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Denomination ( Latin confessio , 'confession', 'confession', 'confession') refers to a subgroup within a religion (originally only Christian) that differs from other subgroups in terms of teaching, organization or practice.

The term originated in Christianity and originally referred to a summary of beliefs in Christian theology . Therefore, the term is also used as a designation for a Christian direction that differs from other Christian directions by a common confession, and in a broader sense also for Christian directions in general; Today the term describes the different Christian churches and groups. In the population statistics, denomination is usually understood to mean belonging to a religious community . See: Religions in Germany .

Concept history

Denomination (from Latin confessio , "confession", "confession", "recognition") originally referred to a confession in the spiritual or criminal sense. In the Middle Ages, it was also used to name confession in the Roman Catholic Church.

In the course of the Reformation , the denomination formed the creed of a Protestant party (e.g. Augsburg denomination , Heidelberg catechism ). This became, as it were, the identity-creating founding document of the respective religious party.

Due to the inner connection between spiritual orientation and political church sovereignty ( cuius regio, eius religio ), the meaning of the special denomination term changed as a formulated commitment to the respective church. In addition to Protestant churches with Lutheran and Reformed denominations, unified churches were formed after the Enlightenment - partly after overcoming theological differences, partly due to economic or political constraints - which are either based on the Lutheran or the Reformed confessional texts or overcome these differences wanted to. In practice, the differences within the Protestant denominations no longer play a major role. In Germany, members of a Protestant regional church change their denomination simply by moving to the area of ​​a regional church of another denomination.

The Orthodox and the Catholic Church do not see themselves as a denomination in this sense, since they have not been constituted by agreeing on a common formulation of the creed. However, they have usually been included under the term since the Council of Trent .

The term expanded in meaning when numerous groups invaded the German-speaking area in the 19th century, which, according to Anglo-Saxon usage, differed not in their specific confession but in their specific designation ( English denomination ). However, the English word denomination hardly found its way into German usage; instead, all established different Christian currents were soon called denominations, provided they were not marginalized as sects .

Christian denominations

A denomination in Christianity is a church or an association of churches or parishes that differentiates itself from other denominations in its teachings. The three main denominations are membership of the Roman Catholic Church , the Orthodox Churches or the Protestant Churches .

Protestantism, on the other hand, was divided into a Lutheran , a Reformed and an Anabaptist denomination as early as the Reformation ; over the centuries came u. a. the Baptists , the Methodists and the Anglicans , who today are also counted among the evangelical denominations.

A distinction must be made between denominations and so-called movements , such as B, pietism , the Pentecostal movement and the charismatic movement as well as evangelicalism (although this can in large parts also be regarded as - admittedly unofficial - "umbrella movement" of the first two). Such movements are usually, at least formally, cross-denominational or have no defined boundaries in this regard. In principle, this also applies to the four exemplary movements listed, but in practice they either move entirely (Pietism) or predominantly (Pentecostals and charismatics, evangelicals) on the basis of the Protestant creed.

Denominations and movements usually exert formative influence on both the theology and the practice (e.g. liturgy ) of their respective communities. Nevertheless, at least the term “denomination” also serves to describe congregational groups in which, instead of a higher-order church, the individual parishes themselves primarily define the actual creed , a. among the Mennonites , Baptists and Pentecostals.

The application of the term “denomination” to a certain group of believers does not necessarily presuppose the recognition of the equivalence of all denominations. Certain denominations , such as B. the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox Church, do not use the term for themselves.

Confession formation

The formation of denominations can develop gradually over extended periods of time and from the interplay of various theological, cultural and political factors, such as the oriental schism .

Furthermore, a denomination can emerge in a much shorter time through a spiritual or theological renewal or through a revival in an existing church and then develop into a separate group, for example the Lutherans from the Roman Catholic Church or Methodism from the Church of England . Likewise, a new denomination can arise by splitting off from an existing group, often due to the introduction of innovations that are not supported by a minority of the existing group, whereupon this minority becomes independent, for example the Old Catholics .

In some cases, new denominations have been formed through the union of existing denominations, for example the United Church of Canada from the Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

A few denominations rely on specific new revelations, such as Mormonism , for their origins .


According to the dictionary, interdenominational means “interdenominational, not dependent on them”. A non-denominational person is a Christian according to his self-image and sees himself as part of the Christian community without being bound to a denomination. There are also non-denominational religious communities and associations, which are also independent of a denomination and almost exclusively take the Bible as their teaching (however, these communities are almost always in the wider Protestant area and less in the Catholic or Orthodox one; as they mostly use the Reformation principle sola scriptura represented). Especially in the English-speaking world, the "Non-Denominational Churches" play ( English non-denominational , non-denominational '; not to be confused with English. Un-denominational , un-denominational', so no religion ) since the mid-20th century an increasing role . “Non-denominational” is therefore in no way to be equated with the two terms without denomination or ecumenical . Ecumenical works can, however, work interdenominationally in various areas.

Well-known examples of non-denominational communities and works in Germany are the Moravian Brethren , the Gideonbund , the Salvation Army , the ICF Church ( International Christian Fellowship ), the Jesus Freaks and the Calvary Chapels .

The term believing in God comes from the time of National Socialism . "Believers in God" were those who had turned away from the recognized religious communities but were not unbelieving.

Non-Christian denominations

In the meantime, the term denomination is occasionally applied to religions other than Christianity. Christian theologians take the view, however, that the term denomination cannot properly be applied to groups within non-Christian religions. These are referred to as directions, schools, currents or traditions, for example. In English, the word denomination is mostly used, which is also used to some extent in German.

See also


  • Heinz Duchhardt , Gerhard May (Ed.): Union - Conversion - Tolerance: Dimensions of the rapprochement between the Christian denominations in the 17th and 18th centuries , Mainz: von Zabern 2000, p. 365; ISBN 3-8053-2638-6
  • Edwin Habel: Middle Latin Glossary. 2nd edition 1959, reprint Paderborn 1989, p. 77.

Individual evidence

  1. Edwin Habel : Middle Latin Glossary. (2nd edition, 1959) With an introduction by Heinz-Dieter Heimann ed. by Friedrich Göbel, Paderborn 1989 (= Uni-Taschenbücher. Volume 1551), p. 77.
  2. ^ Wolfgang Stammler : Medieval prose in German. In: Deutsche Philologie im Aufriß. Edited by Wolfgang Stammler, Volume 2, 2nd edition Berlin 1960, column 749–1102; here: columns 814-820
  3. ^ The new Islamic denomination , Wiener Zeitung on December 17, 2010