. Evangelist focus on the gospel and spreading the good news. The evangelists I believe derived from the Three Fold Mission of the Apostolic Church in which Evangilization was the first part. Lutherans focus on the fundamental basics of Christian teachings as they were created by Martin Luther with the 95 Theses after he protested agaisnt the corrupt church. For one main difference between all of these and catholicism: I know that Catholics are the only Christians who believe in transubstantiation. This is the belief that the body and blood through the blessings of the priest actually become so. The change is not symbolic as in all other denominations. Ive also found this website: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations/comparison_charts.htm
It is a comparison of all Christian denominations in terms of beliefs, practices and ethics/morality.

dxs's avatar

@mcsnazzy thanks for the christianity-catholicism differentiation! I didn’t know that they all didn’t believe in transubstantiation. Your website helps a lot!

thorninmud's avatar

I’ll just tackle the Jehovah’s Witnesses piece. Here are their principle differences from Catholicism:

They don’t believe in an immortal soul, nor in Hell as a place of eternal torment. They think that the majority of believers will get their reward in the form of eternal life (in physical form) on a paradise Earth. Only 144,000 believers will get a heavenly resurrection.

They don’t believe in the Trinity. They think the Son was the first creation of the Father, and helped Him create everything else, but that the Son was not God.

Witnesses are exclusivist in that they think there’s is the only form of belief God will accept. They scorn all other Christian denominations, but reserve a special dose of venom for the Catholic church, which they see as the worst distortion of true Christian doctrine.

The only religious celebration observed by Witnesses is the annual commemoration of the Last Supper. Pretty much every event other Christians celebrate, including birthdays, are prohibited to Witnesses.

They refuse any political involvement (don’t vote, don’t serve in the military, don’t stand for the national anthem, don’t even express political opinions) because they think God’s is the only legitimate government.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, the Lutherans got started because increasingly more and more of the average people were learning to read. Martin Luther said that the average person should be allowed to interpret the Bible for themselves, and not have to depend on the Catholic priests to interpret them for them. He also said masses should be spoken in English, not Latin, so people could understand what was being said.

The Catholic Church didn’t like any of that one little bit. They stood to lose a lot of power and control. So they hanged So they hanged Martin Luther. But his idea caught on any way.

Protestants ended up breaking from the Lutherans, don’t know why. But the name Protestant comes from “Protest.”

The rest of them just spiraled off as more and more people began reading the Bible for themselves, and thinking they’d found discrepancies in the interpretations given to them by their leaders.

Different religions think that the Main Focus should be on different things: Witnessing or evangelizing or speaking in toungs, whatever. IMO, throwing down rules and laws of conduct takes the focus off of God, which is where it belongs. So I don’t subscribe to any denomination.

Kardamom's avatar

Another thing that I find odd, is that some denominations do not recognize other denominations as Christians at all (I’m not a Christian so I don’t understand this). My friend’s Dad is a Presbyterian minister and they do not believe that Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians at all.

He also told me that the versions of the Bible that each group reads is slightly different, with different interpretations due to the fact that some of them were translated into English coming down from Hebrew or coming down through Latin. Everytime the Bible gets re-translated, the interpretations change.

Some of the denominations celebrate “typical Christian holidays” such as Christmas and Easter, wheras some of them think it is completely wrong to celebrate any holidays. Another friend of mine is a Jehovah’s Witness and she said the reason for this is the fact that Christianity pretty much over-took old heathen holidays when people believed in multiple Gods and used the calendar dates to attempt to correspond to things such as the birth of Christ and the Resurrection. In this way, it was a lot easier to convert the masses and get them to go along with this new thing. As long as they still got to celebrate in their old ways with the rituals and foods and songs, it was easier for them to buy into Chrisitanity. But some denominations frown upon this, because the “rituals” are not based on anything that really had to do with Jesus. Kind of like now, with Santa and the Easter Bunny.

