by Rev. Michaël Merle
The purpose of these two talks is to give a picture that provides a sense of where each denomination is and where their focus is, so that we can understand how each denomination views Christianity. We will gain an understanding of which denominations are related and how they fit together.
These are the denominations that are traditionally considered the main denominations of Christianity. These all hold to the following ideas:
The traditional Baptists are focussed on baptism. They do not have a tradition of infant baptism; they do not baptise infants. They practice a full adult emersion. The minister stands in a large tub of water and the individual, usually dressed in a white robe, stands in the water and is emersed backwards into the water and is raised from the water. The baptism is a personal. individual choice. For most Christians baptism makes one Christian, but for Baptists baptism is the manner in which they express that they have become Christian. Becoming Christian is the result of a born-again experience. The baptism is an outer expression of the individual experience. Baptism is performed after the individual has had a personal experience and become committed to their Christianity. Baptists have a strong focus on the individual, personal relationship that the individual has. It is from the Baptist tradition that expressions such as “I see Jesus as my personal lord and saviour” arise. Jesus is not the saviour of all humanity, but rather a personal saviour based upon a person relationship. In this tradition, church and ritual do not matter much. Personal relationship is more important than ritual. Rituals in the Baptist tradition such as the ritual of the Remembrance of the Lord’s Supper, are symbolic. Other traditional denominations may describe the Baptists as ‘low church’ because their emphasis on church is low. (High church is a tradition that has very structured liturgical ritual.) The Baptists might understand themselves as a fellowship of individual believers. Some Baptist churches will even use the word ‘fellowship’ in the description of themselves. Structure is less import as long as the believer follows the Bible. The Bible is central to their tradition. Baptist congregations are unified with other Baptist congregations. However, most churches that are independent and non-denominational follow a Baptist way of approaching their Christianity.
The Anglican Communion
This is a denomination that can accommodate both high church and low church within one communion. This is a very broad denomination. There are different groups of Anglicans, but they gather together periodically. In North American the Anglican Church is known as Episcopalian to distance themselves from the idea of being English or connected to England. ‘Episcopal’ mean bishop, meaning that the Anglican Church is run be a hierarchy of bishops of whom the Archbishop of Canterbury is the highest. The bishops lead the decision making and often vote on issues. A recent decision taken by some of the higher-ranking bishops has caused congregations, mainly low church Anglicans, to declare themselves independent of the Anglican hierarchy and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican have three principles to which they hold:
One can see the importance of Reason in the manner in which the hierarchy will debate matters to come to a reasonable agreement. The Anglican Church is seen as being quite eclectic and has a great diversity from what may be called Anglo-Catholics to reformed Anglican churches. One might feel oneself to be in a Catholic church to being in a Presbyterian church, this is the range that exists within the Anglican Church. Anglicans have structure that is evident in prayer books and hymnals that are printed and agreed upon, such as the Book of Common Prayer.
In the eighteenth century there were some young committed Anglican students who wished to deepen their experience of faith and they formed what they called ‘Holiness Clubs’. During the week these Anglicans went to their Holiness Club to deepen the understanding of their faith and to speak, read scripture and share. A young priest found himself in one of the Holiness Clubs and became a proponent of this form of study. He was John Wesley. The Holiness Clubs met to prepare for the Anglican Eucharist service on Sundays. They were accused of following a method of preparation for Sunday. They owned the insult and called themselves the Methodist Group. In time these parishioners became unwelcome in the local Anglican church because of the method they used to prepare themselves for Sunday. As a result, the Methodist groups began to gather together on Sundays and at first followed an Anglican liturgy. The Methodist Church came out of an Anglican tradition, but they altered the three principles and added Experience to form a quadrilateral of principles rather than the Anglican triangle. They wished to find a balance between Tradition, Scripture, Reason and the Experience of Holiness. Experience, therefore, is key to Methodists. John Wesley wanted the Anglican Church to be more spiritually active. Wesley died an Anglican, and it was only after his death that Methodists felt themselves more and more excluded from the Anglican parishes and they found themselves in parishes that exclusively practiced their method and the name changed to the Methodist Church. Many of the logos used by Methodists contains a flame because of the importance they attach to the experience of the Holy Spirit. Methodism is more focused on the Holy Spirit within the Beings of the Trinity. They can be described as Pneumo-centric. The Holy Spirit empowers the human being on the path – the method is the path that the individual is on – which leads to Righteousness. On this path the Methodists seek imparted righteousness, meaning that the righteousness is given to the human being by God when that human being is on the path. It is the righteous path. Every human being has the free will to go on this path or not. Thus, free will is central to Methodists. At the end of the path is Entire Sanctification: Complete Holiness. This means that the human being has then progressed to no longer sin. It is the hope of Methodists to achieve this before death. On the path it is important to give service to the poor and to work for justice. These two acts are key to Methodists.
