Posted Sep 2, '09 at 10:50pm
I have noticed this site filled to the brim with Atheists that seem to have received biased opinions on Christianity and its teachings, also some are even completely miss informed. To make debate easier for many denominations of Christianity I've decided to explain the beliefs and practices of the popular different sects of Christianity.
Over the centuries, Christianity has divided into numerous denominations. Each denomination has its own distinctive beliefs or practices, but they are commonly considered branches of the same religion because they agree on such fundamentals as the Bible, the Trinity, and the teachings of the Nicene Creed. The way in which members regard other denominations varies from mutual respect and acceptance to suspicion and denial that the other group is really "Christian."
The three main branches of Christianity are Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant (some would add Anglican as a fourth). Most of the denominations that exist today developed in the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation and fall under the "Protestant" branch. This article provides information on some of the major denominations that exist today, along with a brief history of how there came to be so many and many comparisons of their similarities and differences.
Roman Catholicism traces its history to the apostles, especially the Apostle Peter. St. Peter is considered the first pope, and every pope since him is regarded as his spiritual successor. This gives the leader of the church spiritual authority and provides a means for resolving disputes that could divide the church. Through trials like persecution, heresy, and the Reformation, the notion that the church leadership represents the continuation of an unbroken line from the apostles and their teachings ("apostolic succession") has contributed to the survival of Christianity.
However, the idea of the "pope" did not exist from the beginning of the church. It was not until several centuries after Christ that the church began to develop into the "Roman Catholic Church" as we think of it today, with its particular doctrines, practices, and hierarchical system of authority. Thus Catholics and non-Catholics alike are able to claim they are most faithful to the message of the apostles and the early church. From the Catholic perspective, the early church is faithfully continued in the developments of later centuries, while non-Catholics tend to regard the church as having corrupted the original message of Christianity.
In the years of persecution prior to the Emperor's conversion, the church was focused primarily on survival. There were prominent church leaders whose authority was recognized - primarily those who had known the apostles - but no central authority.
But with the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 318 AD, the church began to adopt a governmental structure mirroring that of the Empire, in which geographical provinces were ruled by bishops based in the major city of the area. Soon, the bishops of major cities in the empire emerged as preeminent, including the bishops of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Constantinople. It was natural that Rome would eventually become the most important of these. It was not only the capital of the empire, but the city in which the apostles Peter and Paul were believed to have been martyred.
The Roman bishop Leo I (440-461) is considered the first pope by historians, as he was the first to claim ultimate authority over all of Christendom. In his writings one can find all the traditional arguments for papal authority, most notably that which asserts Christ had designated Peter and his successors the "rock" on which the church would be built.
Leo's claims were strengthened greatly by his own impressive career as Bishop of Rome. In 445 he earned the express support of Emperor Valentian, who said the Bishop of Rome was the law for all. In 451, he called the important Council of Chalcedon, which put to rest Christological issues that had been plaguing the church. In 452, he impressively saved Rome from Attila the Hun. It is said that the Pope met the warrior at the gates and somehow persuaded him to spare the city. Legend has it that Attila saw Peter and Paul marching along with Leo to defend their city. In 455 he was not as successful with Vandal invaders, but led negotiations with them and succeeded in preventing the burning of Rome (it was, however, plundered).
Roman Catholic beliefs do not differ drastically from those of the other major branches of Christianity - Greek Orthodoxy and Protestantism. All three main branches hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, and so on. But on more minor doctrinal points, there are clear Catholic distinctives in belief.
Distinctive Roman Catholic beliefs include the special authority of the pope, the ability of saints to intercede on behalf of believers, the concept of Purgatory as a place of afterlife purification before entering Heaven, and the doctrine of transubstantiation - that is, that the bread used in the Eucharist becomes the true body of Christ when blessed by a priest.
With the possible exception of some Anglican churches, the Catholic liturgy tends to be more formal and ritualized than its Protestant counterparts. Services follow a prescribed liturgy and priests wear more elaborate vestments than most Protestant ministers. Catholics usually celebrate the Eucharist more often than do Protestants, usually weekly. In Catholicism, the Eucharist is called the Mass.
Catholics observe seven sacraments, which are religious rituals believed to be commanded by God and effective in conferring grace on the believer.
There are several Catholic monastic orders, the most well known being the Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Augustinians. Catholic monks and nuns take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and devote themselves to a simple life focused on worshiping God.
Unlike their counterparts in both Protestant and Orthodox churches, Catholic priests take vows of celibacy. This practice is rooted in the papacy's early connections with monasticism, but has become controversial in recent years in part as a result of child abuse scandals.
Other distinctive Catholic practices include veneration of saints, use of the crucifix, and the use of rosary beads in prayer.
Eastern Orthodoxy arose as a distinct branch of Christianity after the 11th-century "Great Schism" between Eastern and Western Christendom. The separation was not sudden. For centuries there had been significant religious, cultural, and political differences between the Eastern and Western churches.
Religiously, they had different views on topics such as the use of images (icons), the nature of the Holy Spirit, and the date on which Easter should be celebrated.
Culturally, the Greek East has always tended to be more philosophical, abstract and mystical in its thinking, whereas the Latin West tends toward a more pragmatic and legal-minded approach. (According to an old saying, "the Greeks built metaphysical systems; the Romans built roads.")
The political aspects of the split date back to the Emperor Constantine, who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople. Upon his death, the empire was divided between his two sons, one of whom ruled the western half of the empire from Rome while the other ruled the eastern region from Constantinople.
