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All in the Family
The Evangelical family tree might be compared to an apple tree with several varieties grafted into it. Here is a general summary of the various branches.


The essentials of the faith—Christ at the centre, the high place of Scripture, the atonement, activism—give strength to the Evangelical tapestry, but the variables add colour and texture. Since the Protestant Reformation, Evangelicalism has reshaped itself in response to issues, to culture, to needs for community and to new understandings of how God works. Understanding the resulting denominations gives a fuller picture of Evangelicalism.

The group encompasses a wide spectrum of values.

At the same time, various aspects of belief or practice running across the tapestry are more important to many Evangelicals than are denominational packages. Thus an overview of common values has been included to give another view of the whole.

Denominational clusters

Mainstream Evangelicals: In his book These Evangelical Churches of Ours, Lloyd Mackey uses the term "mainstream Evangelicals" to identify groups that formed to be distinct from mainline Protestantism. Such groups include the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), Associated Gospel Churches (AGC), the Evangelical Missionary Church, the Evangelical Free Church and the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists in Canada (FEBC). Baptists affiliated as Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM)—the United Baptist Convention of the Atlantic Provinces, Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, and the Baptist Union of Western Canada—put themselves in this category, too.

The group encompasses a wide spectrum of values. Among the Baptists, for example, those with the FEBC consider themselves more conservative than do those associated with CBM. On Scripture, the FEBC would be more allied with the inerrancy view (verbal inspiration, word by word) and CBM churches with the infallibility view (in essence the Word of God). The former group does not ordain women as elders or senior pastors; the latter does. With few exceptions, both require members to be baptized on profession of faith as youths or adults.

Chinese congregations are generally conservative and moderately Calvinistic, said John Kao, general director of the Association of Chinese Evangelical Churches.

"We are not [very] denominational," he added; the single Chinese translation of the Bible helps reinforce common identity. Chinese churches strongly emphasize spiritual and ethical practice and evangelism.

Though they do not call themselves a denomination, the Christian Brethren, known informally as "open" Brethren fit here. Established in the 1820s, the Brethren left the Anglican Church, wanting to open communion to everyone with "life in Christ." They split in the 1840s over this issue, with the smaller group becoming known as "closed" and better fitting the "separatist" cluster (see Fundamentalists). Gord Martin, director of Vision Ontario, an association of Christian Brethren, said that pre-millennial, dispensational theology remains important to many Brethren groups.

In the past some writers classified the C&MA as fitting in a holiness grouping, a late 19th- early 20th-century movement emphasizing a second experience beyond conversion, holiness by faith, and service to needy people. The denomination still emphasizes the "deeper life" and "fullness of the Spirit" and officially believes in all the sign gifts, but, according to president Arnold Cook, manifestations are "rare" today.

The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada is the largest Evangelical denomination in Canada.

Pentecostals: Having developed from the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition, Pentecostals remain conservative theologically. A distinctive teaching is that the Holy Spirit does a second work (baptism) in believers, with speaking in tongues as the sign of infilling. There is a strong emphasis on experiential knowledge of God. With a heritage from the holiness movement, they still take a conservative stand on lifestyle expectations. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada is the largest Evangelical denomination in Canada.

Renewal Groups/Charismatics: Charismatics emphasize an experiential knowledge of God and the full expression of the "sign gifts" as still operational (versus "cessationists" who teach that these gifts finished with the early Church). Charismatics do not teach that tongues are a necessary sign of the Spirit's infilling. Both charismatics and Pentecostals share an emphasis on healing ministry. Charismatics are also associated with less formal approaches in worship.

The Canadian Association of Churches and Ministers represents some 175 to 200 independent charismatic churches. The Vineyard churches have a growing influence across denominational lines. Groups of charismatics also exist among Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and other Evangelical denominations. A few Brethren and Mennonite Brethren congregations in Vancouver and charismatic.

Reformed churches: From their roots in the Reformation and their Calvinist heritage, these churches teach predestination, emphasize covenant relationships and practise infant baptism. The Christian Reformed Church and Reformed Church in Canada place strong significance on family, Christian education and God's involvement in every part of life and work. Conversion is seen more as a natural progression from family and church influence to making a choice for Christ than as a crisis event.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) fits here because of its heritage and theology, but is considered mainline in Canada.

Fundamentalists: Fundamentalists are seen as more right-wing politically and ultra-conservative theologically, as well as "sterner" in prayers and sermons. Primarily dispensational (see Emphasis below) or strongly Reformed (Calvinist) in theology. Usually smaller Baptist or Presbyterian groups, they include the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism and the King James Only movement in the Maritimes. In North America they are known for their militant defence of the "fundamentals" earlier in this century.

Today they take this militancy into the public arena. A British publication calls them "Separatists," referring to their tendency to reject involvement with Christians who do not accept their views.

Fundamentalists and the churches they influenced emphasize the rational over the experiential as a way of knowing God.

Groups within mainline churches: Mainline churches—Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Lutheran—do not identify themselves as Evangelicals, but contain individuals, groups and congregations who do. Evangelicals comprise approximately 20 to 30 percent of Anglicans, estimated Michael Poutney, principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto.

Some writers have included Canadian Baptist Ministries groups here.

… Mennonites emphasize peace, pacifism (non-participation in war), and relief and service work as a peace ministry.

Anabaptists: These denominations were founded by believers in reaction to the concept of a state church; they saw the church as a visible community of disciples and consequently moved from baptism of infants to baptism on profession of faith. The two largest groups are the Conference of Mennonites in Canada and the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. About 20 smaller groups exist.

Today Mennonites emphasize peace, pacifism (non-participation in war), and relief and service work as a peace ministry. Anabaptists are spiritual forbears of Baptists.

Wesleyan/Arminian: This group, which some have categorized as Holiness churches, includes the Free Methodist church in Canada and Wesleyan Methodists. Free Methodist bishop Gary Walsh says the Wesleyan/Arminian identity originated in the 18th century (see Emphasis below), whereas Holiness emerged from a 19th-century American influence. Methodists have lost the legalism that characterized them earlier but "are still eager to pursue personal holiness," said Walsh. He characterizes Methodists as "tough-minded and warm-hearted." Methodists ordain women.

The Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene and the Brethren in Christ were strongly influenced by the Holiness movement. The latter also have an Anabaptist heritage and participate fully in Mennonite relief and service work.

Organizationally, denominations in this tradition have a more hierarchical structure, in contrast to Baptists, for example, who stress that they are organizations of local, independent churches.

Defining emphasis: Recently Evangelicals have found common bonds across denominational lines around:

• Views of the work of the Holy Spirit: signs and wonders are or are not for this present time;

• Worship style: from formal liturgical services to very expressive services with an openness to changing plans mid-service;

• Music: ranging from using classics with organ music to an exclusive use of worship songs backed by a group;

• An emphasis on outreach, including being "seeker sensitive";

• Social justice as an expression of activism.

Cross-denominational links with declining emphasis include:

• View of Scripture: inerrancy or infallibility;

• End times: the order of events such as the tribulation, the rapture, Christ's return and His thousand-year reign;

• Dispensationalism: a teaching that God divided salvation history into different periods (dispensations) with the culmination being Christ's return with an apocalyptic interpretation of biblical prophecy;

• Calvinism/Wesleyanism (Arminianism): differ on predestination and human freedom.

Krysia P. Lear is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto.

Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 1995.
http://www.faithtoday.ca

 

 
 
 
 

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