In our last column, we talked about a most unusual man, Martin Luther from Wittenberg, Germany. He was a monk who became a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He studied the Scriptures carefully in an endeavor to find out how it is that a man becomes “right with God” and is able to inherit Eternal life.
You must understand that this was the priority of most people in that day, and today it is possibly the least of one’s concerns. In the 1500’s, life was very uncertain and most people lived difficult lives, working very hard to keep their families fed, hoping they would remain healthy and escape the many pitfalls that all humans faced. The average individual could not read and depended upon the priests of the Church for any help and happiness that made their lives less terrible. For many folks, life was rough. I find myself sorry for the lot of the common folk with absolutely no conveniences of any sort and very few pleasures.
After Martin Luther began teaching a more Scriptural faith, many people accepted his teachings. Many folks began leaving the Roman Church in Germany, and about half the nation became Lutherans. The Scandinavian nations accepted Luther’s teachings. Also, the German Reformed Church arose.
In Holland, there were the Mennonites and the Dutch Reformed Church. About the same time, King Henry VIII took the English Church away from Rome. The Moravians appeared in the Czech lands. And there came to be a dozen different “Brethren” Churches, all independent. Cromwell and John Knox brought the Puritan-Presbyterian Church in England. And John Wesley’s Methodists came into being. All these religious movements next spread to the United States, so that even at the beginning of the nation, there were quite a number of what came to be called religious “denominations.”
But things did not stop there, The River Brethren were plain people who lived along the Susquehanna River. The Shakers began in New York State. In the South, the first Pentecostals appeared. The Methodist movement resulted in a dozen different little denominations . A good number of “Holiness churches” as the “Nazarenes,” the “Wesleyans” and “God’s Missionary” were all formed. There were Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists. The Disciples of Christ came out of the southern Presbyterians.There were several new denominations called “Christian Churches” and several groups called “Church of God.” Add to this the Slovak and Greek churches of the immigrants, which went by “Orthodox.” Do you see why our Swedish couple, coming from a one church Lutheran Faith were confused?
Without a serious study, I would say that many of these groups were similar but simply separated geographically. But we were not at the era of Church Mergers as yet, this was when new churches were still being formed. Next time, we will examine what things various churches believed. But personally, I think that people were Methodists or Presbyterians or Baptists or Catholics because that’s what their parents were. Look for more in this study of “Church denominations.”