Protestantism and Its Many Denominations
The word “protestatio” was invoked in 1529, in reference to those princes that supported Martin Luther and spoke out against religious persecution. These royal supporters were eventually known as Protestants
, a name that spread to the vast number of religious denominations that sprang from the beliefs associated with the Reformation. This guide attempts to straighten out the differences among the sects, pinpoint their commonalities, indicate their historical foundations and show you how to connect with Protestants everywhere. Read a Spanish-language version of this Web Guide
A large part of the world, particularly the West, is very much a product of what happened almost 500 years ago in Europe. Today, most Americans consider themselves to be Protestants. The Reformation caused a rift in Christianity, and the views of Protestant groups gradually diverged, resulting in the wide variety of denominations that currently exist. Use the sites below to explore the Protestant history and the people, places and events that shaped the religious sects we have today.
- This section covers Protestant history, which technically begins around the time of the Reformation in the first half of the 16th century. If you're unfamiliar with Catholic/Christian history, some of the information presented below may be confusing. For context, try this one-page summary of the history of Christianity.
- Later sections of this guide have information on individual Protestant denominations. You’ll find links in those sections about the history of those specific denominations, many of which reach back to the Reformation.
For general Protestant history …
offers a detailed chart (scroll down to find it) listing notable Protestant reformers. The chart has information about each individual, including his “Associated Tradition” and “Works.” Some of the reformers are linked to more extensive profiles of their lives and work.
Association of Religion Data Archives
has a feature called “Denominational Family Trees.” Trace the history and evolution of various Protestant sects (including Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Mennonites) in the United States. If you hover your cursor over an event or church on the tree, you’ll get a brief summary and statistical data.
The Spurgeon Archive
offers a number of links around the Web on the Reformation, the history of Protestantism, Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Huguenots, and more.
About Martin Luther …
traces the life of Martin Luther on this rich and interactive Web site. Also learn about the characters surrounding Luther, such as Charles V, Frederick the Wise and Luther’s wife.
provides the “Selected Works of Martin Luther: 1483–1546.” Whether you’re looking for something specific or just want to get a taste of Martin Luther’s character, this site is a great resource.
Jewish Virtual Library
briefly introduces and provides excerpts from one of Luther’s most inflammatory pieces of writing, “The Jews and Their Lies” (1543).
About John Calvin …
has a short biography of John Calvin. This passage focuses more on Calvin’s personal life and early years and offers less about his founding of Calvinism.
For other Reformation figures…
Boise State University
has an account of the life of Ulrich Zwingli, credited with starting the Swiss Protestant Reformation. Find details on Zwingli’s life, his religious views and his impact on Christianity.
presents a selection on John Knox, taken from the book "131 Christians Everyone Should Know
." The excerpt covers the life and doctrine of Knox and focuses on how Scottish history has interpreted Knox. Knox helped introduce Protestantism into Scotland, and he is credited with founding the Presbyterian denomination.
About the English Reformation …
examines the English Reformation. This historical account paints the British social, political and religious landscape during the 16th century, and then lays out the story of Henry VIII, the Tudors and the rise of the Church of England.
Although the various denominations differ on many religious tenets, they do share similar Protestant foundations. The emphasis on faith over good works, the preeminence of the Scriptures and the use of only two sacraments are some of these shared features. Use the links below to learn more about Protestant beliefs and practices.
- Religion is a very personal experience. On the Internet, people attempt to encapsulate their own religion or someone else’s religion, and in so doing, they may be feeding you either incorrect or subjective information. Be sure to read a lot of sources and use your own best judgment.
- The rest of the sections in this guide explore some of the major Protestant denominations one by one, ordered by size, as estimated by statistics from the BBC and ReligionFacts. The most populous in the world are covered first.
- It’s debatable whether Mormonism is a Protestant denomination. It is often considered Restorationist, because Mormons believe their church is “restoring” Christianity to its original form before it fell into “apostasy.” To learn more about Mormonism, read findingDulcinea’s Mormonism Web Guide.
For an overview of Protestant beliefs …
outlines what Conservative Protestants believe. Find short explanations of beliefs on such topics as death and salvation. Beliefnet also explores Liberal Protestant beliefs.
Creeds of Christendom
isn’t well designed, but it is an excellent index of various creeds, or statements of faith, for almost all of the major Protestant sects. For the easiest navigation, use the categories on the left sidebar.
For general information about Protestant denominations …
contains an extensive list of Protestant denominations. It includes the larger sects as well as many of the less well-known ones.
