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This article is about the Christian concept of multiple legitimate denominations. For religious subgroups, see Religious denomination. For Christian organizations, see Christian denomination.

Denominationalism is the belief that some or all Christian groups are legitimate churches of the same religion regardless of their distinguishing labels, beliefs, and practices. This belief is not accepted by all Christian churches. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not use this term as its implication of interchangeability does not agree with their theological teachings. Denominationalism is a largely Protestant concept among Christians.

The idea was first articulated by Independents within the Puritan movement. They argued that differences among Christians were inevitable, but that separation based on these differences was not necessarily schism. Christians are obligated to practice their beliefs rather than remain within a church with which they disagree, but they must also recognize their imperfect knowledge and not condemn other Christians as apostate over unimportant matters.[1]


Christianity can be divided into denominational and ecclesiastical families and individual denominations (or communions).

Denominational families include:

These families of churches can be further sub-divided.

Individual denominations or communions include:

Some Christians view denominationalism as a regrettable fact. As of 2011, divisions are becoming less sharp, and there is increasing cooperation between denominations (See denomination for a distinction between denomination and association in religious governance).

Theological denominationalism ultimately denies reality to any apparent doctrinal differences among the "denominations", reducing all differences to mere matters de nomina ("of names").

A denomination in this sense is created when part of a church no longer feel they can accept the leadership of that church as a spiritual leadership due to a different view of doctrine or what they see as immoral behaviour, but the schism does not in any way reflect either group leaving the Church as a theoretical whole.

This particular doctrine is, of course, unacceptable to those Christian groups that see themselves as being the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church" as a whole. This includes Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Oriental Orthodoxy, each of which claims to be the subsistence of the exclusive "Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church". In these churches, it is not possible to have a separation over doctrinal or leadership issues, and any such attempts automatically are a type of schism. Despite unfortunate situations in the past, leading up to the Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, many Orthodox and Oriental churches of recent times have returned to unity with the Catholic Church, yet have kept many of their characteristic distinctions identity as approved Rites


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