Protestant Denominations

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Lutheran church in Hallstatt, Austria

Lutheranism is the largest branch of the Protestant Church. It grew out of the teachings of Martin Luther. The term "Lutheranism" was first used as a rebuke on papal bull. Luther preferred the term "Evangelical."

There are around 100 million Lutherans in the world. About half the population of Germany are Lutherans. There are also many Lutherans in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland, where Lutheranism has traditionally received support from the State. Members are sometimes divided along ethic lines (such as Germans, Swedes and Finns, etc) and between fundamentalist and liberals.

Lutheran organization varies from congregational to episcopal. According to the World Almanac: “In the United States a combination of regional synods and congregational polities is most common." Although, Lutheranism has ordained ministers. Lutherans believe that everyone can be a priest and commune with God directly.

History of the Lutheranism. See Separate Articles on Martin Luther and the Reformation

Websites and Resources World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches ; Wikipedia article on Protestantism Wikipedia ; Internet Sourcebook ; BBC on Baptists ; BBC on Methodists ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Christian Denominations: ; Christianity Comparison Charts ; Difference between Christian Denominations Quoracom

Lutheran Beliefs

Lutherans believe if they have faith in Christ their lifestyle will be altered and they will naturally live a true Christian Life. They are generally conservative in personal and social ethics. The doctrine of 'two kingdoms' (worldly and holy) supports conservatism in secular affairs.

Lutherans regard the Bible as the final word on all religious issues. According to the World Almanac: "Scripture and tradition ate spelled out in Ausberg Confession (1530) and other creeds: these confessions of faith are binding although interpretations vary." [Source: World Almanac]

Lutheran practices are relatively simple. There is no "formal liturgy and the emphasis is on the sermon." Infant baptism is practiced, During the Eucharist, Lutherans believe Christ's true body and blood are present "in, with, and under the bread and wine."

Martin Luther's Beliefs

Luther throws his cup at the devil

Luther believed that faith led to salvation. Rituals, good works and mediation by the clergy in comparison were not important. He criticized the pope, celibacy and other rules and recommended that individuals study the Bible rather than having it delivered to them by clergymen. Luther said man can work towards salvation through penances, pardons and pilgrimages but only through faith that Christ died for mankind's sins on the cross and that faith was freely given with the trust of the word of God. He said also that more could be achieved through prayer and good works than by armed revolt pushed by the fanatic religious cults of his time and expensive indulgences of the Catholic church. The Lutheran is motto "By grace alone; through faith alone."

Luther asserted that humankind did not need the corrupt Catholic church to mediate between humankind and God. He believed that Christians should be governed by temporal rulers in their own land not by the Pope. He called for the abolition of the papacy and asserted that every Christian could be his or her own priest. Luther based his positions on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. "Works" Paul said had no bearing on the afterlife." When he was asked if being one with God was based on "the principle of works." Paul said no.

The purpose of Martin Luther's efforts was to give lay people access the Bible, the church and redemption. Luther believed that the Bible should be read by everyone not just the clergy and promoted literacy, education and making scriptures understandable to ordinary people. Luther is famous for highlighting the importance of a direct relationship between god and the individual without a clergy and translating the bible in into everyday language of the people. He did not intend to displace the Catholic religion, only to reform it, and he was appalled by the development of the Lutheran church.


Presbyterianism was inspired by the teachings of the Swiss Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) and his fiery friend John Knox (1505-1572), who took Calvin’s doctrines to Scotland and founded the Presbyterian church there. There around 50 million Presbyterians world wide. Presbyterianism is the established religion in Scotland around 1560

John Calvin was a French reformer and humanist scholar. He arrived in Geneva, a city whose citizens he described as "perverse and ill-natured people," and established theocratic states. Calvin preached a stern and demanding God and was back to basics. He stressed the concept of predestination (that god's people were predestined for salvation), good conduct and success were signs of selection. He restored the New Testament four-fold ministry: pastors, teacher, elder and deacons. Calvinists differed with the Lutherans over sacraments and church government.

Presbyterian organization and rule is democratic with a "highly structured representational system of ministers and laypersons (presbyters) in local, regional, and national bodies." The individual church is governed by the "session" consisting of a "teaching leader" (an ordained minister) and "ruling elders" (members elected from the congregation)

Presbyterian Beliefs

Presbyterians believe in the Trinity and the existence of heaven and hell. "Although traces of belief in predestination (that god has foreordained salivation for the 'elect') remain, the idea is no longer a central element of Presbyterianism.

Presbyterianism emphasizes the sovereignty and justice of God. There is not as much emphasis on the doctrine as there once was. According to the World Almanac: "A simple, sober service in which the sermon is central" is the norm. Traditionally there has been a tendency towards strictness, emphasizing the church and self discipline, otherwise it is tolerant.

