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Christian Denominations: Protestantism

Figure 1.--One of the fundamental tennants of Protestant from the begining with Luther was Bible study. The Cathoic Church preferred for its faihful to listen to its priests rather than study the Bible. And this difference contines with the modern Catholic and Protestant churches. American Protestant churches have promoted not only adult Bible study, but children from an early age memorizing Bible passages. This cabinet card shows an unidentified boy who we believe has won an award memorizing passages. It is undated, but the mount suggests the 1900s. We can not read the studio name, but it was located in Wichita, part of the Bible Belt.

The Protestant Reformation began whem Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Witttenburg church. Luther did not intend to create a new church, let alone hindreds of new churches. He wanted to reform the existing chutch. But he set in motion a theolical tiudal wave. Once individuals began reading the Bible themselves all kinds of ideas emerged and the Reformation put them beyond the control of the Church hierarchy and its Inquisition. As a result, many different theological trends among Protestants. Today there are so many Protestant Churches that it is difficult to even count them. But there were many different theological trends among Protestants. Luther's reformed rapidly morphed into many different nominations. This was inevitable as he and the other early bProtestants focused so intensely on reading the Bible and self study. This led to many different conclusions on Christianity. The splintering of Protestahntism is of more than theological importance. It was centralm in the development of democracy. Although not at first recognized, looking back it is obvious if an individual had the ability to make personal decesions on matters as important as religion, he also was capable of making decesions in the political realm. It is no accident that democracy arose first in Protestant Europe and North America. Democracy reqquired a revolution to appear in Catholic Europe--the French Revolution. There are so many Protestant Churches that it is difficult to even count them. There are of course substantial differences among countries as to the importance of these groups. More Protestant churches exist in America because of the level of religious freedom there especially after the doctrine was enshirned in the First Amendment of the Constitution. There are some Protestant Churches, however, of particular importance. We have begun to develop information about some of the more important denominations.


Anabaptists are name from the Greek ανα, neaning again or twice. It means bring baptized again or twice--essentially revaptized. Anabaptists are one of the many radical Protestant sects that developed during the Reformation (16th century). The Anabaptists rejected many conventional Christian practices besides baptism, including the wearing of vwedding bands, taking oaths, and many aspects of participating in civil society. The sacraments were at the heart of the Reformation and the division between Catholics and Protestants. Baptism was, however, a sacrament accepted by both mainstream Catholics and Protestants. Many saw questioning the baptism of infants as heresy. Anabaptists saw baptism as something which should take place when the individual was an adult and able to understand the commitment being made. Thus the Anabaptists were arguably the most persecuted group in Europe. During the Reformation and religious wars (16th-17th century), the Anabaptists suffered terrible persecution from both Catholics and Protestants. And because they questioned many aspects of civil authority, non-relogious based supresion by Govermental authorities also occurred. The Anabaptists which survived into the modern age were primarily the communal groups: Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. This consideration of Christian denominations is more complicated in than one might think at first. Some of the Middle Eastern deminainations, for example, are associated with the Catholic Church. And the Evabgelicals cut across mostly Protestant religions.


The Anglican Church was founded by King Henry VIII. Henry at first was a devout follower and supporter of the Catholic Chufch znd papacy in the early phase of the Reformation. This changed wshen he sought to divorce his wife, the Spanish Princess Catherine, so he could marry the beautiful and young Ann Bolen. Hardly the most inspiring creation for what was to become a great Church. There were other issues, including finances. Henry became concerned about English Church wealth being sent to Rome. The papavy supported Spain which with its large fleet was a threat to England. (This threat would materialize during the reign of Henry's daughter Elizabeth with the Spanish Armada.) Also the rich monastaries scattered throughout England were tempting targets. The Church of England which emerged was the first Church of what is today known as the Anglican Communion. Other national churches such as the Church of Scotland belong to the Calvinist trafition. The Anglican Church in America is known as the Episcopalian Church, this related to the system of government by bishops (episcopal system). Anglican churches exist in all of the former British colonies. The head of the Anglican Communion is the Archbishop of Canterbury, although his authority is in no way comparable to the pope. The Anglican Church with its priests and formal ritual is the Protestant denomination closest to that of the Roman Catholic Church. And Christians seeking unity have discussed reunion. In recent years the Anglican church has entered into a great debate over the role of women. Many of the churches in Britain's former colonies are more conservative than the more liberal English church.


The Baptists appeared in the early-17th century among disenters from the tby then establidhed Protestant denominations. The ealy 17th century was a dangerous time with bloody religious wars sweeping Europe. The eatliest Baptist Congregation seems to have been amall group fleeing separatists in Amsterdam (1608). Most were English Protestants fleeing the repression of the established Church of England (COE). They were led by John Smyth with Thomas Helwys, sought to transform the Church more along what they saw as New Testament patterns and the early as thus presumably more pure early Church. They thought that the COE was beyond reform and needed what they called 'reconstitute'. They emphasized personal conversion and baptism. They thought that rather than baptise a child in infancy when the individual had no capacity to understand, that baptism should be for older individuals who had could personally profess faith in Jesus Christ. The reconstituting efforts of Smyth, Helwys and others gradually developed into a new Protestant denomination. Affiliated groups formed when members of the original Amsterdam returned to Britain and afopted the name 'Baptist' to stress their destinctive beliefs. Along with other non-conforming Protestant groups, Baptists joined the emigration to America in the hope that they could pursue their religion with less interference from religious and civil authority.


