The Christian Approach to the Study of Denominations

1. How are we to think about the differences between denominations?

The Radio Analogy

The Signal=

The Sound=

The Map Analogy

2. We should deplore divisions.

The one holy Christian church is made up of all who trust in Jesus as Savior.

Eph. 4:4-6 "There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Rom. 15:2, 4, 14-15 A beautiful picture of the church life the Lord desires to exist on earth

3. We should believe, teach, and confess the truth of Godís Word.

John 8:31-32 The Lord desires that His church continue steadfastly in His Word

Matt. 16:5, 12 Jesus compares false doctrine to yeast "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough (Gal. 5:9).

Titus 1:9 "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."


Early Disagreements in the Church

Judaizers in the 1st Century- taught that Christians must keep Old Testament ceremony laws for salvation

Gnostics in the 2nd Century- taught that Jesus did not have a true human body

Arius in the 4th Century- denied deity of Christ

Macedonians in the 4th Century- called the Holy Spirit a creature

Pelagians in the 5th Century- denied original sin

Nestorius in the 5th Century- denied that the divine and human natures of Christ use each otherís attributes

Eutyches in the 5th Century- taught that Christ had only a divine nature


Founding Leaders: Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), George Whitefield, John & Charles Wesley

Confessional Writings: 29 Articles of Religion, Wesleyís Sermons, Wesleyís Notes, General Rules

Denominations: Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarene, Salvation Army, (American Rescue Workers, Volunteers of America)

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE: Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience

CENTRAL DOCTRINE: Personal religious experience climaxing into perfection


Synergism- sinful corruption but there is something in man to do good.

Conditional Election-God predestined those whom He foresaw would remain steadfast in faith.

Unlimited Atonement- Christ died for all mankind

Resistible Grace- grace can be resisted by natural free will

Fall- man can fall from grace

According to the Bible, regeneration is solely the work and gift of God. See 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:1, 5.

MAN: "Initial Justification": by faith alone

"Final Justification": based on faith and works (obedience), qualifies one to enter heaven

"Entire Justification": the person who reaches perfection (According to Wesley a perfect, "entirely sanctified" person may still make mistakes) There is debate whether or not

Wesley himself claimed to achieve Christian perfection.

The fact is that the good works of Christians, even the best of them, are never perfect and acceptable in themselves. Isaiah 64:6; Phil. 3:9. Christís perfect obedience must be credited to us- Rom. 5:19.

"Teetotalism"- total abstinence from strong drink. Romans 14:21 is pointed out to warn against drinking.

SALVATION: "Full salvation" is the highest state of grace, in which Christians become so sanctified that they no longer commit acts of sin.

What does 1 John 1:7-9 say about this? What does Mt.5:48; 19:21; and 1 Thess. 5:23 mean then?

SACRAMENTS: Methodists are divided on whether Baptism and Lordís Supper convey grace. They are usually viewed as symbols. Infants are baptized.

CHURCH AND MINISTRY: Episcopal-Presbyterian church government. ("connectionalism"- pastors are in connection with laity)

LAST THINGS: May or may not hold pre-milleniallist views. John Wesley was pre-millenialist.


Authoritative Sources: New Hampshire Confession, Philadelphia Confession, Baptist Faith and Message

Prominent Figures: Roger Williams, John Bunyan, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Billy Graham

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE: Scripture is the supreme standard by which all conduct, creeds and opinions are tried.

Anticreedalism- Baptists have consistently refused to be bound by any man-made creeds. They cite Heb. 8:10 to prove that God directly writes His laws into the believerís heart.

Is there a real necessity for creeds? What is the value of confessing creeds every Sunday?

CENTRAL DOCTRINE: "Soul liberty" or "Liberty of conscience"- the full competency of the soul under God in all religious things. Individual relationship with the church is secondary to a Christianís relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is it possible for the individual to rightly interpret the Bible completely on his or her own? Where is the glory of Christ connected to in Ephesians 3:14-21? What is the danger of a "Me and Jesus" attitude?

GOD: Holy Trinity

MAN: Man is fallen and corrupt and in need of grace.

Historically, Baptists have been divided into two groups.

"Particular" Baptists- (Calvinistic)

-believed in particular grace
-believed there is no free will in spiritual matters

"General" Baptists (Arminian) 

-believed in universal grace
-believed there is some free will in spiritual matters

SALVATION: Godís free gift in Christís redemption. There is a special emphasis on the believerís conversion experience.

