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We all are familiar with several of the largest denominations of Christianity: the Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, etc.

Several sources claim that there are approximately 45,000 denominations in Christianity, 200 denominations in the U.S. alone. Do a quick Google search and you'll see what I mean.

If this is true, this is certainly astonishing and quite worrying as a Christian.

Jesus sincerely desired to unite all believers as one body under God. As you read about His prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, you could tell that Jesus wouldn't be quite pleased with the massive number of denominations we have today.

John 17:20-23 (NKJV)

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Every denomination differs in terms of doctrine, rituals, eschatology, style of music for worship, Bible translation -- if they are all given the same Bible passage, every one of them will give a different interpretation.

Is the Christian community truly so fragmented?

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  • Hi Maximus, I think you'd probably be likely to agree that this is an "opinion based" question. seeing as you specifically asked "what are you're thoughts". We're a on a fact finding mission from God here. So asking for thoughts on a subject isn't the focus. We do have a chatroom which you can get access to by getting some more reputation on the site. Usually I offer help to try to rephrase the question, but I don't much know how it can be fixed. Try asking something much more specific!
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:20
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    Last sentence is a one you'll have to ask individually of all the denominations. I'd imagine good answers could talk about the fruits of ecumenism, but nobody's going to agree on the eschatological consequences of division. You can ask a separate Overview question about what denominations think about division.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:27
  • "> If so, with all these denominations around the world, what significance does this hold in Scripture, especially with regards to the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? " I just edited it out and re-opened it so - other users might think this question isn't a good fit, but I think it's got some elements of objectivity that are OK for the site.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:29
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    Note that the count of 45000 denominations counts each country separately. So there are over 200 Catholic "denominations", about 200 Anglican "denominations", and so on. Many Protestant churches don't consider a global organisational structure to be very important, so they have lots of denominations, but that doesn't indicate any actual disunity. If you count denominations according to substantial theological differences you would have about a dozen main ones and then one or two dozen minor ones. Which isn't so different from Buddhism.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:35
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    Please have a read of What types of questions can I ask on this site?, which will show what forms of questions are encouraged here.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:36

6 Answers 6

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You ask, "Is the Christian community truly so fragmented?" (with some 45,000 denominations). I answer from a Protestant point of view, but Catholics or Orthodox would probably have a different understanding. This is why it's good to direct your question to a specific (general) group.

There are only a few main divisions within Christianity, recognised as being Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. Yet all three have some important things in common (e.g. agreement on the Trinity doctrine). Within all three groups, there are various denominations, with some of them having actively split away from the main groups (e.g. those who deny the Trinity doctrine). However, my answer is based on the old adage about people not being able to see the wood for the trees.

Whenever the matter of denominations is raised, then we are in amongst the 'trees' and it seems like a dark forest, at times; all too easy to get lost. An objective viewpoint, that enables us to see the whole of the matter, instead of fragmented bits and pieces, is to stand on the foundation of Christianity, Christ alone.

To consider him, his words, his commands, to love him and follow him and no other - that is what Christianity should be all about. Tragically, billions have been enticed to start following people who are set up as religious leaders, and when people pay attention to them and are enamoured of their arguments, they are in danger of getting 'lost' in the 'woods'.

If the divisive issue of denominations is put aside, and the risen Christ is adored as our Lord and our King, we should get the big picture.

In summary, Christianity is not the most divisive religion in the world (don't forget that all the other major world faiths also have their splits and denominations) but because the love of Christ unites as no other religion ever has done. Christians are united to Christ by faith, brought by the Holy Spirit into the family of God (which has nothing to do with denomination).