Presbyterians believe the Scriptures are "the only infallible rule of faith and practice." The Westminster Confession (1645-1647), the most famous doctrinal attempt of English Calvinism, is the basis of the Presbyterian creed."

Presbyterian rites include infant baptism. In the Eucharist, bread and wine symbolize Christ's spiritual presence.


The Baptist Church is the largest non-Catholic religious group in the United States. It has no recognized founder and grew out of the Anabaptist movement on the 16th century. Most Baptists are in the United States. The Baptist churches together form the fifth largest Christian group in the world. One its basic beliefs is that all believers must by full immersed during baptism.

According to the BBC: Baptist churches are found in almost every country in the world and have about 40 million members worldwide. In Britain 2,150 churches belong to the Baptist Union of Great Britain, between them having 150,000 members. [Source: BBC, June 25, 2009 |::|]

“The name 'Baptist' comes from the Baptist practice of immersion in water. It was coined in the seventeenth century by opponents to the new movement but rejected by followers themselves. It wasn't until the nineteenth century that Baptists accepted the use of the label to describe themselves”. |::|

“Technically there is no such thing as a Baptist denomination. The organisation has a 'bottom up' rather than 'top down' approach... Today, Baptists are represented globally by the Baptist World Alliance which was founded in 1905. It provides an international forum for the exchange of Baptist thought, paying special attention to matters concerning Christian education, religious freedom, human rights and missions. In 2009 Baptists celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Baptist movement. |::|

Christian denominations worldwide by percentage

Anabatism, Baptists and Mennonites

The Anabaptists were the most radical members of the Reformation movement. They objected to infant baptism and demanded church and state separation. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth, the Anabaptists were behind dozens of violent uprising. In the 16th century a group of Anabaptists fearing the end of the world was imminent took over the town of Leiden, Netherlands and their leader John was declared a messiah. They abolished money and all books except the Bible and instituted polygamy.

Anabaptism began in Zurich under the stewardship of Conrad Grebel (1498-1526), who preached personal religion, a separation of church and state, and adult baptism and rejected the formal organization of the church. Grebel was persecuted for his beliefs. Anabapits beliefs were embraced John Smyth in England, who founded the Baptist church in 1609, and Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonites, in the Netherlands in the 1600s.

Early Baptists were split into two groups: the General Baptist who believed that Christ died for people, and the Particular Baptist who agreed with the Calvinist doctrine that Christ died only for the select. The Puritans who settled in New England were early Baptists who escaped from religious persecution in Britain and sought refuge in Holland before coming to the New World.

History of the Baptist Church

According to the BBC: “The roots of the Baptist movement date back to the sixteenth century and the post-Reformation period, although the first Baptist congregation appeared in 1609 in Holland. It was here that the Church of England minister, John Smyth, performed a radical and scandalous act of baptising himself by pouring water on his head. He than baptised his fellow reformer, Thomas Helwys and other members of the congregation. [Source: BBC, June 25, 2009 |::|]

“Smyth and Helwys had left England for Holland in 1607 after being persecuted for wanting to purify the Church of England of all traces of Roman Catholicism. Both Smyth and Helwys had joined a group of 'Separatists' in Gainsborough in 1606. Their three core beliefs went on to shape later Baptists. They were: 1) The Bible, not church tradition or religious creed, was the guide in all matters of faith and practice.; 2) The church should be made up of believers only, not all people born in the local parish.; 3) The church should be governed by those believers, not by hierarchical figures like bishops. |::|

“Eventually Smyth and Helwys parted company in Holland as Smyth questioned the authenticity of his self-administered baptism. In 1612 Helwys and others returned to England to establish the first Baptist Church on English soil. Baptists initially developed in two streams of theological thought: 1) General Baptists believed that when Christ died on the cross he died for everyone in general.; 2) Particular Baptists followed the Calvinist tradition of believing that Christ died for a particular group or elect. |These two groups eventually came together in 1813 to form a General Union, which became the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland in the late nineteenth century. |::|

“Throughout the seventeenth century Baptists were persecuted for their beliefs, being known as 'nonconformists' or 'Dissenters'. They refused to become members of the Church of England, saying Christ - and not the monarch - was head of the Church. The nineteenth century saw a period of significant growth for the Baptist movement. Great preachers such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon in London and Alexander Maclaren in Manchester drew crowds in their thousands. |::|

Baptist Organization

Baptist church in Kentucky

The Baptist church is congregational. Each local church is autonomous. Baptists believe no authority can stand between the believer and God. Baptists have traditionally been strong supporters of its independence and church and state separation. According to the BBC: “In the Baptist movement everyone is equal. There is no hierarchy of bishops or priests exercising authority over members. Baptists reject the idea that authority flows down from previous church leaders who can be traced back to the apostles in apostolic succession. [Source: BBC, June 25, 2009 |::|]

