Protestant Confessions

Adventist (SDA) Confessions

Adventism was founded in during the Second Great Awakening in 1845 at the Albany Conference by a group of dissident Particular Baptists. While all of Adventism is certainly not defined by the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA), SDAs are the largest and most well-known Adventist group today. The SDA Church Manual contains their beliefs and practices, but the section titled “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists” contains their doctrinal positions. Adventism teaches against infant baptism and believes that immersion baptism is a profession of faith and a symbol of becoming a Christian. They teach that Christ is present in some way in the Eucharist, but this remains unclear. Most notably, Adventists are known for their belief in the continuation of spiritual gifts, particularly prophecy. Aside from SDAs, Advent Christian Churches, and other small synods are part of adventism.

Anabaptist Confessions

Anabaptism was the principal group of the Radical Reformation, splitting from the Continental Reformed in 1525 after being expelled from Zurich. While various non-Trinitarian offshoots of Anabaptists formed, many held somewhat orthodox beliefs on fundamental doctrines. Anabaptists were the first group in the reformation to preach against infant baptism and affusion baptism, and they held the Eucharist to be solely symbolic. Their soteriology is largely represented by Balthasar Hubmaier and taught something very similar to what would later become Protestant Molinism. Anabaptists are represented by their distrust of hierarchy and established orders and exist today mostly in Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite primitivist groups. Anabaptists have never held to one set confession, but multiple confessions came about early on that teach fairly similar doctrines.

Anglican Confessions

Anglicanism split from Roman Catholicism in 1535 when Henry VIII and Abp. Thomas Cranmer were excommunicated with a Papal Bull. England in the 16th and 17th centuries was very split theologically with many holding on to Roman Catholic roots while others embraced the teachings of Luther, Calvin, or various other Protestants. This led the Anglicans to unite primarily in worship and prayer rather than doctrine. While the XXXIX Articles of Religion are the central doctrinal document in the Anglican Confessions, the Book of Common Prayer as a whole allows members and pastors alike to dispute its teachings. Generally, Anglicans are very liturgical; they respect historic church teaching and church order; and they have a broad range of beliefs on soteriology and a high view of sacraments. Today, Anglicanism is represented by the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church (often liberal), the Anglican Church in North America (moderate), and various continuing Anglican communions (conservative).

Congregationalist Confessions

Congregationalism has its roots in English Non-Comformist movements but eventually settled on relatively orthodox Reformed views with very little church governance. Congregationalists teach traditional reformed views on baptism and the Eucharist, professing infant baptism, baptismal efficacy, and spiritual presence in the Eucharist. They are traditional Calvinists and teach covenant theology. The Congregationalist confessions were largely written over the course of 60 years (1648-1708), but American Congregationalism added another short document in 1913. No large group of confessional Congregationalists exist today, though non-confessional, liberal Congregationalist churches remain such as the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ, and the National Association of Congregational Christ Churches. The Conservative Congregational Christian Conference remains conservative but is non-confessional.

Continental Reformed Confessions

The Continental Reformed broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1524 in the Proposal Concerning Images and the Mass. Following the teachings of Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer, and Bullinger, the Continental Reformed represent Reformed orthodoxy, teaching Calvinist soteriology, infant baptism, baptismal efficacy, spiritual presence in the Eucharist, covenant theology, and presbyterian church polity. While very similar to the Presbyterian church in the British Isles, there are some nuanced differences, namely in regard to the extent of reason and tradition in interpreting scripture. The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) is the largest Continental Reformed church body in the world, with both the Christian Reformed Church in North America and Reformed Church in America as large members from the US, though the WCRC is theologically liberal. The United Reformed Church in North America, Canadian and American Reformed Churches, and Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches are the largest confessional Continental Reformed church bodies in the US.

Evangelical (WEA) Confessions

Evangelicalism can be said to begin at the time of Wesley, though it was later influenced by the second, third, and perhaps a fourth great awakening. The first notable church body of evangelicals, the Evangelical Alliance, which later became the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) formed in 1846 by Particular (Reformed) Baptists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. The WEA is the largest evangelical church body today. While Evangelicals are largely non-confessional, the WEA Statement of Faith and the original 1846 Evangelical Alliance represent the broad evangelical movement quite well. Generally Evangelicals teach against infant baptism (though not always), believe in a symbolic Eucharist, and hold congregationalist church polity.

