In researching theses religions, I was curious about how many 'active' world religions there are today. It's hard to pinpoint an exact number of religions without narrowing them down by size or popularity. Some sects may be very small or unknown to researchers. It also depends on how you define the religion.
Some religions do share some common roots or beliefs. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all have "Abrahamic" roots and have obviously evolved from their common beginning into to very different religions today. Christianity and Islam both evolved as offshoots of Judaism. The others have their roots independently from each other.
In Christianity, there are 4 major branches: Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Independents. Independents identify themselves as independent of historic, organized, mainstream institutionalized Christian denominations.
And when you look at these four major branches, there are almost endless denominations split off from the branches. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are about 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. I have found lists stating anywhere from 20,000 to 41,000 from different sources.
The top 35 denominations, at least in the United States are as follows:*
- Christian (no denomination specified)
- Mormon /Latter-Day Saints
- Church of Christ
- Congregational/United Church of Christ
- Jehovah's Witness
- Assembly of God
- Church of God
- Seventh-Day Adventist
- Eastern Orthodox
- Church of the Nazarene
- Disciples of Christ
- Church of the Brethren
- Reformed/Dutch Reformed
- Apostolic/New Apostolic
- Christian Science
- Full Gospel
- Christian Reformed
- Independent Christian Church
- Foursquare Gospel
- Born Again
- Salvation Army
*This list is from a 2001 American Religious Identification Survey conducted by the Graduate Center of the University of New York.
These are only the largest denominations and do not include all the branches which split from these 35 main branches.
So what are we to make of all of this? I would suggest that all these different denominations came about because everyone has different interpretations of the Bible. This has caused so many disagreements, arguments, and even wars because of all the passionate beliefs of it's members, and especially the leaders.
To put it another way, the members tend to believe what they are told by the priests, ministers, pastors, leaders, and those 'in authority' over the denominations (I think of the Pope as an example of one man yielding extraordinary influence). Traditions play an important role in forming these beliefs as well. I can't count how many times I've heard, "But we always have done it this way. My grandparents, my parents, and now my family. And you want to change everything now?" Inevitably this leads to secessions and splits of which I am very familiar.
My premises come from the Dutch Reformed tradition, in which I grew up with, and my parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents, etc. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) split from the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in 1857, shortly after a multitude of Dutch people emigrated to America. If you can believe it, some of the reasons for the split, was that the RCA congregations were singing man-made hymns instead of Psalms, didn't preach catechism as much as was preferred, they let non-Reformed people partake in the Lord's Supper, and permitted membership in the Masonic lodges.
We are talking some serious disagreements here, aren't we??? It's almost laughable!
Anyway, They seceded from the Reformed Church, made themselves the Psalter Hymnal, and restricted all kinds of behavior and set more rules. Isn't that what Religion really is all about anyway, making rules?
I understand that so many people have so many opinions on interpretation, doctrine, and theology related to the Bible and their religion. But, it is a pattern that resonates through the ages. Everyone feels that they are correct, the others are all or mostly wrong, and they are going to hell because they do not believe as they do.
So what about Hell?? What is that all about?
to be continued...