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The Christian vine has many branches

Yes, I know. Many Christians believe they are Christians and others are not; those with different beliefs are not true Christians. Some Protestants may say that Catholics have too many man-made rules. Catholics may disagree with Protestant biblical interpretations. Eastern Orthodox follows the Julian calendar, disagreeing with the use of the Gregorian calendar. Each group has some traditions that they uphold as gospel. Let's take a breath.

We have so much in common! Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants are branches of Christianity. Instead of focusing on our differences, we can be thankful for God showing himself to those who seek, no matter the tradition.

Beliefs in common in all of these three main branches of Christianity:

  • the Bible to be the Word of God; all have the same New Testament; it was not in 1666 that the Protestant KJV excluded the Apocryphal books of the Bible

  • belief in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

  • Jesus is the Son of God and our salvation is through Jesus

  • we are called to spread the faith

  • we participate in communion and baptism

I am thankful to both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches for preserving the books of the New Testament through the centuries. I am thankful they agreed on the early creeds that outline Christian beliefs, including the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. Many Protestants continue to use these creeds.

The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic church separated in a Great Schism in AD 1054, This divide was partly over differences in doctrine and partly over political power. The Roman church excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and the eastern church retaliated by excommunicating the Roman pope Leo III. These ex-communications were mutually lifted in 1965, recognizing each other as different expressions of similar faith.

The Protestants broke from the Roman Catholic church over a series of protest movements that took different forms, the most famous one being in 1517 in Germany. Essentially, the Protestants opposed some of the centralized powers of the Catholic church leadership and focussed on individuals reading the Bible in their own language and accepting Jesus as the way to salvation. Since that time, the Catholic church has made many reforms.

This blog looks at the evolution of the universal Christian church to the many denominations of today.

vine and branches
The eveolution from one undivided church to many denominations

Because Protestant churches have decentralized, there are thousands of protestant denominations. The National Association of Evangelicals charts 40 denominations, organized by their theological tradition. These traditions do not mean that only one has the truth, but rather that different traditions speak to different people. God makes himself present to all who seek him.

Churches of the National Association of Evangelicals

The goal is not to give up any tradition; believers want religious freedom to worship in a way that is meaningful to them. Christianity will never be united as one. But we can listen to, respect, and accept one another.

In writing my biblical fiction, I had to make some decisions about the characters. For example, I follow the Protestant view that Jesus had brothers and sisters born of Mary, while the Catholic view is that these brothers and sisters were in fact cousins, as Mary remained a virgin after Jesus' birth. In addition, the novel shows a priesthood of all believers, without the need for a priest to take our confession or for Mary to act as a mediator for our prayers to God. I follow the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant view that Mary Magdalene is not the same person as Mary of Bethany or a prostitute who washes Jesus' feet; she is healed by Jesus as a patron and disciple. Most of the differences in Christian doctrine do not affect the novel.

My definition of the essentials of Christianity comes from the Bible:

  • anyone who professes faith in Jesus as Lord and believes he rose from the dead.

This definition comes from John 1:12, John 3:16, Romans 10:9 and Ephesians 2:8-9. This includes egalitarian and affirming churches and anyone who believes in Jesus and seeks to live out what Jesus taught and follow the way of Jesus.

I used the essentials of Christianity in the Nicene creed in the centre of the diagram below, showing the main three branches of it: Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic.

ven diagram
contrast branches of Christianity

Even though the Nicene Creed dates back to AD 325, it already showed the influence of the secular, patriarchal Greco-Roman culture. The Council of Nicea decided that women could no longer be ordained or lead churches. Later, in AD 363, the Council of Laodicea banned women from being priests or approaching the altar. In AD 397, the Fourth Synod of Carthage decreed women could not teach men or baptize others. Women were permitted to be deacons or lay persons who served but were not permitted to be ordained ministers. Before AD 325, women were doing all of these things: leading churches, officiating communion at the altar, teaching and baptizing. As soon as men started to organize the church, they used patriarchal power structures rather than biblical models. Many of the Christian denominations who ordained women or accepted women as leaders became "unrecognized denominations."

This video gives a brief look at the various Christian denominations and how their theologies can be categorized. I recommend it with a couple of caveats. The video creator questions whether some Christian churches are actually Christian. He does not include the Quaker and Moravian churches because they do not observe baptism or communion as essentials for salvation. He seems to think Christians are required to believe Mary was a virgin, not a 'young maid'. He doesn't consider that atonement is only one doctrine of why Jesus died. He does not address the debate about when and how Jesus will return, and when or how God's new kingdom is established. The video creator also denies that affirming churches believe the essentials of Christianity, calling them radically progressive. In another video, he categorizes any church that accepts female leaders as 'progressive'. It appears he considers churches that believe in women's ordination to be outside the normal orthodox beliefs of Christianity. I believe the Bible endorses equality and has done so from the beginning. The video is a good summary of the various branches of Christianity.

My free download contrasts the three major branches of Christianity: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. I admit that some denominations to not fit easily into these three branches. Here is an excerpt from the free download:

Eastern Orthodox

Roman Catholic


Jesus Christ is the head of the church. No one is infallible.

The Pope has supreme authority and may occasionally make infallible statements.

The Bible has supreme authority. All humans are fallible.

The Bible includes deutero-canonical books (49 OT, 27 NT, 4 in appendix)

The Bible includes deutero-canonical books (46 OT, 27 NT)

The Bible includes 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books

Church governed by bishops; each bishop has equal authority and full authority over their region

Church governed by bishops, with the Pope being the primary bishop. Top down structure.

Church may be governed top-down or bottom up, led by bishops or regional office or led by local pastors or controlled by congregational votes

Baptism of infants or adults

Baptism of infants or adults, usually by sprinkling

Baptism varies based on denomination; could baptize as infant to dedicate to God's family or could baptize as an adult based on belief

All baptized members can receive communion, uses leavened bread

Catholics can participate in communion after confirmation; uses unleavened bread, may or may not include drink

Depending on denomination, communion may be open to all; type of bread and drink varies

Holy Spirit blesses the bread and wine at communion

Bread and wine are transformed to Jesus's body and blood at communion

Bread and wine are symbols representing Jesus and his sacrifice

Priests may marry and have families, male only

Priests are dedicated to God, remain unmarried, celibate, male only.

Priests/Pastors may marry or remain unmarried. Depending on denomination may be male or female.

For more check out my free download:

Contrast of three branches of Christianity 2 pages
Download PDF • 113KB

Elaine Ricker Kelly empowers women at home, church and society by advocating for equality for all people based on the Bible. She was an investment and insurance advisor for thirty years and has three grown daughters. Elaine R. Kelly lives near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her husband and enjoys hiking, tennis, music, history and culture.

Books by Elaine Ricker Kelly:

Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold  - biblical fiction offering hope and healing to anyone who feels forgotten, belittled, or out of place.

The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role - a non-fiction book of 104 flashcards with an objective, memorable look at the rationale for diverse views on gender roles.

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