Patheos answers the question:

Why Are There so Many Different Denominations of Christianity?

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Christianity has evolved significantly in its two-millennia of existence, and Christians can sometimes be naïve or uninformed as it relates to issues of christology and theology; too often assuming that to be a “Christian” means to be “united” in views or theological beliefs. However, such is simply not the case. The Bible makes it quite clear that, from very early in its history, Christians struggled with christological and theological issues. Indeed, in his two-volume history, The Story of Christianity (1:158), Justo González noted, “From its very beginnings, Christianity had been involved in theological controversies.” There has been a great deal of gray area over the centuries with regards to certain core doctrines, in addition to the rites or sacraments of the Church.

New Testament Diversity

Not long after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, you had a number of early divisions and disputes between congregations and practitioners (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Additionally, early in Christianity’s history, there were divergences of opinions between Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith. (As an example, see Acts 13:45-46 & 15:23-30; Galatians 5:6 & 6:15) You also had diverse christological “schools,” which thought very differently about Jesus’ nature, the ways in which He was human, and the degree to which He was divine. Each of these disagreements about theology and praxis led to the likelihood that Christianity would splinter into a variety of denominations.

Additional Divisions

By the 5th century, Christianity was still technically a singular “denomination,” per se, but it unquestionably had divisions or strains which had developed within the tradition—like the Nestorians, the Copts, and the Donatists—which began to function in very denominational ways. During the “Great Schism” of the 11th century, Christianity “officially” broke into two strains—which would become known as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. And, finally, by the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation was well underway, and Christianity was very, very fractured indeed.

When the Reformation began, there were tons of theological disagreements. Indeed, one of the major impetuses of the Reformation was the theological differences that certain individuals had with the then mainstream Church. The various reform movements would have significant influence on the look and feel of Christianity—some breaking ranks with the Catholic Church, and others as spin-off movements from the Church of England. In many cases—particularly as it relates to denominations which severed ties with Anglicanism—breakoff begat breakoff, and literally thousands of splinter groups exist today as a result.

As human beings, we’re all hardwired differently. We resonate with certain doctrines and question others. We’re attracted to certain forms of liturgy and repelled by others. As the various concerns above suggested, Christianity has so many denominations because people think differently, interpret scripture differently, feel the Spirit of God differently—and, as people found that one form of worship or doctrine didn’t meet their personal needs, they looked for one which did or, in some cases, started their own. For these, and related reasons, there are currently an estimated 45 thousand denominations of Christianity

Learn more about the history of Christianity, including schisms sects, here.

5/7/2022 12:21:10 PM
Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology/comparative religion, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion; with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.