Protestants can be differentiated according to how they have been influenced by important movements since the Reformation, today regarded as branches. Some of these movements have a common lineage, sometimes directly spawning individual denominations. Due to the earlier stated multitude of denominations, this section discusses only the largest denominational families, or branches, widely considered to be a part of Protestantism. These are, in alphabetical order: Adventist, Anglican, Baptist, Calvinist (Reformed), Lutheran, Methodist and Pentecostal. A small but historically significant Anabaptist branch is also discussed.
The chart below shows the mutual relations and historical origins of the main Protestant denominational families, or their parts. Due to factors such as Counter-Reformation and the legal principle of Cuius regio, eius religio, many people lived as Nicodemites, where their professed religious affiliations were more or less at odds with the movement they sympathized with. As a result, the boundaries between the denominations do not separate as cleanly as this chart indicates. When a population was suppressed or persecuted into feigning an adherence to the dominant faith, over the generations they continued to influence the church they outwardly adhered to.
Because Calvinism was not specifically recognized in the Holy Roman Empire until the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, many Calvinists lived as Crypto-Calvinists. Due to Counter-Reformation related suppressions in Catholic lands during the 16th through 19th centuries, many Protestants lived as Crypto-Protestants. Meanwhile, in Protestant areas, Catholics sometimes lived as crypto-papists, although in continental Europe emigration was more feasible so this was less common.
Historical chart of the main Protestant branches.
Adventism began in the 19th century in the context of the Second Great Awakening revival in the United States. The name refers to belief in the imminent Second Coming (or "Second Advent") of Jesus Christ. William Miller started the Adventist movement in the 1830s. His followers became known as Millerites.
Although the Adventist churches hold much in common, their theologies differ on whether the intermediate state is unconscious sleep or consciousness, whether the ultimate punishment of the wicked is Daniel 8 refers to the one in heaven or one on earth. The movement has encouraged the examination of the whole Bible, leading Seventh-day Adventists and some smaller Adventist groups to observe the Sabbath. The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has compiled that church's core beliefs in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs (1980 and 2005), which use Biblical references as justification.
In 2010, Adventism claimed some 22 million believers scattered in various independent churches. The largest church within the movement—the Seventh-day Adventist Church—has more than 18 million members.
Anabaptism traces its origins to the Radical Reformation. Anabaptists believe in delaying baptism until the candidate confesses his or her faith. Although some consider this movement to be an offshoot of Protestantism, others see it as a distinct one. The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the movement. Schwarzenau Brethren, Bruderhof, and the Apostolic Christian Church are considered later developments among the Anabaptists.
The name Anabaptist, meaning "one who baptizes again", was given them by their persecutors in reference to the practice of re-baptizing converts who already had been baptized as infants. Anabaptists required that baptismal candidates be able to make their own confessions of faith and so rejected baptism of infants. The early members of this movement did not accept the name Anabaptist, claiming that since infant baptism was unscriptural and null and void, the baptizing of believers was not a re-baptism but in fact their first real baptism. As a result of their views on the nature of baptism and other issues, Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th by both Magisterial Protestants and Roman Catholics.[l] While most Anabaptists adhered to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, which precluded taking oaths, participating in military actions, and participating in civil government, some who practiced re-baptism felt otherwise.[m] They were thus technically Anabaptists, even though conservative Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites and some historians tend to consider them as outside of true Anabaptism. Anabaptist reformers of the Radical Reformation are divided into Radical and the so-called Second Front. Some important Radical Reformation theologians were John of Leiden, Thomas Müntzer, Kaspar Schwenkfeld, Sebastian Franck, Menno Simons. Second Front Reformers included Hans Denck, Conrad Grebel, Balthasar Hubmaier and Felix Manz. Many Anabaptists today still use the Ausbund, which is the oldest hymnal still in continuous use.
Anglicanism comprises the Church of England and churches which are historically tied to it or hold similar beliefs, worship practices and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English Church. There is no single "Anglican Church" with universal juridical authority, since each national or regional church has full autonomy. As the name suggests, the communion is an association of churches in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The great majority of Anglicans are members of churches which are part of the international Anglican Communion, which has 85 million adherents.
