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Thread: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

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    Post Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Catholicism

    Description

    Name: Roman Catholicism

    The Founding: The apostles of Jesus Christ formed the beginnings of the Christian Church. They helped spread the Gospel and provided structure for the early Church. It is hard to differentiate the beginnings of the Roman Catholic church from that of the early Christian church. 1 The apostle, Peter, also known as Simon, was of central importance. The Church was organized and presided over by Peter. According to the Scriptures, Matthew 16:13- 19, Christ said to Peter: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." 2 In 313, the Roman Catholic Church was legally recognized by the Roman Emperor Constantine, and, in 380 it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. 3

    Sacred or Revered Texts: The Bible. Different from the Protestant Bible, the Roman Catholic Bible contains the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha consists of books contained in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), but not included in the Hebrew Scriptures. 4 In addition, many theological writings are included in the church doctrine. These include the writings of people such as Thomas Aquinas. 5 The Canon Law is a collection of rules and regulations that form the basic law of the Roman Catholic Church. 6

    Size of Group: Today, Roman Catholics make up the largest branch of Christianity. There are over one billion followers of Roman Catholicism worldwide. 7 A large number of these followers live in Central and Southern Europe, Latin America, and Ireland. 8 See http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_romcath.html for a list of the largest Catholic communities in the United States and worldwide.

    World Religion : Roman Catholicism is a world religion. According to Huston Smith, "Every religion mixes universal principles with local peculiarities. The former, when lifted out and made clear, speak to what is generically human in us all. The latter, rich compounds of rites and legends, are not easy for outsiders to comprehend." In studying world religions, we benefitand grow from being able to see the world through different perspectives. 9

    Cult or Sect : Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    History

    After the Church became the Roman Empire's official religion in 380, it remained united until 1054. At this time, the Eastern Orthodox Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church, which from that point on would be identified as the western Church. 10 There were many reasons for the schism, but the major issue concerned the Pope's claim of primacy. 11 The next schism that occurred in the Roman Catholic Church was in the sixteenth century, with the Protestant Reformation. 12 Roman Catholics, however, "regard the [Roman Catholic] Church under the successor of Peter as the one, universal Church; other Christians are held to be 'in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.'" 13 Said differently, "for Roman Catholicism . . . the Catholic church and the Catholic tradition are normative for other Christian churches and traditions." 14 The Roman Catholic Church has held three councils since the Reformation -- the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Vatican I Council (1869-1870), and the Vatican II Council (1962-1965). These three councils, in addition to the pope, defined the Church's beliefs.

    The Council of Trent began the Counter-Reformation and differentiated between the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church from those of the Reformers. 15 Trent "articulated Catholic doctrine on nature and grace . . . defined the seven sacraments, created the Index of Forbidden Books, and established seminaries for the education and formation of future priests." 16

    The next council, Vatican I, asserted the infallibility and primacy of the pope, declaring that the "infallible teachings of the people are irreformable, that is, not subject to the consent of any higher ecclesiastical body or authority." 17

    And finally, Vatican II brought forth "drastic changes, such as the use of the vernacular in the church, greater participation of the laity in worship, and a new ecumenical spirit of cooperation with Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy." 18

    Organization and Structure

    The Roman Catholic Church is organized as an authoritative hierarchy. At the head of the Roman Catholic Church is the Pope, who is said to be a successor of Peter. The Pope resides in Rome at the Vatican. The current Pope, John Paul II, is the 265th successor. For a chronological list of all of the popes see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12272b.htm . 17 Authority in the Roman Catholic Church is described as apostolic, "'because she is founded on the apostles,' and 'continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles . . . through their successors.'" 20 When a pope dies, the College of Cardinals elect his successor. Cardinals are appointed by the Pope and make up the advisory board of the church. 21 The Church is divided into Dioceses, which are the "fundamental unit[s] of organization in the Roman Catholic Church," and are each headed by a bishop named by the Pope. 22 The bishops' duties include administering the sacraments of Holy Orders and Confirmation and controlling his assigned diocese. Archdioceses are similar to dioceses, without the special jurisdiction of nearby bishops. Each of the dioceses are divided into Parishes which are headed by a priest. 23

    Beliefs

    A summary of the basic beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church can be found by reading the Nicene Creed, as follows:

    We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Throughhim all things were made. For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became a man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended intoheaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. 25

    In addition to the beliefs specific to the Roman Catholic Church, Roman Catholics believe in many basic Christian traditions, including the Trinity of God. As spoken in the Nicene Creed, the trinity consists of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Roman Catholicism is based on the idea of faith, "what moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe 'because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.'" 26 The beliefs of Roman Catholics are defined by the Pope, who, when he speaks on these beliefs and morals, is considered infallible. Official church doctrines emanating from the teaching of the Pope are called encyclicals.

    Roman Catholicism states that because of original sin, man is inherently sinful and needs to be saved. This original sin is described in the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Jesus Christ died on the cross as atonement for Adam's failure and assures Roman Catholics eternal life with God in Heaven. Salvation may only be achieved through God's grace; the Sacraments are a means by which to sustain that grace. 27

    The seven Sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Marriage. The Eucharist, also referred to as the Holy Mass, is the center of the Church's life. During mass, Catholics believe that the bread and wine that they consume has been changed into the body and blood of Christ. The Mass is the center of Catholic worship. 28

    Easter and Christmas are the two most important high holy days celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church. Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Roman Catholicism also recognizes holy days celebrating the Saints, especially Mary, the Virgin mother of Jesus Christ.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Orthodox Christianity

    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodoxy
    The word orthodoxy, from the Greek ortho ('right', 'correct') and dox ('thought', 'teaching'), is typically used to refer to the correct observance of religion, as determined by some overseeing body. Orthodoxy is opposed to heresy and schism. People who deviate from orthodoxy by professing a doctrine considered to be false are called heretics, while those who deviate from orthodoxy by removing themselves from the perceived body of believers, i.e. from full communion, are called schismatics. Not infrequently these occur together. The distinction in terminology pertains to the subject matter. If one is addressing corporate unity, the emphasis may be on schism; if one is addressing doctrinal coherence, the emphasis may be on heresy.

    Apostasy is a violation of orthodoxy that takes the form of abandonment of the faith, be it for some form of atheism or for some other faith. A lighter deviation from orthodoxy than heresy is commonly called error, in the sense of not being grave enough to cause total estrangement while yet seriously affecting communion. Sometimes error is also used to cover both full heresies and minor errors.

    Religion embraces conceptualization of the divine and practice of worship, and adherents of all faiths represent to others how they perceive these things. There is a degree of openness, and an extent to which these elements are non-negotiable, in all religions. Tribal religions may involve cannibalising non-believers, or may be very open to theological discussion; while monotheistic religions adapt themselves to diverse cultures in manifold ways while yet not relinquishing certain precepts. Issues of tolerance and syncretism are distinct; a religion may tolerate another, neither oppressing nor adapting to it; a religion may permit itself to be absorbed into another; a religion may be outwardly intolerant while yet absorbing some teachings from another religion. A religion may be more tolerant of others at a given point in time than at another. These forms of cultural interplay impinge upon the extent to which a religion may or may not appear to maintain a consistent stance concerning its theology and practice.

