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Thorough explanation of the differences between Christian denominations

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  • Thorough explanation of the differences between Christian denominations

    Admittedly I am largely ignorant of the differences between the different Christian denominations and creeds and beliefs throughout history. Whenever I try to read about this it seems like a massive maze of complex information and mostly very slight and subtle differences.

    So can anyone recommend a reading that is both summarized and succinct about most Christian denominations and the difference between them, and if possible how that difference matters to the point of becoming an independent body withing the bigger family.
    Last edited by CarlosTL; 07-05-2016, 11:37 PM. Reason: Christian denominations

  • #2
    Hi Carlos, I see you are brand new here, so first off, WELCOME TO CF!

    As for a list of basic denominational/church differences, I'm sure there's something good out there, but all of the articles I've seen are woefully inadequate (IOW, they touch on some of the major aspects of each faith, but you really never get a feel for what they're really like). Of the churches that hold to the ancient creeds, like the Nicene Creed, and are therefore considered to be within the pale of Christian orthodoxy, the biggest divisions are undoubtedly between the Eastern Orthodox, Romans Catholics and Protestants, so you might want to get a good understanding about those similarities and differences first.

    For a quick look at the differences between them, start here. (actually, I think this article talks mostly about the differences in Roman Catholics and Protestants)

    There is also a Wikipedia page that will walk you through quite a few of the Protestant churches and what they believe. That can be found here.

    If you have questions about a particular church or denomination, perhaps someone from that church/denomination who is a member here will be able to answer your question for you in a very personal way :)

    I know what you're looking for, so if I find something better, I'll let you know. Hopefully someone else here will have some better suggestions for you too.

    Yours and His,
    David
    Simul Justus et Peccator ~Martin Luther

    "We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone" ~John Calvin

    "The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us." ~C. S. Lewis

    "The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances" ~Elisabeth Elliot

    "The law is for the self-righteous to humble their pride; the Gospel is for the lost to remove their despair. ~C. H. Spurgeon
    Comment>

    • #3
      Originally posted by St_Worm2 View Post
      Hi Carlos, I see you are brand new here, so first off, WELCOME TO CF!

      As for a list of basic denominational/church differences, I'm sure there's something good out there, but all of the articles I've seen are woefully inadequate (IOW, they touch on some of the major aspects of each faith, but you really never get a feel for what they're really like). Of the churches that hold to the ancient creeds, like the Nicene Creed, and are therefore considered to be within the pale of Christian orthodoxy, the biggest divisions are undoubtedly between the Eastern Orthodox, Romans Catholics and Protestants, so you might want to get a good understanding about those similarities and differences first.

      For a quick look at the differences between them, start here. (actually, I think this article talks mostly about the differences in Roman Catholics and Protestants)

      There is also a Wikipedia page that will walk you through quite a few of the Protestant churches and what they believe. That can be found here.

      If you have questions about a particular church or denomination, perhaps someone from that church/denomination who is a member here will be able to answer your question for you in a very personal way :)

      I know what you're looking for, so if I find something better, I'll let you know. Hopefully someone else here will have some better suggestions for you too.

      Yours and His,
      David
      Thank you for the detailed response, really appreciate it. I will sure give these links a read. I am really puzzled by the differences on the philosophical level, not merely the desire to emancipate from the control of a bigger church (e.g. Catholic church)
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by CarlosTL View Post

        Thank you for the detailed response, really appreciate it. I will sure give these links a read. I am really puzzled by the differences on the philosophical level, not merely the desire to emancipate from the control of a bigger church (e.g. Catholic church)
        That will, of course, require a bit of time and effort on your part, but it will definitely make for an interesting study (and one that should strengthen and deepen your faith in the long run I would think). And if you wouldn't mind keeping us updated, I look forward to hearing about the things you discover along the way :)

        Thanks!

        --David
        Simul Justus et Peccator ~Martin Luther

        "We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone" ~John Calvin

        "The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us." ~C. S. Lewis

        "The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances" ~Elisabeth Elliot

        "The law is for the self-righteous to humble their pride; the Gospel is for the lost to remove their despair. ~C. H. Spurgeon
        Comment>

        • #5
          Groups such as Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. find their roots in the Reformation and are are commonly referred to as Christian denominations with differences in ecclesiology and theology. In some groups, congregations are part of a particular church denominational hierarchy, while in other denominations, notably Baptists and Congregationalists, each congregation is an independent autonomous local body. Local-congregation-autonomy within Protestant Christianity has grown due to the 20th century independent Bible Church movement, especially in the U.S. Technically, Bible Churches do not comprise a Protestant denomination, although they have become a significant identifiable segment.

