Saturday, June 20, 2020

A History of Christian Denominations, by the Rev. Martin R. Noland, Ph.D., version 2019

A History of Christian Denominations
By the Rev. Martin R. Noland, Ph.D., version 2019

Introduction - This essay is an attempt to explain in a brief way the historic origins of the denominations of the Christian church that exist today.  It was originally designed for my adult Bible class group in Oak Park, Illinois, and first presented and discussed in the Fall of 1991.  Since then it has gone through several revisions, and also been posted on the Internet by various persons with my permission.  I formerly accompanied the essay with a chart that explains the taxonomy of denominations, but the charts on Wikipedia are more accurate than my 1991 chart, so I refer the reader to those charts at:

I. 49 AD - Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29; Gal 2:6-9) The leaders of the church discussed the issue of the authority of the Old Testament Law for the Gentiles. The presence of Paul and Peter preserved Jesus’ teaching. The result of the council was the division of the Church into a Jewish-Palestinian church and Gentile-mission churches. Gentile-mission churches were under the authority of their founding apostle. Paul was the founder of Asian and Greek churches.

II. 50-100 AD - Apostolic Missions. The Twelve Apostles followed Paul’s example and started mission churches: Peter in Rome, John in Ephesus, Andrew in Scythia, Philip in Phrygia, Bartholomew in Armenia, Thomas in India, Matthew in Mesopotamia, Simon the Zealot in Parthia, the lesser James in Arabia, Thaddeus in Edessa, and Matthias in Egypt. Paul planned to start a church in Spain, possibly in Gaul. The Jewish-Palestinian church ceased with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Palestine was thereafter off-limits to the Jews, and the Christian Church was entirely Gentile, though it contained many families of Jewish ancestry.

III. 100-313 AD - Roman Persecutions and Gnostic Heretics. There were ten major persecutions of Christians from Nero (64) to Diocletian (303). Theological issues centered on the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology. The heretics known as “Gnostics” claimed to have an authoritative oral tradition from the apostles, which re-interpreted the apostolic writings (i.e., the New Testament). In response to the Gnostic threat, Irenaeus (100-200), Bishop of Lyons, Gaul, asserted the authority of the New Testament books over any other writings or oral tradition, an argument later used by Augustine and Luther. Cyprian (200-250), Bishop of Carthage, North Africa, asserted that the bishops have the same Holy Spirit given to the apostles, and they are therefore the authoritative interpreters of the Bible to preserve the church from schismatics and heretics. Cyprian’s thought became the basis of the “episcopal” system of church government.

IV. 313-381 AD – Organization of the Roman Imperial Church under Constantine. The Arians, who denied Jesus’ divinity and asserted that he was only a teacher of morality, attempted to gain control of the church. The Arians were opposed by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, whose orthodox Christology was officially adopted at the Council of Nicaea (325).  That council adopted the original Creed of Nicaea, which was revised at the next council, held at Constantinople (381), into the version called the “Nicene–Constantinopolitan Creed.”  The version of 381 is commonly known today as the “Nicene Creed” and is the only creed accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the “Oriental Orthodox” churches, the Church of the East, and much of Protestantism including the Anglican communion.  The Apostles and Athanasian Creeds are not as widely accepted. The Roman Empire was divided into church dioceses, with archbishops at Rome, Carthage, Thessalonica, Constantinople, Nicomedia, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria.

V. 381-450 AD – Period of Christological Controversies. The Church argued about how Jesus could be both divine and human. Nestorius taught that Jesus was actually two separate persons, one divine, one human, sharing one body. The council of Ephesus (431) condemned Nestorius and his doctrine. As a result, Nestorius’ followers in the far-eastern churches separated from the Roman Imperial Church. The Nestorian churches included the Persian, Assyrian and Arabian churches, all under the political influence of the kingdom of Parthia, which was not part of the Roman Empire. The bishop of the Nestorian churches became known as the “Catholicos-Patriarch of the East” and was the head of “The Church of the East.” After its schism with the Roman-Imperial church, this church sent missionaries to India, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Indochina, and as far as northwest China in the seventh century AD. In 845 AD, Chinese emperor Wu-Tsung persecuted, executed, or exiled all of the Christians in China. Similar persecutions over the centuries by Hindu or Buddhist emperors in the eastern part of Asia reduced the Church of the East to isolated pockets of the faithful.