    Various groups have laid claim to the word orthodox as part of their titles, usually in order to differentiate themselves from other, 'heretical' movements. Orthodox Judaism focuses on a strict adherence to what it sees as the correct interpretation of the Oral Torah, dating from the strict reforms instituted under King Josiah in 622/621 BCE. Within Christianity, the term occurs in the Eastern Orthodox, Western Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches.

    The Eastern Orthodox Churches hearken back to what they see as the original forms of worship; for example, the Nicene Creed is used in its form as revised at the First Council of Constantinople in 381, in contrast to the Roman Catholic church, which use the Nicene creed with the addition of the phrase 'and the Son' (see Filioque clause). This emphasis on the use of the original "creed" is shared today by all "eastern orthodox" churches.

    The Catholic Church considers the Eastern Orthodox to be in schism and therefore not in full communion with the Holy See. Some Eastern Orthodox churches in turn consider Catholics to be heretics. Confusingly, the term "Western Orthodox" refers to both the few existing churches in full communion with the Holy See whose practices are largely Eastern Orthodox and to certain parishes within Eastern Orthodoxy whose practices resemble Episcopalianism.

    The Catholic Church considers Protestantism to be heresy; some Protestants are mutually hostile, and consider Catholics, and sometimes Eastern Orthodox, to be heretics. In some cases the term apostasy is applied within mutual invectives. The Catholic Church, since the Second Vatican Council, has been working harder to effect rapprochement among diverse forms of Christianity; these efforts have been met with wide-ranging responses. Some religious groups are considered by all of the aforementioned to be unorthodox, including Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists, Unitarians, and adherents of Liberal theology in general.

    Inside each of these ecclesiastical communities there are issues that correspond to estrangement or refinements of perceived orthodoxy. For example, the Roman See often issues recommendations as to what practices it considers orthodox so as to curb excesses or deficiencies by its prelates. Some Evangelicals are pursuing innovations that conservative Evangelicals consider unorthodox and call Neopentecostal, neo-Evangelical or even fringe Charismatic.

    In English, the term "Oriental Orthodoxy" is sometimes used to refer to non-Chalcedonian eastern Christians, i.e. the Nestorians and Monophysites, though given the big difference in Christology between the two, the term is often used only for the latter. (This distinction between 'eastern' and 'oriental' is impossible in those other languages that use the same word for both.)

    The term orthodox is also frequently used by Christians to refer to what they consider "mainstream" Christianity, as opposed to what they consider to be cults. This usage is especially popular among certain Protestant groups.
    Last edited by Johannes de León; Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004 at 06:13 PM. Reason: Other Souce, more complete.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Presbyterians

    Grew out of Calvinist churches of Switzerland and France; John Knox founded the first Presbyterian church in Scotland in 1557; the first presbytery in North America was established by Irish missionary Francis Makemie in 1706.

    3.2 million

    Faith is in the Bible; the sacraments are infant baptism and communion; the church is organized as a system of courts in which clergy and lay members (presbyters) participate at local, regional, and national levels; services are simple, with emphasis on the sermon.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Methodists

    Description

    Name: The United Methodist Church

    Founders: Although the United Methodist Church is actually the current result of several schisms and mergers within and among different churches, the United Methodist Church considers its founder to be John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. 1

    Date of Birth: John Wesley was born in 1703 in England. He died in 1791. 2

    Date/Place Founded: Wesley founded The Methodist Church in London in 1739. 3 However, the church that we know today as the United Methodist Church was not founded until April 23, 1968 in Dallas, Texas as a result of the unification of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church. 4

    Sacred or Revered Texts: The Bible

    Other Important Texts: The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (first edition, 1972), 5 as well as Wesley's Sermons , his Notes on the New Testament , the Twenty-five Articles of Religion, and the Minutes in Conference . 6

    Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect"page, where you will find additional links to related issues. 7

    Size of The United Methodist Church: The Church's latest reported numbers (from 1998) claim a total of approximately 9,752,303 members worldwide. Of these, 8,411,503 are members residing inside the United States. These figures represent both clergy and lay members, with lay members accounting for 9,705,250 of the total number. 8

    History

    The United Methodist Church was founded on April 23, 1968, in Dallas, Texas. This new Protestant denomination was created when Lloyd C. Wicke, bishop of The Methodist Church, and Reuben H. Mueller, bishop of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, met at the constituting General Conference (sometimes referred to as the Uniting Conference of the United Methodist Church), 9 and effectively combined their churches into one. 10

    The Early Years

    The United Methodist Church's history can be traced back through the orgins of Methodism, a denomination founded by John Wesley in the middle of the eighteenth century. Wesley was born in 1703 to Samuel and Susana Wesley. 11 He later attended Oxford University and was ordained a minister of the Church of England. He and several other students at Oxford created a group devoted not only to scholarly goals, but also to prayer and to aiding the less fortunate. The members of this group were often referred to as "Methodists" by their classmates as a result of the methodical way they went about their religious business. 12

    After graduation, Wesley traveled to America, where he unsuccessfully tried to convert the Native Americans in Georgia. It was at this time that Wesley was introduced to and became quite taken with the pious Moravian religion. [See Moravian Profile Page on this site] Then, on May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced a religious conversion after attending a prayer meeting held on Aldersgate Street, London. This experience led him to found Methodism in England in 1739. Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith-restoration groups within the Anglican church called the "United Societies." 13 Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion, based on the General Rules, when the first conference was held in 1744. 14

    Early American Methodism began when Methodist immigrants traveled to the North American colonies and took the initiative to organize the religion in their new homeland in the 1760's. Among these pioneers were Robert Strawbridge, Philip Embury, and Captain Thomas Webb. Once Methodism got on its feet in the New World, Wesley aided the colonists by dispatching four preachers (Richard Wright, Francis Asbury, Richard Boardman, and Joseph Pilmore) across the Atlantic. A few years later, in 1773, Francis Asbury led the Methodists and held their first conference during which they established groundwork for future church organization and agreed to continue to abide by John Wesley's teachings. 15 Soon, Methodist churches calling themselves the "Methodist Epicopal Church" began to be officially established, first in Leesburg, Virginia, and later in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. 16

    Schisms in Methodism (Spin-off Denominations Originating in Wesleyan Tradition)

    After the American Revolution, Wesley appointed Dr. Thomas Coke as head of Methodism in America. Because of the United States' new political independence from Great Britian, Wesley felt it necessary to allow the Americans religious independence as well, and Coke's mission was to oversee the American Methodist movement seperately from the English Methodist movement.