The focus on Spiritual Perfection led to other movements. One of these is the Holiness Movements. They consider the Holy Spirit to have empowered them to be holy. If an individual has the Spirit they will pursue Holiness. Some of the Holiness Movements include the Salvation Army. They come out of a Methodist tradition on the path to righteousness and entire sanctification.
If one adds to the Holiness Movement the idea that the Spirit will not only empower one to strive for holiness but will give one gifts mentioned in the Bible, including the gift of the speech of tongues then one has entered the Pentecostal Movement. This was the initial understanding of the Pentecostal Movement. The name of the movement comes from the name of the festival also referred to as Whitsun, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples fifty days after Easter Sunday. The Pentecostal Movement recognises the leadership and presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people in the act of speaking in tongues. The Salvation Army; the Church of the Nazarene, which has in its title “Holiness unto the Lord” that provides the echo of the Holiness Movement; the Redeemed Christian Church of God (the largest of the Holiness Movement Churches in Nigeria); the Assemblies of God; and the Church of God in Christ (the largest Black American Holiness denomination) all fall under the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements.
John Wesley who influenced the Methodist Church and also the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements believed that there are four ‘All’s’:
Their name is derived from Martin Luther, who is considered to be one of the great founders of the Reformation in Christianity. From the outside, despite the many writers who influenced the ideas of the Reformation, there are three key figures of the Reformation, leaders who brought about a branch or tradition of the Reformation. They are Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, and John Calvin. Henry VIII’s reformation resulted in the Anglicans. He took the ideas of the Reformation that were strong on the Continent and used them politically. By embracing the ideas of the Reformation, he could break with the Catholic Church that allowed him to make church legislation in favour of his divorce. Anne Boleyn influenced the mind of Henry VIII, for, although she was not a Protestant, she had lived for five years in France at the court of the French king as a lady-in-waiting to Henry’s sister, who as a much younger bride had married an old French king. The old King died and Henry’s sister returned to England with her ladies-in-waiting. In France, Anne Boleyn had been exposed to the new radical ideas of reforming Christianity. When Henry became involved with Anne and complained that the Church was not helping him, she suggested that he could reform the Church.
Martin Luther focussed his reformation on the people preaching the Gospel. He wanted ordinary people to read the Gospel. This meant translating the Gospel into the language of the people. He translated the Bible into German so that the people could read it and so that they could proclaim the Gospel. For Luther the Bible contained two ideas: the idea of law (the Old Testament) and the idea of Gospel (the New Testament). The law stated, basically, that no one is good enough. The Gospel says that it is okay to not be good enough because Jesus is your saviour. This means that one is saved from the condition of not being good enough. It meant that one did not have to worry about the law any longer so long as one had a relationship with Jesus Christ. Lutherans are thus Christocentric. In Christ it is okay not to be good enough. There is no need to concern oneself with the laws that must be followed because one is not good enough, one can acknowledge that one is not good enough, but all of this is irrelevant because Jesus has saved one. The focus of the Lutherans is the Gospel message. The Lutheran theology is that one should not consider one’s personal experience of salvation (this contrasts strongly with the Methodist theology). Look at Christ, how does you know that what Christ did is for you? It is because you received it in baptism, baptism saves. Do not look inside yourself to know, look at what you can see in baptism and the Lord’s Supper; look into the sacramental life to know that what Christ did is for you. The Lutherans consider how the outer experiences speak to the inner life, rather than considering the inner life. If one wishes to experience Jesus one should not look to one’s personal experience but rather come to the Festival of the Lord’s Supper, come to church to experience Jesus. There is a Catholic influence in Luther, who was a Catholic priest. In the Methodist movement there is a strong Anglican influence in John Wesley. In the Lord’s Supper the Lutherans consider that the body and blood of Christ is really present as Lutherans take the Gospels very seriously. When Jesus said: “This is my body”, then that is literally what He meant: ‘is’ means ‘is’!