VI. 450-680 AD – Decline of the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome in 410, both Church and State slowly disintegrated. The Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon (450) was rejected by the churches on the outskirts of the Empire for political reasons, and the Roman State was too weak to enforce the definition. Non-Chalcedonian churches which left the Roman Imperial Church at this time included those in Armenia, Syria, Egypt (i.e., the Coptic Church), Ethiopia, and India (i.e., the Mar Thoma church of the Apostle Thomas). As a group, these non-Chalcedonian churches are known today as the “Oriental Orthodox Churches” or “miaphysites.”  The term “Orthodoxy” was originally used to distinguish those churches which followed Chalcedon, as opposed to the non-Chalcedonian and Nestorian churches which did not. The Roman Imperial Church lost territory and arch-episcopal sees to the Moslems from 630-690 at Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Carthage. 

VII. 680-1415 AD- The Middle Ages. The Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680) rejected Pope Honorius the First’s claim of papal infallibility because he supported the mono-theletic error, i.e., that Christ had two natures but only one will.  The Council also declared Pope Honorius to be a heretic. The Western churches, under the leadership of the Pope, then seceded from the Eastern Imperial Church with the support of the European-barbarian tribes. “Orthodox Christianity” was now divided into East, i.e., the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and West, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. Due to the loss of the traditional archbishoprics, the remaining arch-bishopric at Constantinople became the spiritual head of all the Eastern Orthodox churches. Thus known as “The Ecumenical Patriarch,” the archbishop of Constantinople sent missionaries and founded churches in Russia, among the Slavs, and the Balkan areas. These churches were later granted their own archbishops, and so became the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukranian Orthodox Church, etc. The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Christians of the Byzantine church came under Moslem subjugation in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. From 1453-1830, the Patriarch was chosen by the Moslem-Turkish sultan, thus diminishing his ecumenical authority. Following the war of Greek independence in the 1820’s, the Ecumenical Patriarch once again achieved his former position of leadership over the Eastern Orthodox churches throughout the world.
          The Western church, under the spiritual head of the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope), followed its own course of development.  Pope Gregory the Great (pope 590-604) had written about the doctrine of purgatory in his Dialogues, where he recounted the story of a priest who met a ghost at Tauriana.  The ghost told the priest that saying Masses for the dead would eventually release him from purgatory.  This story was accepted as the justification for the distinctly Roman Catholic idea of using the Lord’s Supper to advance the souls of the dead through purgatory.  Although there were monks and monasteries in the early church and the Eastern Orthodox churches, the distinctly Roman Catholic idea of monks, monasteries, and religious orders developed at the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny in the forests of Burgundy in France, founded in 910.  At Cluny, the idea of monastic life was that the monk would not be involved in physical labor, but only “spiritual labor,” especially in saying prayers and Masses for the living and the dead.  The idea of monasticism, as it developed at Cluny, came to dominate the entire Western church during the time of Pope Leo IX (pope 1049-1054) through Pope Gregory VII (pope 1073-1085).  Both were “Cluniac” popes.  Pope Leo IX was responsible for the Great Schism in 1054, in which Eastern and Western churches became enemies due to Pope Leo IX’s orders to excommunicate the eastern Ecumenical Patriarch, and thus all of the Christians under his care.  Pope Gregory VII was responsible for excommunicating the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV three times (1076, 1080, and 1084), thus establishing in real terms the absolute political power of the pope over all rulers on earth.  Pope Gregory VII was also responsible for creating the cardinal-election system that made the papacy non-reformable, for mandating that all priests, including parish priests, must be celibate, and for eliminating the power of lay rulers to participate in the election of bishops, abbots, and other clergy.  Before Pope Gregory VII, parish priests were allowed to have wives and children, and most of them did.

