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Why all these denominations?

October 11, 2010


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Baptist.  Methodist.  Non-denominational.  Liturgical.  Catholic.  Pentacostal.  Evangelical.  Lutheran.  Presbyterian.  Protestant.


This transformation from one church to many has become a confusing maze in today’s world. Religion, denomination, worship style … and, for many, the understanding of what it all means seems out of grasp.

But hopefully, after today, you’ll feel a little more confident in understanding why we have so many different kinds of churches and what the primary differences are in their practices.

First, a couple of definitions:

Religion: a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

Denomination: a religious group, usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect: the Lutheran denomination.

So, when we discuss the Church – the Body of Christ – we are speaking of the religion of Christianity.  When we discuss specific local congregations – First United Methodist Church or St. Mark’s Catholic Church – we are speaking of different denominations within the Christian faith.

Clear as mud?  Hopefully not!  Whether you attend a Catholic church or a Presbyterian church or an Assembly of God, your religion is Christian – as opposed to those worshipping at a mosque whose religion is Islam.

Within the Christian religion, we find there are two primary divisions:  Catholicism and Protestantism. We all agree that Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified, died, and rose again, reigning now at the right hand of the throne of God.  We also agree that man is born sinful and Christ’s death is the necessary sacrifice which enables us to have restored relationship with God.
Protestantism can be further divided into several sub-categories.  In order to maintain as simple an explanation as possible, we will use the following categories:




Each of these divisions espouses shared theology including Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solo Christo (through Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).  Additionally, the protestant denominations believe in the priesthood of the believer – eliminating the necessity of confession through a priest.

(Please remember this is a VERY simplified explanation!  For more detailed information on this topic, I recommend searching the specific topics on wikipedia and using other church history aids such as those found on

Liturgical Churches

Typically the liturgical services most closely resemble the Catholic service.   Corporate worship includes the following elements – communal prayer, reading/hearing the Word (this can include a homily and generally involves readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles and the Gospels), response of confession, passing the peace of Christ, and the Eucharist.  Liturgical churches rely on the church year to guide their Bible readings and specific emphases.  In addition, liturgical churches typically give great emphasis to learning of catechism, study of church history, and understanding doctrine.

Examples of liturgical denominations include Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox and some Methodists.

Evangelical Churches

The evangelical denominations follow a conservative and literal interpretation of the Bible and generally have a conservative worldview.  As evidenced by the name, these  denominations place high priority on sharing the gospel with others.   Evangelical churches focus on building the body through the Great Commission and are active in missions giving and going. In addition, evangelical denominations place great emphasis on discipleship and personal spiritual growth.

Examples of evangelical denominations include most Baptists (including Southern Baptists), the Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodists, Mennonite Brethren, the Wesleyan Church, and some Methodists.

Pentacostal Churches

The pentacostal denominations place special emphasis on personal experience of God through the baptism and/or filling of the Holy Spirit. The focus of these churches is reflecting the same spiritual power, worship styles, and teachings of the early church as seen in Acts.   Pentacostal denominations are typically missions-minded and local churches in these denominations are active in supporting and sending missionaries.

Denominations who would be considered pentacostal include Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), and Foursquare churches.

In today’s Christian culture, the lines between many of these practices in the local churches are very blurry. It is not uncommon to see a liturgical bent in an evangelical church nor unusual for a pentacostal church to place great emphasis on personal spiritual disciplines.

Many have wondered if denominations are good or bad for the Gospel. It is confusing and complicated.  But, if we remember that God uses the image of Father and child to describe our relationship, we can understand that even children raised in the same home have differing lifestyles and personalities based on their temperament and experiences.  Different doesn’t mean wrong or worse.

The same is true with different denominations … We must make certain that we give highest priority to the Gospel and allow the differences within our family to give us greater depth and grace.

Join us tomorrow as we look at distinguishing core doctrinal beliefs from peripheral issues and “gray areas.”

Hopefully you were with us during our month-long focus on salvation. As we discussed during this series, no matter what church you belong to, how many generations of your family have been members, how frequently you attend, how actively you are involved, how much money you give… the real issue is whether or not you have placed your trust in Jesus as the one and only way to start a relationship with God and the only solution to the eternally-fatal problem of sin.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2010 8:09 am

    Such a clear explanation of what can be a pretty muddy topic, Teri Lynne. Thanks for giving such a great overview and for the excellent “bottom line perspective” you shared.