Evangelical Free Churches
Some Lutherans questioned the lack of personal experience and lack of value in that personal experience. This led to the Evangelical Free Churches, know as the Pietist Movement, because they were looking for personal piety to be an element of their Lutheran experience.
Luther brought the idea central to the Protestant Movement:
Where the Anglican and Methodists did not adopt the idea of scripture alone as they believe in the triangle of scripture, tradition and reason. Anglicans therefore have:
Presbyterianism was founded in Scotland by a Catholic priest, John Knox. He had studied at a prominent university in Geneva where he met John Calvin. Presbyterianism is often seen as being in the tradition of Calvin. Presbyterianism is best described as straight out of the Reformation. Their principles are known as Reformed. Therefore, the Calvinist movement in Holland was known as the Dutch Reformed movement. John Knox brought reformed ideas that are Father-God-centric – theocentric. They are particularly interested in the Sovereignty of God and the Covenant of God. Sovereignty means that God is in control of everything. This means God controls the human being, and the human being has no free will. Covenant means that God has made promises that he fully abides by. The Presbyterians have infralapsarian and supralapsarian: both connected to the idea of pre-destination. Infralapsarian means that God choses who will be saved and who will not be saved, in view that everyone has sinned, and everyone deserves eternal punishment. God selects only some to be saved because he is sovereign. He will not save all because He needs to show that human beings belong in Hell for having sinned. The view of supralapsarian is not supported by Presbyterians as it is more Calvinist, which believes that God actively caused human beings to sin in order to save some and thereby show how merciful He is. The focus for Presbyterians is to study God. If one recognises that one has been saved, then baptism is the covenant promise that seals one’s saving. It is then for the one who is saved to not break the seal, the promise. Therefore, staying in the church is all important.
Calvin’s ideas are:
Under Calvin we find the Dutch Reformed Church, the Swiss Reformed Church and the Puritan Congregationalists. Their theology is identical; it is the geographical differences that result in different names.
Modern churches that describe themselves as reformed are not trying to align themselves with Calvin’s work, they are saying that they have changed something in their structure. Most churches that describe themselves as reformed are more Baptist than Calvinist, they have reformed the Baptists’ view and are not following the Reformed view of Calvin. The word ‘Reformed’ can therefore be misleading.
There is a Reformed church in Prague that was founded before the Reformation. The Reformation occurred in that sixteenth century (1500s). More than a hundred year earlier Jan Hus (b1359), a Czech theologian, founded the Hussite church in the Bohemian Reformation, now more commonly known as the Moravian Church. Hus did not intend to reform the Catholic Church but did feel that there was something that needed to be stirred in Catholicism. What he inspired became the Moravian Church after he was put to death as a heretic early in the fifteenth century. Hus believed that within the congregational life of the church men and women were equal. Women were permitted to speak. As a result the Moravian Church was one of the first to allow women priests in the twentieth century. Hus read scripture as saying that when man and woman were created there was no distinction between them.
Most Reformed churches today have a conservative arm and more liberal arm. In all of the Reformed denominations discussed thus far the Bible is seen to have more authority than the Church. Even the denominations that hold that tradition is important will place the Bible ahead of tradition. Unfortunately, the Bible can be read differently by different people. In South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church was asked by the government to develop a theology that supported their political policies. The Bible can be used as an authority for many different views. If the Bible is more authoritative than the church, the church can split. It is for this reason that there are so many different Reformed denominations. They remain fundamentally united in their reading of scripture.
Catholics, Eastern and Orthodox churches
These churches differ in that they hold that the Church is more important than the Bible, because the Bible (the Gospel) was written by the Church. The Church (the community of Christian believers) was reading the Old Testament and speaking about Jesus Christ before they wrote the New Testament, and therefore the Church has primacy. The Church (as a congregation under leadership) determines how the congregation (the general community of believers) reads the Bible. Initially, the Church felt that the congregation could not read the Bible because the individual human being did not know how to read it. Priests understood how the Bible was to be read and they read it for the congregation. The Anglicans still hold onto this idea in the tradition of the church forming one part of the triangle.
