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How the Three Main Branches of Christianity Came About

The organized church of modern ties is composed of three large branches; Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.  These three segments of Christendom developed over a period of fifteen centuries.  The Christian church of the first several centuries was unified structurally and had not yet taken on the threefold division that is so familiar to us today.  Only in the developments of the next several centuries did these particular designations begin.

Originally, the early church had major centers throughout the Roman Empire, over each of which arose a bishop who directed the affairs of the church in his particular region.  The major centers of the second century were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome.  Ephesus later lost influence, and the influence of Jerusalem was reduced following its destruction in A.D. 70 and the paganizing of Israel by the Romans after the Bar Kokhba revolt in A.D. 135.  Prior to the sixth century, there was no one bishop who was viewed as being over the entire church of Christ throughout the empire; instead, there were five separate patriarchs who shared equal oversight.

Starting with the bishop of Rome called Gregory the Great, however, that bishop began to be recognized as chief among his peers.  Based on this, one could place the formalization of the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the sixth century.  Meanwhile, the eastern church retained considerable freedom from Rome and eventually became known as the Orthodox Church.  Its leadership came from the bishop of Constantinople, the eastern capital of the Roman Emire.

The Protestant branch of Christendom separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century after the Reformation led by Martin Luther.  The Reformation, which emphasized Scripture and deemphasized tradition as the standard of church doctrine, completed a split with Rome, which had been initiated by Christian dissenters as early as the 13th century.

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