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Religious Families

Religious families are a way to classify religious groups based on religious ancestry or heritage. It is a broader category than religious denomination, but more specific than a religious tradition. Some common religious families include: Adventist , Lutheran and Holiness. See below for a complete list.

AdventistAdventist churches originate from founder William Miller in the late 19th century, who taught that Christ soon would return to earth and that Saturday rather than Sunday should be observed as the Sabbath. The Adventist family includes the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was founded by Ellen Gould White and James Springer White, as well as offshoots such as the Advent Christian Church.

Anglican/EpiscopalAnglican churches originated in England and broke with Roman Catholicism during the 16th century Reformation while retaining a hierarchical structure. The Anglican Church is sometimes viewed as a "middle way" between Catholicism and Protestantism, since both traditions have influenced Anglican theology and practice. Churches in the Anglican family include the Anglican Orthodox Church of North America and the Episcopal Church in the United States.

BaptistBaptists originated from 17th century English Puritanism. The term "Baptist" came from their insistence that baptism should be reserved for those old enough to comprehend and confess a personal faith in Jesus. Modern Baptists are a group of Christian denominations and churches who subscribe to a theology of believer's baptism (as opposed to infant baptism), salvation through faith alone, Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice, and the autonomy of the local church. Churches in the Baptist family include the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, and the American Baptist Churches in the USA.

BuddhismBuddhism is a world religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha, in the sixth or fifth century BCE in India. Teaching reincarnation and freedom from worldly attachments, Buddhism has three major branches: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. According to Buddhism, the origin of suffering comes from ignorance, and one must follow the Eightfold Path to reach nirvana. Following the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which allowed for more immigration from Asia, the Buddhist population has grown rapidly in the U.S.

Catholic LiturgicalThe Western Liturgical family represents the Roman Catholic Church or churches that originate from it. Such offshoots include the Old Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church, which differ from the Roman Catholic Church in their rejection of the authority of the pope.

Christian ScienceChristian Science churches follow the teachings of founder Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who believed that personal healing was the central message of Christianity. She believed that the correct interpretation of Scripture would alleviate disease, suffering, and even death according to her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875). The movement became more of an institution in 1879. Worship services include readings from the Bible as well as Eddy's "Science and Health." The largest group in the Christian Science family is the Church of Christ, Scientist. Divine Science also belongs to the Christian Science family.

CommunalThe Communal family consists of churches where members often live together and share living activities, such as common meals, as an expression of their faith. The Hutterian Brethren and United Society of Believers (Shakers) are examples of communal churches.

Congregationalists (United Church of Christ)Congregationalism stems from the English Puritans of the 17th century and is now found in the United States in the United Church of Christ and smaller Congregationalist bodies.

Eastern Liturgical (Orthodox)The Eastern Liturgical (Orthodox) family represents one of the three great divisions of Christianity; the others are the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic and Orthodox churches were originally united, but they parted in the 11th century, when they differed over several points of doctrine, including the supreme authority of the pope, which Orthodox Christians reject. Since the 20th century, the Catholic and Orthodox churches have made greater efforts toward reconciliation. Churches in the Eastern Liturgical family include the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church in America.

Friends/BrethrenArising out of the “Radical Reformation,” the Friends and Brethren were 17th century movements that built on many of the core teachings of Luther, Calvin, and other early reformers. Unlike the Lutheran and Reformed churches, however, they renounced any close ties with the state. They also stressed personal piety and enlightenment over rigid doctrinal conformity. The Quakers held their first meeting in the American colonies in 1661 and the Brethren would soon follow, establishing their first colonial church in 1723.

Froehlich ChurchesAfter being expelled from the Swiss Reformed Church in the early 1830s, Minister Samuel Heinrich Froehlich traveled around Switzerland, preaching. He emphasized New Birth conversion, consisting of true repentance leading to sanctification and inner peace, obedience to Jesus’s teachings through practical sin-free living, adult-age baptismal regeneration, and rejection of church-state alliances. The movement, which leaned toward a “true church” view of society, spread to France, Germany, and North America as many Anabaptists joined, and Eastern Europe, including Hungary and Serbia, through missionaries. Froehlich church monikers have included Apostolic Christian, Nazarene, Evangelical Baptists, Evangelischer Täufergemeinden, and New Amish. Today’s denominations range from distinctively dressed sectarians who keep part or all of their collective religious life private to those mimicking contemporary-style community churches in North America.

HinduismHinduism is the name given for the majority religion of India. There is no central authority in Hinduism, although most Hindu groups and traditions believe in reincarnation and venerate gods and goddesses who are viewed as manifestations of God. Sanskrit texts known as Vedas are sacred scriptures in Hinduism and were composed between 1200 and 900 BCE. Major traditions within Hinduism include Vaishnavism, which is devoted to worship of the god Vishnu, and Shaivism, organized around worship of the god Shiva. Following the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which allowed for more immigration from India, the Hindu population has grown rapidly in the U.S.

