The Briefest History of Organized Christianity

The history of Christianity can be characterized as a history of church splits.  There are currently tens of thousands of Christian denominations, not to mention all the non-denominational churches.

At the 100,000-foot level, however, there are two major splits that deserve special attention:

  • The split between east and west in the 11th Century; that is, the split that resulted in the Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek) and the Roman Catholic Church (Latin) – called “The Great Schism” of 1054
  • The Protestant Reformation, which was a split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th Century

The Eastern Orthodox Church did not experience the Protestant Reformation.  For confirmation on this I turned to Joel J. Miller, an Eastern Orthodox Christian who is the vice president of acquisitions for the Nelson Books division at Thomas Nelson, an imprint of Harper Collins.

Mike Gantt: Joel, we know that the Great Schism occurred in the 11th Century. We also know that the Protestant Reformation was a separation from the Western Church (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church) in the 16th Century driven largely by a focus on sola scriptura/fide. Is there an analog to the Protestant Reformation in the Eastern Church? If so, please describe enough of it to me that I can research it. If not, what has been Eastern Orthodoxy’s historic stance toward Protestantism vis-a-vis its stance toward Roman Catholicism?

Joel J. Miller:  There has not been an analog to the Protestant Reformation in the East. One reason is that the abuses of Roman Catholic Church (e.g., selling indulgences, the doctrine of purgatory) have no analog in the East.

The general take of the East on the Reformation is that it compounded the problems in the Western church, though certain reformers have been well regarded by the Orthodox Church (e.g., Jan Hus).

The East does not affirm sola scriptura or accept the desacramentalism and iconoclasm of the Reformation, though the Orthodox generally (in my experience) want to seek common ground where available.

The Orthodox have participated heavily in ecumenical activities and look for opportunities to work together.

Mike Gantt:  Thanks. Very helpful.  Quick follow-up: I take it that what you have expressed in non-controversial? That is, is this, generally speaking, the same answer I’d receive from practically any person knowledgeable about Eastern Orthodoxy and its history?

Joel J. Miller:  Correct, noncontroversial.

(If you want to see this exchange in context, see the comments section of this post on Joel’s blog.  This will also give you the opportunity to learn more about his background, if you like.)

Those then are the main two splits in organized Christianity.  Of course, from there you only have to study about 30,000 more of them to cover them all.

However, if you’d rather know about the true church see How to Be in the One True Church.

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