SACRAMENTS: Baptism and Lordís Supper are symbolic ordinances. When Baptists use the phrase "means of grace" they refer to a means for exercising faith. These are used to express faith, not to bring about faith. Thatís why Baptists do not believe in baptismal regeneration. Infant baptism is viewed as immoral and invalid. A believerís immersion is the only proper mode.

How does the Old Testament story of Naaman in II Kings 5:1-15 help us to understand the power of Baptism? Which is more important in Baptism- the experience or the Word? Which is to come first- feelings or faith?

How does Baptism save according to 1 Peter 3:20-21? What is promised in Acts 2:28?

Can infants have faith? See Luke 10:21; 1 Peter 2:2; Psalm 22:9-10; 71:5-6; Matthew 21:15-16; Luke 1:15, 41, 44.

Should we not baptize infants because there is the chance that later on they might fall away from the faith? See Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, 2 Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 6:6-7; 10:26-27

Why not just have blessings of infants like Jesus did?

CHURCH AND MINISTRY: Congregational form of government. Confessional subscription is not required of clergy.


The Basic Teachings of John Calvin (1509-64).

Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Synod of Dort, Westminster Confession, Belgic Confession

Include: Presbyterian bodies and Reformed bodies. (ie. PCA, PCUSA, RCA)

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE- Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). However, Calvin taught that the doctrines of the Bible are brought into harmony with reason.

Does Scripture teach things which conflict with reason?

CENTRAL TEACHING- Focus on the glory or sovereignty of God. Manís chief end is to glorify God by who he is and what he does.

Is God primarily a "getting God" or a "giving God?"

The five points of Calvinism. (Synod of Dort; 1618-19) "TULIP"

T otal depravity- man has no free will in spiritual matters

U nconditional predestination- God elects some to heaven and some to hell

L imited atonement- Christ died only for the elect

I rresistible grace- man cannot resist Godís call

P erservance in grace- "once saved, always saved"

GOD- Trinity

CHRIST- "The finite cannot comprehend the infinite." Since Christís body has ascended into heaven, it is there until the Second Advent and cannot be present at the same time on earth.

MAN- Totally corrupt in spiritual matters. People do not have freedom of the will to turn to God in faith or cooperate in their conversions.

SACRAMENTS- Baptism and the Lordís Supper are merely symbols and outward ceremonies of what the Holy Spirit does in the heart directly and immediately without means. They signify but do not give the new life, or forgiveness of sins.

What is the danger of the doctrine of immediate grace (the belief that forgiveness and life are bestowed without the means of Word and Sacrament)?

CHURCH AND MINISTRY- Most traditional Calvinists hold that the church must be governed by a Presbyterian form of government. (government by presbyters- the Greek word for elders).

We, Lutherans, say that the visible church consists of those who confess their faith. Church polity or government is not the issue.

LAST THINGS- The Westminster Confession doesnít leave room for pre-millinialism. Most Calvinists are either "post" or "amillinialists". Although some may be pre-millinialists.


SOURCE OF DOCTRINE- Holy Scripture (which include the apocryphal books) and "sacred tradition" (the 7 ecumenical councils, later councils, statements of individual theologians, church fathers, worship practices, icons). Tradition completes and explains Scripture. It is equally inspired and necessary.

The church is infallible in the sense that its teaching is not to be subjected to a higher norm for judgment. 1 Tim. 3:15 is used in support.

What does it mean that the church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth"? What problems result from the denial of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)? See 2 Tim. 3:16; Acts 17:11; Luke 16:31.

CENTRAL DOCTRINE- summarized in the words of St. Athanasius: "Christ became man that we might become divine." Theosis or theopoiesis. Deification of man. "We believe that man is justified not simply by faith alone, but by faith which is active through love, that is, through faith and works" (Confesssion of Dositheus, XIII.)

What does Godís Word say about salvation? Rom.3:28 and Eph. 2:8-9

GOD- The Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit proceeds through- but not from- the Son.

The Orthodox assert that the phrase "I believe in the Holy SpiritÖ who proceeds from the Father and the Son" cannot be proved from Scripture or tradition. What does Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:4; 1 Peter 1:11; and John 16:15 say about this?

CHRIST- Two natures in Christ: True God, True Man.

MAN- Humanity is fallen and corrupt, but not dead in sin. We have a will that is free to cooperate with God in bringing about our conversion and justification.

SALVATION- "Theosis": Grace is given to help men return to the original state of righteousness. "I am being saved" instead of "I am saved." Synergism: Cooperation between divine grace and human freedom.