The Church of England declared its independence from the Catholic Church at the time of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. Many of the new Anglican formularies of the mid-16th century corresponded closely to those of contemporary Reformed tradition. These reforms were understood by one of those most responsible for them, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, as navigating a middle way between two of the emerging Protestant traditions, namely Lutheranism and Calvinism. By the end of the century, the retention in Anglicanism of many traditional liturgical forms and of the episcopate was already seen as unacceptable by those promoting the most developed Protestant principles.
Unique to Anglicanism is the Book of Common Prayer, the collection of services that worshippers in most Anglican churches used for centuries. While it has since undergone many revisions and Anglican churches in different countries have developed other service books, the Book of Common Prayer is still acknowledged as one of the ties that bind the Anglican Communion together.
Baptists subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers (believer's baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and that it must be done by complete immersion (as opposed to affusion or sprinkling). Other tenets of Baptist churches include soul competency (liberty), salvation through faith alone, Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice, and the autonomy of the local congregation. Baptists recognize two ministerial offices, pastors and deacons. Baptist churches are widely considered to be Protestant churches, though some Baptists disavow this identity.
Diverse from their beginning, those identifying as Baptists today differ widely from one another in what they believe, how they worship, their attitudes toward other Christians, and their understanding of what is important in Christian discipleship.
Historians trace the earliest church labeled Baptist back to 1609 in Amsterdam, with English Separatist John Smyth as its pastor. In accordance with his reading of the New Testament, he rejected baptism of infants and instituted baptism only of believing adults. Baptist practice spread to England, where the General Baptists considered Christ's atonement to extend to all people, while the Particular Baptists believed that it extended only to the elect. In 1638, Roger Williams established the first Baptist congregation in the North American colonies. In the mid-18th century, the First Great Awakening increased Baptist growth in both New England and the South. The Second Great Awakening in the South in the early 19th century increased church membership, as did the preachers' lessening of support for abolition and manumission of slavery, which had been part of the 18th-century teachings. Baptist missionaries have spread their church to every continent.
The Baptist World Alliance reports more than 41 million members in more than 150,000 congregations. In 2002, there were over 100 million Baptists and Baptistic group members worldwide and over 33 million in North America. The largest Baptist association is the Southern Baptist Convention, with the membership of associated churches totaling more than 14 million.
Calvinism, also called the Reformed tradition, was advanced by several theologians such as Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Huldrych Zwingli, but this branch of Christianity bears the name of the French reformer John Calvin because of his prominent influence on it and because of his role in the confessional and ecclesiastical debates throughout the 16th century.
Today, this term also refers to the doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches of which Calvin was an early leader. Less commonly, it can refer to the individual teaching of Calvin himself. The particulars of Calvinist theology may be stated in a number of ways. Perhaps the best known summary is contained in the five points of Calvinism, though these points identify the Calvinist view on soteriology rather than summarizing the system as a whole. Broadly speaking, Calvinism stresses the sovereignty or rule of God in all things—in salvation but also in all of life. This concept is seen clearly in the doctrines of predestination and total depravity.
The biggest Reformed association is the World Communion of Reformed Churches with more than 80 million members in 211 member denominations around the world. There are more conservative Reformed federations like the World Reformed Fellowship and the International Conference of Reformed Churches, as well as independent churches.
Lutheranism identifies with the theology of Martin Luther—a German monk and priest, ecclesiastical reformer, and theologian.
Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification "by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Scripture alone", the doctrine that scripture is the final authority on all matters of faith, rejecting the assertion made by Roman Catholic leaders at the Council of Trent that authority comes from both Scriptures and Tradition. In addition, Lutherans accept the teachings of the first four ecumenical councils of the undivided Christian Church.
Unlike the Reformed tradition, Lutherans retain many of the liturgical practices and sacramental teachings of the pre-Reformation Church, with a particular emphasis on the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in Christology, the purpose of God's Law, divine grace, the concept of perseverance of the saints, and predestination.
Today, Lutheranism is one of the largest branches of Protestantism. With approximately 80 million adherents, it constitutes the third most common Protestant confession after historically Pentecostal denominations and Anglicanism. The Lutheran World Federation, the largest global communion of Lutheran churches represents over 72 million people. Both of these figures miscount Lutherans worldwide as many members of more generically Protestant LWF member church bodies do not self-identify as Lutheran or attend congregations that self-identify as Lutheran. Additionally, there are other international organizations such as the Global Confessional and Missional Lutheran Forum, International Lutheran Council and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, as well as Lutheran denominations that are not necessarily a member of an international organization.
