Christianity: Definition, Branches And History

The main branches are Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Christianity is the most professed monotheistic religion in the world. It is divided into many branches that share important similarities but that also have significant differences.

To shed light on this subject, in this article we will discover the characteristics and history of the 8 main branches of this religion.

What is Christianity? History

This religion is based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the largest religion in the world with more than 2,100 million followers, far surpassing Islam and Hinduism.

The origin of Christianity dates back to the 1st century AD in the then Roman province of Judea, which later became Palestine. Jesus was the prophet of Christianity but later the apostles and Jesus' followers began to spread it to Europe and other regions, such as Ethiopia, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

For centuries, Christianity has preserved a series of rites, liturgies, and traditions deeply rooted in the culture of countries with a Christian tradition. In most countries that profess this religion, the rites usually have the same characteristics, although depending on the branch of Christianity there may be variations in interpreting the teachings of Christ.

Since its official status as the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, it has undergone for centuries a process of progressive growth as the majority religion in the world. After its expansion in Europe, Christians fought battles for centuries against Islam for control of the Holy Land and the Middle East, including the so-called Crusades. 

With the occupation of the American continent in the 15th century by the European powers, mainly Spain and Portugal, Christianity became unquestionably the most practiced faith in the world to date. Today, 33% of the world's population is Christian (or so it is recorded in their state registration), and it is also the majority religion in 2/3 of all countries in the world.

Branches of Christianity

The fact that it has been the majority religion for so many centuries, as well as being such an ancient religion, has led many Christian communities to decide to split from the original Catholic Church for many reasons.

Below are the 8 main branches, their history, and their traits.

1. Catholicism

Catholicism is the major branch of Christianity.  It has 1,285 million followers around the world, mainly in Europe, Latin America and parts of North America and sub-Saharan Africa. This figure means that more than half of the total number of followers of this religion are Catholics, bearing in mind that there are 2,4 billion Christians.

Catholicism is characterized mainly by the fact that its followers consider the bishop of Rome, popularly known as 'Pope', as the leading figure of the Catholic Church.

Foto del papa Francesc.
Among all the branches of Christianity, Catholicism stands out, with more than a billion followers | Agències


The Pope heads the Latin Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, although within the Catholic Church there are 23 other churches, called Eastern Catholic Churches.

Those who are faithful to the Catholic Church consider it to be the true one since Jesus built it on the apostle Peter. Among the main rites, beliefs or sacraments of the Catholic Church are Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, and Matrimony.

2. Protestantism

Protestantism is one of the most important branches of Christianity throughout the world, with more than 900 million followers worldwide.

Protestantism was born as a division of the Catholic Church in the 16th century, specifically at the time when Martin Luther disassociated himself from the official doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the year 1517.

Followers of Protestantism believe that there should be no mediation between Christ and man. Their only two sacraments are Baptism and Eucharist, they do not recognize the Pope or the saints as authority, and they do not believe in purgatory or indulgences.

3. Anglicanism

Anglicanism is a branch of Christianity specifically created in England. It owes its origin to the schism perpetuated by King Henry VIII when he separated from the Catholic Church in the 16th century, a fact that caused great commotion. It is one of the branches with most followers (80 million).

The Anglican Communion is sustained by the belief in Christian scripture, apostolic tradition, and faith. They do not worship the saints and consider only have the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.

The religious leader of the Anglican Communion is the Archbishop of Canterbury in England.

4. Eastern Orthodox Church

With a number of followers between 225 and 300 million, this is the second Christian church with the most followers in the world.

The Eastern Orthodox Church arose out of Christian traditions developed in the eastern half of the European continent. Its main followers are found in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria among many other countries.

Missa ortodoxa a la capella de la Colònia Ferroviària de Sant Vicenç.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is one of the main branches of Christianity | Cedida

5. Oriental Orthodoxy

Although many people confuse this branch with the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy actually groups together a set of churches that split in 451. Sometimes it is referred to as 'Byzantine Orthodox Church'.

It is followed by 76 million Christians (slightly more than Lutheranism), concentrated mainly in Armenia, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Sudan, Syria, and Lebanon.

6. Lutheranism

Lutheranism is a religious movement created by Martin Luther in 1517. On October 31 of that year, Luther nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, a paper with 95 points that he considered immoral on the functioning of the church.

The Lutheran Church is made up of 74 million followers worldwide, primarily Germany and the United States, and does not recognize the authority of the Pope.

7. Restorationism

The term 'Restorationism' is used to refer to the branches of Catholicism that promote a return to the origin of this religion, that is, to the literal interpretation of the sacred scriptures of the Bible rather than those offered by the churches we have referred to above. Consequently, most restorationists consider themselves simply Christians.

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), with 8,5 million and 16,3 million followers respectively, are the two main restorationist branches of Christianity.

8. Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism is part of Protestantism and is professed by more than 279 million people, mainly in America, Africa, Oceania and the countries of Scandinavia.

It differs from other branches of Christianity in that it attributes a kind of 'spiritual power' to the Christian faith. Supernatural gifts are characteristic of Pentecostalist beliefs and include divine healing, mastery of unknown languages, prophecy, or the detection of angels and demons.


Avis, P. (2002) The Christian Church: An Introduction to the Major Traditions.

Pew Research Center (2012). The Global Religious Landscape: Christianity.