“Baptists are congregational: each church is self-governing and self-supporting, made up of members, each with a role to play. The churches encourage those attending to become church members through baptism. This entitles them to vote at the church meeting where all decisions are made. Final authority rests not with the minister or deacons but with church members at the meeting. It appoints ministers, elders, deacons and others who take a leadership role, agree financial policy and determine mission strategy. |::|

Despite their autonomy, local Baptist churches have always come together in regional, national and international associations for support and fellowship. Baptists believe that churches should not live in isolation but be interdependent. As each Baptist church is autonomous there can be no outside interference in decision making. This applies to any secular power, such as the state, being involved in church matters. Therefore Baptists reject the idea of an established or state church.” |::|

Baptist Beliefs

Baptist are strong believers in "soul competency," the belief that each person is possessed by the Holy Spirit which helps an individual interpret the Bible. There is no creed other than a true church is made of believers who are all equal.

Baptist hold that one is saved by faith in Christ and by the grace of God. They believe that the main thing is to accept to Jesus into one's heart. Baptist believe that only believers (not infants) may be baptized and baptism must be done by total immersion rather than pouring or sprinkling of water.

Baptists take the Bible literally. They are strong believers in heaven and hell as real places and that there will be physical resurrection of the dead on the Judgement Day. They also believe in the Trinity and the virgin birth of Christ. Worship style varies a great deal from fairly mellow to evangelical. “Usually opposed to alcohol and tobacco; sometimes tends toward a perfectionist ethical standard." Baptists are involved in extensive missionary activity. [Source: World Almanac]

Baptists believe that the Bible is the supreme authority on every matter. Many Baptists are fundamentalists who interpret the Bible literally and do things like speak in tongues. Baptism usually takes place in the early teens by total immersion.

Baptist Practices

full immersion baptism

According to the BBC: “Baptists share the Trinitarian tradition of all the major Christian denominations. However, there are several features that mark them out from other traditions, although none of them is exclusive to Baptists alone: [Source: BBC, June 25, 2009 |::|]

“Baptism of believers by full immersion: This is perhaps the most obvious difference between Baptists and other denominations. Baptists reject infant baptism, thinking instead that baptism is for believers only - those who can personally declare Jesus as Lord. Some churches will re-baptise those who were baptised as infants in another Christian tradition, others respect that various denominations do things differently. |::|

“The baptism is carried out by full immersion. Most Baptist churches have a baptistery, which is more or less a pool (about 4m by 3m) in the church. During a baptismal service the minister and the person being baptised enter the water. The minister, holding the person, will lie them back in the water so they are totally immersed, and then bring them back up again. Baptists believe this practice is in line with the New Testament practice of baptism, as carried out by John the Baptist. |::|

“Priesthood of all: Baptists believe everyone, ordained or lay, is responsible before God for his/her own understanding of God's word and what it means to them. They believe God created every individual as competent, with the skills to be a priest for themselves and others. That means that in Baptist churches which appoint a minister, he or she is an equal member in the church meeting but with special responsibilities as outlined by the congregation. |::|


Methodism developed in England out of the teaching of the Anglican clergyman John Wesley (1703-1781). The word "Methodism" was originally applied in a negative way to describe the methodical way Wesley and his followers went about their religious duties. Most Methodists are in the United States. It is the fourth largest Christian Church in England: its history and founder John Wesley and its values. There are Methodist Churches in nearly every country in the world and global membership numbers some 70 million people. The Methodist Church is traditionally known as non-conformist because it does not conform to the rules and authority of the established Church of England. [Source: BBC, July 12, 2011 |::|]

Methodist church in South Africa

The Methodist church is organized under the conference and superintendent system. In the United Methodist Church, general superintendents are bishops—not a priestly order, only an office—who are elected for life."

According to the BBC: “The Methodist Church in Britain is divided into circuits, made up of local churches in a defined area. A Superintendent Minister the senior minister appointed to provide pastoral leadership to a circuit. A number of circuits make up a district. Each District has a Chair (in some regards like a Bishop in the Anglican Church) whose job is to lead the ministers and lay people in the work of preaching and worship, evangelism, pastoral care, teaching and administration. Each district has a District Synod which decides policy for that district, within the parameters laid down by the annual Conference. [Source: BBC, July 12, 2011 |::|]

“Each local church has a Church Council, which together with the minister is responsible for coordinating and leading the work or ministry of the church. However, the Methodist church describes itself as having a connexional structure. This means the whole denomination acts and makes decisions together. A local church is never independent of the rest of 'The Methodist Connexion'. The worldwide umbrella organisation for all Methodist Churches is the World Methodist Council, set up in 1951. Its headquarters is in North Carolina in the USA. The World Methodist Conference meets every five years in different locations around the world. |::|

