From the day of Pentacost until the early sixteenth century, there was only one Christian faith - Catholic1.
Catholics and many Protestants agree on the Trinity, the virgin birth, ressurection and eternal life, the Ten Commandments, the need for a Savior, the same New Testament and most of the same Old Testament, recite the same Nicene and Apostole's Creeds, baptism, the Body of Christ, Christmas, Easter and other such things.
Every Protestant faith differs from every other Protestant faith in some way, and differs from the Catholic faith in many ways.
Communism, socialism, nationalism, scientism, secularism, hedonism, sentimentalism, cultism, Americanism are all Atheistic-based, and although growing in popularity in this country, will not be discussed here.
Lutherans were the first to openly defy the Catholic Church and accept excommunication from the Church that fell from God's grace. Once this door was opened, Protestantism spread like wildfire.
Martin Luther believed since Adam's fall, man's nature is totally depraved and inclined only towards evil. Even when forgiven of our sins, we remain a dung heap covered in snow. No matter what man does, he remains disgusting to God. Luther reasoned man can only be saved by faith, and faith alone, as we are incapable of pleasing God in any other way. Salvation is a free gift of God which man cannot merit, thus righteousness and good works play no part. We need only believe in Him, and God takes over from there without any deeds from us. Thus the doctrine of Sola Fide.
The Catholic Church preaches we are justified by grace, with faith working through love. Faith without love is dead. Note, the Catholic Church does not preach justification by love alone. Love and faith play crucial parts, but the justification comes from grace.
Luther's new found faith blossomed without him. He looked on as a bystander while the faith took off. He didn't agree with all the changes, but was powerless to stop them. He wrote "avarice, usury, debauchery, drunkenness, blasphemy, lying and cheating are far more prevalent now than they were under the papacy. This state of morals brings general discredit on the Gospel, and its preachers, as the people say, if this Gospel were true, the persons professing it would be more pious." Luther didn't realize or admit that this is the nature of rebellion against the truth. When you eliminate some truth, it is a slippery slope, and more truths will fall.
As the faith that bears his name continued to expand into theological areas unintended by Luther himself, he wrote "He who does not believe my doctrine is sure to be damned." The faith developed a rigid orthodoxy that undermined the right of private interpretation of scripture promoted by Sola Scriptura. You either conformed or were excommunicated. To other flegling Protestant faiths, it was an uneasy resemblance to the Catholic way that Luther sought to change.
Lutherans currently practice confession, infant baptism, the Real Presence, the Mass. Lutherans believe in the Real Presence, but deny Transubstantiation (bread and wine coexist with the Body and Blood). Lutherans discourage "particular holy days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such". Since Sola Fide is thought to be true, there is no benefit to such "childish and needless works". Divorce and remarriage is allowed for adultery, desertion and because of "hardness of hearts".
Lutherans embrace Sola Scriptura, but whereas other upstart Protestant faiths sought to eliminate all not specifically commanded or authorized in the Bible, Lutherans preserved whatever was not specifically forbidden by Scripture. The Lutheran church retains more of the liturgy, church year, vestments and church architecture than other continental Protestant churches.
Lutheranism is strongest today in Germany and Scandinavia. It is the third largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., behind Baptists and Methodists, and centered in lands settled by German and Scandinavian immigrants, predominantly in the Midwest. Lutherans tend to be less liberal than other mainstream American Protestants, and suffer from many of the same "sins" of smoking/drinking/public socializing as do Catholics.
Lutherans are not united in their beliefs. There are three major synods in the U.S.: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The ELCA made a separate agreement with the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ, allowing full communion between the faiths and validity of all existing ordained ministries. The ELCA is alone among Lutherans in ordaining women in the ministry.
Much like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli was an ex-priest. Zwingli drove the protestant revolt in Zurich Switzerland at the same time Luther worked in Germany. Zwingli was heavily influenced by Luther's writings, but disagreed on a few major theological points. Thus, this early in the revolt we can see the effects of deciding for yourself what the Bible says. Zwingli's breaking point was Luther's belief of the Real Presence in the eucharist. Zwingli (and his followers to this day) consider the Lord's Supper to be simply a memorial service. Zwingli died early on in the reformation.
