The diversity within Protestantism is immense. This is can make it quite difficult to understand the where any particular Protestant is coming from. Simply knowing what denomination they belong to does not answer every question because within a denomination there can be a great deal of diversity. Even reading the statement of faith from their own church may not give you a full picture because each Protestant has their own gifts and spiritual emphasis in their own life.
Instead of explaining the differences between Protestants, Catholics and Mormons. I’m hoping to give you a window into the conversations Protestants have between themselves. It will be difficult for me to cover everything in a blog post, but hopefully this will give you a good overview.
Renovare has observed 6 traditions of practice in Christianity. A well rounded Christian life would include all of them. Most Protestant denominations emphasize 1 – 3 of these over the others. A great deal of debate among Protestants is over emphasis of one of these traditions over any other. Some denominations represent some of these better than others. But their presence might be seen in any church regardless of denomination.
Contemplative: The Prayer-filled life
By God’s grace, I will set aside time regularly for prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading and will seek to practice the presence of God.
Holiness: The Virtuous Life
By God’s grace, I will strive mightily against sin and will do deeds of love and mercy.
Charismatic: The Spirit-Empowered Life
By God’s grace, I will welcome the Holy Spirit, exercising the gifts and nurturing the fruit while living in the joy and power of the Spirit.
Social Justice: The Compassionate Life
By God’s grace, I will endeavor to serve others everywhere I can and will work for justice in all human relationships and social structures.
Evangelical: The Word-Centered Life
By God’s grace, I will share my faith with others as God leads and study the Scriptures regularly.
Incarnational: The Sacramental Life
By God’s grace, I will joyfully seek to show forth the presence of God in all that I say, in all that I do, in all that I am.
In addition to these practices, denominations and churches are separated by worship styles, church government and theology. Worship style and theology are often the reason Protestants choose one church over another. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wasn’t willing to adapt to whatever form of church government was present in any particular church.
In very overarching terms these are the major theological conflicts in Protestantism:
Calvinist vs Arminian
A debate over free-will and God’s sovereignty in discussing who is and who is not a believer. The debate over “once-saved-always-saved” falls into this category. The two sides are most generally represented by Presbyterians and Methodist.
Liberal vs. Conservative
This debate focuses a great deal on how the Bible should be read. What level of nuance or literalism is to be carried into the interpretation of scripture. When the liberal theological movement started at the end of the 19th Century within academia there was a backlash on the popular level that created the Fundamentalist movement. The “mainline” denominations such as Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopalian churches tended to adopt liberal theology while Southern Baptist and Non-Denominational churches stayed with a conservative reading. It should be noted that in some cases there are liberal and conservative versions of specific denominations (ie. Presbyterian Church of the USA and the Presbyterian Church of America). Liberal churches more often focus on social justice practices while conservative churches more often focus on the study of the Bible (but not necessarily to the exclusion of the other in either case).
To throw a new wrinkle into the mess is the rise of a new movement known as the Emergent Movement. It’s strongly influenced by Post-modernism and can be difficult to define as a result. There are two basic expressions of post-modernism in the church. The first is sometimes called “the Emerging Church” and is an attempt to rework the worship styles and modes of the church to appeal to a post-modern world. Theologically it remains conservative but might encourage exploration into other practices that might have been neglected by traditionally conservative churches. The other is most represent by “the Emergent Village” which embraces Post-modern notions of truth. Everything in the church (not just worship style and spiritual practice) is up for re-evaluation in Emergent churches. It is often criticized for reintroducing liberal theology with a new method of epistemology. Both variations (emerging and emergent) are finding their own expressions across denominational lines.
If I had to tag the LDS church with the categories above, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to discover that Joseph Smith was attending a Methodist church before founding the LDS church. The Methodist church at the time was focused on Holiness and Evangelical practice and had not yet adopted any form of liberalism. Even the LDS worship style resembles 19th Century Methodism. As the Community of Christ has returned to orthodoxy it’s been no shock to see them embrace liberal Methodism. It will be interesting to see where the LDS church goes as many of its academics begin to explore liberal Biblical theology but the leadership of the church remains firm on a conservative reading of its other scriptures.