A few other Christian denominations to add to your list are the Shakers and the Quakers and The Amish Mennonites and the Pentacostals and Presbyterians and Church of England, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox and Byzantine and the Puritans. I’m sorry I can’t tell you the differences between any of them, not being a Christian at all.

I adore looking at the architecture of churches though. Sometimes the architecture, itself is another way to describe the denominations as being different. Some of them, like Catholic churches are extremly ornate, while Baptist churches (the typical little white chapel with a steeple on top) are very austere.

Maybe you could get @Nullo to chime in here. He’s pretty knowledgeable about the various differences between the denominations.

lillycoyote's avatar

It can really get very complicated. There are basic divisions, each believing in and practicing different types of christianity and rituals, but within those divisions are more divisions, and more divisions among those groups, each with big or merely slight difference. Here is a list of Christian Denominations from Wikipedia. Just scroll down the entry and you’ll get an idea about how complicated it can get when trying to explain the differences between different denominations.

And Martin Luther was not hanged by the Catholic Church, he died of stroke, at home, at the age of 62.

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Hibernate's avatar

Biggest difference is in the way of how one lives his life.

The way he reacts to others.

The way how one can see God in his life or how you see Bible principles in him.

Others are just doctrine differences [ wich can take a while to write ]

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MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Some diagrams to help you understand (because I love visual aids when utilized properly)

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If you’re really interested, get this. I’ve seen it, it’s amazing.

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Kardamom's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Wow! Those charts are very informative. I had no idea that there were so many offshoots of Christianity.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Kardamom Those are really only the major ones, none of them include the smaller ones or cults, etc.

Tuesdays_Child's avatar

The main differences between the Christian denominations are things that concern doctrine, or interpretation of the scriptures, Some of those things seem very inconsequential to most folks, except those who believe them. They vary from denomination to denomination, some examples are: women being allowed to teach/preach/pray aloud during services, women cutting thier hair or men shaving, the use of musical instruments during worship, which traslation of the Bible is appropriate, whether a person can drink wine or smoke cigarettes and still go to heaven or if a divorced person can be a church elder. There are literally dozens of others but you get the idea.
The reason that Jehovahs Witness and Mormons are often not considered a part of Christianity is due to the fact thet they add to and take away from the Bible, something that is directly addressed in the scriptures. Catholicism differs in part due to the necessity of confessing one’s sins to a priest and receiving both penance and forgiveness from the same.
These are very simplified explanations of some complicated matters, but, once again, you get the general idea! :~)

ragingloli's avatar

Mostly minor details. Still, enough for bloodshed.

YARNLADY's avatar

@zenvelo Just to clarify one point, the Mormons are Christians who believe in a doctrine of continuing revelation. Their records of God’s word include; the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

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augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Please remember, folks: This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Nullo's avatar

Relatively minor variations in doctrine. They’re important for a healthy Christian faith, but are not what you might call “mission-critical.” Most Protestant-types consider other Protestant-types Christians (notable exceptions include certain sub-sections of the Baptists, who believe that salvation is restricted to their particular sub-denomination).

Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses are technically cults. Mormonism in particular is wildly divergent, once you get past the surface.

Originally, Episcopalians were American Anglicans, who are in turn essentially ex-Papal Catholics. Parts of the Episcopal denomination have become increasingly liberal of late, almost to the point of irrelevance.

Protestant: In many respects, an umbrella term for “not Catholic.”

Baptist: Come in many flavors. Some are noted for their intense legalism (to the point of prohibiting dancing, alcohol, and Star Wars). Others host theological discussions in bars and have pop-flavored worship music.

Evangelicals: “A movement in Protestantism characterized by an emphasis on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship begins when a person receives Christ’s forgiveness and is spiritually reborn.”

Methodists began as a subset of the Church of England. Sort of Catholic Lite. Related to Presbyterians.

Lutherans: Originally the bug-fix patch for Catholicism, which had kind of gone off the rails. Luther sought to correct the non-Biblical parts of Catholicism, not leave and start something else. Needless to say (so I say it anyway) it didn’t stick. Lutherans today are a separate bunch.