John Calvin, a French lawyer, jumped on the anti-Catholic bandwagon led by Zwingli. Calvin's theology centered around the absolute sovereignty of God, the helplessnes of man, and the predestination to heaven or hell. Calvin taught that man's nature since the Fall is totally depraved. God elects some men to salvation and damns others (including unbaptized infants) to hell. Christ died only for the elect, who cannot resist God's grace and cannot backslide. Calvin feared persecution in France and fled to Geneva and led the protestant revolt there. Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva are together known as the Swiss Reformers and Calvin's followers are known as Presbyterians in America.
Predestination is the belief that God knew before time began who would enter Heaven and who would be sent to Hell, and that no amount of free will in man would change that. No matter what you do on Earth, it won't change what God predestined for you for all eternity. In contrast, the Catholic Church holds that yes, God did know before any of us were created where we would go, but it is our free will to accept or reject His grace that determines our destiny. God knows what we are going to choose, but we choose.
Whereas Luther claimed to preserve whatever was not specifically forbidden by the Bible, Calvin sought to reject everything that was not positively commanded. Thus, vestments, altars, statues, art, singing, organs and the like were forbidden. Modern day Presbyterians are not quite so strict as was Calvin.
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches is made up of Presbyterian, Reformed and Congregational churches around the world. The largest Presbyterian denominations in America include the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the Presbyterian Church in America (yes, the two are different denominations) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Each of these denomination have split several times over as the break-aways find some theological flaw in the parent church. The standard quip calls them the "Split P's".
Anglican (Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals)
When Rome occupied the British Isles, christianity was introduced. When Rome abandoned the Isles, the local Angles & Saxons succeeded in pushing their pagan beliefs to the point that christians were found in only one corner of the region. Being cutoff from Europe (and Rome), those christians were left to their own devices, and over the centuries, their faith moved in its own direction. While professing allegiance to Rome, the Church of England was used to calling its own shots. Pope Gregory I sent (St.) Augustine to the British Isles to re-unite the Church of England with Roman dictates. (He eventually became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.) He succeeded in part, and the Pope was recognized as the Vicar of Christ, but there were lingering tensions on the part of the Anglicans.
Skip ahead to when King Henry VIII of England wanted to leave his wife and marry another. Being such a public figure, he sought an annulment from Rome, which was denied. With the Church of England already somewhat opposed to papal authority, the king chose to ignore the Roman edict, and declare himself the head of the Church of England, claiming the Pope had no more authority in England than any other foreign bishop. Henry didn't plan to change anything within the Church, other than substituting the King of England as head in place of the Bishop of Rome.
- Episcopalians -
Thus, the Anglican Church most closely resembles the Catholic Church in all respects. The Anglican Church, and its American counterpart, the Protestant Episcopal Church, embrace a wider spectrum of doctrine and practice than any of the other major Protestant denominations. Claiming to be both Protestant and Catholic, Anglicanism professes to bridge the gap. Episcopalians assert they resist the "additions of Romanism" and the "subtractions of Protestantism".
Anglicans value the apostolic succession, the episcopacy and the priesthood. They consider the Apostles' and Nicene creeds to reflect their own beliefs. They acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Rome, but deny his authority extends beyond the boundaries of his own diocese. Episcopals claim to be Catholic, just not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Some major differences are the Episcopalians have ordained female priestesses, they adopted permissive attitudes toward abortion and divorce, and ordained practicing homosexuals as priests and priestesses as well as blessing same-sex marriages. Possibly because of this more liberal tone, the Episcopal Church is in decline in this country.
- Methodists -
Methodist Church - John Wesley and his brother Charles were ordained Anglican priests, living in London. Influenced by the Moravians and Lutherans, they discovered and accepted the doctrines of justification by faith alone and instant conversion, which did not comport with mainstream Anglican teaching. No Anglican congregation would allow them to preach in their churches, so the brothers went to the streets and fields to preach to the miners, factory workers, slum dwellers and anyone else not welcome in the Church. Anglican clergy were not persuaded by the Weslean faith, and few if any joined in. The brothers encouraged their followers to become and remain a part of the Anglican Church, but the separation was distinct, and the group was later known as the Methodists.
The Wesleys were short on theology and long on action and organization. They had no dogma or doctrines, they professed no creed, they simply promised to be loyal to Christ. They affirmed justification by faith, the sufficiency of Scriptures, and the baptism of infants. They opposed the Calvinist stand on predestination, and contrary to all mainline Protestant faiths of the time, they preached that man could obtain perfection while on Earth, thereby assuring salvation. They urged fasting and abstinence, daily prayer and devotions, and frequent Communion. They emphasized good works, most similar to the Catholic Church, but denounced purgatory, pardon, adoration, relics, invocation of saints and the Sacrifice of the Mass. They deny that baptism produces sanctifying grace or takes away sin.
