Christendom began united in the Early Church. However, quickly, heresy and heterodoxy began creeping into the Christian faith. That is when various sects began to form and break off from the main church body (Roman Catholic Church). However, even the Roman Catholic Church sunk into heresy, which was the initial cause of the Lutheran Reformation, and the other reformation movements that followed. This is a brief guide to who these groups are and when and why they broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, as well as a look at to whom modern protestant churches trace their theology—Lutheranism, Radical Reformed, Arminianism or Calvinism.
Assyrian Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches
After the Council of Ephesus in 431, we see the first major “fracture” in the church, with the Assyrian Orthodox Church (Church of the East) splitting from the rest. 20 years later saw the exodus of the Oriental Orthodox sect. Both are still in existence, but neither are “major” churches.
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Great Schism occurred in 1054, resulting in the separation of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic (Western) Church.
Rumblings of reformation began in 1170 in Lyons, France, with the Waldensians. In the early 15th century, the Hussites emerged, lead by Jan Hus. The Hussites are known now as the Moravian Church, or “Unity of the Brethren”, a title which became common in 1457 in Bohemia. It is still an active, though small, sect of Christianity today. The Utraquists movement was started by Jacob of Mies, a University of Prague philosophy professor, in 1414. This merged largely with the Hussites, as it was more a dogmatic movement than a denomination.
While the Reformation was going on in other parts of Europe, the Church of England (Anglicans) broke off from the Roman Catholic Church in the mid 16th century to assert local authority and control over the church.
There are essentially four branches of Protestant theology: Lutheranism, Radical Reformation (Anabaptists), Arminianism, Calvinism (of which Zwinglianism is a subset). To at least one of those each branch of the modern “reformed” or “protestant” church can trace its roots. Lutheranism is really the only branch of Protestantism that didn’t splinter further into other denominations besides its own.
Modern Sects and Denominations
Anglican, Episcopalian, Orthodox (Eastern, Greek and Russian in particular) and Catholic churches (all originating from Roman Catholicism) still have strong roots in American Christianity. In America, there are several fairly distinct groups of Protestant churches, under which a number of denominations fall.
Anabaptist and Friends
Anabaptist churches trace back to the original radical reformed movement, including the Amish, Brethren, Friends and Mennonite denominations.
Baptist and Stone-Campbell
The Baptist churches grew out of the Puritan (Anglican) and Anabaptist (Radical Reformed) movements, and include a variety of Baptist denominations (including Southern Baptist and African-American Baptist) as well as Stone-Campbell Restorationist churches.
The Charismatic movement grew out of the Pentecostal church, which traces back to Methodism (Arminianism), and includes denominations such as: Born Again Movement, Calvary Chapel, Faith Christian Fellowship International, Full Gospel, New Life Fellowship Association, and Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Holiness and Pietist
The Pietist movement traces back to unorthodox Lutheranism, while the Holiness movement traces back to Methodism (Arminian), these sects include a variety of denominations, such as the Evangelical Free Church of America, Church of the Nazarene, Salvation Army, Seventh-day Adventist Church and Wesleyan Church.
There are three major Lutheran synods in America: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the latter two are traditional Lutheran synods, while the previous follows fallen Lutheran teachings (such as subscribing to the Variata and picking up on Pietism).
The Methodist church traces back to Arminianism, and there are several Methodist denominations in America, most notably the Free Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church.
The Pentecostal church grew out of the Holiness movement, which traces back to Methodism (Arminianism), and includes the following denominations in their sect: Assemblies of God, Full Gospel Fellowship, Intl. Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Pentecostal Church of God. Oneness Pentecostalism is an antitrinitarian subset of this sect.
Presbyterian and Reformed (Congregationalists)
The Presbyterian, Reformed and Congregationalist sects are Calvinist in their lineage, and include the following denominations: Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Church in America, and United Church of Christ.
OtherThese churches don’t seem to fall into any other category, most (but not all) are heretical and not really Christian at all. They include: American Unitarian Conference, Church of Christ Scientist (Scientology), Grace Gospel Fellowship, Jehovah's Witnesses, LDS Church, Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, Non-denominational churches, Plymouth Brethren, and Vineyard USA.