These various factors finally came to a head in 1054 AD, when Pope Leo IX excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople (the leader of the Eastern church). In response, the patriarch anathematized (condemned) the Pope, and the Christian church has been divided into West ("Roman Catholic") and East ("Greek Orthodox") ever since.
A glimmer of hope for reconciliation came at the onset of the Crusades later that century, when the West came to the aid of the East against the Turks. But especially after the Fourth Crusade (1200-1204), in which crusaders sacked and occupied Constantinople, the only result was an increase in hostility between the two churches.
However, attempts at reconciliation have been renewed in recent years. In 1964, the Second Vatican Council issued this statement praising its Eastern counterparts:
The Catholic Church values highly the institutions of the Eastern Churches, their liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions, and their ordering of Christian life. For in those churches, which are distinguished by their venerable antiquity, there is clearly evident the tradition which has come from the Apostles through the Fathers and which is part of the divinely revealed, undivided heritage of the Universal Church.
On December 7, 1965, the mutual excommunication of 1054 was officially removed by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras.
The Orthodox Church is organized into several regional, autocephalous (governed by their own head bishops) churches. The Patriarch of Constantinople has the honor of primacy, but does not carry the same authority as the Pope does in Catholicism. Major Orthodox churches include the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Church of Alexandria, the Church of Jerusalem, and the Orthodox Church in America.
The religious authority for Orthodox Christianity is not the Pope as in Catholicism, nor the individual Christian with his Bible as in Protestantism, but the scriptures as interpreted by the seven ecumenical councils of the church.
Orthodoxy also relies heavily on the writings of early Greek fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. Although some Orthodox confessions of faith were produced in the 17th century as counterparts to those of the Reformation, these are regarded as having only historical significance.
As in all of Christianity, doctrine is important in Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox Christians attach great importance to the Bible, the conclusions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and right ("orthodox") belief. However, the Eastern Churches approach religious truth differently than the Western Churches. For Orthodox Christians, truth must be experienced personally. There is less focus on the exact definition of religious truth and more on the practical and personal experience of truth in the life of the individual and the church. Precise theological definition, when it occurs, is for the purpose of excluding error.
This emphasis on personal experience of truth flows into Orthodox theology, which has a rich heritage. Especially in the first millennium of Christian history, the Eastern Church produced significant theological and philosophical thought.
In the Western churches, both Catholic and Protestant, sin, grace, and salvation are seen primarily in legal terms. God gave humans freedom, they misused it and broke God's commandments, and now deserve punishment. God's grace results in forgiveness of the transgression and freedom from bondage and punishment.
The Eastern churches see the matter in a different way. For Orthodox theologians, humans were created in the image of God and made to participate fully in the divine life. The full communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed meant complete freedom and true humanity, for humans are most human when they are completely united with God.
The result of sin, then, was a blurring of the image of God and a barrier between God and man. The situation in which mankind has been ever since is an unnatural, less human state, which ends in the most unnatural aspect: death. Salvation, then, is a process not of justification or legal pardon, but of reestablishing man's communion with God. This process of repairing the unity of human and divine is sometimes called "deification." This term does not mean that humans become gods but that humans join fully with God's divine life.
The Eastern Orthodox view of the Trinity also differs somewhat from that of the Christian West. In its Christology, Orthodoxy tends to emphasize the divine, pre-existent nature of Christ, whereas the West focuses more on his human nature. However, both East and West affirm Christ's full humanity and full divinity as defined by the ecumenical councils. In fact, Christ's humanity is also central to the Orthodox faith, in the doctrine that the divine became human so that humanity might be raised up to the divine life.
The process of being reunited to God, made possible by Christ, is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit plays a central role in Orthodox worship: the liturgy usually begins with a prayer to the Spirit and invocations made prior to sacraments are addressed to the Spirit.
It is in the view of the Holy Spirit that Orthodox theology differs from Western theology, and although the difference might now seem rather technical and abstract, it was a major contributor to the parting of East from West in the 11th century. This dispute is known as the Filioque Controversy, as it centers on the Latin word filioque ("and from the Son"), which was added to the Nicene Creed in Spain in the 6th century. The original creed proclaimed only that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father."
The purpose of the addition was to reaffirm the divinity of the Son, but Eastern theologians objected both to the unilateral editing of a creed produced by an ecumenical council and to the edit itself. For Eastern Christians, both the Spirit and the Son have their origin in the Father.
Worship and Religious Practices
Orthodox worship is highly liturgical and is central to the history and life of the church:
By its theological richness, spiritual significance, and variety, the worship of the Orthodox Church represents one of the most significant factors in this church's continuity and identity. It helps to account for the survival of Christianity during the many centuries of Muslim rule in the Middle East and the Balkans when the liturgy was the only source of religious knowledge or experience.
In a 2002 study conducted by the Pew Research Council, 53 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestant Christians. There are approximately 500 million Protestants in the world.
"Protestantism" is less a denomination than a general branch of Christianity encompassing numerous denominations and a wide theological spectrum ranging from conservative to liberal.
Protestantism originated in the 16th century Reformation, and most modern Protestant denominations can trace their heritage to one of the major movements that sprung up in the 16th century. Presbyterians are indebted to John Calvin and Reformed theology, as well as to John Knox and the Church of Scotland. Anglicans and Episcopalians trace their heritage to the Church of England that resulted from King Henry VIII's break from the authority of Rome. Evangelicalism (and to a slightly lesser degree, Methodism) is indebted to Pietism, a 17th century Protestant movement emphasizing a holy life, individual study of the scriptures, and better training of ministers.