Common minor differences: the validity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, when a person ought to be baptized, modes of speech and dress (Evangelicalism was particularly popular amongst hippies, who were not tolerated at coat-and-tie churches), the names and duties of church offices, etc.

dxs's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Your charts seem to contradict themselves. I don’t care too much as to how they formed, but what they are like. In one of them, (the yellow one), It shows that presbyterianism is right off of Roman Catholicism and that Catholicism was formed after orthoddox, lutheran and others. May I also pose a similar question—which offshoot of Christianity is most closely link to Catholicism? I know it ‘all depends’, I was just wondering because they seem to differ

bkcunningham's avatar

High Church Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics are very close to Catholics in their beliefs.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@dxs You know, I don’t know that I really care for the yellow one (I just found it right before posting it). It’s technically correct, but only if you understand the terms and what it’s trying to communicate. For example, before the Great Schism, there was only (ish) Orthodoxy – what had been decided would be “Official Christianity” as it were, and all other types of Christianity (like Coptic, Gnostic) were suppressed – this was in the 300s AD. Around the same time, the Roman Empire splintered into two parts – the Greek East (Byzantine) side and the Latin West side – but they kept practicing relatively the same Christianity, although we can see some differences. But then in 1054, the Great Schism occurs, and the Eastern and Western sides have a disagreement over, well, basically what Christians are always fighting over (trinitarianism, the Eucharist, transubstantiation, Christology, and in this instance, filioque). Both sides claim that they’re the right one, and the other one and all the people it sees are going to Hell. The Western half becomes the Roman Catholic church (catholic meaning “universal” in Latin), and the Eastern side becomes Greek Orthodoxy, or simply “Orthodoxy”.
Roman Catholicism forming after Lutheran: So, after Luther came out and formed Lutheranism, it starts a real shitstorm of religoius controversy. People are leaving the Catholic Church left and right, and the Church doesn’t like this. Both sides kill the other side a LOT, but in addition to simply punishing those who resist them, the Catholic Church decides it needs to appeal to what people want, and reform itself, starting the Catholic Reformation. Of course, a lot of the reforming that happened consisted of calling meetings where they could take a good, long, hard look a their policies, and then decide they were right all along…. While I don’t know what exactly happens in 1559, I would guess that it’s a big date for the “New and Improved Catholic Church”, as it were, and that’s why they list it again.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@dxs Ok, try this one – it’s the back side of the Rose Publishing pamphlet. It should be clearer.

zenvelo's avatar

@YARNLADY Thanks. I asked a Mormon about the relationship between them and traditional Christian churches once, and she could not give me much more than, “well, we follow the Book of Mormon.” I do know that it was an issue in 2008 when Mitt Romney was running for the Republican nomination as to whether or not the evangelical churches would support him.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Huh. So, @dxs, it turns out I didn’t actually link you the new one. So here

buster's avatar

The Church of Christ doesn’t have any instruments or a choir. Its all accapella. they believe in a bible verse about not adding to the church and think churches with recorded songs and instruments are sinful. They also shun divorced couples and their children. Southern Baptist are very conservative and against abortion, alcohol, gambling, but frequently are social clubs that build mega churches with gyms, auditoriums with movie screens, music, and try and guilt you to the front every week. I think they should use that money to feed people and give out free healthcare. Both are very boring and hypocritcal. Pentecostal churches and Assembly of God churches mainly just pray sing they got a band, they talk in tongues and roll around in the floor possessed by the holy spirit. They are the most interesting and fun churches. I felt electricity in a service at one before.
Freewill Baptist wash and anooint each others bare feet during service because they do it in the people.

Buttonstc's avatar

I’m going to approach your question from two separate emphases, mainly STYLE of worship services and then MAJOR DOCTRINAL BELIEFS
because there is a similarity in style of worship with some groups despite polar oposite doctrinal emphasis.

The most formal worship style is described as Liturgical. This is a formal, pre-set type of service in which the order of things is the same from one week’s service to the next with obvious differences being the scriptures used and/or holiday and seasonal time in the church calendar.

