The Protestant Movement Expands
While Wycliffe in England was preaching reformist thinking back in the 1300s, it was with the Lutherans in the 1400’s that formally began the foundation of the Protestant belief system, which began to take other forms such as the Anabaptists in the 1500’s.
Back in England, however, Henry the VIII was having problems with the Church in Rome on more than one front. While the matter of taxation by Rome was certainly an issue, it was more the annulment of the King’s marriage to Katherine that lead King Henry to have England official break with the Roman Catholic Church and found a new National Church of England with regulations more to the King’s liking (with him, of course, as supreme leader, instead of the Pope).
Now known as the Anglican Church, the spiritual leader of the Church of England has been delegated to the Bishop of Canterbury in more modern times, but originally Henry the VIII created the template and the Church was answerable to him and only him.
His Six Articles, drafted in 1539, were largely not much different from a theological point of view than those of the Catholic Church in Rome. Some Lutheran influences have been noted in the 1543 King’s Book, but the remainder is largely Catholic in origin. The Great Bible was a new and authorized translation approved by Henry in 1539 and he assigned the task of suppressing the Catholic Monasteries to Thomas Cromwell.
When King Edward VI assumed the throne he made even greater strides in converting the Church closer to the Protestant faith with the creation of a Book of Common Prayer and 42 new articles drafted by 1550. But with the coming of Queen Mary I, a devote Catholic, relations were restored with Rome for a short while before the reign of Elizabeth I who promptly moved the Church more down the middle of the road embracing both Catholic and Protestant thinking.
By now Calvinism was spreading from France to Geneva and his theological views where making their way into English life. By 1604 James I was on the throne in England and the first thing he did was to commission a totally new Bible, which has now been adopted by a vast majority of Protestant churches and is dubbed “The Kings James Version” or sometimes “The Holy Bible.”
The Puritans (forerunners of the Presbyterian sect) began in the time of Elizabeth and attempted to steer the Church and Nation further away from the Catholic view and more towards the Calvinist view. They felt Elizabeth was too compromising with the Catholics. They also had a more pedestrian view of Predestination (the concept that by God’s will some people are automatically destined for salvation, while others are automatically destined for damnation).
The Puritans unsuccessfully attempted to influence the Hampton Court Conference called by King James and brought alienation and persecution upon their ranks to the point that when James called for the creation of the London Company to found settlements in the “New World” known as the North American Continent, the Puritans asked for and received a charter to settle in America (which was eventually done in Massachusetts, probably by the Presbyterian ranks), but another group of Puritan Separatists – the Congregationalists – found passage under another Charter that eventually set sail on the Mayflower, which landed in Plymouth Bay.
To put it bluntly, the Anglican Church (of England) was starting to look more like just another mildly reformist Greek or Russian Orthodox Church. One where Priests could marry, divorce was legal, but the core of the services, theology and liturgy looked remarkably Catholic, although the Bible was definitely different. This bothered the more radical Protestant Reformists who, in England, were embracing the Calvinist views more than the Lutheran views. So, to avoid persecution a vast number of “Protestant” people (mostly well to do Englishmen who could afford to make the trip) started to settle in America in the hopes that they could practice religion their own way without everyone putting them down for how they believed or acted.
While a majority of today’s Presbyterians evolved from the ranks of a majority of Puritans who migrated to America, many Congregationalists also splintered off from the Puritan following.
Basically the difference between these two sects is that Congregationalists believe in rule (of church and state) by means of local congregations of church members in good standing and of proper age and sex (basically male) and that Jesus is the head of the religion, hence there are no Bishops or other elders who oversee the religion. Presbyterians (the word is derived from the Greek for Elder, the Middle-English for Priests bench and the Roman Catholic for residence of the Priest) believe in rule (of church and state) by a group of elders as called for in the New Testament, of which the ministers and other elder lay members of the church comprise the governing body or court that decides all matters. There are also higher “courts” in the Presbyterian system such as the “synod” which is made up of elders from other church bodies in the area and a general committee that meets and determines how the whole body of churches are to go about their duties. They also believe that government should not interfere in the procedures and workings of the church.
Other than this, both sects are based largely on the teachings or views of John Calvin, they believe that the Bible is the ultimate source for law and behavior in both church, state and private lives, They believe in the sacraments of baptism (at birth) and The Lord’s Supper (which was the celebration by Jesus and his Disciples of the Jewish Passover or Pesach ritual, although modified by the Christian religions over time).
Of course America didn’t turn out to be much of a Garden of Eden. More than half the settlers died in the first year of harsh winter and famine. Plus, in later years King James would rid himself of other dissidents, this time it was the Catholics, to whom he gave the state of Maryland! Even the Anglican Church made its way to America with more loyal Englishmen who wanted to keep their national faith closer at hand and were on American soil long before almost anyone else, located in Jamestown.