Protestant denominations differ in the degree to which they reject Catholic belief and practice. Some churches, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, tend to resemble Catholicism in their formal liturgy, while others, like Baptists and Presbyterians, retain very little of the liturgy and tradition associated with the Catholic church.
In common with Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Protestants adhere to the authority of the Bible and the doctrines of he early creeds. Protestants are distinguished by their emphasis on the doctrines of "justification by grace alone through faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the supremacy of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and order." Most Protestant churches recognize only two sacraments directly commanded by the Lord - baptism and communion - as opposed to the seven sacraments accepted by the Catholic Church.
Anglicanism and Episcopalianism
The Anglican Communion is an organization of autonomous national churches connected with the Church of England, which has its roots in the 16th century Reformation.
Anglicanism or Episcopalianism is the general form of doctrine, worship and structure based on the tradition of the Church of England, which extends beyond membership in the Anglican Communion.
Anglicanism is characterized by a via media (middle way) between Catholicism and Protestantism. Anglicans are not subject to the Pope and are Protestant in most areas of doctrine, but Anglicans also retain many Catholic forms of worship, including a hierarchy based on bishops (which is the meaning of the world "episcopalian").
The Amish are one of several denominations that developed out of the Radical Reformation in 16th-century Europe. The Anabaptists, as the radical reformers came to be called, differed from mainstream Protestants in their rejection of all church authority, belief that a church consists only of baptized believers and rejection of infant baptism. Anabaptist denominations include the Mennonites, Hutterites and the Amish.
The Amish arose from a schism among Swiss Mennonites in 1693. Mennonite leader Jakob Amman (1656-1730) and his followers applied the Mennonite practice of shunning very strictly and condemned other Mennonites for not doing so.
Amish communities sprang up in Switzerland, Alsace, Germany, Russia and Holland, but there are no Amish remaining in Europe today. Many emigrated to North America in the 19th and 20th centuries and those who stayed behind gradually assimilated with Mennonite groups.
Amish began emigrating to North America early in the 18th century, in large part to avoid religious persecution and compulsory military service. They first settled in eastern Pennsylvania, where a large settlement remains today.
In 1850, there was a schism between the traditional Old Order Amish and the "New Order" Amish, who accept social change and technological innovation but retain most other Amish practices.
There are now about 200,000 Old Order Amish living in more than 200 settlements in the United States and Canada; the largest communities are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas, and others exist in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota.
Amish religious beliefs are virtually the same as that of the Mennonites and other religious reformers. They believe in the importance of individual Bible study and the necessity of living a life free of sin after adult baptism. The Amish are primarily set apart from other Mennonites in their great emphasis on the values of humility, family, community, and separation from the world.
Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their revulsion of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity). This all translates into a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way. The willingness to submit to the will of God, as expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism that is central to general American culture.
As in Mennonite communities, the Amish celebrate Holy Communion twice each year and practice foot washing. Persons are baptized when they are admitted to formal membership in the church, about the age of 17 to 20 years.
Amish religious services are conducted in High German. Pennsylvania Dutch (which is not Dutch but a mixture of High German, various German dialects and English) is spoken at home and in daily discourse. Children learn English at school.
Religious services are held on a rotating basis in family homes and barns. A large wagon, filled with benches for the service and dishes and food for the meal that follows, will often be pulled to the host's property.
The use of musical instruments is not permitted in an Amish church service or at any time, as it is considered wordily and vain. Singing, however, is important to Amish life, whether at work or at play, at home or in church. Selections from the Ausband (the Amish hymnal) are commonly sung. Group singing is always in unison and never harmonized.
Amish children attend one-room schools run by the community and they attend school only through the eighth grade (this was deemed acceptable by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling). School classes are in English and focus on the basics of reading, writing, and math, along with Amish history, farming techniques and homemaking skills.
Rumspringa ("running around") is the general Amish term for adolescence and the period leading up to serious courtship during which rules may be relaxed a little. As in non-Amish families, it is understood as a practical matter that there will likely be a certain amount of misbehavior during this period, but it is neither encouraged nor overlooked.
At the end of this period, Amish young adults are expected to find a spouse and be baptized. But in accordance with Anabaptist doctrine, this must be a free and personal decision. At this point, some young people choose not to join the church and instead live the rest of their lives in a different community or wider society. If a young man joins a Mennonite church or other less exacting religion, the Amish will often say "he got his hair cut." If a young person abandons the faith altogether, they say that person "went English."
Some communities will actively shun (see below) those who decide to leave the community, even those going to a different Amish congregation with different doctrines. Still other communities practice hardly any shunning, keeping close family and social contact with those who leave.
Everyday life and customs in the Amish community are governed by an unwritten code of behavior called the Ordnung. The Ordnung began as a basic outline of Anabaptist faith in the 16th century, and since then, details and new rules have been added that help define what it means to be Amish. It now governs everything from clothing and child bearing to occupational activities and how the weekend is spent.
The enforcement of the rules depends on the bishop, who is charged with upholding Amish values. An Amish minister has explained of the Ordnung:
A respected Ordnung generates peace, love, contentment, equality, and unity. It creates a desire for togetherness and fellowship. It binds marriages, it strengthens family ties to live together, to work together, to worship together and to commune secluded from the world. (Quoted in Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture, 98.)
Shunning (Meidung, "avoidance") was the practice that set the Amish apart from the Mennonites several centuries ago, and it remains the fundamental way in which the community deals with disobedient members. Amish differ considerably from community to community in the severeness and strictness of the shunning, but in light of the closeness of the community and separation from the outside world, it is invariably a painful experience for the one shunned.