It also involves very formal and usually quite seasonally influenced vestment colors (priest robes and altar cloths) many of which are usually quite elaborate, ornate and very beautiful.

Obviously this describes the RC (Roman Catholic) church as well as the various ethnic Orthodox groups. But several Protestant denominations also have a very similar liturgical order of worship even tho their doctrines differ sharply.

The main ones of these are Anglicans ( UK) Episcopalians (US) and Lutherans which are all considered liturgical churches.
Some Presbyterians can be considered Liturgical as well depending upon the formality of service order and degree of elaborate vestments. When the late D. James Kennedy was the head pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian it was much more formal. The current Pastor prefers things much simpler, wears a suit rather than robes, and eschews pomp and circumstance, not surprisingly since he’s the grandson of Billy Graham.

Liturgical churches can vary quite a bit within this category. That’s why they have developed a shorthand descriptor to indicate this. The most formal and elaborate are known as “High Church”. The ones at the opposite end of the spectrum are termed “Low Church”.

I taught at a Lutheran school which also had weekly chapel services. This particular Pastor was about as High Church Lutheran as it’s possible to be. Elaborate vestments, a full sung (rather than spoken) service, incense, the whole nine yards. We used to joke around that if it weren’t for those pesky little doctrinal distinctives, he’d be a better representative of the RC Church than a whole lot of the more modern (less formal) ones :) He even wore the full floor length black cassock most days just walking around (apart from only during services) which I’ve never seen on any other Lutheran pastor I’ve ever encountered.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have something like the Quakers which don’t even have a minister delivering a sermon like in most other churches. When they gather everybody sits in peaceful contemplation until someone (or numerous someones) feels
moved to speak and share what’s on their hearts and minds. That may sound quite strange to someone used to a lock step liturgical format but it’s actually quite peaceful and relaxing. It’s a refreshing contrast to the frenetic pace of our current society.

Similarly to the Quakers on the spontaneity scale but usually more noisy (or boisterous) would be many of the Pentecostal denominations. They strongly believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit and feel that a rigidly set program such as Liturgy would stifle that.

And the rest of the Protestant denominations are in the middle between spontaneity and preset service order.

So that gives a general overview of style of worship.

Originally, I was going to describe the major forks in the road for the divergence of several key doctrinal issues as part of this post but will have to get to it later cuz its really really late and I can barely keep my eyes. So I’ll get back to this tomorrow.

One of the best ways to understand Christianity is through the lens of history. That’s what I’ll cover subsequently.

However, I’ve read this in two other posts so far and want to clear it up. Twice it was mentioned that Lutherans came BEFORE Roman Catholicism. It’s the reverse.

Before he posted his famous 99 theses on the door of Wittenburg Cathedral, thus beginning the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther was an RC Monk so obviously the RC church predated Luther by quite a significant amount of time.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Dx…the Catholic church was the first church. All other denominations came as offshoots if it due to dissatisfaction over one thing or another.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I take that back! Actually, the roots of Catholicism are found in the Jewish religion. Christianity came about for the same old reason….certain Jews were becoming dissatisfied with certain aspects of the Jewish religion, so they created a new denomination of Judaism.

dxs's avatar

@Dutchess_III I know…that wasn’t really my question. Christianity was before Catholicism, though, as it was generalized back then. @Buttonstc I’m still working on reading it, my attention span seems to be low at the moment, sorry. But I already GAed you in advance for the great effort and hope to finish soon.