VIII. 1415-1580 AD - The Reformation of the Western Church. Beginning with the treacherous execution of John Huss, Professor at the Charles University of Prague, Bohemia, by orders of the Council of Constance in 1415, the Western church went into turmoil over the increasing corruption present in the Papal Palace. This dissent was supported by many secular princes and kings who wanted to be free from the Holy Roman Emperor and Pope, from their laws, mercenary military, taxes, indulgences, etc. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses of 1517 found a ready audience because it challenged the Pope, and ably refuted Roman Catholic theology regarding indulgences. After a series of debates where the best theologians of the day could not refute Luther, it became a matter of Luther and the Bible against the Pope. The Pope claimed to be above the authority of Scripture, while Luther, quoting Augustine, said that no word of man has higher authority than the Word of God. For this Luther was excommunicated as a heretic and was proclaimed an “outlaw” who should be killed by anyone loyal to the church.  Fortunately for Luther, the Turkish sultan and his armies were breaking down the walls of the Emperor’s home capital of Vienna. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was thus forced to cooperate with the German princes in matters of religion, in order to preserve the Empire. The Augsburg Confession of the German princes of 1530 marked the division of the Western Church into Roman Catholic and “Protestant” sectors. The Roman Catholics responded to the Protestants with the “Decrees of the Council of Trent” (1545-1563). Luther died in 1546.  His theology and practice was codified in the Book of Concord of 1580, which is the definitive collection of Lutheran Confessional writings (see  Luther’s theology and/or the Book of Concord were adopted in large portions of the German territories of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, and parts of Poland and Austria.  The counter-Reformation later purged Lutherans and their influence from most of Poland and Austria.
          The Reformed, Anglicans, and Anabaptists produced their own confessions, creeds, and catechisms to define and defend their position. The Reformed followed the theology of Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich, Jean Calvin of Geneva, and John Knox of Scotland. The Anabaptists were political revolutionaries advocating a communist society on the basis of Scriptures, but most found a quick and bloody end. Only the pacifist Anabaptists, such as the Amish and Mennonites, survived because they did not try to impose their ideas on the whole society and, in fact, avoided the surrounding culture as much as possible.  The Anglicans went through several stages of Reformation, being guided initially by King Henry VIII of England.  Although the Anglican church initially headed in a Lutheran direction, after the purges of Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) and the return of the Marian exiles (exiled 1553-58), the Anglican church was guided by Queen Elizabeth I to adopt the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571.  These articles have been published in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer ever since, and are understood to be a compromise (“middle way”) between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology and practice.

IX. 1580-1650 – The Rise of Reformed Protestantism. Reformed theology was popular in Switzerland, the Rhineland, southern Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, and in parts of France. Where Luther intended only to reform the Church, Reformed theology also intended to reform the state and society. The Reformed intended to “complete the Reformation.” The Reformed often allied themselves with enemies of the Emperor or King, and were thus viewed by royalists as revolutionaries. The Huegenots in France sparked the French Civil War, from 1560-1590, resulting in their defeat and the mass exile of French-speaking Calvinists to Prussia, Holland, England, and America.  Reformed Protestants did the same in the Netherlands, 1560-1580, but in that case were the “winners” creating the Dutch Republic, a federal republic. The Calvinists in southern Germany and the Rhineland were responsible for starting the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, which ended in the destruction of vast parts of Germany and a stalemate between Catholic and Protestant powers.  The Puritans in England joined with the Parliamentarians and started the English Civil War, 1640-1660, resulting in the short-lived Commonwealth of England, a republic based on the sovereignty of the people. Exiles and revolutionaries from all these revolutions and wars sought haven in the New World, which explains the dominant place of Reformed theology in North America. Reformed theology thus gained in prestige and political power because of its political value in justifying the surge towards more democratic political structures in the nations where it gained a hearing.

X. 1650-1740 AD – The Factionalization of Reformed Theology in England and the Rise of Pietism within Lutheranism. Having successfully won control of the British State in the Commonwealth of 1649, the English Puritans split into factions over the issue of church polity. The Scotch and English Presbyterians, the most traditional and powerful of the Puritans, argued for a national church run locally by “elders,” known as the presbytery. Their theology is found in the Westminster Confession (1645) and its two catechisms.  More radical were the English Congregationalists, who argued for the independence of congregations, which they believed should be ruled by a democracy of universal male suffrage, i.e., the right of all adult males to vote. The New England town meeting derived from Congregationalist polity. The Congregationalist theory was set forth by Robert Browne, who said that the church is a local community of saints constituted by a voluntary covenant taken by Christian believers with God and each other.  Because the covenant is sacred and local, it must be kept free from outside control and be independent of the state. More radical still were the English Baptists, who agreed with the Congregationalist polity and theory.  The Baptists also thought that since infants and children cannot make a voluntary covenant with God and the congregation, they should not be baptized until they are able to do so.  Most radical of the English Puritans were the Independents, such as the Diggers, the Levelers,, who saw Christ’s teaching as primarily social and political, not religious in intent. These Independent Puritans were the ancestors of eighteenth century Deists.
          The German Lutheran princes tolerated Reformed theology and preachers in their territories, and this contributed to the eventual demise of Lutheranism in Germany. Pietism became popular with the writings of Phillip Jacob Spener (e.g., the Pia Desideria, 1675). Pietism accused the Lutheran preachers of being unloving and sub-Christian when they criticized the theology of the Calvinists. Pietists argued that holy living and obedience was the goal of the gospel, not salvation for Christ’s sake through faith alone. There were several types of Pietism, but general characteristics included: personal Bible study for devotional and practical purposes; denigration of academic theology even for clergy; emphasis on the feelings and will at the expense of the intellect; love of devotional literature, especially of the mystical type; insistence on the necessity of growth in Christian perfection; the ability to recognize a true kernel of believers within the visible church, which contained both believers and unbelievers; and the establishment of “pious societies” (collegia pietatis) apart from the church and its ministry.
          The Pietists gained the official support of the Prussian prince, Frederick the Great, when the Pietist leader Hermann Francke agreed not to protest Frederick’s innovation of military conscription, which the Lutherans had opposed as “prince’s cannon fodder.” The subsequent military successes of the Prussian princes united Germany, with Pietist religious conquests in its wake. By 1720 traditional Lutheranism had completely succumbed to Pietism in the universities and bureaucracies of Prussia and its dependent German states, although some territories and isolated individuals continued in the theology of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. Lutheranism survived in this period partially because of the continued use of Luther’s catechism, Luther’s liturgy, and the Lutheran hymn-chorales in church services. Often the church cantors and church musicians were more Lutheran than their pastors because of the theology of the Lutheran chorales, Johann Sebastian Bach being the most prominent example. The rise of Pietism in Germany also encouraged Pietist movements in the Scandinavian countries.