An Amish person may be shunned for a variety of offenses, ranging from major moral offenses to using improper technology. In accordance with the teachings of Jakob Amman, an Amish person in good standing may buy from, sell to, eat with or sleep with a shunned person, even if the person is one's spouse or close relative.
The use of electricity is fervently avoided by Amish, because it is a prime connection to the world that could lead to temptations and worldly amenities detrimental to the community and family life. There are occasional exceptions to this general ban, such as adding electric flashers to buggies when required to drive legally and certain types of farm equipment such as milking equipment and electric fences to contain cattle.
Bottle gas is often used to operate appliances, even barbecue grills, and gas-pressured lanterns and lamps might be used for indoor lighting. Amish buggies may also be equipped with such modern conveniences as heaters, windshield wipers, and upholstered seats. The New Order Amish permit the use of electricity, the owning of cars, and telephones in the home.
Clothing and Personal Appearance
The Amish are especially known for their distinctive self-made clothing, which is essentially that of 17th-century European peasants. The distinctive attire reflects the Amish resistance to change, respect for tradition and interpretation of biblical instructions against conforming to the ways of the world (e.g., Romans 12:2). Its plainness also reflects the great importance of humility in Amish communities.
Men and boys wear broad-brimmed black hats, dark-coloured suits, straight-cut coats without lapels, broadfall pants, suspenders, solid-colored shirts and black socks and shoes. Their shirts may fasten with conventional buttons, but their coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. Men must grow beards after they marry but are forbidden to have mustaches.
Amish women and girls wear bonnets, long full dresses with capes over the shoulders, shawls, and black shoes and stockings; their capes and aprons are fastened with straight pins or snaps. Amish women never cut their hair, which is worn in a bun, and they are not allowed to wear jewelry of any kind.
The Amish do not live in complete isolation and are often seen making regular trips into their local town for groceries. They reject the use of automobiles and use either bicycles or horse-drawn buggies instead. The buggies are box-like and usually black, but some are white, gray, or even yellow, and many groups can be distinguished by their chosen color of buggy. The Amish may also travel, for which they usually prefer to use buses.
The Amish are excellent farmers and most communities are almost entirely self-supporting. However, some have to sell produce and crafts to outsiders in order to make a sufficient living. Amish products are widely prized for their quality and craftsmanship.
The Amish typically accept the photographing of their way of life, but they forbid photos of themselves because they believe such things are graven images in violation of the Second Commandment. (For this same reason, the dolls of young Amish girls are traditionally faceless.) It also comes too close to vanity to allow one's portrait to be taken.
Politics and Government
The Amish are not involved in state or national politics, they do not vote, and they do not serve in the military. They also reject social security and most types of insurance. Instead, they pool their resources to help Amish families in need and will visit doctors, dentists, and opticians when necessary.
The Amish may be reserved and humble, but they are not always solemn and enjoy common pastimes and games. Volleyball and softball are popular with many Amish families, but they are played strictly for enjoyment and not in a spirit of competition. Flower gardens, if kept simple, are also permissible. Once the daily chores are finished and the schoolwork completed, Amish families will often read or sing together in the evenings, before turning in early.
Many Baptists trace their denomination's origins to the early church, a period when the church consisted of committed believers who were baptized upon confession of faith as adults. Baptist beginnings have also been traced to medieval sects who protested against prevailing baptismal theory and practice, and to the Anabaptists of the Continental Reformation, especially in Zurich.
The Anabaptists (spiritual ancestors of the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites) share emphasized believer's baptism and religious freedom and were probably influential in the development of Baptist characteristics. However, some Anabaptists differed from the Baptists on many other issues such as pacifism and the communal sharing of material goods.
The origins of the Baptists are most commonly traced to John Smyth and the Separatists. In 1609, John Smyth, led a group of separatists to the Netherlands to start the General Baptist Church with an Arminian theology. In 1616, Henry Jacob led a group of Puritans in England with a Calvinist theology to form a congregational church that would eventually become the Particular Baptists in 1638 under John Spilsbury.
Both groups had members who sailed to America as pilgrims to avoid religious persecution in England and Europe and who started Baptist churches in the early colonies. The Particular and General Baptists would disagree over Arminianism and Calvinism until the formation of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in the 1800s under Andrew Fuller and William Carey for the purpose of missions.
Baptist Churches were established in the American colonies from the mid-17th century. In 1639, Roger Williams founded a church on Baptist principles in Providence, Rhode Island, and this is usually regarded as the beginning of American Baptist history. Also established in the 17th century was a small group known as the Seventh Day Baptists, who required rest and worship on Saturday based on the fourth commandment.
In the 18th century, many of the General Baptist Churches in England were influenced by the Unitarians and ultimately ceased to insist on believer's baptism. However, Dan Taylor (1738-1816) formed a "New Connection" in 1770 that maintained Baptist principles and later united with the Baptist mainstream. The Baptist Missionary Society was founded by Particular Baptists in 1792, which would have a profound impact on the future of the Baptists. The Baptist revival in England inspired the Baptist Churches of America, leading to widespread missionary zeal and growth of the movement across America as the frontier extended. The Baptists became the largest religious group in many of the southern states; today, two-thirds of the members of Black Churches of the USA are Baptists.
