Protestantism
around the world

Protestantism comprises a great variety of churches belonging to five main groups. Most have joined a Churches’ Ecumenical Council trying to present a united message.

Lutheran churches account for 65 million people

  • Strasburg, Saint Thomas church (67) © S.H.P.F.

Lutheranism goes back to the origins of the Reform and professes the three central claims of Luther’s message :

Lutheran theology is based on the story of the cross : humanity meets God himself in the distress of the crucified Christ, who willingly experienced the depths of human misery. From then on, human beings are “both sinners and justified”. Changed by his meeting with God, liberated from his anguish of loneliness and his despair, man can open his heart to his fellow human beings and consecrate his life to serving them. Even when it refers to “both spheres” (temporal and spiritual) Lutheran theology emphasises history and the world as places where God urges men to play a role.

United in the world-wide Lutheran Federation, Lutheran Churches are in ecclesial communion with each other. But there are still differences between them, for instance in Scandinavia they have an Episcopalian structure, maintaining some sort of ecclesiastical hierarchy. In France, as in a few other countries, they have adopted a Presbyterian-synodal system, while others chose an intermediate system between these two models.

Reformed Churches comprise 50 million people

  • Reformed Church, Lasalle (30) © O. d'Haussonville

Reformed churches profess to follow Luther, but also to follow Jean Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli or Theodore de Bèze. The Reform theology particularly stresses God’s omnipotence. It does not limit the Christians’ freedom or responsibility, but on the contrary, having received in Jesus-Christ the assurance of salvation and being pardoned, they should feel all the more free to lead very demanding and responsible lives. They should combine a search for God and engagement with society to fight injustice in this world. God’s transcendence involves putting all human powers in perspective, be they religious or political.

Most Reformed Churches belong to the world-wide Reformed Alliance. They do not subscribe to a single confession of faith ; each church proclaims its faith within its own specific context and story. The differences are accepted and protected to ensure the theological pluralism of the Reformed Church.

Reformed Churches are generally organised on the Presbyterian-synodal system, councils of the laity in local churches and regular synodal meetings.

Since 1973, after theological agreement in the “Concorde de Leuenberg”, European Reformed and Lutheran Christians share full ecclesial communion.

Evangelical Churches comprise 500 million people

  • Evangelical church, rue de la Roquette in Paris © Isabelle de Rouville

Evangelical churches originated from various 16th century Reformed movements, especially Anabaptists.

On the whole, these Churches only accept as members those who declare their faith in Jesus-Christ and, in asking to be baptised, knowingly choose to repent and declare their faith. That is why Evangelical Churches refuse to baptise young children. They are a Church demanding individual profession of faith, and different from multitudinists in that respect. In addition the Evangelicals profess to follow the great Reformed principles, particularly salvation through grace received by faith and “sola scriptura”, i.e. words inspired by God, the Scriptures are the unique and sufficient authority in theological matters.

Since its beginning, the Evangelical Church has strongly affirmed the principle of the separation of Church and State. As much importance is given to evangelisation as to social action ; and thus each church is called to find opportunities for witness and service appropriate for a diaconal ministry.

Evangelical Churches can be organised following various principles, (Congregationalist, Prebyterian-synodal, etc.)

Anglican churches comprise 70 million people

  • St Georges Anglican church in Paris © Isabelle de Rouville

Anglicanism dates back to the 16th century and claims to be the middle way between the Catholic faith and Reformed faith. The liturgy was established in 1549 in the Book of Common Prayer and the doctrine in The 39 articles (1571) and the Lambeth Quadrangle (1888).

The Church of England is a State Church, the sovereign is its Supreme Governor and Parliament may veto measures taken by the Synod. But gradually the church is distancing itself from the State.

Anglican churches are organised according to the Episcopalian model and believe in Apostolic Succession.

Anglicanism spread all over the world especially to the former British possessions. The Anglican Communion comprises all the Anglican Churches, under the Archbishop of Canterbury. Each Church has its own governing body. All the bishops meet every ten years at the Lambeth Conference. In addition, the archbishops, who preside over each Church, regularly hold meetings, called the Primates Committee, to discuss and argue about problems they have met in their churches.

Pentecostal Churches comprise 200 million people

  • Pentecostal church of the Good Samaritan in Paris © Isabelle de Rouville

The Pentecostal Movement began in Revival movements which appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, in the United States (encouraged by pastors Charles Parham and William Seymour), in India and in Wales (under the influence of Evan Roberts). The first worshippers wanted to return to the origins of the Primitive Church and to relive experiences of apostolic times, particularly the day of Pentecost when tongues of flame came to rest on the disciples and they began to speak in tongues (Acts, chapter 2).

The theological distinctiveness of the Pentecostal Movement is that beside the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer, because he has been born again, a new power is acquired through the experience called baptism in the Holy Spirit. This confers on the believer the gift of speaking in tongues, prophesy or the gift of healing. These gifts from the Spirit, also called charismas, are listed in the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

Pentecostal Churches testify to “the Foursquare Gospel”, i.e. Jesus saves, baptises, heals and will come again. But they also belong to the Protestant Evangelical and Baptist tradition and thus look to the main Reformed principles, namely salvation through grace, absolute authority of the Bible, a universal priesthood.

At the ecclesiological level, Pentecostal churches are often Congregationalist, but some adhere to the Presbyterian-synodal system, or to the opposite Episcopal system.

The Ecumenical Council of Churches

The origin of the modern ecumenical movement goes back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, Christians then started praying and working together, ignoring denominational differences. From the late 1920s trailblazing movements were organised to promote world-wide unity of the church.

That is why, in 1937, Church leaders decided to create an Ecumenical Council of Churches. But World War II broke out and the official founding of the Council was delayed until August 1948. Representatives of 147 Churches took part in the first Assembly, held in Amsterdam.

Since then a growing number of Churches all over the world have united in the quest for Christian unity. They build bridges over old differences. Among its members are almost all Orthodox Churches, many long-standing Protestant Churches which have grown up since the Reformation, such as Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed Methodist, and a wide variety of Independent and United Churches.

The largest Christian Church in the world – the Roman Catholic Church – is not a member of the Ecumenical Council, but has collaborated closely with it for more than thirty years and has always sent representatives to the main Council meetings, and to sessions and assemblies of its Central Committee. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity appoints twelve representatives to the Ecumenical Council’s “faith and constitution” committee and works with it on preparing material for the World-wide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that is sent to all parishes.

The Ecumenical Council does not intend to create a world-wide Super-Church, nor to standardise worship practices. But its goal is to search what deeply unites Churches and Christian communities, so that each can find in another the authentic expression of “one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” It then becomes possible to confess faith together, to work together on mission and service to others, and even sometimes to partake in the same Lord’s Supper. All these joint actions cementing the basis of the Ecumenical Council which proclaims that our Lord Jesus-Christ is “God and Saviour according to the Scriptures.”

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