The central focus for these churches is that the Church is the One True Church founded by Jesus and the Apostles. The Catholics consider that Peter was given the keys to found the church and as the leading Bishop is the leader of the faithful. There is an unbroken succession of leadership through the Pope. This idea of unbroken apostolic succession is key in Catholicism. The Church has the authority, given by Christ, to forgive sins, cast out demons and to determine the scriptures. The Church itself is the Kingdom of God on Earth. Salvation is achieved through participation in the Church. The Catholic Church rejects the idea of salvation by faith alone. Salvation is by faith in as much as it is a cooperation with Grace and a participation in the Church. Salvation is by faith as expressed in the participation in the Church. For the Catholics participation is experienced through the seven sacraments, most particularly through Holy Communion with a complete sense of transubstantiation at the heart of the celebration. This is how we commune with Christ and all of His Church on earth and in heaven. The Church is one church of the living and the dead here on earth and in heaven. They have an extensive teaching with absolute views known as dogmas. The Catholic Church is very clear about their teaching; they have an answer to every question: this is known as the catechism of the Catholic Church.
Eastern Orthodox (Greek and Russian)
The focus of the Eastern Orthodox Church is not so much on church as it is on mystery. They define God by what he is not (they will almost never say what God is, but they will express what God is not). This is known as apathetic spirituality. They distinguish clearly between the essence and the energy of God. They also claim to be the One True Church. The Orthodox church differs from the understanding that exists in all the denominations described thus far. For Protestants and Catholics there is an understanding of the Trinity that acknowledges that there is God, the Father, God, the Son and God, the Holy Spirit; and that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son. The Orthodox Church understands that the Trinity is God, the Father, God, the Son and God, the Holy Spirit; and that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father. It is this distinction in the understanding of the Holy Spirit that caused the split in the church in 1054AD (often referenced as the Filioque Clause from the Latin for “and the Son”). This disagreement that the Spirit does not emanate from the Father and the Son, from the Orthodox view, is that it was not part of the initial tradition. Tradition is very important for the Orthodox, but this is tradition expressed not in church participation but rather in mystery. This explains how they organise themselves: the great mystery of transubstantiation happens behind a screen because the mystery may not be seen. It is shrouded in the eternal mystery that must be believed but never known fully. You live because you cannot see it, if it is made too visible it loses its mystery. They reject the ideas held by the Western Church of original sin and legal terms of salvation. They speak of Theosis, they have a high regard for the Father, and Theosis means that salvation is oneness with God. The path to salvation is through becoming one with God. One becomes one with God by partaking in the Divine nature of God that is experienced through the Holy Mysteries of the Church.
These have been small islands of Christianity in a sea of Islam. The four main branches of the Oriental Orthodox are the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox, the Catholic and the Protestant churches all agree that Jesus Christ has two natures: a fully human nature and a fully divine nature. The Oriental Orthodox believe that Jesus has one nature that is fully human and fully divine. This made the Oriental Orthodox heretics early on and they broke away from the church to preserve their view that Jesus Christ has one nature that is simultaneously fully human and fully divine.
These four branches were the first great break away in Christianity. The remaining Church separated in 1054 into the Eastern and Western, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic (Universal) Church centred in Rome. Within the Western Church there was the great break away of the Protestant Movements: Calvinism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and then out of Anglicanism, Methodism and out of the Reformed Movement, Baptists, Holiness congregations, Pentecostals, etc. Where one places one’s emphasis tells others what one is all about.
This lays a foundation that will allow us to look at ourselves and determine what our emphasis is, what is our view, what is the lens whereby we look at things? Does the Church trump the Bible, is Church and the Bible not that important or are they?
by Rev. Michaël Merle
This was the second part of trying to gain a sense of how other Christian denominations view themselves from the perspective of an outsider. Please review part 1 of the Christian denominations which make up the main ‘tree’ of Christianity with three main branches – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. Each branch has its own sub-branches and part 1 reviewed several of the Protestant denominations. However, the Catholic branch is not a single, straight branch, there are twenty-three Catholic Rites each of which is a sub-branch. The Roman Catholic Rite is the main sub-branch and the others are smaller and from the outside appear more like the Orthodox church. Around the main tree there are other trees that have, one may say, sprung in different soil; arising from other thoughts and influences. This often places them somewhat askew with the main view of the Nicene Creed. These will be the focus of part 2.