In the 19th century, Baptist churches continued their rapid growth, and from their ranks came such great preachers as Charles Spurgeon, Robert Hall, Alexander Maclaren and John Clifford. In Britain, the Baptist Union was formed in 1813. Notable in its development was J.H. Shakespeare, who was secretary for over 25 years (1898-1924). The Baptist movement in Scotland was furthered by Archibald McLean (1733-1812), who strongly emphasized emulating the New Testament pattern in doctrine and practice. The "Scotch Baptists" were one of the sources of the Disciples of Christ movement.
In 1834, a Baptist church was formed in Hamburg under J.C. Oncken, and from there came an extensive Baptist movement in contentiental Europe and among Slavic-speaking people. Baptists were persecuted by Tsarist Russia and suffered from the restrictions on religious freedom under the Soviet regime, but their numbers have grown significantly in recent years (to about 548,000 in 1988). Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the countries of the former USSR.
In the 20th century, Baptist missionaries have established churches throughout Asia, Africa and South America. In 1905, the Baptist World Alliance was formed for the purpose of international Baptist cooperation. Its headquarters is in McLean, Virginia.
Beliefs and Practices
Baptist churches tend to be evangelical in doctrine and Reformed in worship. However, Baptist churches do not have a central governing authority, so a wide range of beliefs can be seen between one Baptist church and another. Some Baptist churches use the following acronym as a summary of the common distinctives of Baptists:
These and other Baptist distinctives are explored briefly below.
Believer's baptism is an ordinance performed after a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and is symbolic of the cleansing or remission of their sins. In the Baptist denomination, baptism plays no role in salvation; it is rather an outward expression of the inward change that has already taken place. Baptists emphasize baptism by full immersion, which follows the method used by John the Baptist. This usually consists of lowering the candidate in water backwards, while a pastor recites the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19. This mode of baptism is also preferred for its parallel imagery to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. A few Baptist churches allow for baptism by sprinkling as an alternative method for the disabled or elderly, and most Baptist churches will recognize adult baptisms performed in other mainstream Christian churches. Baptism is seen as a public identification of the person with Christianity and that particular church and is often used as a criterion for membership in Baptist churches.
Most Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Restorationist and non-denominational churches share this understanding of baptism.
Congregationalist church governance gives autonomy to individual local churches in areas of policy, polity and doctrine. Baptist churches are not under the direct administrative control of any other body, such as a national council, or a leader such as a bishop or pope. Administration, leadership and doctrine are decided democratically by the lay members of each individual church, which accounts for the variation of beliefs from one Baptist church to another. John Wycliffe and Huldrych Zwingli were strong influences in the early development of the idea of congregationalism. In a manner typical of other congregationalists, many cooperative associations of Baptists have arisen.
Other congregationalist churches include Anabaptists, Pentecostal, Congregationalist Churches, the United Church of Christ and many non-denominational churches.
Separation of Church and State
Baptists have played an important role in the struggle for freedom of religion and separation of church and state in England, the United States, and other countries, including many who were imprisoned and even died for their faith. Some important figures in this struggle were John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Edward Wightman, Leonard Busher, Roger Williams (who was a Baptist for a short period but became a seeker), John Clarke, Isaac Backus, and John Leland.
In 1612 John Smyth wrote, "the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience". That same year, Thomas Helwys wrote that the King of England could "comaund what of man he will, and wee are to obey it," but concerning the church -- "with this Kingdom, our lord the King hath nothing to do." In 1614, Leonard Busher wrote what is believed to be the earliest Baptist treatise dealing exclusively with the subject of religious liberty.
Baptists were influential in the formation of the first civil government based on the separation of church and state in what is now Rhode Island. Anabaptists and Quakers also share a strong history in the development of separation of church and state.
The Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut sent a letter, dated October 7, 1801, to the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, expressing concern over the lack in their state constitution of explicit protection of religious liberty, and against government establishment of religion. As a religious minority in Connecticut, the Danbury Baptists were concerned that a religious majority might "reproach their chief Magistrate... because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ," thus establishing a state religion at the cost of the liberties of religious minorities. In their letter to the President, the Danbury Baptists also affirmed that "Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty - That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals - That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions - That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor..."
Thomas Jefferson's response, dated January 1, 1802, concurs with the Danbury Baptists' views on religious liberty, and the accompanying separation of civil government from concerns of religious doctrine and practice. Quoting the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, he writes: "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
While there is a general belief that the state should not decide what the church can believe and should not prohibit the practice of religion, Baptists do disagree among themselves as to the degree to which the church should influence the state and what exactly constitutes state prohibition of religion. These disagreements manifest themselves in issues such as whether the state should restrict gambling, the purchase of alcohol or abortion and whether the prohibition of state-sanctioned public prayer in public schools in the United States constitutes state interference in religion.
Many conservative Baptists oppose gambling, alcohol, tobacco, and some prohibit dancing and movies. Especially in areas where Southern Baptists form a majority of the population, the denomination has been successful in imposing its values on the general population - "dry counties" in the South or the ban on music and dancing in the film Footloose) are examples.
Authority of the Scriptures or sola scriptura states that the Bible is the only authoritative source of God's truth and any view that cannot be directly tied to a scriptural reference is generally considered to be based on human traditions rather than God's leading. Each person is responsible before God for his or her own understanding of the bible and is encouraged to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Biblical inerrancy is also a common position held by Baptists in addition to literal interpretations of the bible and fundamentalist theologies. However, because of the variety allowed under congregational governance, many Baptist churches are neither literalist nor fundamentalist, although most do believe in biblical inerrancy. Even though it is only the Bible that is authoritative, Baptists also cite other works as illustrative of doctrine. One work which is commonly read by Baptists is the allegory Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. This is a position shared by almost all post-Reformation Christian groups, with only a few exceptions (such as Quakers).
