A denomination in Christianity is a distinct religious body identified by traits such as a common name, structure, leadership and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one group and another are defined by doctrine and church authority; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy often separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties are known as branches of Christianity.
Individual Christian groups vary widely in the degree to which they recognize one another. Several groups claim to be the direct and sole authentic successor of the church founded by Jesus Christ in the 1st century AD. Others, however, believe in denominationalism, where some or all Christian groups are legitimate churches of the same religion regardless of their distinguishing labels, beliefs, and practices. Because of this concept, some Christian bodies reject the term "denomination" to describe themselves, to avoid implying equivalency with other churches or denominations.
The Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination with over 1.2 billion members—over half of all Christians worldwide—making it the world's second largest religious denomination after Sunni Islam.〔Religious Diversity and Children's Literature: Strategies and Resources, Sandra Brenneman Oldendorf - 2011, p 156〕 However, the Catholic Church does not view itself as a denomination, but as the original pre-denominational church.〔Olson, Roger E. (1999). ''(The story of Christian theology: twenty centuries of tradition & reform. )'' Downer's Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press (652 pages). p. 278〕 Protestant denominations account for roughly forty percent of Christians worldwide. Together, Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, and other denominations sharing historical ties comprise Western Christianity. Western Christian denominations prevail in Western, Northern, Central and Southern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas and Oceania.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, is the second largest Christian organization in the world and also considers itself the original pre-denominational church. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church is itself a communion of fully independent autocephalous churches (or "jurisdictions") that mutually recognize each other to the exclusion of others. The Eastern Orthodox Church, together with Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East, constitutes Eastern Christianity. Eastern Christian denominations are represented mostly in Eastern Europe, North Asia, the Middle East and Northeast Africa.
Christians have various doctrines about the Church, the body of faithful that they believe was established by Jesus Christ, and how the divine church corresponds to Christian denominations. Both the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox consider each of themselves solely to faithfully represent the ''One Holy catholic and Apostolic Church'' to the exclusion of the other. Protestants separated from the Catholic Church because of theologies and practices that they considered to be in violation of their interpretation. Generally, members of the various denominations acknowledge each other as Christians, at least to the extent that they have mutually recognized baptisms and acknowledge historically orthodox views including the Divinity of Jesus and doctrines of sin and salvation, even though doctrinal and ecclesiological obstacles hinder full communion between churches.
Since the reforms surrounding Vatican II, the Catholic Church has referred to Protestant communities as "denominations", while reserving the term "church" for apostolic churches, including the Eastern Orthodox (see subsistit in and branch theory). There are however some non-denominational Christians who do not follow any particular branch, though sometimes regarded as Protestants.〔(Nondenominational Congregations Research at Hartford Institute for Religion Research website ). Hirr.hartsem.edu. Retrieved on 2010-11-03.〕〔(MTS Maranatha Theological Seminary. Earn a Diploma, Associates, Bachelors, Masters or Doctors degree totally free ). Mts.50webs.org. Retrieved on 2010-11-03.〕
Each group uses different terminology to discuss their beliefs. This section will discuss the definitions of several terms used throughout the article, before discussing the beliefs themselves in detail in following sections.
A denomination within Christianity can be defined as a "recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church"; major synonyms include "religious group, sect, Church," etc.〔The Oxford Dictionary's full list of synonyms for "denomination" includes: "religious group, sect, Church, cult, movement, faith community, body, persuasion, religious persuasion, communion, order, fraternity, brotherhood, sisterhood, school; faith, creed, belief, religious belief, religion. rare: sodality."〕 "Church" as a synonym, refers to a "particular Christian organization with its own clergy, buildings, and distinctive doctrines";〔(【引用サイトリンク】publisher=Oxford Dictionaries:English )〕 "church" can also more broadly be defined as the entire body of Christians, the "Christian Church".
Some traditional and evangelical Protestants draw a distinction between membership in the universal church and fellowship within the local church. Becoming a believer in Christ makes one a member of the universal church; one then may join a fellowship of other local believers. Some evangelical groups describe themselves as interdenominational fellowships, partnering with local churches to strengthen evangelical efforts, usually targeting a particular group with specialized needs, such as students or ethnic groups. A related concept is Denominationalism, the belief that some or all Christian groups are legitimate churches of the same religion regardless of their distinguishing labels, beliefs, and practices. (Conversely, "denominationalism" can also refer to "emphasizing of denominational differences to the point of being narrowly exclusive", similar to sectarianism).〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=Denominationalism )〕
Protestants differs greatly from the views of the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the two largest Christian denominations, which each teach themselves to be the exclusive direct continuation of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, from whom other denominations broke away.〔 These churches, and a few others, reject denominationalism.
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