    From the time of the Revolution until the beginning of the Civil War, the Methodist movement was the most rapidly growing movement of its kind. 17 Then, in 1828, a division occurred resulting in the formation of the "Methodist Protestant Church." 18 Sixteen years later another split occurred between the northern Methodist Episcopal Churches and the southern Methodist Episcopal Churches due to unresolved disagreements on racial issues. 19 This schism led to the southern churches renaming themselves the "Methodist Episcopal Church, South". Around the same time, other such schisms occurred. One of these happened when former slave Richard Allen separated and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. In 1821, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was started. And in 1830, yet another group broke away and started the Methodist Protestant Church.

    Soon, several schisms occurred as German-speaking members began to feel the need to establish their own groups. The first of these, the United Brethren in Christ, was founded by Philip William Otterbein, not as a new church, but as a way to renew the faith of German-speaking Methodist settlers in America. However, after the first official meeting in 1789, Otterbein's United Brethren did eventually become its own church with its own book of discipline (introduced in 1815) and constitution (written in 1841 and later amended in 1889). 20 A small group originally belonging to the United Brethren split again, and formed the Republican United Brethren Church. This split was short-lived and the deviant group soon merged into the Christian Union. 21

    The Evangelical Church, on the other hand, was founded by Jacob Albright. The first meetings were held in 1803, and a book of discipline was introduced six years later. In 1816, the church took on the name "The Evangelical Association". Then in 1891, some members of the Evangelical Association left to form the "United Evangelical Church". Thirty-one years later the two groups reunited and renamed themselves "The Evangelical Church".

    After the Civil War, the dwindling population of African Americans in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South caused the remaining black members to defect to a new denomination, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (then called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church). 22

    Other schisms in the Methodist church involved disagreements over episcopal/non-episcopal issues. The first to leave over these issues was a group led by James O'Kelley; they became known as the Republican Methodists. Later, the Republican Methodists united with the modern-day United Church of Christ. In the 1880's, the Congregational Methodists emerged out of discord with mainstream Methodist Episcopal policies, as did the Methodist Protestant Church in the 1920's, as well as the Bible Protestant Church (or Fellowship of Fundamental Bible Churches), the Southern Methodists, and the Evangelical Methodists. 23

    Modern American Methodism

    In the early twentieth century, American Methodism was again on the rise. By 1913, the Methodist Episcopal Church alone claimed four million members. Additionally, denominations that had previously experienced traumatic schisms began to reunite. In 1922 the Evangelical Association merged with another Evangelical denomination to form the Evangelical Association. 24 Similarly, "The Evangelical United Brethren Church" resulted from a union consummated in 1946 of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Church. 25

    On May 10, 1939, the three branches of American Methodism (the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) reached an agreement to reunite under the name "The Methodist Church". This newly reunited 7.7 million member church prospered on its own for the next twenty-nine years, as did the then-newly reunited Evangelical United Brethren Church. Then, in 1968, bishops of the two churches consulted in the Uniting Conference, and took the necessary steps to combine their churches into what has become the second largest Protestant denomination in America -- The United Methodist Church. 26

    Beliefs

    When John Wesley began the Methodist tradition, devout Godliness was both his prime motivation, and his ultimate goal. As outlined in the General Rules, his three basic precepts were:

    shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs, perform kind acts as much as possible, and abide by the edicts of God the Almighty Father. This God is believed to be all-knowing, to possess infinite love and goodness, to be all-powerful, and to be the creator of all things. He has always existed and will always continue to exist, and He is said to consist of three persons in one, the Father, the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. 27 It was not until late in the eighteenth century that Wesley published further doctrinal standards, including his Sermons , Notes on the New Testament , and Large Minutes of the Conference (which had been preceded by Minutes of the Conference). 28

    Later, the Twenty-five Articles of Religion (an amended form of a similar document in the Anglican Church) were added. These articles affirmed the Methodists' belief in many universally Christian ideas, as well as denied some ideas affiliated with certain specific Christian denominations.

    Among the beliefs Methodists uphold with other Christian groups is the previously mentioned belief in a triune God. This God is the master of all creation and humans are meant to live in a holy covenant with him. However, they also teach that humans have broken this covenant by their sins, and can only be forgiven if they truly have faith in the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ. Christians (including Methodists) believe that Jesus was God on Earth (the product of a virgin conception) in the form of a man who was crucified for the sins of all people, and who was physically resurrected to bring them the hope of eternal life.

    Other beliefs that the United Methodist Church shares with other Christian churches include: that the grace of God is perceived by people through the work of the Holy Spirit on their lives and in their world, that close adherance to the teachings of Scripture (found in The Holy Bible) is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God, and that they are part of a universal church and must work with all Christians to spread the love of God. 29 .

    Additionally, the Church encourages its members' participation in two sacraments to symbolize and strengthen their dedication to God. The first of these is Baptism. Baptism, a sacrament shared with many Christian churches, is a ceremony in which a person is annointed with water to symbolize being brought into the community of faith. The second sacrament, also shared by many other Christian denominations, is Communion. In this sacrament, participants eat bread and drink juice to show that they continue to take part in Christ's redeeming resurrection by symbolically taking part in His body (the bread) and blood (the juice). Wesley taught his followers that Baptism and Communion are not only sacraments, but also sacrifices to God. 30

    Though United Methodists have many things in common with other Christian religions, there are some aspects of the religion that are distinctively Methodist . The most fundamental of these is the Methodist teaching that people must use logic and reason in all matters of faith. Also important is the acknowledgement of "pervenient," "justifying," and "sanctifying" graces. It is taught that people are blessed with these graces at different times through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pervenient grace is present before they are saved from the error of their ways. Justifying grace is given at the time of their contrition and forgiveness by God. And sanctifying grace is received when they have finally been saved from their sins and the sins of the world. Methodism teaches that people can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any other acts of redemption such as good deeds.

    Additionally, the Methodist Church puts a great emphasis on missionary work and other forms of spreading the Word of God and His love to others. 31 Finally, Methodism isolates itself from religious beliefs in purgatory, predestination, and sacraments other than Communion and Baptism. 32

    Over the years, and particularly during the second half of the twentieth century, the United Methodist Church has strayed from the strict pious teachings of original Wesleyan tradition. Both seminary professors and clergy have found the original doctrines, rules, and laws to be open to broad interpretation, and have taken it upon themselves to do so. Evidence of this can be seen in many ways but one of the clearest manifestations is the growing willingness on the part of clergy to interpret Methodist doctrine as justifying, even mandating, liberal social action strategies. (For further discussion, see the segment below on Current Controversies .

    Despite much recent liberal influence in the United Methodist Church, not all of its members feel that liberal social doctrine and political advocacy is a good thing. This has resulted in the emergence of conservative groups within the UMC. The most notable group is called "Good News." It stands in opposition to liberalism within the Methodist Church and advocates "renewal" of John Wesley's vision of a devout, pious community whose mission is to strictly follow the Word of God without subjecting it to broad and unconventional interpretations.