SACRAMENTS- 7 sacraments: Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Eucharist, Penance, Ordination, Matrimony, Unction. Practice of "intinction"- dipping bread into wine. God enables people to do the meritorious works that deserve eternal life. He has instituted sacraments in which grace is transmitted for this purpose.

Lutherans point out that Scripture contains an institution for only three of these as means of grace- Mt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-29; John 20:22-23.

CHURCH AND MINISTRY- "The office of a bishop is so essential that without it there could be no church nor any Christians. The bishop stands in uninterrupted apostolic succession, a living image of God on earth." (Confession of Dositheus, X) Apostolic Succession. The Patriarch of Constantinople is the chief bishop of the church. Believers outside of Orthodoxy can have saving grace, but they are not visibly in the church Christ founded.

LAST THINGS- classic Christian tradition, but theosis continues after death, a completion of justification. Prayers for the dead are prayed.


The American branch of the worldwide Anglican (Church of England) church, which began in 1534 when the English monarch, rather than the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), was recognized as head of the church on earth.

Doctrinal writings: 39 Articles

Hymnal: Book of Common Prayer

Include: The Episcopal Church and Reformed Episcopal Church


A church of diverse theology ("via media")
High Churchman ("Anglo-Catholic")- Scripture and Tradition
Low Churchman ("Anglo-Protestant")- Scripture alone
Broad Churchman (tolerant)- Human Reason


High Churchman- worship with the sacraments
Low Churchman- doctrine of Grace
Broad Churchman- moral teachings
James Pike, an Anglican theologian wrote, "I have become higher, lower, and broader in my theology."

GOD: Trinity

CHRIST: Traditional teachings, (although there is no agreement on the work of Christ).

MAN: Original Sin. There is a debate whether there is total or partial depravity.

SALVATION: No uniformity. Calvinist and Arminian viewpoints.

SACRAMENTS: Differing viewpoints on the Real Presence and the sacrifice of the Mass.

CHURCH: Again, there is no complete agreement. According to the Lambeth Quadrilateral, it is necessary for church unity that the church be governed by bishops, who hold the highest rank of ministry.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral is the statement adopted in 1888 affirming the fourfold basis of Anglican unity.

The Scriptures as the rule of faith
The Apostlesí and Nicene Creed
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lordís Supper
Episcopal Church Government

LAST THINGS: Traditional biblical view of life after death. However, some Anglo-Catholics believe in purgatory.


Denominations: Mennonites (Amish), The Brethren, Quakers (Friends), Amana Church Society, Schwenkfelder

Prominent Thinkers: Menno Simons (Mennonites), Jacob Ammon (Amish), John Darby (Brethren), George Fox & Robert Barclay (Quakers), Caspar Schwenkfeld (Schwenkfelder)

Doctrinal Writings: Dordrecht Confession 1632, Barclayís Apology for the True Christian Divinity 1678

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE: Scripture and the "Inner Light" (mystical experience)

The "inner light" or "inner word" are direct revelations from God. Scripture is believed to be a collection of inner light experiences of the Apostles. Inner light is primary. Scripture is secondary.

CENTRAL TEACHING: Mystical pietism- Man lives in vital contact with God. The stream of divine light flowing into man should become active in and through him for the good of his fellow men.

How does mysticism come close to the temptation offered by the serpent in Genesis 3:5?

The issue is not our ascent to God, but Godís descent to us. How does God descend to us? See Lutherís Christmas hymn "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come" (TLH 85, LW 37).

GOD & CHRIST: Trinity, some Quakers are Unitarian, God is the Light who give us the inner light

MAN: Corrupt by nature but still has the capacity for the mystical life. Synergistic.

SALVATION: Justification by moral transformation. No oaths, plain dress, forms of luxury, automobiles, telephones, modern furniture, higher education, use of buttons. Extreme pietism.

Abstinence from the world based on 1 Cor. 5:9-11.

As Christians we are called to live in the world, but not of the world. What does Jesus prayer for in John 17:14-18.

SACRAMENTS: Believerís baptism, Lordís Supper, and Foot washing are symbolic ordinances.

Note how the following passages describe the efficacy of Godís Word:

Isaiah 55:11
Romans 10:14, 17
Hebrews 4:12

How are the Scriptures "sacramental?"

CHURCH & MINISTRY: Calls to be pastors (men or women) are immediate through the inner light. Mennonites have rankings in ministry. Mennonites maintain that a local congregation is a true church only if it is totally free from open sinners. Therefore, the impure are excommunicated and shunned.


