Demystifying The 3 Types Of Christianity

How the world’s biggest religion is divided and followed.

The Origin of Christianity

Most of the earliest followers of Christianity were Jewish converts, and the first Christian church was in Jerusalem. While Judaism recognizes only the Old Testament, Christians embrace both the Old and New Testaments. Today, Christianity is the biggest world religion in terms of follower count, at over 2 billion followers (31% of the world population.)

Roman Forum
The Roman Forum, the center of political and economic events in the centuries before and during the Roman Empire. Credit: Photo by Nicole Reyes on Unsplash

The earliest Christians during the 1st to the early 4th century faced hostility, torture, and execution under the Roman Empire. Following Christianity was considered illegal thus paved the grounds for severe punishment under emperors Diocletian and Galerius – an event we call The Great Persecution. Christianity was saved when Emperor Constantine converted to a Christian and legalized being one. He then established the Nicine Creed, where he attempted to resolve disputes that had been dividing and weakening the Christian church.

The three major branches of Christianity and how they came about.

prague cathedral
Prague Cathedral. UNSPLASH Anthony DELANOIX

Catholicism is the oldest branch of Christianity. In 380 AD, Catholicism was declared the state religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Theodosius. Eastern Orthodoxy (or simply Orthodox Christianity) came about when after the Roman Empire’s collapse in 476 AD, Christians in the East and West drifted farther apart. Christianity officially split into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in 1054. While Catholicism is characterized by its centralized structure with the Pope at the top; in Orthodoxy, the churches administrate independently of each other (“autocephalous” churches.) Today, there are many Orthodox churches, including: the churches in Constantinople (Istanbul), Russia, Jerusalem, Africa (Church of Alexandria,) Syria, America and many post-Soviet nations.

Russian Orthodox church
Russian Orthodox church in Rostow, Russia. UNSPLASH Christian Wiediger

Protestantism is the newest of the three major branches of Catholicism. It arose when Martin Luther, a German monk, published a text called the 95 Theses. Here, he criticized the Pope’s authority and protested against the problems that he witnessed in the Roman Catholic church. Luther’s ideas were printed using newly invented printing technology (the Gutenberg press,) and they spread to instigate a movement to reform the Catholic church, referred to as the Reformation. The Christian branch that originates from Luther and the Reformation is Protestantism. Today, Protestantism has many denominations that differ from each other in their interpretation and understanding of the Christian teachings. Baptism, Evangelism, Methodism, Quaker, and many others all fall under the umbrella term of Protestantism.

Protestant church
St. Columb’s Cathedral (built 1633) is the first post-reformation British church and was built in the Planter Gothic Style. It was home to some illustrious figures such as the renowned hymn writer Cecil Francis Alexander, who wrote “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and famed philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, who sparked the age-old question, “if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a noise?” His answer, of course, was “yes, indeed it did, because God heard it.” PHOTO UNSPLASH UNSPLASH K. Mitch Hodge

Lyon Nishizawa

Contributor

Lyon is a lifelong traveler, who looks at each destination as her next classroom and playground. She is fascinated by the stories, music, and languages of the world. Her parents are Japanese, but she spent her childhood in multiple cultures and identifies as a third culture kid.

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