History of Church Denominations

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What is the history of church denominations?

The history of church denominations begins with the earliest movements and reforms within the early church. Realizing that this is a vast subject, we will only be able to touch on some of the forces and movements that brought about what we know today as Christian denominations.

Gnosticism infiltrated the early church and showed itself in many forms. This belief system eliminated the historic foundations of Christianity. It did not acknowledge God as the God of the Old Testament. Jesus had no real human body, death or resurrection. He was an enlightened being who brought salvation for the few who were capable of enlightenment. Some of the keenest minds of the second century church represented this belief system such as Simon Magnus, Satornilus of Antioch, and Valentinus.

One of the first church reformers was Marcion. He was associated with Gnosticism. He gathered followers into a separated church and compiled a canon of sacred books for their use. This consisted of ten of Paul's letters (no pastoral letters) and the Gospel of Luke. The beliefs that he preached were that the Creator God of the Old Testament was weak and that Christ, a manifestation of God, not God in human form, revealed the "good God" of mercy. Although this was a reaction to growing legalism in the church, it was dangerous because it took away the historic background of Christianity and condemned the Old Testament and its God.

Also during the second century, Montanism emerged. Named for Montanus, it was a reaction to the growing worldliness of the church at large. Its beliefs included that Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit in more abundant measure in the future. There was an emphasis on prophetic enthusiasm. There was a great anticipation of the end times. It gained a considerable following. About 200, Tertullian became its most eminent follower. It was gradually driven out of the church, but its emphasis on asceticism with celibacy, fasting, and abstinence from meat, found later expression in the monastic movement within the church.

The majority of Christians never embraced these early movements. The church remained faithful to historic Christianity. By the latter third of the second century, the church was known as the "Catholic" Church. Ignatius, referring to the church as universal rather than local, first used this term. It became strongly consolidated and united relatively independent congregations into one body. Its characteristics were developed between 160-190. The person who could belong to the church was one who acknowledged the creed, the New Testament canon (scriptures) and the authority of the bishops as opposed to the requirements for membership.

In the early 1500s, Martin Luther, because of an unshakable trust in God and personal relationship with Him, stood against any teaching that did not rely absolutely on the promises of God's Word for personal salvation. This beginning spark would later evolve into the Lutheran denomination.



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