For information about Protestant ceremonies …
offers an article on Catholic sacraments and Protestant ordinances. Learn why Protestants don't follow the seven sacraments practiced in Catholicism, what those sacraments consist of and what Protestants practice instead.
Grace Bible Church
examines the two ordinances of baptism and communion. Although the graphic design is lacking, the site goes into great detail about the history of the ordinances, the differences between them and Catholic sacraments, their purposes, their requirements and what they entail.
describes Protestant wedding traditions. Get details on vows, exchanging rings, unity candles and more.
For Protestant Bibles and religious writings …
University of Notre Dame
offers notes on the Bible in an outline format. Trace the history of the written Bible and see which versions of the Bible Protestants have used, as compared to Catholics.
is a powerful reference tool that provides access to many versions of the Bible in several languages. Use the “Quick search” tool to find a specific passage or to search for ones on a certain theme. The advanced search tool allows you more options, such as a quotation lookup.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
has a substantial online archive of Christian writings. Go to the “Browse Library” section on the right side of the page to search by author, title, language and more.
The Pentecostal name is derived from the events described in the New Testament: On the Day of Pentecost, early Christians experienced spiritual gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues. Use the sites below to get acquainted with Pentecostal beliefs, practices and community.
- Some Pentecostals refer to themselves as Charismatics. But “charismatic” may apply to other Christian denominations as well. For example, Baptists and Methodists may practice some charismatic elements; there are even Charismatic Roman Catholics. Charismatic really just means that people believe they can possess “spiritual gifts” or “charisms,” and that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in everyday life. These spiritual gifts include speaking in tongues (“glossolalia”), healing and prophesying, among others.
For information on Pentecostals …
Oral Roberts University
provides an historical account of the denomination, entitled “The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement.” Read about the Holiness Movement of the 19th century, American Pentecostal Pioneers and Neo-Pentecostals and Charismatics.
For major Pentecostal organizations …
Assemblies of God
is the largest Pentecostal organization. This particular organization believes in the Trinitarian concept of God (Trinitarian Pentecostals), though there are Pentecostals that think God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are one entity (Oneness Pentecostals).
For the Pentecostal online community …
has a discussion board for Pentecostals and Charismatics. This is an extremely active forum.
At 75 million members in the world, Presbyterianism is one of the most populous Protestant denominations. Presbyterians trace their roots to John Knox and John Calvin, and are also called Reformed. Use the sites below to explore Presbyterian beliefs, practices, news and blogs.
- Although we classified Presbyterians as generally mainline, there are also conservative and liberal Presbyterians.
- The word “presbyter” means “elder.” Presbyterian Church authority resides in elders that are elected by the congregation.
- The leaders of a congregation form a “session.” A group of sessions make up a presbytery and a number of presbyteries compose a synod. The General Assembly is the primary Presbyterian governing body.
For information on Presbyterianism and Presbyterian organizations …
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
has about 2.3 million members and more than 10,000 congregations. Use the menu on the right to learn about the church, its congregations, news, events, churches near you and charitable opportunities.
Presbyterian Historical Society
is dedicated to preserving the history of Presbyterianism in America. The bulk of the information can be found in the “Presbyterians in America
” section, which traces the development of the religion in the United States, and offers a timeline, a guide to acronyms and more.
Presbyterian Heritage Center
compiles information about Presbyterian history and culture. The Web site details many of the exhibits from the museum, with crisp historical photographs and insightful summaries.
For Presbyterian news and blogs …
The Presbyterian Outlook
contains news, opinion, reviews and analysis about issues regarding the Presbyterian faith. Find articles from sources around the world.
Dave Hackett’s Frontier Blog
is a blog of a pastoral minister and mission mobilizer. This post, entitled “Plethora of Presbyterian Bloggers,” links to Presbyterian blogs around the Web.
Episcopalianism is the strain of Anglicanism that developed in the United States. The Anglican/Episcopalian faith boasts about 70 million adherents around the globe. This section provides links to more information on Anglican and Episcopalian beliefs, practices and community.
- Anglicans are associated with the Church of England, established by King Henry VIII following his dispute with the Pope (regarding the dissolution of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon).
- The Anglican Communion is the umbrella organization for all Anglicans and Episcopalians.
- Episcopalians are very similar to Anglicans in their religious beliefs. The Episcopal Church developed when the former colonists lost their connection with the Anglicans in England after the American Revolution. Nevertheless, there is a looming schism between the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. There has been much tension over the Episcopal Church’s approval of gay bishops and the more liberal tendencies of the Episcopal Church.
For Episcopalian and Anglican information and organizations …
is an unofficial Web site for the Anglican Communion. Use the left sidebar to access news, an introduction to Anglican/Episcopal beliefs, worldwide dioceses and parishes, and more.