XI. 1740-1890 AD- Deists, Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Confessional Lutherans. The Puritan Commonwealth experiment in England from 1649-1660 failed primarily because the Puritans were unable to work together theologically. They could not agree on how much of the Old Testament was binding on Christians.  They were unable to follow Luther’s “evangelical” principle, i.e. only the New Testament is binding today, because the Puritans needed the Old Testament support for their theocracy. The English Puritan theocracy was also not appreciated for its “Blue Laws.” The Restoration period in England which followed the Puritan theocracy returned to the “middle way” of the Thirty-Nine Articles, though the British rightly feared the Pope’s influence. In the continued arguments between a Catholic-look-and-feel “high church” and a Puritan-look-and-feel “low church,” a “middle-of-the-road” group arose called the Latitudinarians, what we today would call “moderates.” They argued that the commands of God in Scripture that were not in keeping with Natural Law or Reason were only cultural accommodations to that period of history and not binding on Christians today.
          In the person of John Locke, the Latitudinarian and Independent Puritan ideas combined to form Deism, a religion that was accepted by the educated-merchant middle class. Deism is also the basic religious teaching of the lodges such as the Masons and the Odd Fellows, which groups originated in this period of time. The Deists argued that all of Christianity, at least in its original form, conformed to Natural Law and Reason. At first the Deists affirmed that there was a harmony between the traditional teachings of the Church and Rationalism, but once they were accepted by society, they quickly began to deny the miracles and prophecies of the Bible, Christ’s divinity and resurrection, and the Trinity. They argued that Jesus was merely a prophet of morality, whose disciples elevated him to the status of God. Deists were the first Liberal Protestants and they detested and denounced all denominational or doctrinal differences as a violation of Jesus’ command to love the neighbor. Deism, in the form of Liberal Protestantism, was eventually to affect almost every large Protestant denomination, both in the state churches of Europe and the mainline churches in North America.  The growth of Deist thought in England occurred from 1690-1740.
          It would be fair to say that by 1740, due to Deist theology, the churches in England had become thoroughly liberalized and irrelevant to the spiritual needs of the average Englishman and Englishwoman. John Wesley and his followers, also known as the “Evangelicals,” rejected Deist religion. They combined traditional Anglicanism with German Pietism, with an emphasis on the experience of conversion (i.e., the “decision for Christ”), plus a method of sanctification known as “Methodism.” In North America, Wesley’s teachings were spread by George Whitefield and the First Great Awakening, and had a significant influence on the Baptists. The “Evangelicals” were similar to the traditional Protestants in most doctrines, but were different in the emphasis they placed on religious experience and the necessity of growth in Christian perfection. Where traditional Protestants were united on the basis of common doctrine, Evangelicals were united on the basis of a common religious experience. Ever since Wesley, the English-speaking Protestants have been dominated by the polarity that first existed between Deist Liberals and Evangelical Conservatives. The Evangelicals consisted of both revivalist and denominational groups. Those who preferred a structured approach to religion organized themselves as “Methodists,” while the revivalists remained free-wheeling and independent.
          Around 1800 in America, the revivalists began the Second Great Awakening in Kentucky and the Ohio River valley. The revivalists Thomas and Alexander Campbell stressed the restoration of original Christianity.  Their followers founded the non-denominational “Christian Church,” which ironically was a denomination.  Unlike Methodists, the revivalists and the “Christians” rejected infant baptism and urged their followers to get “back to the Bible,” instead of Wesley’s Anglican mix of Bible, tradition, experience, and reason. The “Christian Church” later split into a conservative branch, the “Churches of Christ,” and a liberal branch, the “Disciples of Christ” which publishes the popular magazine The Christian Century. Revivalists who remained independent included figures such as Timothy Dwight, Lyman Beecher, Charles Finney, and Dwight Moody, the founder of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. These independents were the real ancestors of twentieth-century Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.
          In Germany around 1740, the Rationalism of the English Deists began to influence the universities and seminaries. The most severe attack from Deism came from German theologian Gotthold Lessing in the 1770’s.  Lessing argued that the historical evolution of religion was part of God’s plan, from the primitive pagans, to the crude Jewish sacrifices, to the humane Sacraments of Christ, to the most reasonable and ethical Christianity of pure Reason. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the early 1800s combined these ideas with the experientialism of Pietism. He became the father of Liberal Protestantism in its classic form, which is an evolutionary form of Deism united by a common “religious experience.” American and British forms of Liberal Protestantism stressed the “social gospel,” and were often indistinguishable from socialism.
          A conservative reaction to Liberalism in Germany came with an Evangelical influence known as Neo-Pietism, which stressed the “awakening” of conversion and getting “back to the Bible.” The 1817 Prussian Union State church attempted to merge Pietists, Lutherans and Calvinists, in spite of the protests of the “Old Lutherans”. The “Old Lutherans” urged a movement of “back to Luther” similar to the Neo-Pietist’s “back to the Bible.” In the 1830s “Old Lutheran” pastors in Prussia were imprisoned and their lay-members’ property confiscated, when they refused to use the new generic-Protestant liturgy. Groups of the “Old Lutherans” emigrated in the 1830s and 1840s: to Australia under August Kavel; to Buffalo, New York under Johann Grabau; to Frankenmuth, Michigan under Friedrich Craemer; and to Saint Louis and Perry County, Missouri under Martin Stephan. Those who didn’t emigrate formed the “free churches” in Germany, with leaders such as August Vilmar and Wilhem Loehe. All of these groups were known as “confessional Lutherans” because they adhered to the traditional teaching of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. These “confessional Lutherans” resisted all influences from Liberals, Evangelicals, Reformed, as well as the cultural-Lutherans who urged cooperation with heterodox church-bodies. The Saint Louis group rose to dominance in America under C.F.W. Walther, who organized and united many of the “Old Lutherans” in the United States into the “Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States,” later known as the “Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.”  This denomination has managed to remain faithful to the Book of Concord, including the Lutheran doctrines of Scripture, i.e., sola Scriptura and the inerrancy of Scripture, and Justification, i.e., justification by grace alone for Christ’s sake alone through faith alone, in spite of some wavering in the 1960s and early 1970s.

