Roadmaps of Religious Belief
9/24/2009 | Author: RCW
There's a lot of confusion out there among the masses when it comes to "religion" and spiritual matters.

  • Example #1:
    Suppose I tell someone out in public that I am a minister. Often, they will ask, "Oh yeah, what religion are you?" I tell them "Christian" and they will say, but what religion are you...Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist?"

    If you can't spot the misunderstanding here, then I will explain it momentarily.

  • Example #2:
    I was at a college campus sharing my faith with students a few years ago and within a 10 minute period, I asked two separate people if they were Christians. The one replied, "Yes, I'm Catholic." The other replied, "No, I'm not a Christian. I'm Catholic."

    Puzzling, huh?

  • Example #3 comes when people recite the Apostle's Creed:
    I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic church...
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.

    A certain church I enjoyed in graduate school (it was not a Catholic church) used to recite the creed every single Sunday. I don't know how many times I heard people either refuse to speak the line or say afterward, "I don't like that line about the Catholic church."

    Are you tracking with me?

  • Example #4: Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons will often insist that they are Christians. And some people actually believe them!

This is not a rant against those that make such statements or betray such obvious misconceptions. Instead, I hope that it will clear up some of the misunderstandings.

I think some simple charts can do the job.

Below are some examples of world religions.

A religion is a comprehensive belief system held by a community. It usually has a "holy book" and typically provides answers 3 questions: What is reality? What is wrong? What is the solution? If you see a flaw or simply don't like my off-the-cuff definition, here's a link to Wikipedia's definition of a "religion." Notice that Christianity is a religion.

The next chart is the three major "branches" or "realms" of Christianity. (I'm sure there is a better word, but for now right now the most commonly used term escapes me.) These are not different religions; they are actually all considered part of Christianity.

Finally, after the Protestant Reformation (notice the spur of Protestantism off of Catholicism in the chart above), a virtual plethora of Protestant "denominations" arose. Below is a chart of some of the ones you might be familiar with. (Ironically enough, the earliest of these various denominations proceeded to fight and kill one another quite frequently for several years. Aren't you glad that we now fortunately realize that we who are Protestants are all Christians and that Lutherans need not slay Baptists, Anglicans shouldn't behead Lutherans, etc.)

Don't study the above chart too closely. The denominations aren't arranged in any particular fashion except that "lots of others" can be a sub-category of "Bible Churches" or "Non-Denominational" or entirely outside of both categories. One of the problems however is that many non-Christian religious movements, groups, and cults, aim to convince people they are a "denomination" when in actuality, the beliefs make them otherly altogether (a different religion).

My charts are very simplistic. Better charts are published in pamphlet form by Rose Publishing.

Does this clear up some of the confusion? If you're still wondering about the earlier examples, here are the answers, you sillies:

    Example #1 - My religion IS Christianity. What they should have asked was what denomination I am.

    Example #2 - The truth is that Catholics ARE under the umbrella of Christianity. Some Catholics might think that when they are asked if they are a "Christian," the question is asking if they are a Protestant or someone associated with "mainstream" Protestant Christianity.

    Example #3 - Even though the term "Catholic" probably would have originally referred to the Catholic church (since the Catholic church WAS the early church), the term "catholic" as we know it today refers to the universal church. The "catholic" church would then simply mean those around the world from every Christian group or denomination calling themselves followers of Christ. (See how the "church" is also not just a building? It's PEOPLE. WE are the church.)

    Example #4 - Jehovah's Witnesses & Mormons commonly claim they are a Christian group or a Protestant denomination. (They try to convince people that they belong in the "lots of others" category in the list of denominations under "Protestantism.") Yet, if you study those groups, the beliefs CANNOT fall under the umbrella of Christianity since the views they hold have been deemed UN-Christian by Jesus, by the church from earliest Christianity, and sometimes even Judaism. There is no way that the two groups could ever call themselves Christians except to mislead and sway others, or to simply distort the ugly truth.

