Baptist. Methodist. Non-denominational. Liturgical. Catholic. Pentacostal. Evangelical. Lutheran. Presbyterian. Protestant.
This transformation from one church to many has become a confusing maze in today’s world. Religion, denomination, worship style … and, for many, the understanding of what it all means seems out of grasp.
But hopefully, after today, you’ll feel a little more confident in understanding why we have so many different kinds of churches and what the primary differences are in their practices.
First, a couple of definitions:
Religion: a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
Denomination: a religious group, usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect: the Lutheran denomination.
So, when we discuss the Church – the Body of Christ – we are speaking of the religion of Christianity. When we discuss specific local congregations – First United Methodist Church or St. Mark’s Catholic Church – we are speaking of different denominations within the Christian faith.
Clear as mud? Hopefully not! Whether you attend a Catholic church or a Presbyterian church or an Assembly of God, your religion is Christian – as opposed to those worshipping at a mosque whose religion is Islam.
Within the Christian religion, we find there are two primary divisions: Catholicism and Protestantism. We all agree that Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified, died, and rose again, reigning now at the right hand of the throne of God. We also agree that man is born sinful and Christ’s death is the necessary sacrifice which enables us to have restored relationship with God.
Protestantism can be further divided into several sub-categories. In order to maintain as simple an explanation as possible, we will use the following categories:
Each of these divisions espouses shared theology including Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solo Christo (through Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone). Additionally, the protestant denominations believe in the priesthood of the believer – eliminating the necessity of confession through a priest.
(Please remember this is a VERY simplified explanation! For more detailed information on this topic, I recommend searching the specific topics on wikipedia and using other church history aids such as those found on Crosswalk.com).
Typically the liturgical services most closely resemble the Catholic service. Corporate worship includes the following elements – communal prayer, reading/hearing the Word (this can include a homily and generally involves readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles and the Gospels), response of confession, passing the peace of Christ, and the Eucharist. Liturgical churches rely on the church year to guide their Bible readings and specific emphases. In addition, liturgical churches typically give great emphasis to learning of catechism, study of church history, and understanding doctrine.
Examples of liturgical denominations include Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox and some Methodists.
The evangelical denominations follow a conservative and literal interpretation of the Bible and generally have a conservative worldview. As evidenced by the name, these denominations place high priority on sharing the gospel with others. Evangelical churches focus on building the body through the Great Commission and are active in missions giving and going. In addition, evangelical denominations place great emphasis on discipleship and personal spiritual growth.
Examples of evangelical denominations include most Baptists (including Southern Baptists), the Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodists, Mennonite Brethren, the Wesleyan Church, and some Methodists.
The pentacostal denominations place special emphasis on personal experience of God through the baptism and/or filling of the Holy Spirit. The focus of these churches is reflecting the same spiritual power, worship styles, and teachings of the early church as seen in Acts. Pentacostal denominations are typically missions-minded and local churches in these denominations are active in supporting and sending missionaries.
Denominations who would be considered pentacostal include Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), and Foursquare churches.
In today’s Christian culture, the lines between many of these practices in the local churches are very blurry. It is not uncommon to see a liturgical bent in an evangelical church nor unusual for a pentacostal church to place great emphasis on personal spiritual disciplines.
Many have wondered if denominations are good or bad for the Gospel. It is confusing and complicated. But, if we remember that God uses the image of Father and child to describe our relationship, we can understand that even children raised in the same home have differing lifestyles and personalities based on their temperament and experiences. Different doesn’t mean wrong or worse.
The same is true with different denominations … We must make certain that we give highest priority to the Gospel and allow the differences within our family to give us greater depth and grace.
Join us tomorrow as we look at distinguishing core doctrinal beliefs from peripheral issues and “gray areas.”
Hopefully you were with us during our month-long focus on salvation. As we discussed during this series, no matter what church you belong to, how many generations of your family have been members, how frequently you attend, how actively you are involved, how much money you give… the real issue is whether or not you have placed your trust in Jesus as the one and only way to start a relationship with God and the only solution to the eternally-fatal problem of sin.