John Wesley and the History of the Methodist Church

According to the BBC: “Methodism has its roots in eighteenth century Anglicanism. Its founder was a Church of England minister, John Wesley (1703-1791), who sought to challenge the religious assumptions of the day. During a period of time in Oxford, he and others met regularly for Bible study and prayer, to receive communion and do acts of charity. They became known as 'The Holy Club' or 'Methodists' because of the methodical way in which they carried out their Christian faith. John Wesley later used the term Methodist himself to mean the methodical pursuit of biblical holiness. [Source: BBC, July 12, 2011 |::|]

Wesley began the Methodist church within the Church of England. In 1738 he had a profound religious experience in London. "I felt," he wrote, "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."

John Wesley

The experience transformed Wesley, and inspired him to become one of the greatest preachers of all time. Taking on the role of evangelical preacher, Wesley roamed the countryside stressing the notion of a personal conversion over the formalism of the Church of England. Although he considered himself an Anglican after some time he wasn’t allowed to preach in Anglican churches. After more time his following had grown large enough Methodist and Wesleyan societies were established in Britain and the United States.

Robert Colls, Professor of English History at the University of Leicester, wrote in for the BBC: “ In Bristol in 1739 he began preaching to crowds of working class men and women in the outdoors. This 'field preaching' became a key feature of the Revival, when thousands came to hear Wesley preach up and down the country. He formed local societies of those converted and encouraged them to meet in smaller groups on a weekly basis. He insisted, though, that they attend their local parish church as well as the Methodist meetings. Every year, by horse or carriage, Wesley travelled the country visiting the societies and preaching. Preaching radical ideas took great courage in those days. Wesley and his followers were denounced in print and from pulpits, his meetings were disrupted and he was even physically attacked and threatened with death. |::|

Recalling a sermon he gave in Hull in 1752, John Wesley wrote: "A huge multitude, rich and poor, horse and foot, with several coaches, were soon gathered, to which I cried with a loud voice and a composed spirit, 'What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' Some thousand of the people attended, but many behaved as if possessed by Moloch. Clods and stones flew about on every side, but they neither touched or disturbed me. When I finished my discourses, I went to take a coach, but the coachman had driven clear away." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, 1987, Avon Books]

“John Wesley always declared that his movement should remain within the Anglican Church but the Church of England was keen to distance itself from him and his followers. He declared "I live and die a member of the Church of England". However, in 1784 he set up a structure, the Yearly Conference of the People called Methodists, to ensure the continuation of the Methodist movement after his death. In the end, the strength and impact of Methodism made a separate Methodist Church inevitable. In 1795, four years after Wesley's death, Methodists in Britain became legally able to conduct marriages and perform the sacraments. |::|

“The new church wasn't without its internal schisms. In 1808 the Methodist lay-preacher, Hugh Bourne, was expelled from the movement. He and his 200 followers became known as Primitive Methodists. They differed from Wesleyan Methodists in several regards, including the encouragement of woman evangelists. Both Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist communities grew rapidly during the 19th century. It was from among the Primitives that many Trade Union leaders emerged towards the end of the century. |::|

Methodist Beliefs

Although Methodists accept the Trinity and practice baptism and communion, individual love of God and individual religious experience is regarded as more important than formal doctrine. Salvation is achieved by a life of holiness, repentance and faith, and is available to everyone. Most believe in judgment after death, in which the morally good will be rewarded and wicked punished."

Worship style varies widely by denomination, local church and geography. There has always strong been an emphasis on social activity. In the early days Methodists were involved in welfare projects such as caring for the poor and prisoners. This emphasis continues today. Scripture is interpreted by tradition reason and experience. Baptism is done with both infants and adults.

According to the BBC: “Methodists stand within the Protestant tradition of the worldwide Christian Church. Their core beliefs reflect orthodox Christianity. Methodist teaching is sometimes summed up in four particular ideas known as the four alls. 1) All need to be saved - the doctrine of original sin; 2 ) All can be saved - Universal Salvation; 3) All can know they are saved - Assurance; 4) All can be saved completely - Christian perfection [Source: BBC, July 12, 2011 |::|]

Methodist family tree diagram

“Methodist churches vary in their style of worship during services. The emphasis is often on Bible reading and preaching, although the sacraments are an important feature, especially the two instituted by Christ: Eucharist or Holy Communion and Baptism. |Hymn singing is a lively feature of Methodist services. The founder's brother, Charles Wesley, was a prolific hymn writer and many of his works are still sung today both in Methodist and other churches. |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time,, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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