John Calvin (1509-1564) along with Luther were the two most important Protestant theologians. Calvin pursued an even more radical break with Catholoic theology and liturgy. Calvin taught that man's fate was predestined and that good deeeds on earth had nothing to do with salvation. Several Protestant churches were based on Calvin's teachings and the Swiss Reformation. The names of the churches vary. The Swiss, Dutch, and some German churches are commonly called Reformed churches. One of the most important was the French Huguenots. Calvinism was also important in Bohemia and Hungary. Calvinist theology also dominated the Scottish reformation and became known as Presbyterianism. There was a strong body of shared beliefs among all these churches. With the Catholic suppresion of the French Hugenoughts and the Bohemian and Hungarian Protestants (17th century), the most important Calvinist church became the small Scottish Presbyterian Church, but through Scotland, Calvinist theology was spread to England and America whre it became an imporant main-stream denomination.


Tne National Asspciation of Evangelicals (NAE) provide an excellent basic desceiption of Evangelicals. "Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning 'the good news' or the 'gospel'. Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the 'good news' of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ. Evangelicals are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. As noted in the statement “Evangelicals — Shared Faith in 'Broad Diversity', our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions. Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism: -- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a 'born-again' experience and a life long process of following Jesus -- Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts, -- Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority, -- Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity. These distinctives and theological convictions define us — not political, social or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term 'evangelical' to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism and discipleship." Note the leadoff phrase, 'take the Bible seriously'. Compare this toi to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Francis. They are essentially socialists who do not accept the divity of Jesus are for that matter the existence of a supermatural God. They will not come out and say that, but if you look at their sermons and statements, it is hard not to think this is where they stand. Evangelicals are true believers. Evangelicals are most associated with the United States, but they are having a major impact in Latin America. There the Catholic Church with its embrace of socialism and empty churches is declining while the Evangelical churches with its focus on the Bible is having a major impact.


It was the German monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) who in 1517 nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg church door. In doing so he launched the Refornation, although at the time he desired only to reform the Church. Luther was offended by the monk Johann Tetzel who after arriving in Wittenberg began preaching about the sale of indulgences to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter's Church in Rome. Luther and his teachings would have been supressed by Church authorities had it not been for the fact that the theological arguments became involved in German politics and the authority of temporal authorities in Saxony over Church matters and political issues within the Holy Roman Empire and the new Emperor Charles V. Elector Frederick of Saxony offered Luther his protection. Luther objected to the term Lutheran to define the Church he helped found. Rather he preferred the term "Evangelical" to distinguish his Church from the Reformed or Calvanistic Protestant Churches. Thus in Germany and Scandinaviam the churches are called Evangelical. In America Lutheran is more common.


Religious persecution in Europe drove the Mennonites to America, This was essentially the same process that earlier brought the Puritans to America. America at the time was not a utopia of religious toleration. But on the frontier, religious orthodoxy was difficult o enforce and civil authority was weak. And the new colony of Pennsylvania ws fonded by a Quaker and was where the idea of religious toleration began to develop. The Mennonites settled areas of eastern Pennsylvania. One in America, the New World the Mennonites branched into several factions. The (Old) Mennonite Church is the parent group and continues to be the largest group. Smaller groups include the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Brethren Church. The first Pennsylvania colony was at Germantown (1683). The best known Memmonite group in America is the Amish. The Amish are one of the Mennite groups in Pennsylvania. The Amish are a religious group who live in settlements in 22 states and Ontario, Canada. The oldest group of Old Order Amish, about 16-18,000 people live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish stress humility, family and community, and separation from the world. Other Mennite colonies were established in Ohio and other mid-Western states. The Amish Church, named for Jacob Ammann, a 17th century Swiss Mennonite bishop, remains particularly insular and conservative. The Old Order Amish reject much, but not all of modern technology in both their personal lives and farming. They wear plain ans what are nmow seen as old fashioned clothing which use hooks and eyes as dastners instead of more modern buttons. They worship in private homes. They at sirst spoke German, but bow speak a kind of German-English amalgam which curiously is called Pennsylvania Dutch. (This is a coruption of the German word Deutsch.) The Mennonite churches every 6 years at the Mennonite World Conference. Most American Mennonites are found primarily in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas. There are also substantial numbers of Mennonites also live in Canada.