Priesthood of All Believers
The Baptist position of the priesthood of believers is one column that upholds their belief in religious liberty. Priesthood of all believers removes the hierarchical layers of priests, traditions and authority so that all Christians have equal access to God's revelation of truth through the careful study of the Bible. This is a position shared by all post-reformational Christian groups.
Justification by Faith
The doctrine of justification by faith states that it is by faith alone that we receive salvation and not through any works of our own. Baptists place a strong emphasis on the concept of salvation. Baptist theology teaches that humans have been contaminated by the sin of Adam and Eve's rebellion against God and that for this sin we are condemned to ****ation. The theology holds that Christ died on the cross to give humans the promise of everlasting life, but that this requires that each individual accept Christ into his life and ask for forgiveness. Nevertheless, the Baptist view of soteriology runs the gamut from Calvinism to Arminianism. Justification by faith is a position shared by all post-reformational Christian groups.
Variations in Baptist Belief and Practice
Because of the congregational style of church governance on doctrine, doctrine often varies significantly between one Baptist church and another, especially in the following areas:
* Calvinism vs. Arminianism
Baptists generally believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ at which time God will sit in judgment and divide humanity between the saved and the lost (the Great White Throne judgment Book of Revelation 20:11) and Christ will sit in judgment of the believers (the Judgment Seat of Christ Second Epistle to the Corinthians 5:10), rewarding them for things done while alive. Amillennialism, dispensationalism, and historic premillennialism stand as the main eschatological views of Baptists, with views such as postmillennialism and preterism receiving only scant support.
The Lutheran denomination is the oldest Protestant denomination. It was founded (not deliberately at first) by Martin Luther, the German monk and professor who famously posted 95 Theses against the practice of indulgences in 1517. Luther saw contradictions between the Bible and current church practice as well as corruption and abuses within the (Catholic) church, and initially hoped for reform, not schism. When that proved impossible, he continued to spread his teachings despite excommunication and threats to his life.
Martin Luther taught that salvation comes by the grace of God and faith in Christ alone, and the many rituals and works prescribed by the church were not only unnecessary, but a stumbling block to salvation. He rejected such traditions as the intermediary role of priests, priestly celibacy, the Latin Bible and liturgy, purgatory, and transubstantiation, and advocated for the scriptures to be available to the laity in their own language.
Despite his rejection of many aspects of medieval Catholicism, Luther did accept any aspects of church practice that did not contradict the scriptures. Some other Protestant groups, by contrast, rejected any Catholic tradition not explicitly commanded in the Bible. For this reason, Lutheran churches tend to have more of a Catholic "look and feel" than their more austere Presbyterian counterparts.
Those who followed Luther's teachings were called "Lutherans" by their opponents, and they accepted the name for themselves. Lutheranism spread throughout Germany and into Scandanavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark). Today, Germany remains predominantly Lutheran, and Lutheranism is the official state church of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. Eighty-one percent of Finland's citizens are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
In the 17th century, Lutherans from these countries began to migrate to the United States, bringing their language, culture, and Lutheran faith with them. As the number of Lutheran congregations grew, some began to join together to form "synods," or church bodies.
On January 1, 1988, three American synods, the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America, merged to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
In August 1997, the ELCA declared full communion with the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church of America, and the Presbyterian Church-USA. 2 The ELCA also decided that the differences between it and the Roman Catholic Church in matters of salvation had essentially been resolved.
Lutheran beliefs are expressed in numerous historical Lutheran confessions, most of which were penned by Luther himself or early Lutheran leaders. These confessions have been collected into the Book of Concord, which is regarded as an authority for doctrine and practice by all Lutherans.
ELCA Lutherans view the Book of Concord as an important expression of the Lutheran faith, but not necessarily binding in its entirety for all modern Lutherans. LCMS Lutherans, on the other hand, "regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers."
The Book of Concord contains the following Lutheran texts:
* The Three Ecumenical Creeds
The official statement of faith of the ELCA is as follows:
1. This church confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe
Lutherans practice infant baptism and the baptism of believing adults. In the Lutheran perspective, baptism is a sacrament that is commanded by God and "cleanses from sin, snatches us from the power of Satan, and gives us everlasting life."
Some Lutheran churches ordain women to the ministry, while others do not.
Differences Between ELCA and LCMS
The two largest Lutheran church bodies in America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), with about 5 million members in 2003, and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), which had about 2.5 million members in 2003. 6 Other large Lutheran churches include the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) (413,839 members), the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (36,400), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS; 24,000). 7
The ELCA meets in assembly every two years, and elects a bishop to a six-year term. In 2001, the ELCA elected the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, who may be reelected in 2007. "In addition to fulfilling such roles as preacher, teacher and administrator of the sacraments, which traditionally belong to the office of bishop, the presiding bishop of this church serves as president and chief executive officer of the corporation and oversees the staff, budget, and overall administration of the church."
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) is more conservative than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA allows for the possibility of errors and cultural limitations in the Bible and interprets it using the methods of historical criticism. The ELCA ordains women and is tends to be open to the acceptance of homosexuality and abortion among its members. Similarly, although all Lutherans are guided by the 16th-century Lutheran confessions set out in the Book of Concord, the ELCA does not require its members to accept them in their entirety as normative standards for modern life. LCMS members, on the other hand, "accept without reservation all the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, normative also for the church today."