HolinessHoliness churches emerged out of the Methodist churches in the United States as they sought to restore John Wesley's teachings of personal holiness and total sanctification (perfection). Holiness bodies include the Church of the Nazarene and the various Church of God denominations.

Independent FundamentalistIndependent Fundamentalist churches left mainline and evangelical denominations in 1930. Out of the initial 39 men who formed the movement, 12 were Congregationalists, three Presbyterians, 19 Independents, one Baptist, and four with no denominational affiliation. The movement was a response to modernity, as they believed that other churches were too liberal in theology. The Independent Fundamental Churches of America is the largest of these separatist bodies.

IslamIslam is the religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad (570-632), who is believed by followers to be the final prophet. The word "Islam" means "submission." Muslims follow the sacred text of the Koran, stress the oneness of God, and practice the Five Pillars: praying, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving, pilgrimage, and a testimony of faith. The two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shi'ite. This split occurred in 632 due to different opinions on leadership succession. Following the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which allowed for more immigration from Muslim majority countries, the Islamic population has grown rapidly in the U.S.

JudaismJudaism is a monotheistic and ethnic religion that encompasses the religious, cultural, and legal tradition of the Jewish people. For religious Jews, Judaism is the expression of the covenant that God established with Abram, Moses, and other Hebrew prophets. Based on the Hebrew Bible (including the Torah) and the Talmud, Judaism stresses careful observance of the rites and practices given in the Torah. Both Christianity and Islam are identified as Abrahamic traditions tracing their history back to the Jewish religion. There are several Jewish traditions, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform Judaism, and Reconstructionist.

Latter-day Saints (Mormonism)Latter-day Saints (Mormon) churches follow at least some of the teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr., who published the Book of Mormon in 1830. The largest denomination in the family is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), founded in 1830 and currently headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. The next largest is the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints), founded in 1860.

LiberalThe Liberal family churches and associations stress the primacy of reason and experience over the authority of doctrine and sacred texts. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in hopes of making Christianity more relevant to modern times (Reid et al. 1990: 646). The Unitarian-Universalist Association and the American Ethical Union are two examples of such groups.

LutheranLutheran churches follow the teachings of 16th century reformer Martin Luther, particularly his teaching on justification by faith and scripture alone (sola scriptura). It is one of the most liturgical Protestant movements, along with Episcopalianism. Lutheranism is more prominent in the Midwestern United States, particularly among those with German and Scandinavian ancestry. Lutheran bodies include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Mennonite/AmishThe Mennonite/Amish family includes groups that trace their heritage to the 16th century Anabaptist movement in present-day Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. They take their name from Menno Simmons (1496-1561) an early Dutch leader in the movement. Led by Jacob Amman (1644-1711) and supporting stricter disciplines for their members, including the shunning of excommunicated members, the Amish became a separate branch within the Anabaptist movement in the 17th century. The Mennonites and the Amish were early immigrants to the Pennsylvania colony, arriving in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

MethodistThe Methodist-Pietist family consists of churches that stress the importance of internal faith, spirituality, and Christian living over adherence to formal creeds and doctrine. The largest among these churches is the United Methodist Church, which follows the teachings of John Wesley, who in the 18th century broke away from the Church of England because of his emphasis on personal holiness. Other Methodist churches include the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Other GroupsThe “Other" category includes disparate groups that did not fit into any of the other religious families, such as Bahá'í, Jainism, Sikhism, and Shinto; it also contains smaller groups not associated with any particular religious family, such as non-sectarian Protestant groups, spiritual or theosophical groups, and independent meditation centers.

PentecostalPentecostal churches emerged as a movement in early 20th century America, stressing enthusiastic worship and the restoration of practices evident in New Testament Christianity, such as speaking in tongues and healing. It is sometimes divided into "classical Pentecostalism," indicating the movement's historical bodies, and "neo-Pentecostalism," the modern movement emphasizing charismatic renewal. Pentecostal bodies include Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ.

Presbyterian/ReformedReformed/Presbyterian churches are a Protestant tradition based on the teachings of reformer John Calvin. The Reformed tradition consists both of Presbyterian churches as well as denominations that developed in continental Europe, such as the Dutch and the German Reformed. American Presbyterianism split over revivalism, slavery, and fundamentalism, but is still one of the leading Protestant families in the United States. Presbyterian bodies include Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Church in America.

RestorationistsRestorationist churches broke away from established American denominations during the 19th century to restore what they understood as true New Testament Christianity, stressing strict adherence to the Bible rather than to creeds. Restorationist churches include the Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

SpiritualistSpiritualists teach that believers can communicate with spirits and the deceased through such practices as seances and other paranormal activities. Churches in the Spiritualist tradition include the Swedenborgian Church and the International General Assembly of Spiritualists.

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