The scripture quoted, John 17:20-23, shows that it is believing in Jesus that matters - not believing in any denomination. To that I would add Jesus' words:

"If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." John 14:23 KJV

The apostle John confirmed that here:

"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son." 2 John verse 9 KJV

This is what unites Christians to being "one" in the Father and the Son. But when we start paying attention to divisive voices of those who argue that you must belong to this, that, or the next group in order to be saved - we get lost in the 'woods'. John had warned just a few verses earlier of many deceivers coming into the world, and that is the problem that really does cause division. The antidote to that is to focus utterly on Christ, and following him alone. Then we are united to him, to the Father, and to all our brothers and sisters in Christ the world over.

To conclude with another illustration: Just as an orchestra is divided into various sections (some of which can function rather well without all the other sections), it would be much better if all the woodwind, percussion, brass and string sections worked together, following the one conductor. Christianity has long had problems with this, especially if some sections are looking to others to lead (conduct) them and not Christ. Yet just as you don't get harmonies when everyone sings the same tune, so with Christianity. We'll all be singing harmoniously once Christ has gathered his own; now is a fragmented rehearsal.

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    "The antidote to that is to focus utterly on Christ" +1 Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 12:51
  • You could further categorize Protestantism into Calvinist and Armenian families Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 18:42
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    This answer seems to miss the point of the question slightly in that it states why Christianity is not divisive rather than whether it is divided - Yes if we all had our priorities straight then Christianity should bring all believers together in unity, but is that the case? Goodness no. From the Left Foot Baptist Church to KJV-Onlyists to Catholic to Pentecostal, Christianity is very divided, regardless of whether it should be. Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 0:34
  • @Isaac Middlemiss Just as an orchestra is divided into various sections (some of which can function rather well without all the other sections), it would be much better if all the woodwind, percussion, brass and string sections worked together, following the one conductor. Christianity has long had problems with this, especially if some sections are looking to others to lead (conduct) them and not Christ. Yet just as you don't get harmonies when everyone sings the same tune, so with Christianity. We'll all be singing harmoniously once Christ has gathered his own; now is a fragmented rehearsal
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 14:00
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Whether or not Christians recognize the unity that exists in the "holy catholic church," all true Christians ARE ONE IN CHRIST. Whether or not Christians act as though they all are one in Christ does not in anyway nullify or change the reality of their oneness in Christ.

Yes, there are seemingly insurmountable differences in the way in which Christian denominations interpret the Bible. Nevertheless, when there is agreement on the core beliefs* of the Christian faith, Christians who are mature in their faith are content to let the lesser issues of the faith go by the board, realizing that the oneness that exists in the body of Christ worldwide, despite disagreements over those lesser issues, in no way nullifies that oneness.

Years ago, a friend of mine, a fellow believer in Jesus Christ, said something quite profound. My paraphrase of his insight is this:

There could be a million denominations in the church universal, and still our God is infinitely inscrutable and inexhaustible. Rather than being a cause for concern, the variety of denominations that exists in Christ's body worldwide is cause for rejoicing, not lamentation. Each denomination has a way of revealing something good and different about God. While Christians cannot--and will never--fully plumb the depths of God, the variety that exists within the church universal can serve to encourage Christians to know and love the God they worship, who though infinitely variegated in his attributes, welcomes our feeble attempts to exult in who he is and what he has done in redeeming a world of lost sinners.

While Christians worldwide need to be ever vigilant in their hewing to the basic and non-negotiable doctrines of the "faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (Jude 1:3 NIV), their failure to maintain that unity does not nullify it in any way.

The apostle Paul would not have written his first letter to the Corinthian church were it not for the divisiveness that arose within the church over lesser issues, such as who is the best preacher and what spiritual gift is the best.

The unity of which Jesus spoke in his high priestly prayer in John 17 will not be achieved fully until Christ returns for his bride. Only then will his bride, the church universal, be "without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5:27 KJV). Only then will Christ present the church to the Father as a "glorious church . . . holy and without blemish" (ibid).

In the meantime, each believer in each denomination is to obey the scripture that says,

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3 NIV).