Denominations include: Assemblies of God, Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.).

The list of doctrines that came out of the Fundamentalist Movement were adopted by the Pentecostal Movement in the late 1800ís.

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE: The Bible is the Word of God. Sometimes revelations are claimed as authoritative. (ex. William S. Crowdy, C.H. Mason)

CENTRAL TEACHING: The points of the "Full Gospel"- The true list of essential blessings that every believer should expect.

1. Christ the Savior- the Vicarious Atonement; Arminian doctrine of justification through faith alone

2. Christ the Sanctifier- "Entire Sanctification" and "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" are to be sought by all Christians.

3. Christ the Healer-a privilege made available to Christians by Christís atonement

4. Christ the Coming King- Premillennialism

The Church of the Foursquare Gospel declares that Ezekielís vision in Ezek. 1:5ff represents this teaching.

GOD: Trinity. "Jesus Only" Pentecostals, including the United Pentecostal Church stress baptism in the name of Jesus, alone.

MAN: sinful depravity with Arminian decision theology.

SALVATION: Every Christian should seek a second, post-conversion Spirit Baptism which is evidenced by sign-manifestations of the Spirit (speaking in tongues, healing) and makes one certain of having faith and the indwelling of the Spirit.

SACRAMENTS: Water baptism and Lordís Supper (and, in many churches, foot-washing) are symbols and object lessons of religious experience.

CHURCH AND MINISTRY: The Church of God maintains that its government is like that of the apostolic church.

LAST THINGS: Dispensational Premillennialism


Source of Doctrine: Scripture, tradition, reason, the teaching authority of the church

Read Deut. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18. How do these two passages clash with the Roman doctrine of tradition? What standard for judging tradition is provided by Matthew 15:1-9? According to 2 Tim. 3:16,17 why is it unnecessary to place tradition alongside Scripture as a second teaching authority?

The Papacy: The official declaration of papal infallibility took place at Vatican I in 1870. Papal authority was reaffirmed at Vatican II, which declared, "Religious submission of will and mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking (that is, in a formal doctrinal decree)."

Read Matt.16:13-23. Catholics have traditionally claimed that this passage and John 21:15-19 establish Peterís authority as pope. Read Matt. 18:18-20. To whom has Christ committed the keys of His kingdom?

Justification: Man cooperates with supernatural grace to obtain salvation. God gives sinners a righteousness that they can use to help themselves in the face of Godís condemnation of them for their sin. The Council of Trent denounced the teaching that we are forgiven and justified solely for the sake of what Christ has done. This makes it impossible for individuals to have undoubtable certainty that they really are justified.

Read Gal. 3:10-13; Rom. 3:10-25; Eph. 2:8-9.

Man: Original sin is not total depravity, but a weakening of the free will in spiritual matters. Venial sin is slight transgression, not deserving eternal punishment, while mortal sin is a complete breaking of Godís commandment, which does deserve eternal punishment.

Mary and the Saints: Immaculate conception (1854), assumption of Mary to heaven (1950).

She has been called co-redemptrix and co-mediatrix with Christ.

Read 1 John 1:7; 2:1,2. How can we be called saints since we still sin daily? Why is it unnecessary to ask a saint to intercede with God on our behalf? Rom. 5:1,2. What do 1 Tim. 2:5, Eph. 1:7 and Gal. 4:4,5 say about the claim that Mary shares in the work of redemption and mediation?

Sacraments: The seven sacraments confer grace ex opere operato (by the work having been worked, by the performance of the act) and not because of faith in the promise of grace.

Baptism- gives forgiveness and wipes out the very essence of original sin, so that the corruption that remains is not truly sin.

Confirmation- strengthens Christians by bestowing a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Eucharist- a sacrifice, which the priest and people join Christ in offering, to appease God and obtain benefits for the living and the dead. (Council of Trent, Sess.22)

Penance- there are 3 acts required to obtain remission of sins and punishments. Contrition, confession, satisfaction. Only a priest can remit mortal sins. Indulgences are still provided.

Matrimony- Marriage of a Roman Catholic is said to be invalid if done before a justice of the peace.

Holy Orders- ordination bestows power to administer sacraments. Imprints an indelible character on the priestís soul.

Extreme Unction (Last Rites)- a ceremony with holy oil and prayer for the seriously ill.


