- Below is a brief explanation of how the various denominations
- evolved and what their predominant beliefs are.
*First-Century NT Church [AKA Sect of the Nazarene, The Way, Church of Christ, Church of the First Born, Waldenses, Haldanes, Disciples of Christ, Christians, Brethren]
-> Lutheran Church – Martin Luther
(Mostly known for congregational participation in worship and freedom from payment for sins; established in Germany
-> Church of England (Episcopal, Anglican) – King of England
(Mostly a slight variation of the Catholic Church)
-> Reformed Church – John Calvin
(Mostly known for predestination ~ fatalism)
(Mostly known as strictest of the Calvinists; established in Scotland by John Knox)
(Mostly known for independence; established in the Netherlands by Puritans)
(Mostly known for baptism of adults by immersion; established in England by conservative anabaptists)
-> Unitarians – Methodists
(Mostly known for free-will of salvation; established in England by John Wesley)
-> Pietists – Pentecostals
(Mostly known for individual religious experiences; established in Germany by Nicolaus Zinzendorf)
A quick way to understand the beliefs of the predominant denominations is to learn the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Nicholas Zinzendorf and John Wesley out of whom grew most other denominations.
EARLY LEADERS IN THE REFORMATION MOVEMENT
(Reforming the Catholic Church)
MARTIN LUTHER (b. 1483) ~ RITUALISM:
Martin Luther tried in vain to reform the Catholic Church which he loved and of which he was a monk, but was unsuccessful. Though he was finally excommunicated, he remained Catholic in many beliefs.
As a young monk, he continually felt the wrath of God as he desperately tried to make himself righteous by all the rituals of the church, celibacy, self-beatings and such. But the more he tried, the more angry he got at his angry God. Freedom came for him when he zeroed in on Romans 3:28 saying that we are not justified by works but by faith.
“At this,” he wrote, “I felt myself to have been born again, and to have entered through open gates into paradise itself.” The Lutheran Augsburg Confession, Article V, states that faith is instilled by the Holy Spirit when and where it pleases God, in the hearts of those who hear the gospel. This was his first dispute with the Catholic Church.
Luther’s second dispute was over selling indulgences; that is, paying the penalty for sins with money to the church. Just before he was born, the pope extended indulgences to souls in purgatory. The last straw was when a special push for indulges was made, half of which would pay off the debts of a German archbishop and the other half of which would build the ornate St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome.
His third major dispute was that the bread and wine did not become the literal body and blood of Jesus before which Catholics bowed in homage. Luther stipulated that Jesus is present with them; therefore, when partaking, the eater eats both the bread and Jesus’ body. (See Augsburg Confession, Article X.)
Luther also eliminated images, held liturgy in the language of commoners instead of Latin, added congregational singing, and declared the priesthood of all believers, thus allowing anyone to preach who was qualified.
JOHN CALVIN (b. 1509) ~ FATALISM:
Luther had declared that salvation came when the Holy Spirit acted on one’s heart upon hearing the gospel. Calvin went a step beyond and said that man does not actively choose to accept or reject salvation, because sin has blinded man’s mind. Rather, the Holy Spirit pushes salvation on whomever He chooses by enlightening the sinner’s mind. This belief he called predestination of those elected by God to be saved. This doctrine is found among nearly all the denominations that grew out of his movement. Exceptions are those who have added “freewill” to their name.
Calvin said that the primary work of the Holy Spirit was instilling faith and changing a life. Thus, salvation reconciles one not only to God, but also to their fellow man. This change is so dynamic that it is impossible for the person to ever fall from salvation.
Since mysticism – an almost private religion – was becoming popular then, Calvin said that conversion does not come outside the church, but rather is experienced among other church members. Related to this, Calvin said that God did not work directly on men but through other Christians.
He believed people are “called” to the ministry by being elected by fellow Christians within the church. He believed in two officers of the church. Pastors preach the gospel, administer the sacraments and maintain discipline, and were called “the ministers.” Teachers lecture in theology and conduct schools in languages and the humanities. With these are joined a senate of elders and deacons who care for the poor.
Officers are ordained by the laying on of the hands of the pastors. Ordination only meant leading a prayer asking God to recognize as His act the congregation’s election of this man to the ministry.
Calvin urged that children as well as adults should receive baptism, but until they exercised faith in later years, their baptism would be incomplete. Baptism could be administered by immersion or sprinkling, provided it takes place only in the midst of the public worship of the church. Also, only those who lead in public worship should administer baptism. There could be no private baptism because there was no salvation apart from the church.
Worship, he believed, should include a salutation, a common confession of sin, words of assurance of pardon, and a psalm. Then should be preaching and Bible reading followed by a prayer for right understanding. The Lord’s Supper was to stress the redemptive work of Christ, not the sacredness of the symbols. Afterwards should be prayers of intercession for whoever needed it. The service was to end with quoting the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, a psalm and a benediction.
He recognized all other reform movements, such as Lutheranism, as part of the universal church, each struggling in their own way to express a common faith.
