The history behind the religions of the world is told differently according to what side you listen to. The problem is… there aren’t just two sides. There are many different outlooks on why there are so many Christian religions when there is only one Christ. I will give you my understanding and how I was taught.
As I have said before, I am Eastern Orthodox and have been a practicing Antiochian Orthodox Christian for most of my life. Because of that I have an Orthodox understanding of how the separate religions came into being.
In the beginning there was God and from God came the church of Jesus Christ. This church had no name because there was no need of a name. It was simply the church and those that followed Jesus followed his name. This is how he meant it to be and like good humans we went and fucked it all up.
The Church evolved into a church that expanded over Rome and the holy land. The problem is that we never fully controlled the holy land and this fact would become important later in history. The Church at this time was run by a counsel and at the head of that counsel sat the Pope in Rome. Equal to him in power, but still acknowledging his position as first among equals, was a counsel of Patriarchs. This is the part where history becomes fuzzy and it definitely depends on who you speak to as to what version you will hear.
The Orthodox believe that the Pope wanted more focus and power on Rome and he split from the counsel of Patriarchs because of this. Their refusal to see Rome as the head of the church is what caused the Great Schism of our churches and regardless who was at fault… we as humans are fully at fault for destroying the image of the church that God meant. It is “all of our” fault because of those few. The Orthodox also believe that the Roman Catholics changed the wording of the creed at the time by a singular word. They removed the word “with” in reference to the Trinity and instead structured the creed to mean the Holy Spirit was below the Father and the Son. This gave the trinity a hierarchy which fits in with the Roman Catholic line of thought.
There was never any time for the two halves to reconcile due to the Ottoman invasion and the fall of Byzantine. With those events a true schism was created, one that comes about when two faiths are separated by a wall. That “wall” of religion is the reason why Orthodoxy is considered an Eastern faith and Catholicism is considered a Western one.
Many people will debate this part, but the true reason why there are so many more Christian faiths after this is due to the selling of indulgences by the Papal state. This practice was fraudulent and was basically the selling of forgiveness, an act that is repulsive considering it puts a monetary value on your salvation. The rich paid for these though because the wealthy will always pay for their sins. It is easier than forgiveness, particularly when those that would need to forgive you are starving peasants that never would.
The selling of indulgences angered many good Catholics and is the reason why Martin Luther lead his rebellion against the church. With his break came the formation of the Lutheran Church and John Calvin quickly followed suite with his own movement. While these revolts were warranted in a righteous sense, they were the wrong move if one was really seeking to heal the church. Many people would later criticize these moves as further splitting the apple instead of trying to get to the core of the issue. This was just the start of setting the trend that “splitting” was the way to reform.
The Church of England was next to follow and from there you have countless other splits as Protestant religions formed from cells of other cells. This is why we have so many Christian religions and America is a hotbed for Protestant faiths due to who settled this land. That is also another reason many here have never heard of Orthodoxy or the Orthodox religion.
That is my understanding of why we have so many Christian churches.
Jason C. Cushman