*Some of those core beliefs would have to include the deity of Jesus Christ; the virgin conception of the Son of God; the supernatural inspiration of the holy scriptures; the substitutionary and eternally efficacious death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord; the headship, centrality and supremacy of Christ in all things (Colossians 1:18); and the second coming of our Lord Jesus for his bride, the church. There are perhaps other non-negotiables--and disagreements within denominations over what they are(!); that there are non-negotiables in the Christian faith is incontrovertible. Also, each denomination and each local church within that denomination are to be vigilant, being ready to rebuke and discipline false messiahs, false teachers, and unrepentant sinners, all of whom may claim to be true believers.

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  • Wheat and Tares growing together currently but God looks on the heart. +1 Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 14:09
  • @MikeBorden: Amen, brother! Don Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 21:54
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Is the Christian community truly so fragmented?

No, because despite some minor / major disagreements, all those communities acknowledge that there is only ONE Christ and ONE Body as implied by the verses you quoted. It is important to distinguish invisible/spiritual from visible body:

  • spiritual body (the "one holy catholic and apostolic church" in the Nicene Creed confessed by the majority of denominations)
  • visible bodies ("churches" and denominations).

The splits resulted from different groups having different criteria in determining:

  1. Who belong to the one spiritual body and who belong to that group's visible body. Note that while denominations differ in who belong to their respective visible body, most agree that only God ultimately knows who belong to the ONE spiritual body.
  2. How to belong to the one spiritual body and how to belong to that group's visible body (membership criteria). Note that there are only a handful ways of the "how", in terms of when you are baptized (or whether it is even necessary), the nature of visible / invisible church, the fate of those who never heard the gospel, the doctrine of election, sacraments of initiation, etc.
  3. Which denominations share one baptism and with whom a group share the Lord's table (for communion). You'll find that some groups have relatively open communion while groups like the Catholic church reserves communion only to Catholics even though they acknowledge that many non-Catholics belong to the One Spiritual Body of Christ. When it comes to baptism, even more denominations acknowledge each other's baptism when done with the Trinitarian formula and proper application of the water of baptism.
  4. Doctrinal differences that necessitate a visible body split, which number at most 3 dozen types of doctrine, NOT in thousands, because most groups nowadays share major doctrines (such as the Trinity, resurrection of the body, sola gratia, etc). @curiousdannii's comment is instructive here:

    Note that the count of 45000 denominations counts each country separately. So there are over 200 Catholic "denominations", about 200 Anglican "denominations", and so on. Many Protestant churches don't consider a global organisational structure to be very important, so they have lots of denominations, but that doesn't indicate any actual disunity. If you count denominations according to substantial theological differences you would have about a dozen main ones and then one or two dozen minor ones. Which isn't so different from Buddhism.

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Is it true that Christianity is the most divided religion in the world?

Since the beginning, the Christian Faith has had to deal with heresy and division. Seeing that there are some 45,000 different Christian denominations. The core beliefs of various Christians differ vastly, even to the point of some not being recognized as being Christian whether sacramentally (valid baptisms) or by some doctrinal basis. Christians also have diverse teachings on what constitutes sin and what actions offend God, the nature of God...! One could go on and on. The core beliefs are truly that divergent.

The most detailed level of our taxonomy of global Christianity is Christian denominations, defined as an organized Christian church, tradition, religious group, community of people, aggregate of worship centre, usually within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same name in different areas, regarding themselves as an autonomous Christian church distinct from other churches and traditions. Denominations are defined and measured at the country level, creating a large number of separate denominations within Christian families and Christian traditions. For example, the presence of the Catholic Church in the world’s 234 countries results in 234 Catholic “denominations”, though these can be further subdivided by rite (e.g., Byzantine or Latin). The typical way for Christians to count themselves is at the local congregational level and then aggregate these totals at the city, province, state, regional and finally, national levels. Individual congregations are not counted as “denominations.” We do make note of the fact that many independent congregations are not a part of any denomination. If those churches were to form an independent network with a name, we would consider them a denomination. Using this method, we report 45,000 Christian denominations in the world in 2019. - How do you define a “Denomination”?