          Denominationalism may also be viewed ideologically, regarding some or all Christian groups as being, to some extent, versions of the same thing -- regardless of their distinguishing labels. Not all denominations would agree with this, however; and there are some groups which practically all others would view as apostate or heretical -- that is, not legitimate versions of Christianity.

          I personally think the major differences between denominations are the forms of church government: Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Independent.... I won't get into theological doctrine but will only suggest that true "denominations" have more in common than what they have in differences, though those differences can vary in emphasis depending on theology. Another words, for example, I am very strict on soteriology, but less strict towards eschatology. I consider soteriology essential doctrine, and will not compromise on it.

          Keep in mind as you're reading, if you find the Presbyterian system familiar, it should be, because America is modeled after the Presbyterian system of church government with its checks and balances. Calvinist comprised 2/3rds of the soldiers that died on the battle field of the revolutionary war, Calvinist that landed here beforehand with Geneva bibles, my main point in bringing this up is that Presbyterianism had a tremendous influence on shaping America. Here's a quick summation between the Baptist and Presbyterian forms of church government that I made some time ago:

          In a Baptist or congregational form of Government the congregation elects the pastor and also elects the deacons. The amount of authority the pastor has varies greatly from church to church, and will generally increase the longer a pastor remains in the church. The authority of the deacon board is often thought to be merely an advisory authority. In the way this system ordinarily functions, especially in smaller churches, many decisions must be brought before the congregation as a whole.

          Concerning the Baptist government it seems to be quite unwise to ignore a clear NT pattern which existed throughout all the churches for which we have evidence at the time the NT was written. When the NT shows us that no church was seen to have a single elder ("in every church," Acts 14:23; "in every town," Titus 1:5; "let him call for the elders," James 5:14; "I exhort the elders among you," 1 Peter 5:1), then it seems unpersuasive to say the smaller churches would have only had one elder. Even when Paul had just founded churches on his first missionary journey, there were elders appointed "in every church" (Acts 14:23). And "every town" on the island of Crete was to have elders, no matter how large or small the church was.

          It seems to be true that a doctrinally sound denomination with a Presbyterian system of government can keep a local church from going astray in its doctrine, in actuality very frequently the opposite has been true: the national leadership of the PCUSA Presbyterian denomination has adopted false doctrine and has put great pressure on local churches to conform to it.

          The effective power in church government seems, in practice, to be too removed from the final control of the laypeople in the church. The power of the church resides primarily in the governing body of the local church, the more general the assembly, the more remote it is from the people. Thus the system is very hard to turn around when it begins to go wrong since the laypersons who are not elders have no vote in the session or the presbytery or the general assembly, and the governing structure of the church is more removed from them than in other church government structures.


          But what is a Presbyterian system of Government?

          In the Presbyterian system, each local church elects elders to a session. The Pastor of the church will be one of the elders in the session, equal in authority to the other elders. This session has governing authority over the local church. However, the members of the session (elders) are also members of a presbytery, which has authority over several churches in a region. This presbytery consists of some or all of the elders in the local churches over which it has authority. Moreover, some of the members of the presbytery are members of the "general" assembly which usually will have authority over all the Presbyterian churches in a nation or region.

          The arguments in favor of a Presbyterian system are:
          • That those who have wisdom and gifts for eldership should be called on to use their wisdom to govern more than just one local church, and
          • A national (or even worldwide) government of the church shows the unity of the body of Christ. Moreover
          • Such a system is able to prevent an individual congregation from falling into doctrinal error much more effectively than any voluntary association of churches
          God bless,
          William
          Comment>

          • #6



            Church government (or sometimes church polity) is that branch of ecclesiology (study of the church) that addresses the organizational structure and hierarchy of the church. There are basically three types of church government that have developed in the various Christian denominations: the episcopal, the presbyterian, and the congregational.
            Multimedia

            Episcopal

            See main page: Episcopal (polity) The polity of the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and (some) Lutheran Churches.

