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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

A class or society of individuals called by the same name; in the U.S. the term is used to describe the variety of religious bodies, mainly in the Protestant tradition.

The terms church, denomination, and sect are often used indiscriminately, but they are quite distinct. Properly understood, church refers either to the whole body of Christians or to all the members of a given body, such as the Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans. When the religious group is described with stress on its particular spirit or ancestor, denomination is the preferred term. A sect is technically any small unit cut off from a larger religious body, but the term has a pejorative implication and generally refers to churches outside the mainstream of Reformation Protestantism.

Denominations are juridically self-governing, doctrinally autonomous, and legally erected bodies. They are entirely distinct not only from other churches in a different tradition, e.g., Lutherans from the Reformed or Anglicans from the Free Churches, but even from other groups within the same historical family, e.g., the Christian Reformed Church from the Reformed Church in America.

In legal parlance, a denomination is an organization recognized as a corporate personality with privileges and responsibilities that correspond to other moral entities established under the civil law.

New Catholic Encyclopedia
Vol. 4, 1967, p. 772

Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica

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