General Baptist Confessions

General Baptists, also known as Arminian Baptists, were the first Baptists. Coming out of the Anglican church, John Smyth formed the first General Baptist congregation in 1609. General Baptists teach very similar doctrine to historic Reformed churches, departing namely in their teaching of Arminian doctrine and congregationalist polity and teaching against infant baptism. The Orthodox Creed is the most widely accepted General Baptist confession, and only a handful of General Baptist catechisms exist. Today, the National Association of Free Will Baptists and the General Association of General Baptists are the largest General Baptist churches.

Hussite Confessions

The Hussite, or Moravian, church is the oldest surviving Protestant tradition. In 1415, Jan Hus was declared a heretic by the Council of Constance. Those who followed his teachings assembled under the Four Articles of Prague (1420) and later under the Confession of the Unity of Bohemian Brethren (1535). Hus taught much of what Luther would later teach, including a devotion to Scripture as the sole source of doctrine and attacking the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. in the early and mid 16th century, Hussites and Lutherans remained in full communion. Hussites place an emphasis on the historic church, liturgy, and sacraments. They believe in real (corporeal) presence, infant baptism, and baptismal regeneration. Scarcely any confessional Hussite churches remain, with most now being liberal or pietist churches. The Unitas Fratrum is the largest body today.

Irvingist (NAC) Confessions

Often called the Catholic or New Apostolic Church, Irvingism has its roots in Edward Irving (1792-1834). While he cannot properly be said to have started this tradition, those who started the Catholic Apostolic Church saw Irving as a forerunner. Irvingism is known for its emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ, belief in pre-millennial eschatology, and claiming to have modern apostles. They have a hierarchical structure, similar to that in episcopal polity. Irvingists have three sacraments: Baptism, Communion, and Sealing, and they teach real (corporeal) presence in the Eucharist, infant baptism, and baptismal regeneration.

Lollard Confessions

Lollardy was a movement started by John Wycliffe in England in the 14th century. Wycliffe taught against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church and put an emphasis on Scripture as the prime authority of church teaching. Wycliffe is best known today for translating the Bible into 14th century English. Early Reformers such as Hus and Luther recognized Lollards in their day as earlier protestants, though neither accepted all of Lollard teaching. Lollards taught infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, and an unclear definition of presence in the Eucharist, though their confessions seem to profess a similar view to the Reformed churches. The last Lollards survived in the 1830s after slowly merging with other church bodies.

Lutheran Confessions

Lutheranism first began in 1517 when Luther posted his 95 theses. At first these theses were well approved by local scholars, but higher authorities opposed them. After further developing views against the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther was excommunicated in 1521 with the Edict of Worms. Luther, Melanchthon, and various other German reformers fought for the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church and reunification without success. Lutherans place an emphasis on the historic church, liturgy, scripture, and the sacraments, and have a unique soteriology that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian. They teach real (corporeal) presence in the Eucharist, infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, and confession/absolution. The three largest Lutheran communions today are the World Lutheran Council (which includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, liberal), the International Lutheran Council (which includes the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, conservative), and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (which includes the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, conservative).

Non-comformist Confessions

Non-conformists were movements that largely arose in Britain in the 1500s and 1600s. Various Non-conformists groups have existed including Puritans and English Separatists. Notably, Congregationalists came out of Non-conformist movements. In 1596, the Anglican church excommunicated the Non-comformist Marian exiles, marking their schism from the Anglican church. Various Non-conformist confessions exist and multiple groups exist as well. One notable confession is “A True Confession,” which is linked above, but this is not available in full as a PDF as with the other documents. Non-conformists were generally Calvinists, though not always, and were almost always congregationalist in polity and very non-liturgical with a low view of sacraments. Only small pockets of Non-conformists remain with most joining other traditions, particularly Congregationalism and later Evangelicalism.

Particular Baptist Confessions

Particular (Calvinist/Reformed) Baptists formed in the mid-1600s out of English Non-comformists. In contrast to the General Baptists, Particular Baptists inherited much of the Presbyterian tradition, holding to a modified confession of the Presbyterian church that allowed congregationalist polity and condemned infant baptism. Particular Baptists hold to covenant theology, Calvinism, and teach against infant baptism. Historically, Particular (an General) Baptists also held to the Reformed view of communion (spiritual presence), though his was largely dropped from the Baptist traditions in the 1800s. Today, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest inheritor of the Particular Baptist tradition, but they no longer identify strictly as particular baptists. The Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, the Continental Baptist Churches, the Sovereign Grace Baptist Association of Churches more closely hold to the 1689 confession.

Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) Confessions

Coming out of Methodism in the late 1800s, Pentecostals are known for their emphasis on revivalism, spiritual gifts, and personal experiences with God. Pentecostals are generally Welseyan Arminians due to their Methodist/Wesleyan roots, though they inherited ideas from other traditions such as opposition to infant baptism, a rejection of traditional liturgy, and low sacramentology. The emphasis of Pentecostalism is almost always the work of the Holy Spirit on the life of individuals. The Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination by a large margin.

Plymouth Brethren Confessions

Known primarily for their beliefs in dispensationalism, the Plymouth Brethren are almost entirely anti-creedal. The closest document to a confession of faith is their hymnal, the Little Flock Hymnbook. The Darby Bible translation and the Scofield Reference Bible are the two most important books alongside this hymnal. While the denomination is not well-known by many today, the influence of the Scofield Reference Bible on Evangelicalism, Charismaticism, and Pentecostalism cannot be understated. The largest Plymouth Brethren church body today is the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church which rejects infant baptism and believes in a symbolic Eucharist.

Presbyterian Confessions

Breaking from the Anglican tradition, the Scots formed their own church based on the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition that became known as Presbyterianism, which refers to their church polity. Of all the Christian traditions, Presbyterianism and the Continental Reformed traditions are the most similar. The lead theologian in the Presbyterian church was John Knox, who followed John Calvin’s teaching very closely. While there are nuanced differences in church structure and minor theological disagreements, Presbyterians are largely comparable to the Continental Reformed, teaching Calvinist soteriology, infant baptism, baptismal efficacy, spiritual presence in the Eucharist, covenant theology, and presbyterian church polity. Today the largest Presbyterian churches are the Presbyterian Church (USA), Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which are part of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (theologically liberal), the Presbyterian Church in America and Evangelical Presbyterian Church which are part of the World Reformed Fellowship (theologically conservative), and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (theologically conservative).

Quaker Confessions

Quakers are a highly unorthodox branch of Christianity, though they have been included in this list for their historic significance and as they generally teach of the Trinitarian God, however much this be different from other Christian traditions. Quakers reject the use of sacraments and the structure of clergy. Quakers are known for their emphasis on internal awakening and enlightening, and they avoid hierarchy in both the church and civil realms. The three largest Quaker associations in the United States today are the Friends General Conference (FGC), Friends United Meeting (FUM), and Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI).

Remonstrant Confessions

Remonstrants (also known as Arminians) formed out of disputes in the Netherlands with the Continental Reformed Church over the doctrine of election and predestination. Remonstrants are, in general, very similar to the Continental Reformed; the most notable difference is the Remonstrant belief in Arminianism rather than Calvinism and a belief in the governmental theory of atonement rather than penal substitutionary atonement. Only a small number of Remonstrant congregations remain today, most of which are in the Netherlands and are theologically liberal, but the influence of Arminianism is far spread in the General Baptist, Wesleyan/Methodist, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Anglican, and Evangelical worlds.

Waldensian Confessions

Waldensians were the first proto-Protestants. Beginning with Peter Waldo (1140-1205 AD), Waldensians formed across Europe in reaction to perceived corruption in the Western church. Waldensians were very heterogeneous with different regions supporting doctrines sometimes similar to the later Lollards, Hussites, Lutherans, and Anglicans and other groups bordering on heresy. After the first reformers came, Waldensians set some confessions, though they ultimately joined other Protestant bodies, mostly the Continental Reformed. Today, some exclusively Waldensian churches remain, though far and few between as most joined other bodies (some joining Presbyterian, Evangelical, or Methodist branches) or disbanded.

Wesleyan/Methodist Confessions

Wesleyanism (also known as Methodism) was originally an evangelistic movement within the Anglican church led by the Wesley brothers (John and Charles) and Jonathan Edwards preaching circuits across America spread a message of awakening, spiritual rebirth, and personal holiness. Eventually, Methodism split from Anglicanism and became a new denomination emphasizing evangelism and Arminian doctrine (slightly different from Remonstrant doctrine). Wesleyans affirm a real (but non-corporeal) presence in the Eucharist, Baptismal regeneration, infant baptism, and (in the UMC) a unique connexionalist church polity. Wesleyan theology is often rooted in the Wesleyan quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. All of the large Methodist church bodies today are liberal. The largest Wesleyan church body is the United Methodist Church (soon to schism). Other bodies include the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, the historically black African Methodist Episcopal Church and AME Zion Church, and the more conservative Congregational Methodist Church, and First Congregational Methodist Church.