The Spread of Denominations in the Church

extracted from

The History of the Church
Howard A. White

|The Early Church| |Apostasy in the Early Church| |Development of Papal Power| |Reformation Movement| |Rise of Denominations| |Spread of Denominations| |Restoration Movement| |A Warning|

With the departures from the New Testament doctrine and organisation of the church which culminated in the development of the papal system, we now see the spread of denominationalism which resulted from the great movement to reform the Catholic Church. The work of Martin Luther culminated in the beginning of the Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterian Church was founded by John Knox who preached the principle doctrines set in order by Calvin.


The Church of England or Episcopal Church (1534) had its beginning when King Henry VIII severed the church from the rule of Rome about 1534. An entanglement of circumstances of both a religious and political nature led to England’s break with Rome. It is unfair to both Henry VIII and the Church of England to leave the impression that the only cause for Henry’s action was the desire to be granted a divorce. This played its part, but this was only what might be called the last link in a chain of events which led to the act of formally severing connection with Rome.

The seeds sown by Luther, Wycliffe, and Tyndale continued to bear fruit in England. Groups of honest individuals met secretly and read the New Testament. The more informed they became in Holy Writ the more dissatisfied they became with the doings of Rome.

Henry VIII had made a series of severe attacks upon Martin Luther for which the Pope conferred upon him the time of "Defender of the Faith," a title which the King of England still wears. However, Henry VIII became involved in certain political issues which gave rise to antagonism with Rome. The question of Henry’s divorce precipitated matters. Henry wished to secure a divorce from Catherine of Aragon who had been his faithful wife of twenty years. He wished to marry Anne Boleyn who was fresh from the courts of France. The pope denied his petition for divorce, whereupon Henry separated the English church from the rule of the Pope. Parliament declared the head of the Church of England. The church retained much of the ritual and form of Catholicism.

"It was planted in America by the colonists in Virginia and remained under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London until the time of the Revolutionary War. Severing its connections with the mother church at the time when the United States became free, it has been known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. The creed of the church is expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith and the Book of Common Prayer contains the rituals used in the services of the church. It takes the name from its form of church government, which is Episcopal - rule by bishops, as opposed to Presbyterian form of government-or rule by elders of the local congregation ... within the American Church there are two groups, one known as the High Church and the other as the Low Church."1

The High Church is more like the Catholic in its form of worship than is the Low Church.


As the casual student readily observes, the name and nature of some of the denominations were determined by the form of church government adopted. However, in the early part of the sixteenth century a controversy arose which centered around the doctrine and practice of baptism and led to the founding of another religious group now known as the Baptist Church. Those who led in this controversy were given the name of Anabaptists, a term which means rebaptism. They were so-called because they refused to admit anyone into fellowship who would not repudiate his Catholic baptism, by being baptised again.

From these later there grew up what we know today as Baptist Churches. There are some Baptist historians that have claimed they could trace a line of Baptist churches back through the centuries to the New Testament times by a chain of successive churches. However, the better informed scholars among them make no claim. In fact, there is no religious group today that can trace itself back to New Testament times by a chain of successive churches. Catholics certainly cannot, since they have radically changed their worship and doctrines from the New Testament patterns.2

"The use of the term ‘Baptist’ as a denominational designation is of comparatively recent origin, first appearing about the year 1644."3 "Baptist" is a "name first given in 1644 to certain congregations of English Separatists, who had recently restored the ancient practise of immersion."4

In the interest of fairness, the student should note what one outstanding Baptist scholar had to say as to whether it is possible to trace the Baptist Church in unbroken succession to New Testament times.

Little perception is required to discover the fallacy of a visible apostolical succession in the ministry (the Catholic claim), but visible church succession is precisely as fallacious, and for exactly the same reasons ... The very attempt to trace an unbroken line of persons duly baptised upon their personal trust in Christ, or ministers ordained by lineal descent from the apostles, or of churches organised upon these principles, and adhering to the New Testament in all things, is in itself an attempt to erect a bulwark of error.5

In giving an account of the work of John Smyth, who was the leader in formally organising the Baptist Church, Armitage points out that Symth "believed that the Apostolical Church model was lost, and determined on its recovery. He renounced the figment of a historical, apostolic succession, insisting that where two or three organise according to the teachings of the New Testament, they form as true a church of Christ as that of Jerusalem, though they stand alone in the earth."6

John Symth was the leader of a group of separatists who fled from England to Holland to escape the persecutions of James I. They reached the conclusion that infant baptism was not taught in the Scriptures. Where upon Mr. Symth baptised himself and then baptised the others of the group. Many scholars maintain the belief that Symth baptised himself by sprinkling. However, some recognised historians doubt this. Armitage states:

with the design of restoring the pattern (the New Testament pattern), he (Symth) baptised himself on his faith in Christ in 1608, then baptised Thomas Helwys with about forty others, and so formed a new church in Amsterdam. In most things this body was Baptist, as that term is now used, with some difference.7

With reference to Symth’s baptism, Armitage further states: "Whether he dipped himself is not clear, but all circumstances, with a few statements of that day imply that he did."8

From these facts of history we must conclude that the Baptist church did not exist prior to the seventeenth century. That there were those before his time who believed in and practiced immersion for baptism, but that these composed the institution which is now known as the Baptist Church is a position which cannot be supported either by history or the Scriptures.