andreggt's avatar

The Bible tells us that there is one religion, Ephesians 4:5 “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”. Yet we see many… “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”(Jeremiah 6:16) What is told as path is religion. People didn’t ask, they didn’t seek for the old path (old religion). They chose their own way forgetting the old path. To understand this more clearly we can refer to Hebrews 13:7 “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. “. This clearly states that we need to ask, “which religion (Christianity) did our fathers and thereby their forefathers believe ?” and the answer to this will ultimately take you back to beginning of Christianity. “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts of the Apostles 11:26), thus telling us who the first Christians were i.e. the disciples. Now I think it is clear which the old path is .and hereby we turn to history, which tells us that Christianity continued in this path(way) preserved untouched intact until about 431 A.D. In 325 A.D. ,the rise in belief of Jesus as a creation (note, not a creator) preached by a “teacher” named arios caused disagreements leading to the meeting of 318 international intellects of Christianity, marking the first problem(not division) to the church of Christ where by the council banned and disregarded the teachings of arios and gave the name Orthodox(Ortho-direct,dox-belief,signifying the true and direct old path) to the church of Christ(for there shall not be like arios who were indirect or different to the old path).note that up to this point Christianity didn’t split but the church of Christ was given a name as Orthodox Church .the first split within Christianity how ever comes in 431 A.D. at the council of Ephesus, a council which was caused by a “teaching” known as nestorianism ,which stated the nature of Jesus as two separated natures(separate God nature and separate human nature and one body(combined Godly body and humanly body). But the truth which was believed and known by the church of Christ (the Orthodox Church) was the fact that Jesus was born having one nature (combined God nature and human nature) and one body (combined Godly body and humanly body) together. Simply put God become human and human become God. As the bible states in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was God.” and John 1:14 “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth”. The Word (God) was Made flesh (human)….at the end of the council the Assyrian Church of the East separated from the Orthodox Church. The next separation occurred in 451 A.D. when the roman generals called upon a council known as the council of Chalcedon by which 636 intellects were gathered to discuss upon nestorianism ,the discussion finally led to pope Leon of Rome’s acceptance of nestorianism thus yet giving rise to another religion to break off the Orthodox Church (obviously didn’t accept nestorianism and refused separation ,but not to forget who had power and it was Rome and there was nothing that the orthodox church can do.) and a religion named Catholic, was born, the Orthodox Church didn’t accept the chalcedonian agreement hence the church now became Non Chalcedonian Orthodox Church. the third split within Christianity comes in 1054 A.D. by which the Catholic church was divided(notice not the church of Christ( the Non Chalcedonian Orthodox church, as it is called)) due to disagreements between the western pope and eastern patriarchs.(as the culture of east and west was different ,it was also called the Great Schism,).which finally led to the formation of Eastern Orthodox Church (which called itself orthodox and was chalcedonian ( nestorianism believers) boldly speaking it is just catholic that called itself orthodox). Then there are the Protestants which completely are out of the old path. They are wrong in so many levels their story needs twice the page ….But from this we see that the old path mentioned is the old Christianity and that is the Non Chalcedonian Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox as it remained intact in all the periods as there was no change to it except for name changes. This religion is followed by masses in different countries……

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snowberry's avatar

Regarding Mormonism. There are quite a few differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism. The beliefs continue to evolve over time, but the things I’m mentioning are the way Mormonism was taught at one point when I was younger. (I never was Mormon by the way, but they are on both sides of my family.)

I used to go to a Mormon church when I was a child. Back then, Mormons did not want to be known as “Christian” in any way whatsoever. That policy changed with they got a new president, and now they are very much interested in being known as Christian.

Another dramatic difference is that Mormons believe that when a man in good standing in the church dies, he goes to heaven and then is assigned new world(s) to govern and fill with progeny. Therefore he’s also given many wives who procreate with him and produce lots of spirit children to fill the bodies of people on the new world.

They believe that there are 7 different levels of heaven, and that a woman will not be allowed to advance any higher in heaven than her husband.

They believe in baptism by proxy for the dead. Mainstream Christians have a huge problem with this. Here is a discussion on the subject. http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-r001.html

When I was a child, They taught that when God judged Cain for killing his brother, the mark He put on Cain was black (or very dark) skin. Therefore people with very dark skin were not allowed in the priesthood. Later on, perhaps because there were threats of lawsuits, the president of the church had a vision, and declared that they were to be allowed to take the priesthood after all.

Considering this history, I’m baffled as to why so many people with dark skin would want to join the Mormon Church. There are more than a few such members.

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