            The episcopal form of government has been the polity of the Church catholic as early as Ignatius of Antioch, all the way down to the time of the Reformation. Advocates for an episcopal form of church government argue that the sheer fact that it went virtually uncontested until the time of the Reformation testifies to its claims of apostolicity, although not all contemporary episcopalian apologists argue from history rather than Scripture. A notable example is Ray Sutton, the Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church, who has produced work arguing that the episcopal system is biblical.

            Presbyterian

            Common in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, this form of church government is commonly described as "Elder-run" or "Presbyter-run".

            Typically, original authority--that is the authority that the church believes Christ gave to it--is said to reside at the local elder level in this model of polity. Thus the "highest" authority in a presbyterian or reformed church (after Christ) is said to be the Elders of the church. Those elders are typically elected by the congregation on a periodic basis (usually a term lasts about 3 years). Sometimes elders are elected by the drawing of lots.

            Those who are elected to office serve their terms as the spiritual/theological/moral/visionary leaders of the congregation. They also then participate in the governance of the regional body of churches (sometimes called a "classis") by sending delegates to a classis meeting on a regular basis. The "classical" level of church governance, in the presbyterian model, is not a higher authority, but rather is seen as a "delegated" authority--one that only derives it's power from the acquiescence of the Elders at the local level.

            In a similar manner, Classis will send a select number of delegates to a still broader body of authority, sometimes called a Synod. The Synod will meet regularly (yearly, for example) to discuss major issues of theology and practice facing the whole denomination. Synod too, however, does not have a "higher" authority, except insofar as its "delegated" authority is accepted by classes and local Elders.

            In this structure it is important to note as well that the "Reverend" or "Minister of the Word and Sacrament"--the Pastor--is recognized essentially as one of the Elders with a specialized role. The Pastor in this model of governance does not have special authority beyond that of the Elders, except insofar as, due to their role and training, they are recognized to be "expert" in the spiritual and theological life of the local congregation.

            Congregational

            This is a section stub. Please edit it to add information. Congregational polity draws its name from the independence of local congregations from the authority and control of other religious bodies. Paige Patterson has summarized congregational polity as follows:

            "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines "congregationalism" as "that form of Church polity which rests on the indepdendence and autonomy of each local church." According to this source, the principles of democracy in church government rest on the belief that Christ is the sole head of his church, the members are all priests unto God, and these units are regarded each as an outcrop and representative of the church universal." ( Who Runs the Church?: 4 Views on Church Government, Steven B. Cowan, gen. ed., p. 135, Zondervan 2004)

            Churches organized with a congregational polity may be involved in conventions, districts or associations which allow them to share common beliefs, cooperate in joint ministry efforts and regulate clergy with other congregations. Churches organized with a congregational polity generally disapprove of acknowledging authority in councils or other proceedings involving delegates or representatives from outside the local congregation. However, congregational polity does not prevent a local congregation's leadership from adopting the decision or position of another congregation or a council or other gathering.

            Single elder/pastor led

            In a congregational church led by a single elder/pastor, primary leadership in all decisions and doctrinal determinations is vested in a single leader. (Who Runs the Church?, p. 150-52) Typically, this leader also performs the duties of a senior pastor/minister and provides the preaching and teaching ministries for the church in addition to administrative leadership. Often, a congregational church led by a single elder/pastor was founded by that singular leader or by a previous singular leader who appointed the present leader.

            Paige Patterson argues that, despite biblical evidence undeniably exists in support of a plurality of elders, several factors support the ascendancy of a principal elder as the singular leader of the congregation. Those factors include: 1) the general pattern in the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Moses, the judges, Peter, James the brother of Jesus); 2) the pattern of the early church (e.g. John Chrysostom in Antioch and at Saint Sophia's in Constantinople, Augustine in Hippo, Jonathan Edwards in Northampton); 3) influence of the synagogue on the church, including adoption by the church of the "president of the synagogue" in the form of the "pastor/elder/overseer"; and 4) the psychology of human leadership. ( Who Runs the Church, pp. 150-52)

            Responding to Patterson, L. Roy Taylor raises concerns regarding the accountability of this polity. Taylor, writing as a proponent of Presbyterian polity, comments, "[I]n my estimation, it is easier for a few knowledgeable and determined people to manipulate a convention (congregationalism) than it is to manipulate a deliberative body." (Who Runs the Church?, p. 164) Writing as a proponent of plural elder congregationalism, Samuel E. Waldron points out that a single-elder congregational polity is precisely the model that led to episcopacy in the early church. ( Who Runs the Church, p. 177-78)

            Patterson's position addresses common practices by Baptist churches in America. It does not address single-elder congregational polity structures common in Pentecostal, Charismatic and congregations from other traditions. Though experience has brought about modification of the more extreme manifestations, single-elder congregationalism in some of these traditions consolidated authority to the point of autocracy.