    Organization of the Church

    The organizational structure of the United Methodist Church has been set up in the all- important Book of Discipline much as the American government was outlined in the Constitution. Both are made up of three branches: executive, legislature, and judicial. The United Methodist Church's version of these three are the Council of Bishops, the General Conference, and the Judicial Council.

    The church is also organized in a heirarchical system. Beginning from the bottom, the smallest units in the UMC are its lay and pastoral members. 34 The pastoral members are divided into two levels. The lower consists of ministers and pastors assigned to one church whose job it is to preach. The higher rank of clergy is made up of bishops, who are not assigned to a specific local church, but to a group of churches, and have the responsibility of ordaining clergy. 35

    These clergy and lay people divide themselves into relatively small local churches. In the United States alone there are almost 37,000 local churches. Each of these churches has an annual "local church charge conference" to elect representatives and take care of other administrative business.

    Churches are then grouped together along geographic boundaries to form districts of which there are 526 in America. The districts hold conferences, at which the main purpose is to pass on information from the higher conferences to the local churches.

    Districts are then assigned to one of sixty-eight annual conferences. At the annual conferences, an assigned bishop hands out ministerial assignments for the year. Votes are cast regarding amendments to church law and regarding delegates to be sent to the jurisdictional conference. All annual conference attendees have voting rights on these issues, but only ministers have voting rights on minister-specific matters. 37

    The annual conferences are grouped into jurisdictions of which there are five in the United States. Then, at the top of this hierarchical chain is the General Conference. The General Conference meets once every four years, and is made up of lay people and clergy voted upon during annual conferences. 38 Its main purpose is to vote on church law. If enacted by the General Conference, the proposed laws are published in The Book of Discipline .

    Current Controversies Within the United Methodist Church

    The United Methodist Church currently faces several major internal controversies, mostly grounded in the differing liberal-conservative beliefs within the church. Perhaps not surprisingly, these controveries are also some of the major topics of debate in American politics today. At the present moment, probably most heated of these concerns is the issue of gay and lesbian rights, specifically homosexual unions. Others include whether or not to aid convicted sex offenders, whether or not to publicly support the newest method of abortion, and whether or not to support gun-control laws in the United States. To conservative Methodists it seems that there is almost no public issue, however inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, that escapes the attention of the liberal-minded wing of the Methodist Church. Witness, for example, the debate concerning six-year-old Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez. After examining several of these contemporary issues we will conclude with some reflections on the broader implications of this conservative-liberal struggle in the United Methodist Church.

    Same-Sex Unions

    In September, 1997, United Methodist Church Reverend Jimmy Creech performed a ceremony uniting two lesbian women even after receiving specific warnings from his bishop not to do so. In conducting `the ceremony, Creech, a pastor with a long record of pro- homosexual activism, knowingly and willfully disobeyed the church's decision (enacted at the 1996 General Conference) banning pastors from being involved in same-sex unions. 40 However, in the spring of 1998, Creech was acquitted of any wrong-doing by a United Methodist Church court. And although he was later forced out of his church by his bishop, Creech's acquittal was seen as a victory and provided encouragement for other United Methodist pastors performing same-sex union ceremonies. Among these pastors are the Reverend Karen Oliveto and the Reverend Cecil Williams, both pastors in the San Francisco area where the debate over gay rights has already caused 22 pastors to threaten to split from the church. 41 In Atlanta, at least one congregation has already made good on similar threats. 42

    However, same-sex union supporters in the UMC are not the only ones facing persecution within the church. Conservative pastor Luiz Lemos was ordered by his more liberal bishop, Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, to transfer to a church in a different conference. This transfer order came after Lemos voiced his oppostion to the recent participation of sixty-seven pastors (all from Talbert's conference) in a union involving two women. Instead of following Talbert's wishes and transferring, Lemos resigned his pastorship, as had seven other pastors in similar predicaments. 43

    Similarly, in June of 1999 the Reverend Charles Sineath, another critic of church sanctioned homosexual marriages, left his position as pastor of the local United Methodist Church and started a new group, the "Wesleyan Fellowship". This split occurred after Sineath learned that his alma-mater, Emory University (a Methodist foundation), decided it permissable for certain homosexual union ceremonies to be performed on its campus. This ruling went against the 1996 ruling of the General Conference disallowing same-sex ceremonies on any Methodist grounds. 44

    Despite opposition from approximately one-third of the church's members, the General Conference of 2000 upheld the ban on gay and lesbian marriages. 45 However, they also decided not to entertain proposals to make it mandatory for every Methodist pastor to put his or her signature on an anti-gay/lesbian statement. 46 This decision was probably based on two points: the fact that several hundred United Methodist churches nationwide have already announced that they support gay rights including unions, and the fact that many Methodist pastors continue to perform same-sex unions regardless of church policy. 47

    Church Aid for Sex Offenders

    In another controversial matter, the United Methodist Church in England has announced its intention to give aid to convicted sex offenders in that country through programs such as emotional counseling and faith ministry. The decision comes with much disconcertment as many British are simultaneously demanding harsher laws against and punishment for known sex criminals. 48

    While many of its members argue that the church does not have the necessary expertise or resources to handle such criminals, the Methodist church argues that helping these people (in cooperation with local law enforcement) is part of their moral responsibility. 49

    Abortion

    The United Methodist Church, along with several other major Protestant denominations, is a long-standing member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. As its name implies, the RCRC is an interfaith organization devoted to promoting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, among other related women's health issues.

    Following the recent FDA release of mifepristone (an abortion-inducing drug), the president of the RCRC issued a statement praising the drug, and calling its approval "a victory for women as moral decision-makers and for supporters of women as moral agents," and later added that "it does not change the necessity for vigilance against anti-choice tactics and harassment." 50

    Though the United Methodist Church is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, not all of the members of the Methodist faith believe abortion to be morally right, and the issue has caused some argument among UMC members.

    Gun Control

    Another issue discussed at the 2000 General Conference was the issue of gun violence and the stance that the United Methodist Church should take on gun-control in the United States. Roughly 71% of the representative board voted to approve a resolution agreeing to support laws that would ban some firearms (including handguns and assault weapons). As expected, supporters of the resolution pointed to needless violence and death caused by such weapons, while those opposed argued hunting and self-defense purposes. 51

    Elian Gonzalez

    In early 2000 the American mass media whipped the nation into an uproar over the fate of Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old Cuban boy involved in an international custody case. People on both sides of the issue claimed their position was grounded in morals, ethics, and the law. The United Methodist Church openly supported the case of Elian's father, Miguel Gonzalez, and set up a monetary fund through which Mr. Gonzalez could hire legal counsel. 52 On April 19, 2000, the National Council of Churches (of which the UMC is a member) took control of the fund, which eventually led Gonzalez to hire lawyer Gregory Craig. 53 After a long legal struggle, Elian was returned to his father in Cuba. The National Council of Churches as well as the United Methodist Church have "expressed relief that Elian...has finally been reunited with his father." 54

    History of the UMC's struggle over political issues

    Since its official beginnings in 1968, The United Methodist Church has been gradually moving from Methodism's original basis of strict Wesleyan piety toward a more tolerant liberal approach. This movement is not to the liking of all church members and as the years have gone on, the struggle between the conservative evangelicals and the liberals has grown increasingly heated.