Some of the theological reasons for the division between the Christian denominations are very serious, while other theological aspects are of lesser importance. In any case Christians are not united in a common faith.

Ut unum sint! Our Lord himself prayed that his Church should remain united, but history has shown that Christians have fallen short of Jesus’ desire. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.“ (John 17:21)

Sadly and unfortunately many Christians have killed one another over their beliefs over the centuries.

The European wars of religion were a series of wars waged in Europe during the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. Fought after the Protestant Reformation began in 1517, the wars disrupted the religious and political order in the Catholic countries of Europe, or Christendom. Other motives during the wars involved revolt, territorial ambitions and great power conflicts. By the end of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), Catholic France had allied with the Protestant forces against the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. The wars were largely ended by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which established a new political order that is now known as Westphalian sovereignty.

The European wars of religion are also known as the Wars of the Reformation. In 1517, Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses took only two months to spread throughout Europe with the help of the printing press, overwhelming the abilities of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the papacy to contain it. In 1521, Luther was excommunicated, sealing the schism within Western Christendom between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutherans and opening the door for other Protestants to resist the power of the papacy.

Although most of the wars ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, religious conflicts continued to be fought in Europe until at least the 1710s. These included the Savoyard–Waldensian wars (1655–1690), the Nine Years' War (1688–1697, including the Glorious Revolution and the Williamite War in Ireland), and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). Whether these should be included in the European wars of religion depends on how one defines a "war of religion", and whether these wars can be considered "European" (i.e. international rather than domestic).

The religious nature of the wars has also been debated, and contrasted with other factors at play, such as national, dynastic (e.g. they could often simultaneously be characterised as wars of succession), and financial interests. Scholars have pointed out that some European wars of this period were not caused by disputes occasioned by the Reformation, such as the Italian Wars (1494–1559, only involving Catholics), as well as the Northern Seven Years' War (1563–1570, only involving Lutherans). Others emphasise the fact that cross-religious alliances existed, such as the Lutheran duke Maurice of Saxony assisting the Catholic emperor Charles V in the first Schmalkaldic War in 1547 in order to become the Saxon elector instead of John Frederick, his Lutheran cousin, while the Catholic king Henry II of France supported the Lutheran cause in the Second Schmalkaldic War in 1552 to secure French bases in modern-day Lorraine. The Encyclopædia Britannica maintains that "[the] wars of religion of this period [were] fought mainly for confessional security and political gain."

In the late 20th century, a number of revisionist historians such as William M. Lamont regarded the English Civil War (1642–1651) as a religious war, with John Morrill (1993) stating: "The English Civil War was not the first European revolution: it was the last of the Wars of Religion." This view has been criticised by various pre-, post- and anti-revisionist historians. Glen Burgess (1998) examined political propaganda written by the Parliamentarian politicians and clerics at the time, noting that many were or may have been motivated by their Puritan religious beliefs to support the war against the perceived Catholic king Charles I of England, but tried to express and legitimise their opposition and rebellion in terms of a legal revolt against a monarch who had violated crucial constitutional principles and thus had to be overthrown. They even warned their Parliamentarian allies to not make overt use of religious arguments in making their case for war against the king. In some cases, it may be argued that they hid their pro-Anglican and anti-Catholic motives behind legal parliance, for example by emphasising that the Church of England was the legally established religion: "Seen in this light, the defenses of Parliament's war, with their apparent legal-constitutional thrust, are not at all ways of saying that the struggle was not religious. On the contrary, they are ways of saying that it was." Burgess concluded: "[T]he Civil War left behind it just the sort of evidence that we could reasonably expect a war of religion to leave."