NICOLAUS ZINZENDORF (b. 1700) ~ PIETISM:
Zinzendorf’s parents were both Lutheran pietists and friends of Philip Spener, a leader of the pietist movement, whom they made godfather of Nicolaus. Rejected by the woman he loved, he decided it was a sign from God that he should devote his life to pietism. He was influenced by three movements.
In the late second century, a man named Montanus claimed the Holy Spirit prophesied through him during experiences of shaking ecstasy in the form of “unknown tongues.” (This phenomenon is glossolalia in Greek and is said to have been experienced by the priestess of Apollo at Delphi when she prophecied.)
His most-often preached prophecy was the second-coming of Christ to Jerusalem. This upset the church as a whole, partly because he was basically claiming to have knowledge that should be added to the scriptures because it came directly from the Holy Spirit. He had many prophetesses who worked with him. His lucidity and morals were also suspect and he was excommunicated.
In the sixth century Dionysius of Aeropagus wrote Mystical Theology describing the threefold path to union with God and partaking of the divine nature of perfection, a philosophy adapted from Plato and possibly also influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. Catholic Thomas Aquinas wrote of mystic Christianity in the 13th century. Several other Catholic mystic leaders became more radical and were eventually censured or excommunicated.
In 1518 Martin Luther published the first printed edition of the mystic book, Theologica Germanica. Both Luther and Calvin agreed that the Holy Spirit takes hold of people against their willing it to happen, but did not advocate the “religious experience” in the form of ecstasy that appeared later.
Johann Comenius, a bishop of the Moravian Church, constructed a system of pansophia (obtaining university knowledge). He and other Moravians became most influential in the newer movement called Pietism.
This movement began in the 17th century, an offshoot of Lutheranism and mysticism. It was strongest in Lutheran Germany where Philip Jakob Spener, the godfather of Zinzendorf, published his six demands for reform. Pietism first became accepted by the general public under the leadership of A. H. Francke who published his “experience of conversion,” and under whom Zinzendorf was schooled.
In his late twenties and early thirties, he began taking in persecuted wanderers from Moravia, then built a village for them. Then persecuted wanderers of other sects came to him also. He organized his refugees into a commune type of life. He also established a common order of worship which was simple and non-ritualistic.
Adherents were sometimes radical, preferring to separate completely from the church and concentrate on mysticism, a personal unity with God. The Moravians tempered this and adopted it as an official part of their beliefs.
Zinzendorf sent missionaries all over the world, including to the American Indians and slaves. Other Moravians migrated to England where they had heavy influence on John Wesley at the time he began his Methodist movement.
JOHN WESLEY (b. 1703) ~ UNITARIAN:
John Wesley was influenced by four separate but sometimes overlapping movements from Italy/France, Czechoslovakia and England ~ the more liberal people of these groups.
The first movement probably always existed, having never agreed to come under Roman or any other outside church rule. They seem to have begun in Italy in perhaps the third century, but, because of constant persecution, ended up in France. One of their leaders around 1000 wrote a book calling the pope the antichrist. They had their own translation of the Bible and tried to follow it always resisted the Roman Church. By the 1300s they became known as the Waldenses.
The second movement originated in the 1300s in Wales and England, led by John Wycliff called the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” but always trying to work within the Catholic Church. He turned on the papal office itself, declaring that only elders and deacons were authorized. He also denied the doctrine that the bread and wine became the actual body and blood of Jesus. Later he translated the Bible into English.
Wycliff’s followers became known as Lollards. At first they were men Wycliff trained called “poor preachers” who traveled the countryside preaching to people in their own language and exposing them to the New Testament. Later advocates were found at Oxford University. They considered the Catholic Church their wicked step-mother (the Church of England was their mother), condemned celibacy of priests and nuns, and said that war was contrary to the New Testament.
The third movement originated in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) also in the 1300s, under the leadership of John Huss who ran across Wycliff’s writings. Huss preached in the language of the people and denounced the papacy. He was excommunicated when he objected to the pope selling indulgences (money as punishment for sins). In the 1400s, the three movements, at least in part, merged and became known as Moravian Brethren.
Although John Wesley had been preaching several years for the Church of England during the early 1700s, he kept running into Moravian Brethren who seemed to have more faith than he. Finally he met a Moravian preacher who convinced him he lacked “that faith whereby alone we are saved.” He went to a religious meeting one night where “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away MY sins, even mine, and saved ME from the law of sin and death.”
The fourth was the Puritan Movement in England and France and had been around a couple centuries with sometimes different names such as Huguenots. The Puritans were to the Church of England what the Protestants were to the Catholic Church. Frustrated with the legalism and ceremonialism, the Puritans tried to purify, simplify and moralize the church, both clergy and dogma.
Wesley eventually bucked the Calvinistic doctrine that God chooses you and you don’t choose God, and said that each person has a free will to accept God or refuse Him because God does not want anyone to parish. He also emphasized methodical private devotions and prayers at strict times each day of the week – thus, “Methodism”.
As the movement spread, Wesley drew up a legal constitution and named 100 preachers to admit and ordain proper persons into the ministry. Still a clergyman with the Church of England, he personally ordained superintendents that went to North America and Scotland to ordain ministers for administering the sacraments.
He always called his society merely a movement within the Church of England. Only gradually did it become separate and called the Methodist Church.