    In 1967 Reverend Charles W. Keysor began the church's first major conservative efforts with the publication of a magazine entitled Good News . Good News was received with mixed reactions. The conservative-minded United Methodists found it to be a step in the right direction. The church's liberal constituents, however, hated it, some going so far as to call it "junk." Still, the magazine grew in popularity and is a major influence even today. 55

    The encouraging response from right-wing Methodists led to the establishment of a 12- member Good News board. In turn this board inspired the establishment of similar renewal groups throughout the nation. In fact, Good News reports that such groups are present in 60 percent of the church's annual conferences. The main focus of the renewal groups has been their attempts to influence church leadership towards more conservative ideals. Specific complaints of groups such as Good News include: the liberal slant taught in seminarial education, the weak and unsubstantial content of school literature, the church's policy of theological pluralism, "the unending push to change the church's stand on the issue of human sexuality including the support for gay and lesbian unions, UM pastors publicly denying basic tenets of the Christian faith and not being disciplined for it, [and] UM program boards continuing their participation in and support of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice." 56

    Just three short years after the installation of Good News, its leaders organized a summer convention which was attended by 1600 of the church's members. The convocation was such an enormous success that it has since become an annual event, and will probably continue as such until the stuggle between liberal and conservative influences on the United Methodist Church is settled once and for all, something that is not likely to happen in the forseeable future.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Pentecostal

    Description

    The churches grew out of the "holiness movement" that developed among Methodists and other Protestants in the first decade of the twentieth century.

    3.5 million

    Baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, faith healing, and the second coming of Jesus are believed in; of the various Pentecostal churches, the Assemblies of God is the largest; a perfectionist attitude toward secular affairs is common; services feature enthusiastic sermons and hymns; adult baptism and communion are practiced.

    I. Profile Report

    Name: Pentecostals

    Founder: The Reverend Charles F. Parham; William J. Seymour (also credited as a founding father of the modern Pentecostal movement and with bringing the Pentecostal experience to world-wide attention).

    Date of Birth: Charles F. Parham (1873-1929), William J. Seymour (1870-1922)

    Where born?: Parkham: Muscatine, Iowa; Seymour: Centerville, Louisiana

    Where founded?: According to tradition and generally noted as the most celebrated places of origin: Topeka, Kansas (1901); also Azusa Street, Los Angeles, California (1906)

    Sacred or Revered Texts: The Holy Bible; significant Scripture includes chapters 1 and 2 of the biblical book, the Acts of the Apostles (specifically Acts=2: 1-4.)

    Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    Size of group: Pentecostalism has become the largest and fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world. Due to the indistinct nature of many Pentecostal groups and the vast number of names and organizations, it is difficult to recognize all Pentecostals (Eliade, 1987). However, according to The World Christian Encyclopedia, edited by David B. Barret (New York, 1982), the world-wide total of Pentecostals is estimated at claiming close to one hundred million adherents.

    History

    Most Pentecostals are taught or teach that the history of the Holy Spirit expressed among the Pentecostal tradition began with Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas and/or at the Azusa revival led by William J. Seymour. However, Pentecostalism itself was actually not without a history before the "breakthrough" in Topeka and the Azusa explosion; but regardless, these two events have become the most glamorous conventions for telling the story. Most scholars recognize these events as a kind of mythology and point out that often neglected to be included in the history of this Pentecostal awakening are the number of more modest events that in some way set the stage for the world-wide unveiling of Pentecostalism that would ultimately occur at Azusa.

    As early as 1831, in London, England, Edward Erving, the pastor of the Church of Scotland church at Regent Square led parishioners in a prayer which ultimately resulted in them receiving the gift of tongues and prophecy. In light of the powerful manifestations that occurred at Charles Finney's revivals, some of his followers began to re-think their Holiness definition of Holy Spirit baptism. During the 1870s at what was known as the Keswick Conventions and in various other locations, the notion of the baptism being more of an anointing rather than a cleansing (which was the Holiness definition) was developed, which would ultimately guide some Holiness people in a direction that would eventually lead to the emergence of Pentecostalism.

    As the beginning of the 20th century approached, more Christians throughout the world began to give more attention to understanding the Spirit and it was with this increased devotion that there resulted scattered incidences of people speaking in tongues and physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit's powers (such as gifts, signs and wonders) which would all seem to come together at Azusa.

    In the fall of 1900, a former pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church by the name of Charles Parham began the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. As an assignment to his students he required that they investigate the "baptism of the Spirit" or what was also known as the Pentecostal Blessing. After returning from a speaking engagement he was astonished to learn that all of his students had the same story; while several different things occurred when this blessing fell, the indisputable proof on each occasion was that believers spoke in other tongues. After learning this, the students immediately began to seek the baptism with the evidence of speaking with other tongues. On January 1, 1901, the Spirit fell, first on Agnes Ozman, and then a few days later on many others, including Parham himself.

    It was in 1906 that Pentecostalism would achieve worldwide attention through the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles led by the African-American preacher William J. Seymour. From attending a Bible School that Parham conducted, he learned about the tongues-attested baptism. Seymour opened the historic meeting in April, 1906 in a former African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church building at 312 Azusa Street under the name of the "Apostolic Faith mission" which would conduct three services a day, seven days a week. It was there that thousands sought to be baptized in the the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues and experience numerous other Holy Spirit manifestations.

    From Azusa Street, Pentecostalism spread rapidly around the world and began its advance toward becoming a major force in Christendom. The movement was also noted for it's integration of both White and African-American Christian traditions.

    Beliefs of the Group

    Experience, rather than doctrine has often been noted as the principal determinant of Pentecostalism. There is no absolute consensus among all Pentecostals on doctrine or any other matter except for Spirit baptism and the practice of charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit). However, among most American Pentecostal denominations, it is believed that the "initial evidence" of Spirit baptism is the manifestation of glossolalia or what is commonly referred to as speaking in tongues but there are also those that believe that any number of charismata may evidence the baptism. It is almost universally agreed upon by Pentecostals that "speaking in tongues" is a miraculous act in which a believer, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, speaks in a language without having knowledge of it.

    However, it is the doctrine of "speaking in tongues" that separates Pentecostals from the Holiness [and even Methodist] groups it splintered off from, as well as from other mainline Christian denominations. After 1875, a branch of the Holiness movement (that would soon become Pentecostal) began to stress aspects of the "second blessing" which focused on an endowment of powerful anointing for those who tarried at the altars. Eventually they simply added to this established Holiness doctrine of the "second blessing", the baptism in the Holy Spirit, with glossolalia as initial evidence of a "third blessing." Many conventional Holiness churches named this new baptism "The Fire" and labeled it as fanaticism and heresy (Melton, 1993).

