Conservative, mainline and
liberal "wings" in Protestantism
||"Now I beseech you...that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly
joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:10, The Christian Scriptures (New Testament),
Divisions within Christianity:
In its earliest years, the Christian religion was divided into three major
religious movements: the Gnostics, Jewish Christians, and Pauline
Christians. There were also many minor versions of Christianity. Often, there
would be many competing forms of the religion in a given city -- much like
today. The Gnostic Christians almost disappeared, but are experiencing a period of rapid
growth today. The Jewish Christians -- the original form of the religion -- were
largely wiped out by the Roman Army and eventually disappeared from the scene. Almost all
current Christian groups trace their lineage back to the Pauline Christian
Today, there are many ways of classifying the over 1,000 Christian faith groups
in North America:
||Into three or four meta-groups (e.g. Roman Catholic, Orthodox,
||By theological belief system (Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.)
||By religious family, (Baptist,
Lutheran, Pentecostal, etc.), and
||By "wing." The conservative, mainline, and liberal wings
of Protestantism are described below.
According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World
Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD
30 to 2200," there are 34,000 separate
Christian groups in the world today. "Over half of them are
independent churches that are not interested in linking with the big
Differences among Christian faith groups are so great that some observers
have suggested that a useful way of classifying Christian groups is to view them
as a number of separate religions with
different beliefs and practices, who share:
- The name "Christianity,"
- The text of the Bible, and
- Not a great deal else.
They often take various conflicting positions on such topics as abortion, homosexuality, physician assisted suicide, therapeutic cloning, disciplining children, divorce, gender identity, etc.
They have very different beliefs on historical Christian
teachings, such as the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection, Heaven, Hell, salvation, Satan, demons, etc.
This section describes how people have attempted to classify individual
Protestant Christians and Protestant Christian
denominations into liberal and conservative -- or liberal, mainline and conservative
It also describes some of the conflicts both within and among Protestant
denominations. These divisions and conflicts are largely traceable to different
methods of interpreting the Bible. Ranging from the most conservative to the most liberal Christians we see the
following three belief systems:
||The Bible is the actual Word of God.
||Its authors were
directly inspired by God.
||The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses.
||Since God cannot make mistakes their writings are also
inerrant -- without error -- in their
original autograph version.
||It is only when a person is saved --
they repent of their sin and trust Jesus as
Lord and Savior -- that the Holy Spirit is allowed to control them and shows them
what the biblical text really means. Unless a person is first saved,
their interpretation of the Bible will inevitably be in
||All passages are
useful for the believer.
||The Bible contains the Word of God. However, it also
contains material that we must reject because
it has always been opposed to the will of God. This includes passages which condone slavery;
exhibit religious intolerance; involve the torturing prisoners; treat
women as property; require the execution of non-virgin brides, witches
and gays; and which advocate genocide, sexism, racism, homophobia,
||The Bible is a wide-ranging human document.
||It was written by very human
and fallible people who were not directly inspired by God.
||The main motivation of the authors was to promote the beliefs of their
||The first five books of the Bible were written by four unknown authors or groups of authors over a
period of centuries and later redacted (edited) by a fifth person or
||The Bible records the authors' evolution in spiritual and
religious belief over a period of about 1,000 years.
||They incorporated a lot of material from nearby Pagan religions,
like the book of Genesis' creation stories and Noah's flood -- events that never happened.
||The Bible contains a great deal of folklore, religious
propaganda, and myth.
||Stories of the great heroes of the ancient Hebrews (Adam,
Abraham, Joseph, etc) are myths and involve characters who never existed.
||Some of its content is profoundly immoral by today's religious and
secular criteria, and must be ignored.
||The Bible calls for justice and decent treatment of all persons.
are vitally important today.
With such a different approaches to the Bible it is extremely rare that
conservative and liberal Christians will agree on anything about its
message. By starting with such diverse beliefs about the Bible,
conservative, mainline, and liberal Protestants come to totally different conclusions about its
We will deal mainly with the over 1,000 Protestant and Anglican denominations
in this section. However, the conservative / liberal split is seen also within Roman
Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.
Topics covered in this section:
Related essays on this web site:
- David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative
survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University
Press, (2001). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Copyright © 1997 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Last update: 2015-JAN-10
Author: B.A. Robinson