The Society of Friends
This is one of the older groupings in the denominations not rooted in the main tree of Christianity. Officially they are known as the Religious Society of Friends. We know them as the Quakers. They were founded on the idea of equality, togetherness and peace. They were founded, principally, by George Fox, born in 1624 and died in 1691. This is shortly after the main branches of the Protestant Reformation were established. George Fox left behind a lot of writings, including his journal. In his journal we read: “The Lord showed me clearly that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts.” Fox proposed a gathering that had nothing to do with the place. He rejected the idea of building a church. Therefore, the Quakers call the place where they meet a ‘Meeting Room’. Any room will suit their purpose to meet. Fox wished to remove all the external obstacles that prevented people experiencing the Lord in their hearts. Therefore altars, sacraments, symbols, icons, prayer books, hymnals, etc were excluded from the Quaker experience. Quakers meet in silence. No instruction is needed to experience the Lord in one’s heart.
It is seen as a movement that went beyond the traditional practice of Christianity and took the Reformation a step further. Some people, at the time, saw the Quaker movement as the end result of the Reformation process. This movement brought to an end the ‘theatre’ (the Greek meaning of theatre had a strong religious associations) of Christianity with its ‘smells and bells’. The Quakers do not believe in confirmation or conversion. No teaching is required to become a Quaker. Instead, the Quakers believe in ‘Convincement’. Being convinced was all that is required; convinced of a dwelling of the Lord in your heart. The inner convincement is by the inner light one carries. For Quakers, the inner light, which is the seed of God within, leads every soul to recognise the indwelling spirit. Therefore, the Quakers believe that no human being is inherently sinful. People who have not connected to the inner light are misguided. The inner convincement is the first step in the gradual process of perfecting one’s obedience to the inner light’s leading. For other Christians this raises the question of salvation and the reason for Christ’s coming. The Quakers have very little to say about what they believe in and have no direct answer to these questions. The Quakers do not have a creed. They have no ministers; no one needs a leader; one can lead oneself. There is a freedom of belief. Women were as equal as men in the Religious Society of Friends. (George Fox had said: “The spirit within does not know gender”.) They do not have a theological formulation. Christ is found in the light within.
One of the early Quakers, Robert Barclay, wrote that the birth and death of Jesus was necessary as the sacrifice for sins and his birth and death had purchased the grace needed by people to be reunited with God. Jesus graces us to wake up to the light inside. This drew the Quakers nearer to the main tree of Christianity.
George Fox had said to a judge when on trial that he should “tremble in the way of the Lord” and this gave them the name of Quakers. They are about a quite contemplation of the light within and would not physically tremble in their meetings. One of the leading Quakers, William Penn, left England, where Quakers were persecuted, with his father as part of the group often known as the Puritans that established themselves in one of the colonies of the United Kingdom. William Penn wished the forest around their settlement to be known after his father and called it ‘Penn’s forest’ or Pennsylvania. There are many well know Quakers recognised as having been influential in the establishment of the United States of America, particularly the East Coast.
There were ‘Free Quakers’ who left the traditional Society of Friends. Betsy Ross was a Free Quaker who sewed the first flag of the United States.
The Society of Friends are pacifists, which they share with the Mennonites and the Brethren Friends. They believe in the plainness of speech and gesture and dress. The only anomaly was the way they chose to address each other. They felt that the English language should employ ‘you’ only as a plural. They referred to each other in the singular as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’. This was adopted by other churches as a result. They still refer to each other using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’.
In this space where it was possible to conduct oneself outside of the tradition of Christianity new Christian denominations emerged.
Mormons or the Church of Latter Day Saints
Like the Quakers, all of the groups that are being considered here, had a founder. Someone who married their Christianity with a view that they had acquired for themselves. Communities began when other people resonated with the views of the founder.
Joseph Smith Jnr founded the Church of Latter Day Saints. He was born in 1805 and died in 1844. He had his first vision at the age of fourteen. In this vision he saw God and Jesus Christ in human form. and they directed him to restore the true church on earth. He received more visions at the age of seventeen. In these visions it was the angel known as Moroni who visited him. Moroni had been human but since his death had been elevated to an angel. Moroni’s father was Mormon. The angel Moroni informed Smith that the true church had, in fact, been established in North America, but had been completely lost. This true church was established at the time of the Old Testament and Christ appeared to the congregations of this true church at the time of his incarnation. At the time that Jesus visited the true church there had been a split in the church and Jesus had restored the two factions into one body again. The church had eventually died out, but their scriptures that had been inscribed on golden tablets, in what Smith called ‘reformed Egyptian’, had been buried on a hill near where Smith was living. He dug up the tablets and the tablets recorded an elaborate history of what were known as the Nephites and the Lamanites (the faction that had broken away) and the appearance of Jesus Christ after his resurrection and before his ascension when he brought unity, and the eventual destruction of the Nephite culture. Moroni had preserved the records of his father Mormon and buried the golden tablets. Smith had also discovered two seer-stones that allowed him to read the reformed Egyptian script. He translated the writings, and these writings are today known as the Book of Mormon.