    Similar to the other mainline, evangelical Christain denominations, Pentecostalism tends to adhere to most all of the other fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. However, their inconsistency with Fundamentalists groups (such as Baptists and the Reformed) is in their understanding of the Holy Spirit baptism and gifts (tongues, miracles, etc.). Fundamentalists believe that the Holy Spirit baptism occurs at the onset of salvation, and that the gifts were given only to the Apostles and gradually ceased as the New Testament Scriptures were completed.

    Another distinguishing mark of Pentecostalism is the worship of its believers which is often characterized by speaking/praying in tongues aloud, prophesying, healings, the "casting out of devils"(exorcism), hand-clapping, shouting and being "slain in the Spirit," which are all observed with great zeal and fervency. Since its beginnings, these practices have been subjected to rules that have dictated when such worship was appropriate (Eliade, 1987), but still persist as the typical worship style. These differences in worship style also divide Pentecostals from other mainline Christian denominations.

    Contemporary Issues

    Since its conception in the early 1900s, Pentecostalism has advanced tremendously and seen rapid growth throughout this century, but up until the 1950s it had largely been associated with the margins of American culture. It was not until mid-way through the century that Pentecostal ideas and style began to surface in mainline Protestant churches and would thus, spark a movement in the 50s and 60s that would be known by such names as the New Penetration, Neo-Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal (Revival). Beginning officially in 1960, Dennis Bennett, priest over an Episcopalian congregation in Van Nuys, California announced that he had spoken in tongues. This movement soon spread into a network of independent charismatic churches and organizations which included Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and Catholics, which all came to enjoy this outburst of speaking in tongues.

    The Charismatic Renewal was similar to classical Pentecostalism in its emphasis on the exercise of certain gifts (particularly tongues and prophecy) but the other important qualities of this movement made it distinctly different. It differed from Pentecostalism in that it was trans-denominational in nature, it had no set theology of two-stage blessing, it incorporated a diversity of theological opinion and it also provided a wealth of contemporary worship songs expressing personal and corporate devotion.

    Even more recent than the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s, America witnessed the emergence of another phenomenon with Pentecostal/Charismatic qualities in the 1990s with what was known as the Toronto Blessing.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Adventist

    From: http://www.adventist.org/history/

    In just a century and a half the Seventh-day Adventist Church has grown from a handful of individuals, who carefully studied the Bible in their search for truth, to a world-wide community of over eight million members and millions of others who regard the Adventist Church their spiritual home. Doctrinally, Seventh-day Adventists are heirs of the interfaith Millerite movement of the 1840s. Although the name "Seventh-day Adventist" was chosen in 1860, the denomination was not officially organized until Ma y 21, 1863, when the movement included some 125 churches and 3,500 members.

    Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller--a Baptist preacher and former army captain in the War of 1812--launched the "great second advent awakening" which eventually spread throughout most of the Christian world. Based on his study of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, Miller calculated that Jesus would return to earth sometime between 1843 and 1844. Others within the movement calculated a specific date of October 22, 1844. When Jesus did not appear, Miller's followers experienced what became to be called "the great Disappointment."

    Most of the thousands who had joined the movement, left it, in deep disillusionment. A few, however, went back to their Bibles to find why they had been disappointed. Soon they concluded that the October 22 date had indeed been correct. They became convinced that the Bible prophecy predicted not that Jesus would return to earth in 1844, but that He would begin at that time a special ministry in heaven for His followers. They still looked for Jesus to come soon, however, as do Seventh-day Adventists yet today.

    From this small group who refused to give up after the "great disappointment" arose several leaders who built the foundation of what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Standing out among these leaders were a young couple--James and Ellen G. White -- and a retired sea captain named Joseph Bates.

    This small nucleus of "adventists" began to grow -- mainly in the New England states of America, where Miller's movement had begun. Ellen G. White, a mere teenager at the time of the "great Disappointment," grew into a gifted author, speaker and administrator, who would become and remain the trusted spiritual counselor of the Adventist family for more than seventy years until her death in 1915. Early Adventists came to believe -- as have Adventists ever since -- that she enjoyed God's special guidance as she wrote her counsels to the growing body of believers.

    In 1860, at Battle Creek Michigan, the loosely knit congregations of Adventists chose the name Seventh-day Adventist and in 1863 formally organized a church body with a membership of 3,500. At first, work was largely confined to North America until 1874 when the Church's first missionary, J. N. Andrews, was sent to Switzerland. Africa was penetrated briefly in 1879 when Dr. H. P. Ribton, an early convert in Italy, moved to Egypt and opened a school, but the project ended when riots broke out in the vicinity.

    The first non-Protestant Christian country entered was Russia, where an Adventist minister went in 1886. On October 20, 1890, the schooner Pitcairn was launched at San Francisco and was soon engaged in carrying missionaries to the Pacific Islands. Seventh-day Adventist workers first entered non-Christian countries in 1894 -- Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa, and Matabeleland, South Africa. The same year saw missionaries entering South America, and in 1896 there were representatives in Japan. The Church now has established work in 209 countries.

    The publication and distribution of literature were major factors in the growth of the Advent movement. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), general church paper, was launched in Paris, Maine, in 1850; the Youth's Instructor in Rochester, New York, in 1852; and the Signs of the Times in Oakland, California, in 1874. The first denominational publishing house at Battle Creek, Michigan, began operating in 1855 and was duly incorporated in 1861 under the name of Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Baptists

    Founded by John Smyth in England in 1609 and Rogert Williams in Rhode Island in 1638.

    31 million

    No creed; authority stems from the Bible; most Baptists oppose the use of alcohol and tobacco; baptism is by total immersion.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Episcopal Church

    This U.S. offshoot of the Church of England has 2.7 million members. It installed Samuel Seabury as its first bishop in 1784, and held its first General Convention in 1789. The Church of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Worship is based on the Book of Common Prayer and interpretation of the Bible using a modified version of the Thirty.Nine Articles (originally written for the Church of England in 1563). Services range from spartan to ornate, from liberal to conservative; baptism is of infants.
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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Jehova's Witnesses (knock knock )

    Description

    Name: Jehovah's Witnesses Founder: Charles Taze Russell

    Date of Birth: February 16, 1852

    Birth Place: Allegheny, Pennsylvania

    Year Founded: The history of Jehovah's Witnesses begins in 1869, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when Charles Taze Russell began a Bible study which led to this separate movement. The name "Jehovah's Witnesses" (based on Isaiah 43:10-12) was not adopted until 1931.

    Brief History: Although Charles Taze Russell was born to Presbyterian parents, he joined a Congregational Church at the age of fifteen. Soon, however, he became troubled by certain doctrines such as predestination and eternal punishment. At the age of seventeen he was a skeptic and disbelieved the Bible (Hoekema, p.223-24).