To connect with the Episcopalian community online …
is filled with multimedia, art and writing, and aims to inspire, bring new people into the Episcopal fold and reinvigorate the faith of those who are already part of the religion. Don't miss the Daily Episcopalian
, the site’s blog.
isn't well designed, and some of the links may not work, but it provides a vast selection of Episcopalian blogs accompanied by brief descriptions (scroll beyond the Google ads to find them).
Methodists care strongly about spreading the word of God’s kindness through missionary work and expressing themselves through good works and charity. There are approximately 75 million Methodists worldwide. Use the sites below to learn more about Methodist beliefs, practices and blogs.
- John Wesley is considered the founding father of Methodism. Wesley was greatly influenced by Jacobus Arminius and as such, Methodists derive much of their beliefs from Arminian theology, with elements of Calvinism.
- Methodists are generally at the more liberal end of the Protestant spectrum with respect to social issues. This stems from John Wesley’s emphasis on reason and logic.
For information on Methodists and Methodist organizations …
provides a comprehensive feature on Methodism. The site details the history of the religion, the structure of the church, Methodist beliefs, its stances on social and political issues, and its policy toward evangelism and missionary work.
For Methodist blogs …
is a blog by David, a Methodist preacher in the U.K. Scroll down the left side of the page to find a Methodist blogroll full of blogs of interest.
Lutherans follow the beliefs of Martin Luther, stressing the important role that faith plays in Christianity, and that Scripture is the ultimate authority. There are approximately 66 million Lutherans in the world. Use this section to find more information on Lutheran beliefs, practices and blogs.
- Lutherans are considered conservative Protestants due to the fact that the followers of Luther did not break from Catholicism to the extent that reformed Protestants (like Calvinists) or radical Protestants (like the Amish) did.
- "Book of Concord," written by Luther and his contemporaries, lays out the faith’s doctrine.
For information on Lutheranism and Lutheran organizations …
Lutheran Hour Ministries
is dedicated to spreading the word of Lutheranism worldwide. Read about Lutheran beliefs, including beliefs about God, “being saved,” good works and life after death.
For the Life of the World
hosts an intriguing essay, “The What and Why of Lutheranism,” written by a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary. The essay attempts to explain why there are so many different Lutheran synods (church councils) in the United States.
For Lutheran blogs …
Lutheran Blog Directory
is an extensive list of blogs that relate to Lutheranism. The only criterion for the blogs listed is that the blogs have a Lutheran affiliation.
Numbering about 40 million worldwide, Baptists make up a large Protestant denomination. One of the most distinguishing features of the Baptists is their rejection of infant baptism. Derived from the Anabaptist movement, this practice stems from the belief that baptism should only be performed upon those that already believe. Learn more about Baptist beliefs, practices and news with the sites below.
- Baptist churches tend to be very independent and self-governing. This independence makes for large variety among Baptists regarding their beliefs.
For information on Baptists and Baptist organizations …
Baptist World Alliance
connects more than 200 Baptist conventions and unions around the world, including liberal and conservative Baptists. The organization focuses on furthering the Baptist concern for human rights; you’ll find many humanitarian efforts listed on the site.
Southern Baptist Convention
is the largest Baptist organization worldwide, with more than 16 million members and more than 42,000 U.S. churches. The “Basic Beliefs
” section details the Southern Baptist religion. Keep in mind that these are the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the beliefs of other Baptist organizations vary worldwide.
For Baptist news …
compiles Baptist-related news from around the world from various sources. Scroll down to find news articles arranged by date.
The Baptist Times
is the only Baptist newspaper in Britain. This weekly paper has been around since 1855, and the news has an international Baptist focus, covering issues such as theology and politics.
Seventh-day Adventists came from the millennialist Millerite movement in 19th-century America, and they are known for observing the Sabbath on Saturdays. David Miller predicted the Second Coming of Christ would occur in the second half of the 19th century. When the prediction failed to come through, Ellen White and others officially created the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863. Use the links below to get acquainted with Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, traditions and community.
- Seventh-day Adventists are commonly known as “Adventists.” Seventh-day Adventists are also called members of the SDA Church.
- The SDA Church is known for its preoccupation with health, promoting antismoking and antidrinking campaigns as well as healthy eating habits.
- ReligiousTolerance.org provides this important piece of information on pronunciation: “The word 'Adventist' is often pronounced incorrectly. The emphasis should be on the first syllable (Ad'-ven-tist).”
