- very early in the Reformation, the Protestant movement divided into several factions, each distinguished by a peculiarity of belief and/or practice. The different factions came to be denominated by labels, some self-chosen, others imposed by outsiders, mostly critics. There were the Lutherans (followers of Martin Luther), the Baptists (who demanded baptism by immersion limited to adults), the Methodists (named for John Wesley's methodical habits), and the Presbyterians (whose churches were led by presbyters or elders). The factions eventually congealed into the competing denominations.The fracturing of the Protestant community into ever more denominations, many formed for what some considered frivolous and ephemeral reasons, provoked a variety of reactions in the 19th century. There were attempts, for example, to call the movement back to a predenominational state by dropping all peculiar names in favor of biblical names - Church of God or Church of Christ. Toward the end of the century, the Ecumenical movement began to call for a resolution of denominational differences and a merger of Protestant bodies. They were inspired by the missionary experience, where denominational differences originating in Europe and North America seemed far less important.In the last half of the 20th century, many newer Christian fellowships began to describe themselves as interdenominational, nondenomi-national, or even postdenominational. At times, the use of such designations papered over what were in effect new denomination traditions, especially the Pentecostal/Charismatic denominational family, which includes many "nonde-nominational" churches. Each of these churches must still decide how to organize (polity), how to observe sacraments and ordinances, and how to respond to theological issues from the Trinitarian nature of God to the nature of salvation in christ.At the height of the Ecumenical movement in the middle of the 20th century, obituaries were written on denominational life. However, denominations have shown a remarkable resiliency and continue as the vital center of the protestant community as the 21st century begins.Further reading:■ Samuel G. Dawson, Fellowship: With God and His People: The Way of Christ Without Denominationalism (Amarillo, Tex.: Gospel Themes Press, 1988)■ H. Richard Niebuhr, Social Sources of Denominationalism (New York: Henry Holt, 1929)■ Russell E. Ritchie and Robert B. Mullin, eds., Reimagining Denominationalism: Interpretive Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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