Lutheran churches account for 65 million people
Lutheranism goes back to the origins of the Reform and professes the three central claims of Luther’s message :
- absolute authority of the Bible
- salvation by grace (and its corollary, justification by faith)
- universal priesthood of believers.
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 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 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
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
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.”
The most frequently asked questions.
There are common beliefs to all christians, expressed in the articles of faith of the early Church; however the protestants belonging to the Féderation protestante de France acknowledge six main expressions of faith.
Protestantism in France
With about one million members, the Protestant Church ranks third in France after Catholicism and Islam. But there is an uneven spread over the different geographical regions.
The French Protestant Federation (FPF)
Since 1905, the Fédération protestante de France has included most Protestant Churches and Associations. Most branches of Protestantism which have grown up since the Reformation are represented.
The 19th century revival movement took shape within the context of romanticism. Its piety is of a more existential and sentimental nature, a piety « revived » when compared to a faith considered dull and routine-like.
Protestantism in Alsace in 19th century
In Alsace the numerous Lutheran community, as well as the predominant reformed one in Mulhouse, were to be submitted to the same requirements as the reformed churches “inland”. But the centralised framework and subdued types of doctrinal debates prevented dissensions. After the 1871 defeat, a number of Protestants went inland in France.
The radical Reformation in 16th century
The expression “radical Reformation” was given to a complex and multifarious movement that found the lutherans and the swiss Reformers not daring enough, and considered that the Reformation had only gone half-way.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)
Zwingli, a pastor and theologian, based the Reformation on Bible study. In his opinion the Reformation comprised fighting social injustice.
Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605)
Theodore Beza was one of the most prominent figures in the Reform movement. He supported Calvin and succeeded him as moderator, i.e. president, of the Company of pastors in Geneva. He relentlessly defended the Calvinist doctrine, the discipline of the Church and its synodal-Presbyterian organisation. He left noteworthy historic and literary writings. The only aim of his actions was to strengthen the Reform movement assaulted by Roman Catholicism and rivaled by German Lutheranism.
The Anglican Reformation in 16th century
The secession of the Church of England in 1534 opens the gates to the Protestant influence.
The Evangelical Churches
The existence of Evangelical Churches in France goes back to the beginning of the XIXth century. There are at present 1850 Churches with 350.000 members and there are about 200 million Protestant Evangelicals in the world (this is not counting the Pentecostals). In the last twenty years the Protestant Evangelical movement has been expanding throughout the world, in Central America, South America, Asia and especially in China.