It quickly becomes clear that this group is not one that felt differently about Christianity, but rather a group that believe in a completely different history of world events and a separate appearance of Christ.
Smith adopted a title: ‘seer, translator, prophet, apostle of Jesus Christ and elder of the church through the will of God the Father and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’. These descriptions are directly related to his experiences. Two principal ideas that Smith received in his visions that distinguish the Mormons are: that the community today are the community of the saints. It is term that Paul used in his letters: “you are the saints, the holy ones of God”. They are latter day saints, the saints of the latter days because they are establishing again the true church that was lost, the church of the Nephites. The Latter Day Saints will discover the New Jerusalem at the border of where the Lamanites had been. This means that the New Jerusalem would be discovered in the United States of America. Any new revelations from God would be given to Joseph Smith alone. He became the new prophet. These are the two outstanding features of the Mormons.
The Mormons encountered difficulties and moved from New York to Ohio and from Ohio to Missouri and from Missouri to Illinois and from Illinois to Utah. They established themselves in Utah at Salt Lake City. The place where the New Jerusalem can be built is Salt Lake City, Utah. The exercise of the experience of the New Jerusalem has its base at Salt Lake City.
The main differences that arise between the Mormons and other Christians come from the visions that Joseph Smith had towards the end of his life in the 1830s and 1840s which he wrote up as the ‘Doctrines and Covenants’. This book states that Mormons must have faith in Jesus Christ, be baptised as a Mormon, observe certain ordinances, perform set ceremonies – of which some are called Sealing and Endowment. They incorporated practices that immediately placed them at odds with civil society and religious society, the most famous of which was polygamy. Although the practice of polygamy was not advocated by the first elders, many felt that this was part of the experience of how the new church should be. It may be that polygamy was part of the experience of the first true church of the Nephites. As a result there are many splinter groups who see themselves as the true, fundamental followers of the Mormon way and consider the main church of the Latter Day Saints as having lost the way, because they no longer support polygamy and have opened themselves up to things that would otherwise not have been part of the original founding.
The Mormons have a rich tradition that is part of their path and many people find this appealing and follow this route.
In the late 18th century and in the 19th century there were many study groups in the newly formed United States of America that were studying the Book of Revelation. They particularly focussed on the thousand years of peace and interpreted that either Jesus would come again and establish the thousand years of peace before the end of time or that there would be a thousand years of peace before Jesus would come, at the end of time. This millenarian experience, with its different interpretations, resulted in the establishment of several millenarian churches. There are three types of millenarian churches: the post-millenarian churches who believe that we build a thousand years of peace and then Jesus returns, is a sense as the outcome of human beings maintaining peace for a thousand years; pre-millenarian churches or pre-millennial churches who believe that Jesus will return to establish a thousand years of peace and anyone who cannot maintain the peace is damned; and the a-millenarian churches or a-millennial churches who see the thousand years as metaphorical, so that when Jesus comes it will be like a thousand years of peace in one’s heart and then it is the end of time.
There are two examples of pre-millenarian churches; they believe that things will get really bad before Jesus comes to inaugurate the thousand years of peace.
Seventh Day Adventists
They were founded by a pre-millenarist, William Miller, born in 1792 and died in 1849. He was a farmer who converted to becoming a Baptist in Vermont and became an ordained Baptist minister. Through his own intensive study of the Bible he predicted the date of Jesus’ return. He called this date the Second Advent. The Seventh Day Adventists are awaiting the second advent of Jesus. The date he worked out as 1843. When the Second Advent did not arrive, he recalculated the date and predicted a more specific date, 22 October 1844. After the 23rd of October 1844 he lost a lot of followers but there was a group that remained faithful to the idea believing the Miller simply was a poor mathematician. They believed that the Second Advent was imminent and if questioned will point to the next one to two hundred years. They felt that Jesus had worshipped like a good Israelite on the Sabbath, and they retain their worship on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, Saturday. Hence their name: Seventh Day Adventists.
