Part 1 Variety in churches. Lesson 4 of 4.
Lesson 4. Independent Churches
Through today’s lesson, we hope you will see how the desire for independence led to the founding of many different movements.
- National churches. The churches introduced in the previous chapters have many things in common. They all felt it would be best if everyone in their region belonged to the same church. They felt the government should assist that church, should make sure that society was religious, and should not allow people to dissent from that church. These churches also all provided infant baptism. They explained it in different ways, but the result was that in their society, everyone would be part of the church together. They recognized that within the visible church organization, some people will be true believers, but we may not be able to judge which ones they are.
- Gathered Church. In contrast, the groups in today’s lesson feel that the church must be made up only of true believers, and that we should try to find out who they are, and keep the others out of the church. Churches with this viewpoint are called “gathered” churches or “believers” churches. These churches did not want to be helped or controlled by the government. They did not believe that all in the same region should belong nto the same church. That is why in each region these groups were regarded as illegal, until the rise of religious toleration in the eighteenth century.
- Anabaptists. There were some believers¹ in Switzerland who accepted the reformed ideas, but wanted to make sure that their church was made up only of Christians. In 1525 a group of believers began the “Anabaptist” movement by re-baptizing people who had already been baptized as infants. (Ana means “again” in Greek.) This group was persecuted by Reformed, Catholics, and Lutherans. The reason for the persecution was the fear that society would be chaotic if individuals could disregard the government-approved church. The various views for and against infant baptism are explained in lesson 35. The existence and suffering of the Anabaptists laid the groundwork for the development of religious freedom and toleration, and the separation of church and state.
- Independence. The Anabaptists stressed these points:
(1) only believers should belong to the church.
(2) only believers should be baptized (so infants should not be baptized)..
(3) believers should not work in the government or military.
(4) the church should be separate from government
In other areas, they had positions similar to the Calvinists. For example, they taught that communion is a remembrance, but that Jesus is not present in the bread and wine.
- Mennonites. Today there is no group called Anabaptists, but their influence still exists. In 1536, Anabaptist Peter Mennon began to preach, establishing the Mennonites. His followers are noted around the world as pacifists and for social welfare. The Mennonites are examples to the rest of the church in bringing food to the hungry and caring for refugees. In the 1890’s, Mennonites began serving in China.
- Baptists. During the time when independent churches were illegal in England, some of the independents fled to Europe, where they met the Anabaptists. In 1612 those who agreed with the Anabaptist views established the Baptist church when they returned to England. The Baptist church is willing to work in government and is willing to serve in the military. The Baptist church continues the idea of a “gathered church” made up only of believers, and does not baptize infants. Many of their other teachings are similar to the ideas of the Calvinists; like the Calvinists, they may give a greater or lesser place to “free will.” Their method of church organization is “congregational.” They value the fact that no one can tell someone else how to interpret the Bible, and therefore there is a great deal of variety of the beliefs among the Baptists. Because of their saying “no book but the Bible, no creed but Christ,” they do not usually use the historic church creeds in their worship services. In 1845 the first Baptist missionaries came to China. If you hear a sermon about personal decision making and individual independence in religious belief, you have probably experienced the influence of Baptists.
- Quakers. Around 1647 another small group started² in England, the Quakers, also called Friends. They have been noted for refusing to join the army, but dedicating themselves to social reform. In America, they are famous for helping runaway slaves to escape to freedom. More details about combating slavery will be in lesson 7.
- Holiness Churches. As the Methodist churches grew and became prosperous, they became more centered on the middle class, and some felt the original zeal of John Wesley to help the poor was diminishing. In order to return to Wesley’s emphasis on personal holiness, in 1867 some Methodists began a holiness movement. The new idea promoted by this movement was that there are two stages in the Christian life: the stage of being saved, and a later stage of becoming completely holy. Most Christians believe that the Bible does not teach about stages — when we are saved, God declares us holy, and we spend the rest of our lives growing. Some of the churches formed by the Holiness movement have been very important in the growth of Christianity in China. In 1887 a movement now called the Christian and Missionary Alliance was formed³, and the next year their first missionary arrived in China. They give a larger percentage of their church offerings to mission work than does any other denomination. Other holiness groups are the Church of God and the Church of the Nazarene. Details on additional denominations are given in lesson 38.