Methodism was founded by John Wesley (17??-91). One biographer describes him as "the greatest evagenlist in modern history". [Hattersly] The name of the denomination derives from the methodical approach of Wesley and the other early Methofists. The rise of Methodism has been described as the Second Reformation. Wesley took little interest in politics. He was dismissive of democracy, but was no apologist of privlidge. Methodism in England became the religion of the poor and largely forgotten of 18th and 19th century England. The Methodists like the Quakers played an important role in the English abolitionist movement. Some authors suggest that Methdodism encouraged workers to be content with their lot and thus retarded the growth revolution and class politics in Britain. [Halévy] When Revolution engulfed the Continent in 1848, the Chartist movement fizzled in England. Other biographers are less insistent on this, but clearly Methodism did encourage propriety and respectability among the working class. As such, Wesley besides his role as minister, played a key role as one of the "architects of modern England". [Hattersley] This was nor what Wesley sought, but rather to envigorate not divide the Anglican Church. Wesly for his part was supremely confident that he had been called t do God's work. It was this confidence and insistence that he had a special relationship with God, rather than theological issues that alienated the Angligan hierarchy against him.



Pentecostalism is a conservative Protestant movement that emphasizes direct personal experience of God through baptism and contact with the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals believe in the "four-fold" goispel of: 1) personal salvation, 2) Holy Ghost baptism, 3) devine healing, an the 4) imminent return of Jesus. In most Christian churches while the Trinity is seen as three coequal manifestations of God, the Father and Jesus are usually given the greatest attention. Pentecoastals foucs on the Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as the Holy Chost. The name Pentecostal comes from the term Pentecost, a Greek word for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. Christians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ suring this ame period. It is described in the New Testament. [Second chapter of Acts] Pentecostals view their Church and practices as returning to those of the early Church. Thus Pentescostals sometimes use the terms Apostolic or full gospel to describe their Church. There is not one single Pentecostal Church. Rather it is a generic term to describe many relatively small churches with a diversity of beliefs and practices. There are both Trinitarian and Nontrinitarians within the movement. The Pentecostal movement is especially developed in the United States. Pentecostal churches often subscribe to Glossolalia -- speaking in tongues. There is also a degree of freedom and spontaneity expressed during religious services. Other beliefs are widely held among conservastive Protestant denominations, including opposition to abortion, equality for variant sexual practices, and same-sex marriage. Many Pentecosatal churches belong to the Pentecostal World Conference. Many in the 19th century did not believe that Pentacoastal Churches would survive. Predictions of Jesus' imment return have proven incorrect. Even so, the Churchhas not only survived, but prospered in America. There are today about 11 million members of Pentacoastal Churches. [Wacker]


Presbyterianism is a general term for a group of Protesrant churches following the Calvinist theological tradition. The name relates to church goverment rather than theology. It comes from the characteristic organization around a Presbyterian unit. This means a system of church government by representative assemblies called presbyteries. Alternative systems are government by bishops (episcopal system) or by congregations (congregationalism). Presbyterian theology is based on the the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and achieving grace through faith in Christ. The dictrine of predestination is central to Presbyterianism Presbyterianism rose in Scotland and was confirmed as the means of Church Government in Scotland by the Act of Union in (1707). As a result, the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian and not Anglian as in England. Presbyterians in England primarily trace a Scottish origin. SCottish Presbyterians dollow the theology of Calvin and his immediate successors, but a spectrum of theological trends developed within Presbyterianism.


Quakers are the popular name for the Religious Society of Friends. The Quakers emerged in England during the turmoil following the English Civil War (mid-17th century). George Fox (1624-1691) founded the Quaker movement. He was a nonconformist religious reformer. He left home at the age of 19, beginning a 4-year search, seeking answers to faith issues which had troubled him since boyhood. Many religions have a defined theology that that their members have to agree with and follow. Some such as the Roman Catholic church have definitive dogma that is authoritatively enforced. The Quakers follow a different approach. Quakers believe in spiritual searching by their members. This makes the Quaker theology difficult to describe. In fact a Quaker Sunday meeting can go for a long time in silence before a member chooses to speak. Women and men are seen as equal, but sit separately in the meeting house. There are difference within the Quaker community. There are more liberal/evangelical Quaker communities. The Quakers are most strongly associated with pacifism, social equality, integrity, and simplicity. The Quakers came into conflict both with Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell;s Puritan government and later with the restored monarchy of King Charles II. Some Quakers like other non-confiormist Protestants sought greatwr relgious freedom in America. They experienced, however, persecultion from the \authorities already established in New England. They were viewed as dangerous heretics. Sone were deported as Witches, imprisoned, or even hung. Some found a sanctuary in the Rhode Island colony, which Roger Willims had help found on the principle of religious toleration. Quaker William Penn (1644-1718) and others played a major role in founding the colonies of West Jersey (1675) and Pennsylvania (1682). These colonies were more tolerant of minority religious groups, including the Jews, Mennonites, and Quakers. The Quakers played an important role along with the Methodists in launching the English abolitionist movement. The Quakers also played an important roll in the American abolitionist movement.


Halévy, Elie.

Hattersley, Roy. A Brand from the Burning: The Life of John Wesley (Doubleday, 2003), 353p.

Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentacostals and American Culture (Harvard University Press, 2001), 364p.


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Created: April 29, 2004
Last updated: 10:28 PM 5/24/2020