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ECUMENICAL AND SCHISMATIC
MOVEMENTS IN CHRISTIANITY

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Quotation:

bullet "Disunity distorts truth, wastes resources, hinders witness, impoverishes worship and discredits the gospel." Statement by an anonymous Irish Methodist; quoted by the Most Reverend George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury at ecumenical vespers, 2000-MAY-17.

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History of Christian divisions:

Christianity has gone through many transformations since the execution of Jesus circa 30 CE. Except for its first few half decade (circa 30 to 35 CE), Christianity has never been a single, unified religion:
bullet Immediately after Jesus' death, his disciples formed a reform group within Judaism, often referred to as Jewish Christianity. It was centered in Jerusalem.
bullet By about 36 CE, there were 3 active Christian movements: Jewish Christianity, Gnostic Christianity, and Pauline Christianity. The first died out, largely due to the attack on Jerusalem by the Roman army. The second almost disappeared, after heavy persecution by orthodox Christianity. By the fifth century CE, the successor of Pauline Christianity alone survived. 
bullet By the mid-11th century, eastern and western Christianity had been gradually pulling apart. They formally divided into:
bullet Roman Catholicism, based in Rome, and
bullet The Eastern Orthodox churches which survive today as the Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox and similar churches.
bullet In the early centuries of the second millennium, various Christian sects emerged, such as the Cathars. They were viewed as heretical, and were ruthlessly exterminated by the established church in major acts of genocide.
bullet During the 16th century, Protestantism split off from the Roman Catholic church - a movement that further fragmented and eventually developed into thousands of denominations. 
bullet During the 18th century, a number of large American denominations divided along north/south lines over slavery. Most have since merged. An exception is the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Current divisions within Christianity: 

Christianity remains seriously fragmented in the North America and elsewhere. There are over 1,500 Christian organizations in the United States alone. Some view Christianity as being composed of two or more quite different religions, each sharing the same name and each being based on a different interpretation of the Bible. Others view Christianity as being divided into three wings: conservative, mainline and liberal. 

This division is reflected in the multiplicity of Christian associations in the U.S. at the national level, representing Pentecostal/Charismatic, other conservative Christian denominations, mainline/liberal denominations, Eastern Orthodox churches and Roman Catholicism.

Divisions within Christianity are also reflected at the local level. Many urban areas have one organization for Evangelical pastors, and a second group for the remaining Protestant clergy.

Theological differences remain within Christian denominations. Hot button items like access to abortion, status of women, equal rights to homosexuals, same-sex marriage, etc. have been largely resolved within liberal denominations. However, they are increasing polarization within mainline denominations and may lead to schisms. 

Meanwhile, there are attempts at overcoming past divisions. Many conservative Christian groups are working together on social matters, such as opposing access to abortion, opposing equal rights for gays and lesbians, promoting prayer in public schools, preventing same-sex marriage, etc. Some Protestant denominations are reaching full communion with each other. Merger talks continue, without significant progress, between the Roman Catholic church and many other faith groups.  

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Ecumenism and inter-faith activities:

Ecumenism is a term that refers to intra-faith activities, i.e. within a single religion. It is most commonly used to refer to groups of Christians from diverse denominations cooperating together to work on projects of common interest, and/or to reduce barriers between faith groups. The World Council of Churches is a typical example.

Ecumenical organizations appear to be organized primarily by liberal, mainstream, and Roman Catholic individuals and groups. A random sampling by a Internet search engine of 18 ecumenical groups on the Internet showed:

bullet 12 sponsored primarily by liberal and mainline Christian groups
bullet 4 sponsored by Roman Catholic groups
bullet 1 sponsored, in part, by conservative Protestant groups
bullet 2 sponsored by a full range of Christian groups, from conservative to liberal.

Inter-Faith is a term that normally refers to a cooperative group that include representatives of a number of different religions. The United Communities of Spirit, an interfaith network with roots in the Parliament of World Religions, is one example.

We have prepared a list of hyperlinks to interfaith groups.

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Copyright 1988 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-DEC-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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