An Eastern Orthodox church
As Jesus approached the end of his life, he prayed intensively that all who believed might be one. This plea for Christian unity was echoed by Paul several times, such as in his letter to the Ephesians (NT). Paul saw all believers as constituting the body of Christ on earth, and stressed the unity of that body.
Sadly it was not to be; even the early church was split into many divisions, notably the Jews and the Greeks. Since then, further splits have occurred for doctrinal, political and personal reasons, and many factions have become denominations.
Most Christian denominations subscribe to Nicene Creed of AD325, a statement of Christian belief.
In the early years, the Christian church spread around the Mediterranean Sea and became entwined with the Roman Empire, especially after Emperor Constantine decreed it Christian in AD306. The empire (and the Church) became split into a western half, based in Rome, and an eastern half based in Constantinople—which gradually grew away and in 1054 a formal split between the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church occurred. The Roman Catholic Church has always considered itself to be the one true church, claiming its popes as successors to the apostle Peter.
Perhaps the biggest split was the reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Church of Rome had become corrupt, and a radical rethink (based upon scriptural teaching being the basis of faith, rather than the practices of the Church) led to new churches formed by Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Wycliffe. The Bible was now able to be translated into many languages, something the Roman Church had always fought. Thus was born the great protestant reformation.
Protestant denominations includes Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Baptist churches. In the UK there is a state religion, the Church of England, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is episcopal (which is to say that its leaders are bishops) and synodical. The state church in Scotland, the Church of Scotland, is not episcopal and what is known as a ‘free’ church.
Denominations differ in history, tradition and worship style, and place varying emphasis on the importance of scripture rather than any profound theological differences.
Some styles of worship are highly formalised and structured—the Roman Church and some Church of England churches would be typical examples—while others are very much freer in their format, such as the Quakers (Society of Friends) or ‘house’ churches.
There is a slow-growing, but increasingly important, emphasis on ‘ecumenism’, the bringing-together of all denominations under one banner, thus fulfilling Christ’s desire that his followers be as one. This is profoundly to be wished for and prayed for, but does involve the healing of the wounds of history—which are sometimes very bitter—as well as tolerance of worship styles that may be foreign to us.
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