Sunday, September 21, 2008

Early Denominationalism in the American Colonies

Question for Year 4, Chapter 1

• Outline the rise of religious denominations in North America

Very familiar ground -- the rise of denominationalism in the new colonies that would become the US and the reasons for it.

The chapter brought to mind the often-repeated statements that one hears especially at election time, "This country was founded on Christian principles" and "This is a Christian nation!" That may seem to be the case if one only examines the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies which were made up of Puritans who left England because they could not accept an established church. What is often glossed over, however, is that those very Puritans fleeing the established church quickly established their own even more rigid and theocratic government which allowed for no interpretation or religious practice but their own. The Jamestown colony, founded 13 years prior to the landing at Plymouth Rock, was an economic, not religious, enterprise although religion (Church of England) came along and was an important part of life -- just not the ruling part. Oftentimes when a denomination becomes too full of itself (and sometimes when not full enough), too set in stone where doctrine, practice and belief are concerned, a wind blows through it and a re-formation takes place. One of the closest to the Anglican/Episcopal church was the inadvertent separation of the followers of the Wesleys in England and the Colonies from the Church of England. Wesley never intended to do anything other than return the CofE to its more protestant roots and more closely resemble the early church. Like most re-formations, though, it took on a life of its own and became one of the largest mainline denominations.

Denominationalism also followed geographical migrations such as the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish to the Appalachian mountain area. Regionalism in religious denominationalism still exists to some extent, but like regional accents it is less cut-and-dried than previously and that is both a good and bad thing. It is still evidence that Christianity is a dynamic religion that grows and changes while (usually) maintaining it's core belief in Jesus as Messiah, Savior and Son of God who was born, lived, died and rose again. The devil, they say, is in the details of those events and how they are interpreted by individuals and groups including denominations.