With age, Charles remained conservative and adhered to Anglican doctrines. John developed a symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist and began ordaining priests himself. Although he claimed the Methodist faith was a democracy, in reality John was a strict dictator.
The first Methodist missionaries came to America in 1769, making them late-comers as compared to the other Protestant faiths. As in the homeland, the Methodist preachers went out to the people, and the people responded as their counterparts in England with enthusiasm. Although their faith is popular here, it is not widespread outside of this country.
Personal moral standards have become lax over the years. Methodists now accept their laymen indulging in alcohol, tobacco, dancing, card playing, gambling and the theater. In this country, Methodists rank first in hospitals and colleges among Protestant religions, and they founded Goodwill Industries. The Salvation Army traces its roots to Wesleyan philosophy. Women serve as ministers, and the deaconesses are paid a fixed salary.
The Methodist Episcopal Church in America later split with the formation of the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (which contained black members). Two more break-aways, the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Church merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. These all reunited to become the United Methodist Church, with the proviso that black members would be gradually phased out. Black Methodists are now found in separate denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. As is true of the other Protestant faiths, break-aways continue to deplete the ranks of members, and Methodists' numbers are declining.
- Pentecostals -
Pentecostals distinguish themselves in the Gifts of the Spirit, most particularly, speaking in tongues. They believe the gifts bestowed on the infant Church on the day of Pentecost are restored to Christians in these, the latter days. There is no distinct theology among Pentecostals, but they agree every Christian can receive a Baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. As written in the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths: "All believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect, and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the Baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ". Pentecostals are not the only ones claiming receipt of the gifts, many others, including Catholics participate in charismatic prayer groups.
Pentecostals have enjoyed increasing popularity since the movement started around 1900. Most Protestants in Latin America belong to Pentecostal churches. At least one scholar attributes the rapid growth to an effective recruitment system, a simple master plan from the Bible that gives members a high degree of confidence, a flexible organization, and an experience (speaking in tongues) to produces fervent commitment to the cause.
Charles Parham opened a small Bible school in Kansas in 1900. Students came from Methodist and Baptist backgrounds. That study determined that the one consistent evidence that a second baptism, one after conversion (accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior), was speaking in tongues. The teacher and students earnestly prayed to receive the gifts, and one of the students finally did. Others soon followed. In 1906, a Pentecostal preacher used an abandoned building on Azusa Street in Los Angeles to start a revival that would claim 13,000 converts. It took off from there.
The Assemblies of God denomination is the best known of the Pentecostal churches. Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert were members. Organized in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, and now headquartered in Springfield, MO, they have spread to all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries. Other churches include the Church of God in Christ and the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God. There are many churches named Church of God that are loosely aligned with the Pentecostal movement as well.
Pentecostals are Fundamentalists who profess a literal interpretation of the Bible. They accept the Trinity, original sin, the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth and the resurrection. They generally view Catholicism as a corrupt and superstitious form of Christianity. They agree with the Lutherans regarding justification by faith alone, they agree with the Baptists as regards baptism, they agree with the Methodists as regards sanctification (once saved, always saved), and they are influenced by the Puritans as regards morals.
Separatist (Baptist, Congregational, Quaker)
- Baptist -
There are four major denominations of Baptists: the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Churches in the USA, the National Baptist Convention of the USA, Inc. and the National Baptist Convention of America. There are many other denominations, and they all differ in some way, but members must be a follower of Jesus Christ, be baptized by immersion, belong to a local congregation that has the name "Baptist" within. The Southern Baptists are the largest denomination, and continue to grow. In fact, Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in America, ahead of Methodists and Lutherans.
A possible explanation for the ascending popularity of the Southern Baptists as compared to other Protestants is the autonomy afforded each local congregation. No outside authority can dictate to a local Baptist church, which can adopt its own constitution and bylaws, set liturgical forms, ordain pastors and deacons, hire and fire pastors, and expel members. There is a national organization of missions, seminaries and agencies, but there is no authority beyond the local church. Just as each local congregation can expel members, the Southern Baptist Convention can vote as a group to expel local congregations. At such time, the expelled congregation can still call themselves Baptist, just not Southern Baptist.