Prominent Thinkers: William Miller (believed that Christ would return in March 21, 1844 and October 22, 1844); James and Ellen White (prophetess who founded the church in 1863)

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE: Scripture plus revelations of Ellen White (Rationalism, Literalism)

CENTRAL TEACHING: Justification plus legalism. Surviving the "Investigative Judgment" by conforming to diving precepts (Sabbath-keeping, strict dietary laws, Old Testament ceremonial laws)

GOD & CHRIST: Fundamental teaching of Trinity and deity of Christ. However, the investigative judgment is a denial of Christís finished work on the cross. A distinction is made between the "forgiveness of sin" and the "blotting out of sin."

3 works of Christ include: 1. Vicarious Atonement 2. Investigative Judgment 3. Executive Judgment

MAN & SALVATION: Arminian synergism.

SACRAMENTS: Symbolic ordinances. Believerís baptism.

CHURCH & MINISTRY: Congregational. Believe they are the "remnant church" of Rev. 14

LAST THINGS: Pre-millennialist; believe in "soul sleep"; believe there is a two-fold destiny a.) annihilation, or b.) eternal life.; Daniel 8:14 and Leviticus 16 are central passages.

Discussion Questions

1. How do Jesusí words in Matt. 24:36 run counter to date-setting speculations?

2. No one knows when Christ will return. How then can believers be ready? Look at Luke 21:34 -36 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

3. How would you answer a Seventh-Day Adventist who says to you, "Your church has departed from scriptural teaching by not requiring worship on the seventh day of the week"? See Hebrews 8:6-7 and Colossians 2:16.

4. Is "soul sleep" a biblical teaching? See Philippians 1:23; Matt. 8:12; 25:46

5. When is "the millennium"? Rev. 20:1-6

6. In what respect do Godís people reign on earth? Matt. 16:17-19

7. How should we understand the "binding" of Satan? Matt. 12:24-29

8. Joe, a friend at a neighboring community church, insists that Jerusalem will be established as the center of Christís millennial kingdom. How might you respond to Joe?


Denominations: Moravian, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ ("Restortionists"), Independent ("Community Churches"), United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ (UCC)

Prominent Thinkers: John Huss, Count Zinzindorf (Moravians), Alexander and Thomas Campbell, Barton Stone (Christian, Disciples of Christ), John Robinson

Documents: The Moravian Book of Order (Moravians); Declaration and Address (Campbellites); Statement of Faith (1959) "a testimony rather than a test of faith" of UCC

SOURCE OF DOCTRINE: "the Bible alone"- a quote made famous by Thomas Campbell

The motto of the Campbellite churches is:

"No creed but Christ,
No book but the Bible,
No name but the Divine
In essentials unity, in opinions liberty, in all things charity."

CENTRAL TEACHING: Christian union by abandoning denominations, taking the New Testament blueprint for the church. This is based on Jesusí prayer for unity in John 17:22- "that they may be one."

This goes back to the Moravian motto: "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity."

Read Jesusí prayer for unity. John 17. What kind of unity does He really pray for? In what way has this prayer been answered? What is the true "ecumenical spirit" according to Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 15:5-6; 16:17; Matt. 28:20a; John 8:31-32; 1 Tim. 1:3; 63-5; Titus 1:13-14; 2 John 9?

GOD & CHRIST: Very diverse belief. There is room for both Trinitarianism and Unitarianism.

The UCC is arguably the most liberal of all denominations. Where does all liberal thinking stem from? See 1 Cor. 2:4-5; 2 Cor. 10:5; Rom. 8:7; Col. 2:8

MAN: Do not accept total depravity. People become sinners after they grow old enough to become accountable for their actions.

SALVATION: Synergistic. 1.) Belief in Jesus, 2.) Knowledge of divine matters by the will. Godly life is more important than full agreement in doctrinal formulations.

What carries more weight- a.) the way I do things" or b.) the way God does things?

SACRAMENTS: Baptism and Lordís Supper are symbolic acts by which believers express their faith and repentance. In the Restortionist churches, the Lordís Supper must be celebrated every Sunday because of their flawed interpretation of Acts 20:7.

Does the Lord mandate how often we are to celebrate the Lordís Supper? How do the Restorationists make this gift into a Law and not Gospel?

CHURCH & MINISTRY: There is no distinction between the "invisible" and "visible church." It is the visible organization that must be restored to the New Testament pattern of doing things. Congregational autonomy.

LAST THINGS: The UCC is not convinced that Christ will return. They think the Kingdom will be ushered in by the Christiansí actions of love.


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