Modern day America is home to many Protestant groups, most of which had their foundation largely influenced by 19th century Protestantism in the region. During the period, irresistible dynamism rocked American Protestant groups, coinciding with an epoch in which the American society readily allowed the founding of new churches and religious movements. Amid growing revivalism and much freedom to develop, the 19th century also saw mounting interest in millennialism and the rise of Adventism. All these resulted in new Protestant groups, some motivated by the looming Second Coming of Christ and while others invented new religious doctrines.
A few broke away from existing churches while others claimed their foundation in new revelations. Among the key churches founded then include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Christian Science and the Seventh-Day Adventist. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, popular as the Mormons and founded by Joseph Smith, was among the first churches to be formed. In his boyhood, Smith experienced visions via which he was advised against joining existing churches, and told he would be active in restoring true Christianity.
In 1823, he was guided by a heavenly messenger named Moroni to a hill in New York, where he discovered strange writing covering two thin golden plates. His translation of the writing, aided by Moroni, is now the Book of Mormon and is based on Christ’s teachings. Mormons deem their faith akin to that founded by Jesus in North America. Although they accept the influence of the old and new testaments, their scriptural doctrine includes the Book of Mormon and two other texts, Doctrines and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price; both based on Smith’s revelations and sermons.
The discovery of the Book of Mormons allured many followers to Smith’s church, whose membership is now roughly eight million, with headquarters in Salt Lake City. Christian Science was on its part founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy, originally a member of a Congregational Church. As a young woman, she suffered from nervous disorders that physicians and hypnotists could not cure. She in 1866 claimed to have been totally cured after reading a New Testament account of one of the miraculous healings Jesus performed. She subsequently founded the church, which she described in her book Science and Health.
Its members disregard formal creeds and doctrines, with some fully devoting themselves to tutor others how to use ‘scientific prayer’ to access God’s healing love. Christian Science has over 3, 000 congregations in 50 countries, with headquarters in Boston. This church is seen as the source of New Thought, a larger American religious movement attributed to Emma Hopkins. Emma was Baker’s student and a teacher, whose students later formed new versions of New Thought such as the Unity School of Christianity, Religion Science and Divine Science and the Unity Movement.
The latter has congregations in most USA cities and abroad. On the Adventist front, the Seventh-Day Adventist is the main church. It was founded by Ellen White. White was a follower of William Miller, a millennialist who founded the first Adventist denomination and wrongly proclaimed Christ would return in 1843 to preside over a final judgment. Ellen experienced many visions that inspired her books. And being a gifted speaker, she drew thousands to her lectures, in which she attributed the delay of the predicted Second Coming to Christians’ failure to obey the Ten Commandments.
Today, the church has nearly four million members, with half a million living in the USA. The Jehovah’s Witnesses is also a millennialist group, formed in 1881 by Charles Taze Russell. At 20, Russell’s study of the Bible led him to a verdict that the Second Coming would occur in 1874, when Christ would invisibly return. This was to be followed by the Battle of Armageddon and end of the world in 1914. His ideas drew him hundreds of followers and membership continued to rise even after his prophesy failed to materialize.
The church, with headquarters in New York, now has over two million members in 200 countries. They understand Christ to be God’s son but reject the doctrine of the Trinity and still believe that a ‘great tribulation’ is imminent. Considering that the churches discussed here are just the main ones and have followers worldwide, it is clearly evident that 19th century American Protestantism played a middle role in both the origination and molding of the course, and even beliefs, of numerous modern-day churches and movements. References LD.
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