XII. 1890-2019 AD- The Holiness Movement, Ecumenism, and Modern Evangelicalism. In 1880 several groups of the “Christian Church” restorationists and revivalists formed evangelistic associations to propagate the doctrine of the necessity of growth in Christian perfection. This holiness movement splintered into countless factions over the issue of the definition of holiness. The most traditional view, very similar to the Methodist teaching on sanctification, was propounded by the Nazarenes, now known as the “Church of the Nazarenes.” The more radical views were found in the Latter Rain movement, which argued that the supernatural gifts of Pentecost are necessary for the church today.  The Latter Rain movement is represented by today’s “Churches of God,” who include their headquarter’s city in their name (e.g., Cleveland, Tennessee). The emphasis on “speaking in tongues,” which is not the foreign language gift of the apostles but mere babbling, rose to prominence in Pentecostal churches, such as the “Four Square Gospel Church,” the “Pentecostal Church,” and the “Assemblies of God.” Evangelistic associations formed to propagate these holiness teachings in other denominations through the charismatic movement, which has adherents in almost every denomination today.
          By 1890, the enduring influence of the Liberals and Evangelicals had overridden the old denominational differences in the Protestant world. The result were social and political demands for cooperation between church-bodies under the direction of church federations. This new development in church structure was known as the “Ecumenical Movement,” which had its roots in the “Evangelical Alliance” of 1846. Although the ecumenical movement began as an Evangelical phenomenon, it was soon taken over by Liberal Protestant leadership. It began with a youth movement, the World’s Student Christian Fellowship in 1895, then added the International Missionary Conference in 1910, then the Faith and Order group in 1920, and finally the Life and Work group in 1925. Progress in ecumenism was interrupted by World War II.
          Karl Barth, a Liberal Protestant Swiss theologian who had opposed Hitler, became a leader in ecumenical endeavors following the war. Dr. Hermann Sasse, the last “Old Lutheran” professor in the German State Church, left both the ecumenical movement and Germany when Barth’s theology became the theology of the ecumenical organizations. The final result was the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948, in Amsterdam. This was coordinated with national groups, such as the National Council of Churches in the USA, and denominational groups such as the Lutheran World Federation. Participants in the World Council of Churches (hereafter WCC) originally included all of the Eastern Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian, and Nestorian churches, and almost all of the State church and Protestant churches. The Pope has resisted joining the WCC, because he believes that they should someday join “Mother Church” under his tutelage, as was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
          Evangelicals who protested the Liberalism of the WCC became known as “fundamentalists,” a derogatory term invented by the American media, but they applied the term “Evangelical” to themselves in the post-war period to indicate their traditional link with Wesley and revivalism. The post-war Evangelicals formed their own pan-denominational organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, and became prominent especially in the United States through publishing, radio, TV, and national crusades. Evangelical figures in the latter twentieth-century included Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell, and Francis Schaeffer. A few large denominations also did not join the WCC, namely the Southern Baptists and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which are the last large denominations in the United States devoted to traditional Protestant teachings and the authority of Scripture.
          The ecumenical movement also resulted in the formation of numerous Liberal “United” churches, such as the “Presbyterian Church in the USA” and the “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” More diverse ecumenical denominations included the “United Church of Canada”, a merger of Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists; and the American “United Church of Christ”, a merger of the Congregationalists, one faction of the Christian Church, the German Reformed Church, and the German Evangelical-Union Church. A major setback for the ecumenical movement occurred in 1991, when the Russian Orthodox archbishops withdrew their church from the WCC, because of the neo-pagan rituals performed at that year's conference in Australia.  The world-wide ecumenical movement is today seeing a transition, as WCC churches in Africa, Asia, and Oceania are withdrawing from the WCC due to its advocacy of LGBTQ+ agenda. 
          Today traditional Protestant doctrine and practice is found mostly in independent congregations (i.e., non-denominational churches) and small denominations, such as the Wesleyans, the Congregational Christians, the Orthodox Presbyterians, confessional Lutherans, and confessional Calvinist denominations, as well as the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans as already mentioned.