To shore up their ranks, the largely entrepreneurial and mostly Protestant-Puritan or English Anglican settlers started dealing in the black slave trade started by Dutch shipping merchants who were raiding the Ivory coast of Africa and selling off captured “servants” to anyone with the money to buy them.
While some settlers, such as the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony, often gave their black slaves freedom by the age of 25, this was not a wide spread custom. In fact most established churches in America basically turned a blind eye (the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude) to slavery until around 1800. This two century silent treatment by many of the Anglicans, Protestants and Catholics in America probably contributed to the defection of many American blacks to the Muslim faith in more recently times, as even though the Church and the Northern part of the United States supported the abolishment of slavery, persecution, segregation and inequality existed in the pews of the Christians churches clear into the 1960, giving voices such as those from Malcolm X a lot of substance.
Back in Europe in the 1600s, the Dutch and Swiss Anabaptists had spun off a splinter group known as the Mennonites, who were somewhat of an influence on the foundation of the Baptist movement in 1644. This movement would also eventually find a home in America, mostly in the South. It also would find a major place in the black community that didn’t go into other Christian or Muslim faiths. A vast majority of black Americans subscribe to a form of Baptist religion.
Seventh Day Baptists are another off-shoot that made their way to America in 1671 settling in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. This sect views Saturday as the Sabbath or holy day of rest (as do the Jewish and Muslim religions) instead of Sunday.
These three sects all share the common belief, that goes contrary to the teaching of Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians and Catholics, that only adult believers are to be Baptized by total immersion in water.
At the same time the Baptists were starting to form their religion the Protestants or Puritans back in England were starting to make waves with a civil war in 1642 that resulted in Presbyterians taking over the English theological scene for a short period of time before the Restoration in 1660 when Catholic doctrines were once again incorporated into the prayer book of England. This time, however, many members of the clergy resigned their positions in the Church of England and founded many Protestant followings that were declared non-conformist by Parliament. James II even attempted a token reconciliation with Rome by declaring a tolerance towards all religions. The Archbishop of Canterbury (the spiritual head of the Church of England) and many priests refused to go along with this edict and were tried but acquitted. Then in 1688 the Glorious Revolution resulted in a Bill of Rights and declared that the Monarch must be Protestant and a member of the Church of England.
With the Independence of America by 1780, the Anglican Church in American became known as the Episcopal Church and to this day is still a part of the alliance with Canada, Australia, England and a few other nations making up the international alliance of Anglican Churches.
It should be noted that due to the largely Catholic nature of the Episcopal and Anglican Churches that many authorities hesitate to think of them as Protestant, in fact some say they are not Protestants (although, some also say that of the Baptists).
Episcopal churches in Canada and the United States has found disfavor in recent times due to the ordination of homosexual (“gay”) priests and the open acceptance into their ranks of homosexual parishioners (which many Lutheran Churches are also doing today), at times with marriages of gay couples. The United States Episcopal Church has been sanctioned and cannot participate in international conferences until the other national church representatives decide what to do with this radical new policy that was adopted and implemented without consultation, debate and approval. Like it or not this brings back to mind those first ministers, Bishops and churches, often in the minority and taking a great chance of losing their flocks, who started taking on the issues of black slavery in America prior to Lincoln. Many religious people had negative views of blacks, some likened them to animals, others considered them heathens (what Muslims would call an “infidel”) and they weren’t fit for anything but picking cotton. On the other hand, virtually every religion (except for Paganism and Satanism) is intolerant to any form of overt sexual behavior outside of marriage (those doing it were to be taken to the gates of the city and stoned to death), including but not limited to hetrosexual explorations, and is also opposed to homosexuality based upon passages in their various scriptures. What we have here is another taboo being tackled by a reformist oriented theology and one that is polarizing not just America, but the world. The feelings, which run deep, among the various faiths and peoples, are no different on this modern issue than those feelings which were evoked by Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Anabaptists, Muslims and the Catholics, going back centuries. Those ancient issues, like our modern ones, brought about dissent, hatred, bigotry, persecution and even warfare...
Radical thinking and reformation, no matter how people might view it, is the whole idea behind the Protestant religion (and the concept of divorce, one of the Protestant cornerstones, was very radical and very anti-Catholic back in 1500) and in our next installment we’ll continue to look at some of the more modern and sometimes radical sects that round off the core of this diffused community of Christians who are not Catholics.
Our look at the history and origin of religion, its effect upon government and people continues with these offerings...
Islam, the religion |
The Origin of Religion |
Pesach (Passover) |
40 Days of Lent |