  2. October 11, 2010 8:57 am

    Thank you for this post, Teri Lynne! 🙂 I’m a Presby, but we aren’t liturgical at all….more on the evangelical side of things. 🙂

    • October 11, 2010 10:13 am

      Myra, the Presbyterians seem to be the one where I may have missed the mark … however, given that many Presbyterian churches follow the traditional church calendar and place great value and emphasis on teaching church history, I leaned liturgical on my very over-simplified listing. 🙂

  3. October 11, 2010 9:37 am

    Love the explanation! I am a believer in Jesus Christ who attends a Baptist church =)

    • October 11, 2010 10:15 am

      Thanks, Melissa. This might have been the most difficult post I have ever written … hoping everyone will give lots of grace!! 🙂 I am the same as you … Jesus follower worshiping in a Baptist building!!

  4. October 11, 2010 9:57 am

    Thanks for the great simplified explanation of a very complex subject. Of course it is far more nuanced and detailed than that, but I’m sure it helps total outsiders.

    As an aside, I’ve been attending Presbyterian churches most of my life and never would have categorized them as liturgical. They were all very evangelical, none of them had any liturgy at all, aside from maybe the occasional confession of the apostles creed. Before becoming Presbyterian we were Lutheran, Missouri Synod which is about as liturgical as they come.

    • October 11, 2010 10:18 am

      Sarah, trying to explain the major differences in countless denominations who have within themselves countless differences was certainly a challenge! I apologize if I miscategorized the Presbyterian church, it was not my intent.

  5. October 11, 2010 12:32 pm

    Teri Lynne ~ What a great simplified explanation to such a complicated subject. There are even more differences within each denomination than the number of denominations out there! So thankful for the wisdom the Lord has given you to present something that can be so controversial with such grace!

    • October 11, 2010 12:45 pm

      Oh Stephanie – so true! Our church is “baptacostal” … but we do use several liturgical traditions in our services as well. We’re a real mix of lots of traditions and ideas.

  6. October 11, 2010 5:37 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I am very new to the whole idea of religion. I was raised atheist and I have slowly been exploring Christianity, Jesus and God over the last few months, and admittedly I am SO CONFUSED! My partner is a lapsed Catholic and when ever I ask him questions he says ‘I went to church to sing songs’ so has not been of much help at all. I have yet to be ‘brave’ enough to go to church, and the variety of them just confuses me more. I have decided to give the Anglican Church a go (they seem to be all of the churches I go ‘WOW, that’s a cool (ie older, character) looking church’, which I am sure is not the best way to pick a church but I am not too sure how else to do it). Anyway, thank you for your post on trying to clear things up. I still don’t think I understand it AT ALL, but hopefully as I re-read, and re-read your words things will become clearer. Regards, Micha

  7. October 12, 2010 7:42 pm

    You’re right- the key is giving grace. I’m thankful that there are so many churches and denominations where people can worship and serve. Even though I’ve been So. Baptist my entire life, my parent and in-laws attend a different denominational churches. We just try to focus on the areas where we agree, and give grace where we don’t!

  8. Joseph permalink
    November 27, 2010 3:51 am

    Regarding Presbyterians and Liturgical.

    I have been Presbyterian all my life and grew up United Presbyterian which is now PCUSA. I have studied in the ministry and have traveled in music circles and am very aware or savy when it comes to theology, doctrine and practice.

    The main problem here in the Presbyterian denominations…mainline such as PCUSA , PCA and Cumberland then the splinter groups, is that there is no “set in stone” example of what worship may look like from one to another. In other denominations such as Episcopal and Lutheran they have more of a set and do not sway that far off to the left or right.

    In Presbyterianism that is not the case. While there is a recommended set of Liturgy for The Lords Day and special services, there can be much variation. So in say a PCUSA church as well as some PCA and Cumberland, you can step into a service that is Highly liturgical resembling an Anglican or Episcopal Church such as Shadyside Presbyterian, Madison Avenue Presbyterian, St Giles Cathedral( Church of Scotland) Brick Presbyterian in New York, Memorial Church, East Liberty Presbyterian ( Cathedral of Hope)

    Here is a processional at the Church of Cathedral of Hope ( East Liberty Presbyterian Church)

    Shadyside Presbyterian processional

    Brick Presbyterian Church- New York City

    So the Presbyterian church can be very Liturgical since we are from the Reformed faith and branch..the Reformed Catholic Church and then there are those churches that choose to be more like a non denominational evangelical feel ” in service and belief. It should be noted that these churches eventually normally will break from the mainline Presbyterians due to doctrine and or practice. Generally they will go with a splinter Presbyterian and conservitive group such as the Evangelical Presbyterian or Orthodox or even PCA.

    Generally the mainline Presbyterian church would be somewhere between a Lutheran Church and the Methodist and or Congregational churches.


  1. If we are the body… « Scripture Dig

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