Well, enough of my rambling. I hope that this proves helpful the next time you spot a similar misconception. Point your guilty violators to this post and maybe it can clear up the confusion! :)

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On September 25, 2009 at 8:04 AM , J D'Amico said...

It is helpful for persons of faith to understand the difference between a "Big C" and "Little C" catholic and the role of denominations versus religions.

Like the Dewey Decimal System in a small library, understanding classification systems can be helpful.

On the other hand, however, classification systems can also lead to hasty generalizations. In the rush to push someone into the "cult" category, for instance, one forgets that there are real people in there. If I were a Mormon, I might find your classification unhelpful, probably uninviting, and certainly a hindrance to dialog.

And selection of the appropriate classification reflects one's own religious world view. For example, other scholars might put Jehovah's Witnesses in an Adventism category. And Jehovah's Witnesses might take you out of Christian and put themselves there. Strong or weak, good or bad, both these positions would have supporting arguments.

People answer the "religion" question with denominational answers because they appreciate that the "Christian" label as popularly used often has little to do with what Christ taught. It is the differences in teaching that created denominations in the first place and the differences from each other are, at the same time, deviations from Christ.

And so, while some Christians might disagree with a Unitarian Universalist or Jehovah's Witness on the nature of God, Jesus, who practiced Judaism after all (we sometimes forget), probably would have had more in common with the latter on that specific topic. Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, do a nice job in public outreach---better than many Evangelical Christians---and they avoid going to war with Christians much as "peace churches" such as Quakers or many Mennonites. The lines aren't quite as clear as some would like to paint them.

Classification can be a useful tool but makes for a lousy bludgeon.

On September 25, 2009 at 2:12 PM , Anonymous said...

Will write an "article" on the differences between different denominations of Christianity?

On September 25, 2009 at 2:36 PM , RCW said...

J D’Amico, thanks a lot for your thoughts! I appreciate the fact that others are willing to voice their opinions.

I agree with you on some things and disagree with you on some other things you said. I don’t have the space or time to discuss them all. If you want to talk more about this, please email me rather than “comment.” I think we could go back and forth for quite a while and spend a lot of letters…too many to fit in the comments section.

I do apologize if you are a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon and are offended to see these categories. I definitely did not intend to use the categories as a “bludgeon.” I hope that rather than people in those camps being appalled or emotionally flustered by my statements (we all know that religious talk can certainly get emotional for people), that they would be driven to closely examine their beliefs all the more. I would hope that they would desire to figure out why it is that nearly all of Christianity has excluded them from the family of Christian belief and more or less renounced them as a different world religion altogether. Nobody likes to be placed in a box; but if they consistently were, shouldn’t they want to know why?
I know of some great resources that can explain why.

One of the troubling things going on here is that I think you may have misunderstood both my purposes and my audience within this blog. This blog is for people who have become Christians and are wanting to grow in their Christian faith. It is not a “religious roundtable” or a place that was ever intended to foster inter-faith dialogue. There is certainly a time and place for those discussions; and I certainly have a desire to engage in those types of discussions. However, they are not exactly what this blog is about.

I guess what I am saying is that if you are not a Christian, and you are not wanting to grow in your Christian faith, you probably aren’t going to agree with much of anything I say. Then, I would wonder why you were even reading at all except perhaps to be critical and argumentative. I hope that is not the case. Sir Francis Bacon would be very disappointed indeed: “Read not to contradict and confute…” If you click the link at the top left of the website that says “Click here to email me, RCW,” I will be glad to continue this conversation. (These “comments” are turning into “blogs” in themselves!)

Thanks again for your thoughts, my friend!


On September 25, 2009 at 4:32 PM , RCW said...

Anonymous, :)

I will post something on the subject in the near future. For now, check out the following resource by copying the web address below and pasting it into your web browser address bar.

This is just one resource among others, but I find Rose Publishing to consistently produce good stuff.

You can find their pamphlets at most Christian bookstores like Lifeway, Family Christian, or Mardel, etc.