Visualizations of Christian History
I haven’t seen much literature on the subject, but I am guessing that one way that people gauge their identity in relationship with other groups is through the use of mental cognitive maps. This has a direct application to Christian life, because Christianity is separated into so many denominations that are defined, largely, by their relationship with the others (though they may not express this quite so explicitly). If you are a Baptist, who is in your Christian “in-group” and how do you relate to, say, a Coptic Christian?
In fact, such maps can be used as propaganda or to advance your point of view. A great example is the use of visualizations of the history and denominations of Christianity. I’ll give you some examples.
From an Orthodox view:
Notice that Orthodoxy is one dark, solid line across the bottom, and every other denomination or branch of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism, is an offshoot of Orthodoxy. I like the little “To Be Continued” as Orthodoxy continues into the future, if only because all Protestant branches seem to be flying off into nowhere (and the RCC is on its way towards the edge, too). I’m also wondering how they got the statistic in 1995 that Orthodoxy is the fastest growing church in America? That’s a difficult thing to define (if your new church has 3 members and it grows to 12 members, you have grown at a rate far faster than many large, growing religions). If you can read the little italics at the bottom you’ll see the straight up claim that all Christian churches can be traced back to Orthodoxy and to Jesus Christ.
The Mormons tell a different story. Since Joseph Smith taught that he was restoring the actual organization that Jesus established, which fell away (the one with apostles, authority, revelation, etc.), Mormons view their church as even more primitive than Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism. From Light Planet, which seeks to explain Mormonism in a fair way:
See that little dotted line that goes from Early Christianity to Restorationism (of which LDS are a part)? That’s – according to the view of this chart-maker – the line that connects Mormonism to Jesus. So on this chart, Restorationism is Protestant, but also isn’t. Note that Eastern Orthodoxy has been demoted to just being one branch that diverges from Roman Catholicism in the 11th century, instead of the solid foundation line from which all other denominations branch from.
Mormons, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics have a strong belief that the church needs authority and continuity from Jesus in the form of a strong church structure. So they are going to emphasize that their line links right back up to Jesus. Here’s a bold one from a Catholic blog:
I say bold because look at the claims it makes! ”Jesus Christ Founded the Catholic Church.” They don’t beat around the bush here. In this case, Catholicism is one central, unchanging line, while all other denominations are branches from that. All the Orthodox churches are reduced to just the Greek church. Also notice how Baptists, Reformed Churches, Quakers, Adventists, Church of Christ, etc. branch from “Radical Sects.” Obviously the implication here is that the Protestants did nothing but fracture Christianity into a bajillion little bits and pieces. Not much nuance here.
However, for Protestants, for the most part there is no need to establish a solid line of authority or structure back to Jesus. They define themselves less by continuity and more by the doctrines that separate them from the others. They would also be more inclined to see all denominations as equal branches on the entire tree. From a blog about the Evangelical Covenant Church, a broadly Lutheran denomination I was previously unaware of:
Notice the idea that the “One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church” seems to incorporate all sects and denominations, on this view. Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed, Anglicans are all equal parts of the whole (and Judaism is even given an honorary nod as being the “roots” of the tree). By using an actual tree, the implication is that all the branches feed into the trunk, and that there is a great unity among all the little leaves and twigs at the ends. In the Orthodox and Catholic charts, there is not a sense that there is a unity in all the branches, but rather a disunity. In the first chart, all the Protestant branches are flying off the top edge and aren’t even moving to the future!