Ellen White is the person who founded the Seventh Day Adventists from the Millerites founded by William Miller. She was particularly concerned with health issues and the result is that Seventh Day Adventists eschew alcohol, tobacco, drugs and what they consider to be unclean foods. They take most of the unclean foods from the list in the Old Testament and as a result they found it easier to promote vegetarianism. They were the inventers of Weetabix and a whole range of foods in America. They are often associated with the Southern Baptists and this association has brought them nearer to the main tree of Christianity. They were seen as Protestant because what they said was from scripture, mainly quoting the Old Testament alongside quotes from the Book of Revelation. This did not sound very different from the Southern Baptists and the Pentecostal movement. They did stress that all humans are sinners and that there is a need for conversion through faith in Jesus Christ. They considered only two sacraments: baptism and communion, and see these as mainly symbolic. They believe the Bible is divinely inspired and infallible. Women cannot be in the ministry. They take this from the Bible, including passages from the letters of Paul.
The Branch Davidian Cult in Wako, Texas, was one of the more famous offshoots of the Seventh Day Adventists.
From the outside one could consider William Miller as the principle inspiration, because he did not create the movement, while Ellen White is the principal founder of the Seventh Day Adventists. Ellen White had some two thousand visions in her life (like Joseph Smith) and wrote nine volumes of collected works called ‘The Testaments’. A lot of the traditions of the Seventh Day Adventists outside of conventional Christianity come from Ellen White’s Testaments.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are another pre-millenarian group. The were started in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. They were known as Russellites for a while. Charles Taze Russell was born in 1852 and died in 1916. He also worked out a date for the Second Coming. He said Christ would come again in 1914 and, with the outbreak of WWI, everyone thought that his prediction of the worst days before the Second Coming was correct. By 1918 the group realised that the coming of Jesus as a physical human being was probably not what was meant. Russell’s work was reinterpreted by Joseph F Rutherford who said that the prophecies of Russell were correct but misunderstood in that Christ would enter the throne of Jehovah in the Heavens and he would sound the millennial trumpet until we could establish the thousand years of peace and prosperity. That again strengthened the followers of Charles Taze Russell and called themselves ‘those who witnessed the event of Christ enthroned on the throne of Jehovah’ and hence their name, Jehovah’s Witnesses. They publish The Watchtower. They believe that the believers will become the inhabitants of a restored earthly paradise. From the citizens of the restored earthly paradise 144 000 will be selected to live in the heavenly world. Those who are not selected will be happy living in the restored Garden of Eden. Thus, heaven is exclusive, but the earthly paradise is not. Everyone can be included in the earthy paradise. Those who are wicked by not accepting Christ and not believing will go into a state of non-being. Therefore conversion ensures continuation of one’s life. No one is eternally punished for sins. Those who follow God into righteousness by following the path of the Jehovah’s Witness will live forever on the earth once Christ returns to claim victory in the Battle of Armageddon.
The Spiritualists were founded in the 1840’s by two sisters by the surname of Fox. The Fox sisters began by running a séance in their home where thy would contact the spirits of those who had died. The séances started to share, with those in attendance, messages from the spiritual world, from great spiritual masters, including Jesus Christ. This is how the spiritualist church began and their services are conducted by someone who had the capacity to act as a medium, can hear the voices of some in the spiritual world. They practice healing through prayer. They have opening and closing hymns, an address and a medium sharing where the one leading the service will share messages from great spiritual masters. The messages are usually positive and supportive. They will quote scripture including scriptures from outside of Christianity. This is why they are spiritualists and not Christians. They are open to all aspects of spirituality.