- Pentecostals. A group of Holiness church people began to pray for God to bless them as he had bless the apostles in the Book of Acts, and in 1901 one of them began to speak in tongues, followed soon by others. When they had this experience, they believed it was evidence that they were filled with the Spirit. Their own churches did not accept them, so in 1901 those who advocated speaking in tongues founded the “Pentecostal” movement. To see the reason for this name, please read Acts 2:1-2. The disciples spoke in tongues on the Jewish holiday called Pentecost. This movement continues the “holiness church” idea that some Christians are in a different stage than others, and so those who speak in tongues have reached the highest stage, called “spirit-filled.” They are organized in the congregational system. Like the Baptists, they baptize only believers. Like the Methodists, they stress free will in becoming a Christian. They are the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world. For example, the great increase in Protestants among the Catholic population of South America are Pentecostals. One of the largest Pentecostal churches is called the “Assembly of God.” Pentecostal influence has also been very strong in China. In 1907, Pentecostal missionaries began arriving in China. If you go to a service that emphasizes miracles, and urges you to place yourself into a higher category than other Christians, you have experienced Pentecostal influence. Please turn to chart 5 and fill in numbers 14 and 15.
10. Charistmatic.Members of older churches who accept Pentecostal ideas but stay in their own churches are called members of the “charismatic” movement. This name comes from their acceptance of supernatural “gifts” such as tongues and healing. Here are some verses to consider about Pentecostal teachings. In Acts 2:38. Here Peter says that those who receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit are those who repent and are bapized. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, Paul describes all believers as members of the body of Christ, but that not all are apostles, not all are miracle workers, not all speak in tongues, yet all are useful.
11. One in Christ. All the different ideas in the Christian family have led to many independent organizations, called “denominations.” But Christians have not forgotten that all believers are one in Christ. Please read the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-21. Jesus says the world will know who He is when the believers demonstrate that they are one in him. In today’s China, the traditions from the time of the reformation are united in one organization. The Chinese Christians have an opportunity and a challenge to demonstrate that they can be “one” despite the differing ideas that are in their heritage.
12. Summary. The word “Christianity” includes the three branches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, and also the churches that are outside those branches, such as the churches of Ethiopia, Egypt, Armenia, and Syria. See the tree diagram again. The word “Protestant” includes those influenced by Luther and Calvin. There are some who follow Calvin in most points, mainly the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. There are also those who differ from Calvin in some points. The largest example is those who disagree with Calvin about predestination, and instead emphasize free will¹¹. The historic example is the Methodist church, and the movements that proceeded from it: the holiness movement and the pentecostal movement. Besides these are those influenced by the anabaptist movements., but even the Baptists include some who agree with Calvin’s views on predestination and others that reject it and agree with “free will.” See diagram of major denominations. Some believers would call themselves “conservative.” One type is those who follow Luther or Calvin closely, so they are called “confessional”¹² There are other conservative believers who descended from the “free will” viewpoint. Those who avoid cooperating with those who disagree with them are called fundamentalists, and those more willing to work with others are called evangelicals. But an evangelical will generally consider himself different from a Baptist or a Pentecostal. Al these groups will consider themselves as opponents of those they call “liberals.” Historic denominations that include theologians with liberal¹³ viewpoints are called “mainline churches.” Each mainline church has experienced churches breaking off by those who feel that their church is getting “too liberal.” Then there are lots of independent churches that do not use the name of any well-known denomination, but nevertheless follow the teachings of Calvin to some degree, and often have additional teachings of their own. But despite the variety among Christians, there is no doubt that the church has made many contributions to civilization during the past 2000 years. The next four lessons will introduce some of those contributions.
Footnotes. 1) a leader was Conrad Grebel. 2) Quakers founded by George Fox. 3) CMA founded by Simpson. 11) As stated in footnote 12 of lesson 3, this viewpoint is called Arminianism, named after a man named Arminius (1560-1609). He belonged to the reformed church in Holland. 12) They are called “confessional” because they adhere to documents called “confessions,” that were written by early Lutheran and Reformed scholars. 13) This website author uses the word liberal, when talking about theology, to mean those who tend to question the Bible, and uses the word “conservative” for those who tend to take the Bible at face value.
Word List. Anabaptist [chóng xî pài] 重洗派 Assemblies of God [shen zhao pai] 神召派 Baptist church [jÌn xÌn huì] 浸信会 浸信會 charismatic ;ling en yun dong] 灵恩运动 靈恩運動 Christian and Missionary Alliance [xuan dào hu]. Church of Christ [ji du jiao hui] 基督教会. Church of the Nazarene [na sa le ren ye su de jiao hui] 拿撒勒人耶稣的教会. denomination [jiao pai] 教派。Ecumenical [pu shi xing] 普世 Ecumenical Movement 普世教会运动 普世教會運動 Mennonites [mén nuò hùi] 门诺会 門諾會 pentecost [wu sun jie]五旬节. Pentecostal Churches [wu xun jie pai] 五旬节派. Quakers [guì gé huì], 贵格会 also called Friends, [jiao you huÌ] 教友会