For information about Seventh-day Adventists and SDA organizations …
Seventh-day Adventist Church
covers Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, the mission and services of the church, and the church’s organizational structure. You'll also find links to more resources.
The Ellen G. White Estate
was given control of Ellen White’s writings and property by her will. The Web site is a trove of information about White and many prominent figures in the SDA Church’s development. Based in Maryland, it has offices throughout the world.
For connecting with the Seventh-day Adventist community online …
is a superb place to read and discuss life in the Adventist community. The current issue of the magazine is only available to those that subscribe ($39.95/one year, $19.95/year for students). But there is plenty of content available on the Web site, including selected articles, book and film reviews, blogs, polls, interviews and more.
is a place to discuss Adventist beliefs in a progressive climate. The blog is not hostile to conservative Adventists, as the main goal of the site is to promote an open discussion of the faith. There are about 10 contributing bloggers, with vivid images accompanying frequent posts.
Anabaptists were those that sprang from the Radical Reformation, as compared to the Evangelical (Luther) and Reformed (Calvin). In the 16th century, these Anabaptists, mainly German peasants, were often characterized by beliefs in millennialism, an abandonment of church authority and most particularly, the rejection of infant baptism. Some of these Anabaptist denominations are still well known today, including the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites.
- Note that this section does not include every Anabaptist denomination, only some of the larger ones.
- Quakers are often confused with Anabaptists. The two are not the same, although Quakers do share that “peaceful” characteristic with the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites.
For Mennonites …
Mennonite Church USA
offers tons of information and resources on Mennonites. Read about Mennonite news, conferences, church structure, important documents, beliefs and more.
For the Amish…
provides information about the Amish, a group renowned for maintaining a 17th-century way of life, abandoning such technology as electricity, cars and telephones. Read about the group’s traditional customs and its history in the United States and Canada. Try not to be distracted by the numerous ads that litter the site.
For Hutterites …
The Hutterian Brethren
Web site is a great place to begin your research on the Hutterite denomination. Use the links on the left sidebar to learn about the religious beliefs, structure, education system, recreation, livelihood and types of Hutterites.
The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, number about 210,000 throughout the world. Members of this faith are convinced that God resides in everyone (“the light of God”); that is why Quakers believe in human equality, religious tolerance, social betterment and peace. There is no formal creed, and the Bible is generally not considered the only authority. Learn more about Quaker beliefs, traditions and community with the sites below.
- Not all Quakers consider themselves to be Protestant, or even Christian.
- Quakers are called “Friends” because of Jesus’ line: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
- The name Quaker has two possible derivations. According to George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, “Justice Bennet was the first that called us Quakers, because we did bid them tremble at the word of the Lord.” The name may also come from the “quaking” that members do at meetings when taken over by the Holy Spirit.
For information about Quakers …
provides plenty of information on Quaker beliefs, traditions, customs, history, and wedding and funeral services. The site explains the Quaker beliefs on various topics, such as homosexuality, euthanasia and abortion.
Quaker Information Center
is “a gateway to Quaker heritage and to modern Quakerism in Philadelphia and worldwide.” Find introductory information about Quakers and a number of links and books to learn more about them. The Quakerism
link details Quaker beliefs, history, practices and branches.
For connecting with the Quaker community online …
is an independent monthly magazine for Quakers worldwide. The journal touches on a wide variety of issues, such as the separation between church and state and the Quaker view on torture in the War on Terror. The magazine has articles, poetry, book reviews, art and news.
provides a guide to "the best Quaker media" on the Web. Find blogs, videos, events, a forum and more, all with a Quaker sensibility.
Unitarian Universalism may not belong in the Protestant guide per se; it may not even fall fully into the Christianity camp (which is why it is listed last). Unitarians historically consisted of Christians that didn't believe in the Trinity, but rather a singular God. Universalists believed in a loving God that provided eternal salvation to all. Both faiths have been renowned for progressive, inclusive, and liberal tendencies, as well as involvement in social reform. The two formally combined in 1961, though there are still individual Unitarian and Universalist congregations throughout the world. Use the sites in this section to learn more about Unitarian Universalist beliefs, traditions and blogs.
- Unitarian Universalism is a very liberal faith: It combines elements of various religions, and there is no clear-cut belief system.
For information on Unitarian Universalist organizations …
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
represents the fusion of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America, which occurred in 1961. The Visitors
section provides information about the association and the principles of the faith. Learn about the symbols of Unitarian Universalism, the ceremonies of the congregation and the locations of places of worship.
For Unitarian Universalist blogs …
is a Unitarian Universalist blog that provides a well-organized guide to the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere. Find a large number of blogs organized by category with brief descriptions.
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