Methodism identifies principally with the theology of John Wesley—an Anglican priest and evangelist. This evangelical movement originated as a revival within the 18th-century Church of England and became a separate Church following Wesley's death. Because of vigorous missionary activity, the movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States, and beyond, today claiming approximately 80 million adherents worldwide. Originally it appealed especially to labourers and slaves.
Soteriologically, most Methodists are Arminian, emphasizing that Christ accomplished salvation for every human being, and that humans must exercise an act of the will to receive it (as opposed to the traditional Calvinist doctrine of monergism). Methodism is traditionally low church in liturgy, although this varies greatly between individual congregations; the Wesleys themselves greatly valued the Anglican liturgy and tradition. Methodism is known for its rich musical tradition; John Wesley's brother, Charles, was instrumental in writing much of the hymnody of the Methodist Church, and many other eminent hymn writers come from the Methodist tradition.
Pentecostalism is a movement that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.
This branch of Protestantism is distinguished by belief in the baptism with the Holy Spirit as an experience separate from conversion that enables a Christian to live a Holy Spirit–filled and empowered life. This empowerment includes the use of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and divine healing—two other defining characteristics of Pentecostalism. Because of their commitment to biblical authority, spiritual gifts, and the miraculous, Pentecostals tend to see their movement as reflecting the same kind of spiritual power and teachings that were found in the Apostolic Age of the early church. For this reason, some Pentecostals also use the term Apostolic or Full Gospel to describe their movement.
Pentecostalism eventually spawned hundreds of new denominations, including large groups such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ, both in the United States and elsewhere. There are over 279 million Pentecostals worldwide, and the movement is growing in many parts of the world, especially the global South. Since the 1960s, Pentecostalism has increasingly gained acceptance from other Christian traditions, and Pentecostal beliefs concerning Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts have been embraced by non-Pentecostal Christians in Protestant and Catholic churches through the Charismatic Movement. Together, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity numbers over 500 million adherents.
A modern Protestant worship band leading a contemporary worship session.
There are many other Protestant denominations that do not fit neatly into the mentioned branches, and are far smaller in membership. Some groups of individuals who hold basic Protestant tenets identify themselves simply as "Christians" or "born-again Christians". They typically distance themselves from the confessionalism or creedalism of other Christian communities by calling themselves "non-denominational" or "evangelical". Often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations.
Hussitism follows the teachings of Czech reformer Jan Hus, who became the best-known representative of the Bohemian Reformation and one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. An early hymnal was the hand-written Jistebnice hymn book. This predominantly religious movement was propelled by social issues and strengthened Czech national awareness. Among present-day Christians, Hussite traditions are represented in the Moravian Church, Unity of the Brethren, and the refounded Czechoslovak Hussite churches.
The Plymouth Brethren are a conservative, low church, evangelical movement, whose history can be traced to Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1820s, originating from Anglicanism. Among other beliefs, the group emphasizes sola scriptura. Brethren generally see themselves not as a denomination, but as a network, or even as a collection of overlapping networks, of like-minded independent churches. Although the group refused for many years to take any denominational name to itself—a stance that some of them still maintain—the title The Brethren, is one that many of their number are comfortable with in that the Bible designates all believers as brethren.
The Holiness movement refers to a set of beliefs and practices emerging from 19th-century Methodism, and a number of evangelical denominations, parachurch organizations, and movements which emphasized those beliefs as a central doctrine. There are an estimated 12 million adherents in Holiness movement churches. The Salvation Army and The Wesleyan Church are notable examples.
Quakers, or Friends, are members of a family of religious movements collectively known as the Religious Society of Friends. The central unifying doctrine of these movements is the priesthood of all believers. Many Friends view themselves as members of a Christian denomination. They include those with evangelical, holiness, liberal, and traditional conservative Quaker understandings of Christianity. Unlike many other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has actively tried to avoid creeds and hierarchical structures.
Unitarianism is sometimes considered Protestant due to its origins in the Reformation and strong cooperation with other Protestants since the 16th century. It is excluded due to its Nontrinitarian theological nature. Unitarians can be regarded as Nontrinitarian Protestants, or simply Nontrinitarians. Unitarianism has been popular in the region of Transylvania within today's Romania, England, and the United States. It originated almost simultaneously in Transylvania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.