    "Brought up a Presbyterian, indoctrinated from the Catechism, and being naturally of an inquiring mind, I fell a ready prey to the logic of infidelity, as soon as I began to think for myself. But that which at first threatened to be the utter shipwreck of faith in God and the Bible was, under God's providence, over-ruled for good, and merely wrecked my confidence in human creed and systems of Bible misinterpretations." -Charles Taze Russell (Watchtower magazine, 1916)

    His wavering faith was re-established in 1870 after dropping in on a Second Adventist Bible study conducted by Jonas Wendell. Soon after this meeting, Russell organized his own Bible study with a circle of friends who came to regard him as their pastor.

    Although Russell believed that the Second Adventists were "called of God" and he never renounced them (Russell still maintained his association with the Adventists and credits some preachers with teaching him much), a miscalculation concerning the Second-Coming of Christ caused him to re-evaluate Adventist teachings (Hoekema p. 224, Penton, p. 15).

    In response, Russell, together with his organized Bible study group, determined that Christ's return would be an invisible or spiritual one. He later wrote a booklet entitled "The Object and Manner of the Lord's Return" to describe his new ideas and views on the issue. When he read similar ideas in N.H. Barbour's The Herald of the Morning, Russell joined him in editing the periodical. Both agreed that the Adventists had been mistaken in awaiting Christ in the flesh. In 1877, Russell and Barbour wrote and published Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World (Hoekema, p.224-25; Penton, p.18-19).

    "This book set forth their belief that Christ's second presence began invisibly in the fall of 1874 and thereby commenced a forty-year harvest period. Then, remarkably accurately, they set forth the year 1914 as the end of the Gentile times..." (found in Qualified to Be Ministers, published in 1955 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). Charles Taze Russell disassociated himself with Barbour, however, a couple of years later over disagreements of theology. He withdrew from the Herald of the Morning magazine and began publishing his own - Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence - in 1879 (Penton, p.23). This periodical proved influential as around thirty congregations were born in seven states after only one year. In 1881, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was established as an unincorporated body. Three years later, it was organized as a corporation (Hoekema, p.225). Some consider the birth of the corporation to be the beginning of the Jehovah's Witness movement, which would set the date at December 13, 1884. The purpose of the society as a corporation was as follows: "the dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents, and by the use of all other lawful means..." (found in Article II of the charter) In 1886 Russell began writing what is now known as the Studies in the Scriptures, a sacred text (Hoekema, p. 225; Penton, p.27). Charles Taze Russell died in October of 1916, leaving Joseph Franklin Rutherford with a solid foundation for the group we now call the Jehovah's Witnesses. It was under Rutherford, in 1931, that the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" was adopted. Russell did not choose a successor, instead Rutherford was elected in spite of opposition (Beckford, p.23). His general acceptance from the group was rocky (many schisms arose), as Rutherford disassociated himself from some of Russell's original ideas and practices (Ibid, p.46). After Rutherford's death in 1942, the previous vice president, Nathan Homer Knorr, rose to the position of president. One of his major accomplishments includes the founding of the Watch Tower Bible School of Gilead in the state of New York. This school is dedicated to equipping missionaries through intense scriptural study and learning evangelistic techniques (Ibid, p.49). Presently, Frederick Franz, who was elected after Knorr's death in 1977, is president of the group. Franz has enjoyed a rather conflict-free tenure in office since his election (Kephart and Zellner, p.285). Sacred or Revered Texts: The Bible (New World Translation) and the Scripture Studies.

    ...(N)ot only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside, even after he has used them, after he has became familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years - if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references and had not read a page of the Bible as such, he would be in the light at the end of two years, because he would have the light of Scriptures. -Charles Taze Russell (The Watchtower, September 15, 1910)

    Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    Size of Group: The Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 1997 marks Jehovah's Witnesses membership at 5.1 million across 232 countries.

    The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society also keeps reliable records of their own membership numbers (Stark and Iannaccone, p. 138-9). Their 1997 statistics state that their peak membership count tallied in at 5,599,931. It is important to note that Jehovah's Witnesses count only active publishers in their statistics. Therefore, besides excluding those who are not fervently committed to the group, counting only publishers also usually excludes people under the age of 16. It is, therefore, safe to say that their own statistics are rather conservative (Ibid, p.140).

    In addition to boasting a large number of committed members, Jehovah's Witnesses also have an impressive growth rate of currently over 5% per year (Ibid, p.133). Between 1990 and 1994, the total percentage increase in the United States was 64%. This figure pales in comparison to the rate Latin America boasts: 239% (Ibid, p.140).

    Jehovah's Witnesses are successful all over the world. They can be found in 232 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. Interestingly, only 19% of all Jehovah's Witnesses live in the U.S. compared to 20% in Western Europe and 25% in Latin America. In fact, 18 countries exceed U.S. membership rates, including Canada, Mexico, Finland, and New Zealand, to name a few. (Ibid, p. 140).

    This globalization leads to a very racially mixed group. To take the U.S. as an indicator, National Survey of Religions Identification surveys of 1990 showed the following results: Of Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States:

    44% White, Non-Hispanic 40% African-American 12% Hispanic-American 4% Asian-American (Ibid, p. 150)

    Organization, Practices, and Beliefs Organization

    The headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses is located in Brooklyn, New York and is called Bethel, meaning "House of God" (Kephart and Zellner, p. 286). A governing body consisting of 18 men meet there weekly to discuss many sorts of issues. There are also 5 committees - the Service Committee, Writing Committee, Publishing Committee, Teaching Committee, and the Chairman's Committee - which aid the governing body in decision making. Below the committees are the district and circuit overseers who accompany Witnesses to home meetings and visit congregations twice a year (Kephart and Zellner, p.286). Congregations meet five times a week in what they call Kingdom Halls. Elders, or overseers, lead the congregations voluntarily. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses are considered to be either Publishers or Pioneers (see Glossary below).

    Across the globe, 100 branch offices participate in printing and mailing literature for the Jehovah's Witnesses. This includes Bibles, many different pamphlets, and two magazines which are published semi-monthly entitled Watchtower and Awake! (Kephart and Zellner, p.287).

    Aside from the money earned from selling publications, the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society finances itself through self-imposed tithes. Charles Russell explained it in 1914:

    "We have no church organization in the ordinary sense of the word, no bondage of any kind, no obligation to pay, either to the parent society or anybody else, either ten percent or any other sum...No solicitations for money in any way are authorized by the society...Every amount therefore, that has come into our hands, and been used, has been a voluntary donation from a willing heart..." (from Kephart and Zellner, p.290). Practices

    The principal self-defining characteristics of Jehovah's Witnesses, according to Beckford, are: learning the official doctrines, showing willingness to proselytize actively, participating in all congregational meetings, and being baptized into the Watch Tower faith (Beckford, p.70).