Southern Baptists are not without splintering alliances. Edicts at the national Convention don't sit well with all members, and disapproving congregations band together to form local alliances, but still consider themselves to be Southern Baptist. Nonetheless, it would not take much for the largest Protestant denomination in American to split and become like all the others with break-aways.
Baptists believe in the divinity of Jesus, His incarnation and redemption of man, the Trinity, the virgin birth, original sin, heaven and hell. They reject the sacraments in general, although they observe Baptism and the Lord's Supper, since Jesus so commanded. Baptism and Communion are referred to as "ordinances" rather than "sacraments", since neither Baptism nor Communion infuse any form of grace--they are merely observances. They promote conservative views on sexual morality, abortion, homosexuality and alcohol. There is no problem with birth control.
All that is needed for salvation is to be "born again", to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and once this is done, it cannot be undone. Once saved, always saved. They believe in the accountability of each believer to achieve his own salvation without the mediation of the church. There is a Baptist Faith and Message Statement that resembles a creed, but it is not binding on any believer. In essence, you are your own Pope, and your beliefs are worked out between you and the Holy Spirit. So, can you believe anything you want and still be a Baptist?
Southern Baptists support thousands of missionaries who convert peoples from all walks of life. They support separation of church and state, but fight to impose blue laws, prohibit drinking and gambling, and oppose the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Baptists claim their roots extend all the way back to the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem, but there is no evidence of any organized Baptist groups until the early 1600's. Their forefathers were the Anabaptists founded during the days of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. The Anabaptists strove for a church of saints, wherein they perceived the other fledgling Protestant groups had churches of saints and sinners. Both Catholics and Protestants persecuted the Anabaptists until they were suppressed to a mere remnant. Other spiritual predecessors of the Baptists were the English Separatists and the Mennonites. The English Baptists had their first congregation in London in 1638. In 1639, the first Baptist congregation was formed in what is now Providence, RI.
Baptist popularity didn't take off until the late 1700's and 1800's. The faith appealed to the lower classes, black citizens, frontiersmen, and Southerners. Preachers told the people what they wanted to hear. Big southern slaveholders were mostly Episcopalians or Presbyterians, but they sided with Baptists against abolition. When northern Baptists refused to appoint any slaveholder as a missionary, the southern Baptist broke away to form their own Convention.
In the early 1900's, the Northern Baptists grew a reputation of being too liberal and tepid among many of their members. the Southern Baptists, on the other hand, practiced "old time religion", and their popularity grew. By 1950, the Southern Baptist Convention was truly a national religion.
The Disciples of Christ and the Church of Christ are a cross between Baptists and Calvinists. They were founded to encourage Christian unity; ironically they just created yet two more denominations. They consider themselves restorers rather than reformers, so they don't like being called Protestant. Like the Baptists, they insist on baptism of adults by immersion, but like the Lutherans, they have the Lord's Supper weekly. They follow no creed, and require no belief in any specific Christian dogma. They might profess "study the Bible and believe whatever the Spirit directs you". Each congregation is autonomous, each hires/fires their own preachers. Jim Jones of Jonestown, Guyana fame was an ordained Disciples minister, and his Peoples Temple church was one of the five largest Disciples churches at the time. Like so many Protestant break-aways, the Disciples split into the more progressive Disciples of Christ and the more conservative Church of Christ.
Seventh-day Adventists believe man does not have a soul, he is a soul. At death, the soul sleeps until the Second Coming, when those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior will receive immortality, and the wicked are resurrected one thousand years later at the close of the millenial reign of Jesus and go with Satan to Hell. Most believe we are living in the latter days, and Jesus' Second Coming is near. Alcohol and tobacco is strictly forbidden. Being strict Scripture-literalists, they observe the Jewish dietary laws of the Old Testament. They honor the Sabbath, or Saturday, as the true Lord's Day, not Sunday. They reject predestination. Although many Protestant faiths adhere to the right of the individual to interpret Scripture for himself, Adventists hold that all non-Adventist faiths are apostate.
William Miller was a Baptist preacher in the early 1800s. Through self-study, he determined that Jesus would return soon. He found many followers, but when the dates he proposed came and went, so did the followers. Still, a few remained, and other than predicting dates of Jesus' return, they pretty much agreed with Miller's theology. One of them, Mrs. Ellen White, was held to be a prophetess. She led the church for 70 years until her death in 1915. Jehovah's Witnesses founder received his indoctrination in Adventism.