Another important difference between the LCMS and the ELCA is in the area of ecumenism. The ELCA is a member of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches, and has entered into full fellowship with non-Lutheran churches. This means that the ELCA accepts sacraments, such as ordination and communion, performed by churches other than the ELCA as valid. The LCMS, on the other hand, "believes that the Bible requires full agreement in doctrine before it is possible to join in altar and pulpit fellowship with other churches (Rom. 16:17)." The practical difference for a Lutheran churchgoer is that LCMS members and certain other Protestants may take communion in an ELCA congregation, but one must be an LCMS member to take communion in an LCMS congregation.
Presbyterian and Reformed churches share a common origin in the 16th-century Swiss Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin, and today make up one of the largest branches of Protestant Christianity. There are about 75 million Reformed/Presbyterian Christians worldwide; about 2.5 million belong to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The name "Presbyterian" comes from the representational form of church government called Presbyterian. In Presbyterian churches, governing authority is given to elected lay leaders known as "elders" (or "presbyters"), who work with the congregation's ordained minister. Presbyterian belief and practice center on the Bible and the sovereignty of God.
Click on a link below for more information on Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.
The Adventist movement has its roots in the 19th-century "Millerite movement," which centered on the belief that Jesus would return on October 22, 1844. William Miller (1782-1849) was a farmer who settled in upstate New York after the war of 1812. He was originally a Deist, but after much private Bible study, Miller converted to Christianity and became a Baptist. He was convinced that the Bible contained coded information about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus. In 1836, he published the book Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843.
The prediction of the year 1843 was based in large part on Daniel 8:14: "And he said onto me, unto 2,300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Miller believed the "2,300 days" referred to 2,300 years and that the countdown began in 457 BC. He concluded that the "cleansing of the sanctuary" (interpreted as the Second Coming) would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.
When these dates passed, Samuel Snow, a follower of Miller, interpreted the "tarrying time" referred to in Habakkuk 2:3 as equal to 7 months and 10 days, thus delaying the end time to October 22, 1844. When this date also passed uneventfully, many followers left the movement in what is now termed "The Great Disappointment." Miller himself gradually withdrew from the leadership of the group and died in 1849.
Miller's followers who remained in the movement called themselves Adventists, and taught that the expectation had been fulfilled in a way that had not previously been understood. Further Bible study led to the belief that Jesus in that year had entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, and began an "investigative judgment" of the world: a process through which there is an examination of the heavenly records to "determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement" after which time Jesus will return to earth. According to the church's teaching, the return of Christ may occur very soon, though nobody knows the exact date of that event (Matthew 24:36).
For about 20 years, the Adventist movement was a rather unorganized group of people who held to this message. Among its greatest supporters were James White, Ellen G. White and Joseph Bates. Later, a formally organized church called the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 21, 1863, with a membership of 3,500.
Primarily through the evangelism and inspiration of Ellen G. White, who was regarded as a prophet, the church quickly grew and established a presence beyond North America during the later part of the 1800s. In 1903, the denominational headquarters were moved from Battle Creek to Washington D.C. and the neighboring community of Takoma Park, Maryland.
In 1929, a new sect was formed by Victor Houteff, whose beliefs differed from mainline Adventist teachings. The sect was called the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. This group further subdivided into other groups that included the Students of the Seven Seals, popularly known as the Branch Davidians. This off-shoot of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, which became widely known due to David Koresh and 1993 Waco, Texas conflagration, held very little in common with the rest of Adventism.
In 1989, the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was moved to Silver Spring, Maryland.
Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is rooted in the Anabaptist Protestant tradition. Adventist doctrine resembles mainstream orthodox trinitarian Protestant theology, with a few exceptions such as the following.
* Adventism. Belief in an imminent, pre-millennial, universally visible second advent, preceded by a time of trouble when the righteous will be persecuted and a false second coming where Satan impersonates the Messiah.
Seventh-day Adventists oppose the formulation of credal statements and prefer to view the fundamental beliefs as descriptors rather than prescriptors. However, divergence from the published position is frowned upon.
Seventh-day Adventists observe a 24-hour sunset-to-sunset Sabbath commencing Friday evening. Justification for this belief is garnered from the creation account in Genesis in which God rested on the seventh day, an approach later immortalised in the Ten Commandments. Seventh-day Adventists maintain that there is no biblical mandate for the change from the "true Sabbath" to Sunday observance, which is to say that Sunday-keeping is merely a "tradition of men."
Church services follow an evangelical format, with emphasis placed on the sermon. During the week prayer meetings may be conducted and children often attend Adventist schools.
Seventh-day Adventists practice adult baptism by full immersion in a similar manner to the Baptists. Infants are dedicated rather than baptized, as it is argued that baptism requires consent and moral responsibility.
Seventh-day Adventists practice communion four times a year, reflecting their Methodist roots. The communion is an open service (available to members and non-members) and includes a foot-washing ceremony (commonly referred to as the Ordinance of Humility) and consumption of the Lord's Supper.
Seventh-day Adventists do not eat pork or other unclean meat as identified in the book of Leviticus and many avoid all meat for health reasons (see next section).
Missionary outreach of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is aimed at both unbelievers and other Christian churches.
Hopefully this gets stickied so that there is no more mis-information spread.
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 10:59pm
Uh oh, I screwed up with the bolding...oh well!
Here is Methodist and Mennonite as well:
The Methodist branch of protestant religion traces its roots back to 1739 where it developed in England as a result of the teachings of John Wesley. Wesley's three basic precepts that began the Methodist tradition consisted of:
1. Shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
* God is all-knowing, possesses infinite love and goodness, is all-powerful, and the creator of all things.