After the death of John Symth, Thomas Helwys and a number of his brethren returned to England and founded the first Baptist Church there in 1611 under the name of General Baptists. Numerous divisions have occurred among the Baptists, and so today there are several groups of Baptists wearing differing denominational titles and with variations in doctrine on some points. While Baptists generally do not claim a formal creed or confession of faith, they do make use of church manuals which set forth the fundamental items of faith and rules of conduct in the work and worship of the church. Two of the most popular of these are, The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches by Edward T. Hiscox, published by the American Baptists Publication Society, and Church Manual Designed For The Use Of Baptist Churches by J. M. Pendleton, published by The Judson Press.


As we now turn our attention to a brief history of the Methodist Church, the proper place to begin is with the life of John Wesley. He was born at Epworth, England in 1703. He was graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1724. He was ordained as a priest in the Church of England and was for a number of years fellow of Lincoln Collage. In 1729 he became associated with a group of young men who were displeased with the lack of spirituality and the mere form and ritual which characterised the Church of England at that time. This group stressed holy living and were spoken of in derision as "the Holy Club." Fisher describes the activities of this group in the following language:

One of their rules requires that they should frequently interrogate themselves whether they have been simple and recollected; whether they have prayed with fervor, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and on Saturday noon; if they have used a collect at nine, twelve, and three o’clock; duly meditated on Sunday; from three to four, on Thomas A. Kempis (who wrote Imitation of Christ); mused on Wednesday and Friday, from twelve to one, on the passion. They frequently partook of the communion. They visited also alms houses and prisons, and were diligent in efforts to instruct and console the suffering. For the reason that they lived by rule, the term ‘Methodist’ was attached to them as a nickname by their fellow-students.9

Mr. Wesley and his associates did not intend from the first to start a new religious group, but desired only to reform the Church of England. The English church looked with disfavor upon their activities and finally a separate body took shape when the first Methodist Society was formed at Kingswood, near the city of Bristol, England, in 1739. Methodism was first planted in America in a formal way in 1766.

The Methodist Discipline is the creed of the church and also contains rules of action and church laws. The doctrines, laws, and Methodism change from time to time. For this reason the Discipline is revised periodically. There had been so many changes in it by 1888 that Dr. P.A. Peterson could write a 247 page book entitled The History Of The Revision Of The Discipline, published by the Publishing House Of The Methodist Episcopal Church South, Nashville, Tennessee,. Here is an example of the changes which are made in the Discipline: The edition of 1908 begins the ritual for baptism of infants with, "Dearly Beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin," while the edition of 1940 begins the same ritual with "Dearly Beloved, forasmush as all men are heirs of life eternal." In the edition of 1940 in an article entitled "Episcopal Address," it is stated: "We have, therefore, expected that the Discipline would be administered, not merely as a legal document, but as a revelation of the Holy Spirit working in and through our people." The article is signed by the president, vice president, and secretary of Bishops.

In view of this official claim by Methodists that their discipline is "a revelation of the Holy Spirit," it is in order to ask two questions: 1. If one believes the Discipline to be a revelation of the Holy Spirit, how can he also believe that the Bible in the complete and final revelation of God’s will through the Spirit as it claims in 2 Tim. 3:16, 17? 2. If the Methodist Discipline is a revelation of the Holy Spirit, why it is necessary for man to keep changing it? Does the Holy Spirit changes His mind from time to time?

Since the beginning of the Reformation movement, denominations have continued to multiply until they number in the hundreds. Time will not permit mention of them all. These facts have been presented in the hope of helping those interested in knowing why there are so many religious groups to a clearer understanding of these matters. It must be agreed that such a state of division would have never existed had all men held to the New Testament in its purity and simplicity down through the years.

|The Early Church| |Apostasy in the Early Church| |Development of Papal Power| |Reformation Movement| |Rise of Denominations| |Spread of Denominations| |Restoration Movement| |A Warning|


  1. Pack, Church History, 29.
  2. Ibid. 30.
  3. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia Of Religious Knowledge, 13 Vols. (1908), I 456.
  4. The New International Encyclopedia, 25 Vols., (Grand Rapids, 1927) II, 646.
  5. Thomas Armitage, A History Of The Baptist, 2, 3.
  6. Ibid., 453.
  7. Ibid., 454.
  8. Ibid., 457.
  9. Fisher, History of the Christian Church, 515. For a striking portrayal of Methodism in the United States see Life Magazine, November 10, 1947.

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