Protestantism has dominated the American religious landscape since the nation's founding. While no single Protestant group matches the numbers of the Roman Catholic Church, together Protestants form a plurality of Americans. Four of the main Protestant denominational groups in the United States are the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran churches.
The most theologically conservative of the major Protestant groups in the United States, Baptist churches share a common set of ideals and beliefs. Baptists overwhelmingly believe in the independence of the local congregation, with denominations having little actual authority over the local church. Baptists are often fundamentalists, believing in the inerrancy of scripture. They teach that people must accept Christ as their savior and be "born again." New adult believers are baptized almost immediately after conversion; infants and young children, however, are not baptized. Worship in a Baptist church is simple, and usually includes hymns, prayers, testimonies and a sermon. The sermon is the central focus of Baptist worship.
Methodism rose out of a reform movement within the Church of England in the 18th century. Anglican priest John Wesley taught that Christians could live lives full of love for God and growth in holiness. Methodist churches today hold to traditional Christian beliefs about the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and others, as well as distinct Protestant ideas such as the sufficiency of scripture for salvation. Methodists believe in a personal conversion experience followed by a growth in God's grace throughout a Christian's life. Worship in Methodist churches ranges from contemporary worship, with a praise team, choruses and a simple sermon, to "high church" worship with liturgy, scripture readings, recitation of creeds and communion. Church government is Episcopal in form, with bishops serving to superintend specific geographic areas.
Anglican churches outside of England are often referred to as "Episcopal" churches, a reference to their form of government. Theologically, Episcopalians are diverse, although most lean toward a more modernist understanding of God and the Bible. Episcopal worship is characterized by ritual and ceremony: hymns, scripture readings, prayers, recitations of creeds and a short homily, or sermon. It is communion, however, which is the centerpiece of Episcopal worship.
In the United States, Lutheran churches are divided along conservative-modernist theological lines. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod represents the largest theologically conservative Lutheran body in the country, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America falls on the modernist side. All Lutherans uphold the historic beliefs of Christianity, such as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the resurrection. They also honor the distinct theology of Martin Luther, for whom the movement was named. These views include the sufficiency of scripture alone for salvation, the necessity of faith apart from works, and the primacy of God's grace. Lutheran denominations vary from an Episcopal form of government with presiding bishops, to flatter authority structures closer to the local and regional churches.
- Patheos Library: Baptist
- Southern Baptist Convention: Basic Beliefs
- United Methodist Church: Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage
- Pathoes Library: Methodist
- Patheos Library: Anglican/Episcopalian
- The Episcopal Church: History of the Episcopal Church
- The New York Times: Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: What Lutherans Believe
- Patheos Library: Lutheran - Modern Age
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