* God has always existed and will always continue to exist.
* God is three persons in one, the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
* God is the master of all creation and humans are meant to live in a holy covenant with him. Humans have broken this covenant by their sins, and can only be forgiven if they truly have faith in the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ.
* Jesus was God on Earth (conceived of a virgin), in the form of a man who was crucified for the sins of all people, and who was physically resurrected to bring them the hope of eternal life.
* The grace of God is seen by people through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their world.
* Close adherence to the teachings of Scripture is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God.
* Christians are part of a universal church and must work with all Christians to spread the love of God.
* Baptism is a sacrament or ceremony in which a person is anointed with water to symbolize being brought into the community of faith.
* Communion is a sacrament in which participants eat bread and drink juice to show that they continue to take part in Christ's redeeming resurrection by symbolically taking part in His body (the bread) and blood (the juice).
* Wesley taught his followers that Baptism and Communion are not only sacraments, but also sacrifices to God.
* People can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any other acts of redemption such as good deeds.
Methodist Distinctions from Other Protestant Faiths:
* The most fundamental distinction of Methodist teaching is that people must use logic and reason in all matters of faith.
* Also important is the acknowledgment of "prevenient," "justifying," and "sanctifying" graces. It is taught that people are blessed with these graces at different times through the power of the Holy Spirit.
To learn more about the Methodist denomination visit UnitedMethodist.org.
(Information in this article is compiled and summarized from the following sources: ReligiousTolerance.org, ReligionFacts.com, AllRefer.com, and the Religious Movements Web site of the University of Virginia.
Mennonites are a group of Anabaptist (opposed to infant baptism) denominations named after and influenced by the teachings and tradition of Menno Simons (1496-1561). Mennonites are committed to nonviolence, nonresistance, and pacifism.
Mennonite congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice from old-fashioned "plain" people to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population. There are many different groups who call themselves Mennonite, primarily because they refer back to their founding leader, Menno Simons, and their stance on nonviolence and pacifism.
Early Mennonites in Europe were good farmers and were invited to take over poor soils and enrich them through hard work and good sense. Often the governing bodies would take back the land and force the Mennonites to move on since they would offer no resistance. So the migration to America started and they were welcomed by the Colonists.
There are many schisms, which actually started in Europe in the 1600s and continued after the immigration to America. Many of these churches were formed as a response to deep disagreements about theology, doctrine, and church discipline. Mennonite theology emphasizes the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. Their core beliefs deriving from Anabaptist traditions are: the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit; salvation through conversion by the Spirit of God; believer’s baptism by sprinklin;; discipline in the church (including shunning in some congregations); and the Lord’s Supper as a memorial rather than as a sacrament or Christian rite.
There is a wide scope of worship, doctrine and traditions among Mennonites today. Old Order Mennonites use horse and buggy for transportation and speak Pennsylvania Dutch (similar to German). They refuse to participate in politics and other so-called "sins of the world." Most Old Order groups also school their children in church-operated schools. Traditionally they used horses to pull the farm equipment, but within the past ten years some are now using steel-wheeled tractors for farm work.
Conservative Mennonites maintain conservative dress but accept most other technology. They are not a unified group and are divided into various independent conferences. Moderate Mennonites differ very little from other conservative evangelical protestant congregations. There is no special form of dress and no restrictions on use of technology. They emphasize peace, community and service.
Another group of Mennonites have established their own colleges and universities and have taken a step away from strict Bible teaching. They ordain women pastors, embrace homosexual unions, and practice a liberal agenda, focusing on peace studies and social justice issues. Very little is mentioned in their church services regarding the fact we are all sinners and in need of a Savior as a sacrifice for our sins, rather focusing on maintaining good works and service to others.
The word Mennonite today can mean so many things; there are almost as many varieties of Mennonites as there are fast food chains. Some groups are more evangelical than others; some groups are focused on Bible study and prayer; other groups are carefully maintaining the works-based tradition set out by their ancestors; and, sadly, some groups have left the faith of their fathers and focus instead on current social issues.
Mennonites aren't exactly Amish only a very small percent of them use caridges, Mennonites are basically in short terms, pacifist anabaptists Protestants.
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:01pm
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:04pm
Holy s***! This is possibly the biggest wall of text I've ever seen. This surpasses Shin's walls. Congrats!
Kirby, is this a continuation of "Calling all Christians"? That was a good thread.
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:05pm
I'm not sure, this is just clarification if anyone really wants hard facts against any Christian Denominations.
Anyways I hope it gets stickied :D
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:09pm
I have an uncanny sense that a good 90% of this is copied and pasted..
I wish I knew how to request a sticky
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:18pm
It was, do you think I spent that much time clarifying Christian beliefs? Lol
Here is a menu as well.
I Roman Catholicism
DANG! And I forgot to bold the Presby part too :(
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:29pm
If you typed this then you deserve a merit. =)
Posted Sep 2, '09 at 11:31pm
I would love one, but if I did type this I must be the biggest nerdy McNerd face on AG, lol.
I typed maybe 20% of it, mainly clarification for in-depth parts.
IT TOOK ME 3 HOURS TO MAKE THIS THREAD, I would like some credit please.
Posted Sep 3, '09 at 3:34pm
dam*, I was going to read the whole thing until I saw how much there was o.O
I'll still read it, but not right now since I'm busy lol.
Anyways, looking forward to hopefully debating on this thread :D
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