Founded in North America, in New England, by Marie Baker Eddy, born 1821 and died in 1910. She was born Mary Morse Baker and her third husband was Mr Eddy. She began life studying homeopathy. She weakened the potency of the medication to the point where she said it was not the medication but the relationship of the patient to the medication that makes the difference. It was mind over matter. So she started a movement on the relationship between mind and body in a quest to put the divine power that everyone can access within them to therapeutic use. She went beyond the faith healing of the revivalist movement who set up tents in the 1920s and 1930’s where prayer to the Lord brought about healing. She said everyone can heal themselves through the power of God within. She concluded that it is the mental activity of the patient that produced the good therapeutic outcome and not the medicine. Hence no medicine is needed, only a change in inner stance, making Christ in you the scientist, the true healer. Her third husband was one of her patients, Asa Gilbert Eddy, and they married in 1877. She said Jesus is seen as the highest human, corporeal concept of the divine idea, rebuking and destroying error and bringing to light the human being’s immortality. For her, Jesus was mind itself embodied in human form to remind us of the spiritual nature of matter. We are spirit manifested as matter. She saw sin as a form of deception that requires the knowledge of God to be present in order for it to be overcome. Sin is not punished in hell. The consequences of sin are seen in present-day suffering, isolation and sickness. When one’s health is not perfect it is because one is a sinner and one can find perfect health through the process of finding the connecting to the divine in one that heals so that one knows that one’s matter is an expression of true spirit, spirit that is purified. Her interpretation of the Lord’s prayer is worth sharing:
Although Scientology is registered as a religion, it has no founding or connection to Christianity. All the other denominations mentioned thus far have a connection to Christ, to the healing power to God, to the light of the Holy Spirit. They all work with the concepts of the Trinity in one form or another. The Scientologists do not have any of these connections. Their beliefs are based on the book of L Ron Hubbard, ‘Dianetics, the modern science of mental health’, published in 1950. It explains pain and suffering and memory imprints or engrams on cells that must be eliminated to achieve mental and physical health. Once a Scientologist is Clear of engrams they may start on the Bridge to Total Freedom in order to gain spiritual betterment. There are eight levels on the Bridge and higher level Scientologists promise that at levels nine and ten one learns who one truly is, but these levels were never provided before L Ron Hubbard died. This is not connected to Christianity. Externally, it is viewed as a self-development programme and not as a group, community or sect connected to Christianity.
Assyrian Church of the East
They were founded as a church in 431AD. Their official title is the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. They follow the original, historical Church of the East often referred to as the Nestorian Church. They follow the teachings of Nestorius. He was a Patriarch of Constantinople, and he famously lost his theological arguments to Cyril of Alexandria and was declared a heretic. Therefore the church that followed his teachings was seen as heretical. They were not seen as part of the main Christian steam and carried on independently of the branch of Christianity from which they split. There is a lot of controversy around Nestorius. Today we think that a lot of the arguments of Cyril against Nestorius were not actually against Nestorius. Nestorius may well have agreed with most of what Cyril wrote, but the way in which they each wrote and spoke sounded as though they were speaking about things entirely differently. It all comes down to two natures being in one person. How is this person fully human and fully divine? Cyril thought that Nestorius was saying that there was a fully human side and a fully divine side living along side each other but never combined into one. This is not what Nestorius was saying, if one goes back to his writings, but he was using different language and different theological arguments. They could not come to an agreement and Nestorius was not known for his patience; it seems that he preferred to shout over Cyril’s speaking.
The Assyrian Church of the East has had a relationship to the Chaldean Syrian Church of India, which is the church in India that considers itself founded by the apostle Thomas. The Assyrian Church of the East will not call Mary Theotokos, following the teachings of Nestorius. They consider Mary Christotokos (Mother of Christ, not Mother of God). This in itself should not place them outside of the main tree of Christianity, but it did at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon where they were declared as heretics and cast out of the main branch of Christianity. In 1994 there was a common Christological Declaration between the Church of the East and the Catholic Church, and they worked on guidelines that have resulted in the Assyrian Church of the East and the Catholic Church becoming much closer in their relationship and the Catholic Church declaring that the Assyrian Church of the East has a valid ana forum. Ana fora are the words that, in Catholicism, change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This means that the Catholic Church recognises the transformation (transubstantiation) occurring in the sacrament of the Assyrian Church of the East as real. This begins to reconcile the Assyrian Church of the East and recognises them as a legitimate form of Orthodoxy. The Catholic Church views Oriental, Eastern and Assyrian East as branches of different aspects of Orthodoxy.
This list of denominations is by no means comprehensive but provides an entry into Christianity that allows us, as The Christian Community, to determine where we find ourselves in this ocean of denominations. We can ask whether we are part of the main tree, connected to which branch, or whether we are a Christian Denomination that is separate from the main tree of Christianity.
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