For unity amongst Christians to be genuine, we must not only learn to understand one another, we must also learn to ask pardon and forgiveness of those of other denominations we have wronged. We must search for the truth, while admitting our own shortcomings and faults.

No other world religion can boast as having so many denominations or splinter groups as Christians have.

Islamic schools and branches do come close to the Christian figure of 45,000 denominations.

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Diagram showing the various branches of Islam: Sunnīsm, Shīʿīsm, Ibadism, Quranism, Non-denominational Muslims, Mahdavia, Ahmadiyya, Nation of Islam, and Sufism. - Islamic schools and branches

Judaism is likewise not as divided as we are. Besides that the Jewish population is nowhere close to that of Christians worldwide.

Jewish religious movements, sometimes called "denominations", include different groups within Judaism which have developed among Jews from ancient times. Today, the most prominent divisions are between traditionalist Orthodox movements (including Haredi and Religious Zionist (Dati) sects); modernist movements such as Conservative, Masorti and Reform Judaism; and secular or Hiloni Jews.

Buddhism has it’s diverse groups of doctrinal diversity also.

The schools of Buddhism are the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present. The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets of the schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions. The sectarian and conceptual divisions of Buddhist thought are part of the modern framework of Buddhist studies, as well as comparative religion in Asia.

From a largely English-language standpoint, and to some extent in most of Western academia, Buddhism is separated into two groups: Theravāda, literally "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching," and Mahāyāna, literally the "Great Vehicle." The most common classification among scholars is threefold: Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna.

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OP: Is the Christian community truly so fragmented?

Yes, we are fragmented by doctrine and practice and canon.

But, what does this mean? Is it a surprise? Is God worried? Or was this expected and known since the beginning of Christianity? Paul puts it this way in 1 Cor 12:12-20.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.

Many members who think they're the brain and the rest the little toe or some see themselves as the arm and not the arm pit.

Basically, it is only a problem for those who believe they are the "one, true, church", for those who move beyond the basics (virgin conceived and born, Trinity, death, burial, resurrection). The old joke comes to mind about two Christians of two denominations who see each other in heaven. One goes, oh my gosh! What a surprise! The other goes, shhh, don't let the other denominations know about this.

To be sure, Christianity has a long history of detailing doctrine, fighting about who's in charge, and enforcing its decisions. Indeed, some so-called brothers/sisters are wolves in sheep's clothing.

All in all, we are known by our love one for another, and not necessarily because we are of a certain unprovable lineage, like the blood lines of old. Paul again said in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas [Peter]; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

So, to again answer the OP, yes, we are fragmented, but no this is not unexpected. Yes, we are asked to speak the same and have no divisions. Paul outlines the solution (1 Cor 1:30-31).

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

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When one claims that, "Jesus sincerely desired to unite all believers as one body under God.", know that Jesus understood that this grand unification will not happen during this current age.

Until Christ's return, Satan is the god of this world:

… the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not …
— 2 Corinthians 4:4

Satan's ministers will preach a false Jesus, and will divert many away from the truth:

For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
— Matthew 24:5

And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness
— 2 Corinthians 11:14,15

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
— 2 Corinthians 11:3,4

And it is Satan's false Christianity that most people follow:

… Satan, which deceiveth the whole world
— Revelation 12:9

Jesus knew this would happen and referred to his followers as a small select group:

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
— Luke 12:31

Consider that if God were trying to save the whole world at this time, then the past 2000 years are a very dramatic demonstration of his failure, impotence, and incompetence.

But the one true God has not failed.

During this age, God is calling only a relatively few individuals to salvation. Everyone else will be given their chance as part of the second general resurrection.

… if they are all given the same Bible passage, every one of them will give a different interpretation.
Is the Christian community truly so fragmented?

Yes, the various religions that claim to be Christian are highly divided. That is Satan's doing. The true Church of God, which follows the Bible and Jesus's teaching, is and will remain quite small until Christ returns to rule the Kingdom of God.

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