            Concerns related to the more extreme forms of single-elder congregationalism has resulted in more accountability within Pentecostal congregations such as those affiliated with the Assemblies of God. Also, common experience with the consequences of unaccountable authority ranging from inappropriate use of church finances all the way to the tragedy in Jonestown are often relied upon by opponents of this structure in favor of increased accountability.

            Common in some Baptist and Congregational churches.

            Democratic congregational

            In a congregational church led by a democratically elected leadership board or council, final authority for all decisions and doctrinal determinations are vested in a plurality of representative leaders selected by the congregation. The titles of the individual leaders and the structure of the leadership board or council varies.

            One common use of this structure involves the election of "elders" to an "elder board". The "elders" make business and spiritual decisions for the congregation by committee and serve individually as examples and mentors to the rest of the congregation. Often "deacons" are also elected to provide leadership within specific committees, ministries or administrative functions. Typically, "deadons" are subordinate to the authority of the "elders". In some congregational churches, "deacons" serve on a unified "board" with the elders with equal voting authority.

            Another comon use of this structure acknowledges the "pastor" as the single "elder" for the congregation who participates in decision-making with a "deacon board" comprised of the "pastor" and "deacons" selected by the congregation. The "pastor" also typically serves as chief executive officer for the congregation in implementing the decisions of the leadership board on a day-to-day basis.
            Terminology and titles vary from church to church.

            Common in Baptist, Congregational, and Lutheran churches.

            Plural elder-led

            In a congregational church led by a plurality of elders, final authority for all decisions and doctrinal determinations are vested in a plurality of elders acting in committee. This structure is very similar to the "elder board" approach to the democratic congregational structure, often differing only in the method used to select the elders and/or in the term of service of each elder. In some congregations, elders are appointed by someone or some entity respected by the congregation and allows this authority. In some congregations, elders serve until they resign, die or are removed by the congregation or their peers for doctrinal or moral failures. This structure can, but does not always, include the use of "deacons" or other leaders subordinate to the authority of the elders.

            Common in Evangelical Free churches and some Baptist churches.

            The biblical pattern

            The three prominent forms of church government all appeal to the Scriptures as well as church tradition for support of their respective positions. Since the Bible is not silent on the subject, key elements in the biblical examples are germane. Greg Bahnsen has noted the following:[3]

            There is no distinction between "elders" and "bishops" (Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:17, 28); these represent the same office and order.

            Each congregation and center of leadership is to have a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1), not one-man rule.

            These elders have oversight of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2-3) and are thus responsible to rule the congregation (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; 1 Thes. 5:12; Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). They judge among the brothers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:5) and, in contrast to all the members, they do the rebuking (1 Tim. 5:20). Christ calls them to use the “keys of the kingdom” to bind and loose (Matt.16: 19; 18: 18; John 20: 23)—these keys being the preaching of the gospel (I John I :3), administering of the sacraments (Matt. 28:19-20; I Cor. 11: 23ff.), and the exercise of discipline (Matt. 18:17; I Cor. 5:1-5).

            The elders are assisted in their ministry by "deacons" who give attention to the ministry of mercy (Phil. 1:1; Acts 6:1-6; cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-13).

            The office-bearers in the church are nominated and elected by the members of the congregation (e.g. Acts 6:5-6), but must also be examined, confirmed and ordained by the present board of elders (Acts 6:6; 13: 1-3; 1 Tim. 4: 14).

            Members of the church have the right to appeal disputed matters in the congregation to their elders for resolution, and if the dispute is with those local elders, to appeal to the regional governing body (the presbytery) or, beyond that, to the whole general assembly (Acts 15). The decisions of the wider governing bodies are authoritative in all the local congregations (Acts 15:22-23, 28, 30; 16:1-5).

            Church government | Theopedia
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