- Congregationalist -
The United Church of Christ (not to be confused with the Church of Christ seen above) grew from the 1957 union of Separatist-based Congregationalists and Lutheran-based Evangelical and Reformed Church. Reformed Calvinists merged with Lutherans to create the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
As was true across the board with all Protestant denominations, the Separatists were spinning break-aways in rapid fashion. As the name suggests, Congregationalist churches focus on the individual congregations, not a national body. The Congregationalists were shunned by the Anglicans and Separatists, and fled England. Some of them, called Pilgrims, fled to the New World. Separatists had control of the Plymoth colony, but when Puritans came and settled in Salem, they sided with the Congregationalists. When Plymoth and Salem merged, Congregationalism and the new Puritans prevailed. The Puritan theocracy was self-righteous and demanding. Quakers were hanged, Salem witch trials hung innocent victims, and strict, conservative codes were enforced. This strict lifestyle eventually imploded on itself, and Congregationalist numbers declined. Recent break-aways include the Christian Scientists, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, founded by Charles Taze Russell.
Meanwhile, Lutherans dominated Germany. Early on, Lutheran Reformers tried to blend Lutheran and Calvinist thought, thus creating another denomination. Those who moved to America banded together, but they too had break-aways in the United Brethren in Christ and the Church of God (not the same as the Church of Christ). These two break-aways later joined together with the Hungarian Reformed Church and other Reformers to become the Reformed Church in the United States, (not the same as the Reformed Church of America). A group of Reformers and Lutherans in Prussia were ordered by the King to join together; that union was called the United Evangelical Church of Prussia. Some of those members broke-away and made their way to America. The Reformed Church in the United States and the United Evangelical Church joined in 1934 to create the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Thus, in 1957, we could have the union to create the United Church of Christ, which has been declining in membership ever since.
- Quaker -
Whereas Luther rejected the pope, the visible church, five of the seven sacraments and oral tradition, and whereas Calvin dispensed with bishops, music and art, and whereas Baptists banned infant baptism, the Quakers dispensed with all sacraments, all ritual and any professional ministry and declare that the ultimate religious authority rests in no church, tradition, or the Bible, but within each individual. In contrast to Sola Scriptura, Quakers believe the Bible is a Word of God, but not the Word of God. Quakers are similar to Catholics in that they disagree with Luther's contention that human nature is totally depraved, they believe in the inherent goodness of mankind, they believe perfection and freedom from sin can be achieved here on Earth, and they follow the Catholic position on predestination.
Quakers have few members in comparison to other Protestant faiths in America. They don't call themselves Quakers, but prefer the Religious Society of Friends. They suffer the same problems as other Protestants in break-aways and declining numbers.
George Fox founded the Quaker movement in 1649 not intending to start another denomination. He lived among Puritans and was dissatisfied with them. He concluded that man arrives at truth not by study or Bible reading or listening to sermons, but by following the Inner Light whereby God speaks directly to each soul. Everything is done by this guiding light. Women hold equal power and status as men. Puritans in Massachusetts resisted the Quakers at every turn. Quakers were tried as witches and followers were imprisoned, whipped, tortured and hung. Still, the Quakers prospered elsewhere in the colonies, and at one point in their history, were the predominant Protestant faith in America.
All of the material above is taken from the book Revised Separated Brethren, by William J. Whalen, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, ©2002. Last I checked, it is no longer in print, but there are a number of other similar resources out there.
As of this writing, there are about 35,000 different Protestant faiths out there. The number grows daily such that it is impractical to update this web site that often to keep current. It started with Martin Luther, and ever since, individuals find reason to break away from whatever church they currently attend, and encourage others to join them. This works until one of the followers in the new faith also finds reason to break away, and take others with them. Each break-away has at least some theological difference from all the others. Each faith is certain it is the right one, and God favors them primarily. Each one thinks the Holy Spirit is revealing truth to them alone, and all other faiths are missing the message. And, even though they are certain their theology is the correct one, their church has break-aways just like all the others; and those break-aways have break-aways, and those break-aways have further break-aways, and on it goes.
This Appendix is not intended to favor any Protestant faith over the others; it is to report facts for your better understanding.
Back to the Home Page