    The 5 meetings they should attend each week are as follows:

    Public Talk: usually each Sunday, when an Elder (or rarely a Ministerial Servant) will deliver a talk about a specific topic. Watchtower Study: a lesson based on a study article in the current Watchtower; usually follows the public talk.

    Theocratic Ministry School: generally takes place during the evening on a weekday. Speakers practice giving talks and witnessing.

    Service Meeting: usually after the Theocratic Ministry School. It includes training for various ministry activities. Sometimes, elders will address specific issues and concerns of the congregation.

    Book Study: held sometime during the week where a portion of a Watchtower publication is studied in depth.

    above information from the Religious Tolerance Page

    Other practices particular to Jehovah's Witnesses are the refusal to: salute a nation's flag, serve in a nation's military, vote, receive a blood transfusion, and the prohibition of smoking (Stark and Iannaccone).

    Beliefs

    Although Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs come from the Protestant and Adventist tradition, they do hold many beliefs that set themselves apart. The following are some key beliefs that make them different:

    Jehovah God: Their God is the God of the Old Testament - all-powerful, all-knowing, and everlasting. They refer to Him as Jehovah - a true, personal, and exclusive name that all should use. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity. As mentioned above, God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator. The relationship between him and Jesus is like that of father and son: Jesus is the first creation of God. He is fully human. The Holy Spirit is an active force which intervenes for God on earth. All the above mentioned are separate entities.

    Satan, the Devil: Satan is seen as an enemy of God. He is misleading and afflicts pain and sorrow. Through spiritism, nationalism, and temptation, Satan leads people astray. The way to resist the devil is by learning about Jehovah.

    Man: Jehovah's Witnesses accept the Genesis account of the fall of man. Man is blemished with sin because of the disobedience Adam and Eve showed towards God. Every man is born with sin (save for Jesus, who was born to a virgin). They also believe that man's soul is mortal - i.e. that when a person dies, his spirit (or soul) dies as well. In addition, some will experience eternal life when they are resurrected, in the flesh and soul, simultaneously.

    Salvation: In contrast to some Christian traditions that believe salvation is achieved by accepting Christ as Lord ("once saved, always saved"), Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is possible to fall from grace. "The Bible sets forth conditions that must be met if we are to be saved from the effects of inherited sin" (Watchtower, 09/15/89). Accepting Jesus as Lord is essential, but failure to exercise fidelity to God's requirements can result in the loss of the gift of salvation. "Believers...will be saved to eternal life only if they continue to adhere to all of God's requirements...Those losing faith in Jesus also lose everlasting life." (Watchtower, 09/15/89. Thanks to James Long, Webmaster of Jehovah's Witnesses United for assistance in correcting an earlier statement regarding salvation).

    Heaven: Heaven is where Jesus Christ and the other "True Christians" will live. There they will rule over the kingdom which will be on earth. Seats are limited: only 144,000 will gain access to heaven.

    Hell: Hell is non-existent for the Jehovah's Witnesses. There is not a fiery-torment, claims Russell, because it runs contradictory to God's loving nature. Those who don't qualify for heaven or the kingdom that will be established on earth will simply dissappear, as if they had never existed.

    The Great Crowd: These are the subjects of the kingdom ruled by Jesus and the 144,000. They will live forever on the new earth if they have chosen to obey God.

    Kingdom of God: This unique government rules over the earth from heaven. Jehovah fulfilled His promise to Jesus that he would rule in 1914. When Jesus became king, Satan and his evil angels were kicked out of heaven and sent to inhabit the earth. This is how the Jehovah's Witnesses explain the wars, crime increases, and other "bad" things which are happening in our world today. All these things indicate that Jesus has established his reign and that we are in the last days. Within a certain time frame, some faithful followers, 144,000 to be exact, will join Jesus and assist him in his reign. After Jesus judges his people (some receiving everlasting life others non-existence), Jehovah will rule again.

    Holidays: Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, or any other holidays (save one). They believe these celebrations grew out of ancient false religions. Also, because early Christians did not celebrate these occasions, they believe they should not either. The one day they do celebrate, however, is the Memorial of Christ's Death during Passover.

    (Beckford, p. 4-6, 113; Botting, p. 5-32, 187-194; Kephart and Zellner, p.291-98; Stark and Iannaccone, p.135-6; Watchtower: Official Web Site of Jehovah's Witnesses; Religious Tolerance Page)

    Issues and Controversies

    Jehovah's Witnesses are the most fervently attacked new religious group today. They are heavily criticized on the Internet. Counter-cultists, have taken the lead on this attack. In addition, many former group members have published books or created web sites that share a negative perspective on the Jehovah's Witnesses. Because this group does have such a large following, it is not surprising that they would be heavily attacked. Studies show that the larger and more controversial the group, the greater the tension between them and society. Also, the more people who belong to a group, the more people there will be who may denounce the faith and become active apostates - apostates who crowd the web proclaiming the evils of the group to which they once adhered to. In this sense, it seems natural that the Jehovah's Witnesses would be so heavily criticized. At the same time, however, the intensity of attack is still alarming. Main issues which cause criticism include failed prophecies, blood transfusions, and nationalism. Failed Prophecies - Jehovah's Witnesses have calculated many dates which were meant to invite extraordinary events. Five times the start of Armageddon has been predicted by Jehovah's Witnesses; their predictions were proven wrong each of those times. They still hold fast to the date of 1914 in which Jesus Christ returned invisibly to earth, but admit erring in their calculations (1914, 1918, 1920, 1925, and 1941) for Armageddon. (Kephart and Zellner, p. 291, Religious Tolerance Page). Effects of Failed Prophecies from a Sociological Perspective.

    Blood - Their stance on refusing blood transfusions comes from an interpretation of Bible verses found in Genesis, Leviticus, and Acts. For example, Leviticus 17:10 (the New World Translation) reads:

    "God told Noah that every living creature should be meat unto him; but that he must not eat the blood, because the life is in the blood." Jehovah's Witnesses consider blood transfusions to be "eating blood." Because of this interpretation, many people have chosen to die rather than recieve one. Also, criticism has risen against parents who refuse transfusions for their children.

    Nationalism - Jehovah's Witnesses believe that "they owed allegiance to no person, flags, or nation; they owed allegiance only to Jehovah," therefore, they do not vote, salute the flag, or participate in military duty. Men have been jailed for refusing to be drafted. Children have been expelled for not pledging allegiance to the flag.
    .

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    Post Re: Detailed Denominations of Christianity

    Lutherans

    Based on the writings of Martin Luther, who broke (1517-21) with the Roman Catholic Church and led the Protestant Reformation; the first Lutheran congregation in North America was founded in 1638 in Wilmington, Delaware; the first North American regional synod was founded in 1748 by Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg.

    8 million

    Faith is based on the Bible and the Augsburg Confession (written in 1530); salvation comes through faith alone; services include the Lord's Supper (communion); Lutherans are mostly conservative in religious and social ethics; infants are baptized, the church is organized in synods; the two largest synods in the United States are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
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