XIII.  Bibliography - The best classic, updated, single-volume book in English on the history of the Christian churches is: Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert Handy, A History of the Christian Church, 4th edition (New York: Scribners, 1985).  The fourth edition is preferable to the first edition, as it features extensive revisions based on advances in scholarship, historical discoveries, and new interpretations. 
XIV.  Copyright - All rights are reserved by the author, Martin R. Noland, for this version and all previous versions of this essay.  You, the reader, may print, retain, and share this essay in any form you desire, except you do not have permission to change, delete, or add anything in the text, and you may NOT sell or use this essay for profit.  This essay is intended to be shared for free on the Internet, and in other venues, in the interest of public education and the dissemination of the truth about its subject matter.

1 comment:

David Becker said...

Generally, an outstanding summary, and I appreciate the author's permission to reprint it. One could perhaps take issue the at least one statement: "The emphasis on 'speaking in tongues,' which is not the foreign language gift of the apostles but mere babbling, rose to prominence in Pentecostal churches..." I do not personally claim that gift of tongues. Some who do claim it say that it is a special prayer language. Some professed Lutherans claim it. Tom Brock, formerly of the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and now a member of a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod church, hosts "The Pastor's Study" on TV and You Tube. It is not a major emphasis of the show, but Brock has said on the show that he speaks in tongues. At the same time, he does not say that everyone needs to (referencing 1 Corinthians 12:30 – not all speak in tongues), but he accepts the validity of tongues. I didn't know that when I praised him as a "Top Lutheran" in a commentary printed in Christian News in 2016 (but I would still praise him as top notch). Also, although CN always took a dim view of tongues (basically in line with Dr. Noland's remarks), Dr. John Warwick Montgomery defended a so-called non-cessationist view. Contrary to some belief, the LCMS does not categorically support cessationism, though some prominent voices do.