The Roman Catholic Church believes itself to be the church founded by Christ, initially headed by (Saint) Peter the disciple and subsequent to this by the Popes who are infallible in their judgement. Central to the beliefs are the virgin birth (with particular devotion to Mary "The Blessed Virgin"), the resurrection of Jesus following the crucifixion, the Holy Trinity, and at mass, the transubstantiation (i.e. conversion) of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
In practical terms this was the only religion in England (and elsewhere in Western Europe) from late Saxon times to the 1500s. The church was powerful not only in a religious sense but financially (it was a major landowner), it raised taxes from the laity, and it had major political influence. Church services were in Latin, the bibles were in Latin and not available to the laity (even if they could read) and the structure of church services placed a distance (both physically and spiritually) between the priests and the "general population". Non-attendance at church could be enforced through a system of fines or other sanctions.
In a series of Acts in the 1530s a Church of England was established which made the king (Henry VIII) supreme head of the church, not the Pope. Henry was not however a protestant – he believed in Catholicism without the Pope. The basic tenets of the church doctrine (except the role of the Pope) therefore initially remained unchanged and the average church attendee would experience the same service in the same building with the same prayers, music, sermons etc (and the same taxes!). Some rulers subsequent to Henry were sympathetic to the Roman Catholic faith and there were a series of suppressions of both Church of England and Roman Catholic believers, including martyrdom, by rulers attempting to establish domination of their particular views. In due course the power of the Church of England prevailed and suppression of Catholics continued for many years through additional taxation.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND
Established in the 1530s the Church of England initially was doctrinally similar to the Roman Catholic Church it had replaced. However over time protestant influences (from England and elsewhere in Europe) modified the nature of the beliefs (particularly during the Puritan era) and there has been a significant reduction to what was regarded as excessive devotion to "Our Lady", services were held in English (rather than Latin), less belief in transubstantiation (at mass), and the level of decoration and ornamentation in the churches much reduced. The first liturgical text in English appeared in 1544 and the first complete Book of Common Prayer in 1549 which would have been a major change for those attending church services making the services more accessible.
The present beliefs of the church can be summarized as
"1 The Old and New Testaments ' contain all things necessary for salvation' and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2 The Apostles' creed is the baptismal symbol, and the Nicene creed is the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
3 The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - are administered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution, and the elements are ordained by him.
4 The historic episcopate is locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church."
Originated about 1729 in Oxford centred around Charles Wesley and his brother John (who was a Church of England curate). Initially very close links with the Moravians but these were largely broken by 1740. Beliefs centred on the New Testament as the standard of doctrine with sermons concerned with the experience of salvation and practical duties of Christian life. Abstruse theological questions were avoided. Wesley said, "Methodism, so called, is the old religion, the religion of the bible, the religion of the primitive church, the religion of the Church of England." There was no doctrinal test but a high standard of morality expected with the belief that a Christian life involved freedom from outward sin, evil thoughts and evil tempers.
Much of the preaching was (and is) undertaken by lay preachers with their efforts co-ordinated in local circuits. Although Wesley regarded himself and his fellow Methodists as Church of England, in time the Methodist church did separate and subsequently itself split into various parts which rejoined and resplit again over the years.
Lacking the finances of the established church Methodist chapels were funded by the efforts of their own congregations. They tend to be smaller than the local churches, are relatively plain inside and out with little by way of interior decoration, and are centred in the community which raised them in the 18/19th century (unlike the Church of England churches which largely are where they were built 500 years ago to match the needs of the community at that time, needs which may have long since moved away).
Methodism as a fairly pragmatic approach to Christianity found considerable support among the working class and a number of Methodists were also prime movers in the early Trades Union movement.
In 17th century Baptists were among the Nonconformists who refused to be members of the Church of England (to which all were expected to belong, with or without faith). The movement had links with some of the more radical movements (Fifth Monarchy Men, Levellers and Diggers) and the beliefs spread rapidly in the Commonwealth period. They were persecuted for believing that Christ, and not the King (or Queen), was head of the church. With the Toleration Act of 1689 Baptists were free to erect chapels.
Local churches were/are self-governing and self-supporting, with no hierarchy of bishops or priests. Although many churches have paid ministers, the leadership team in each church consists mainly of grass-roots people.
The following declaration is common to all churches in the Baptist Union:
"1 That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.
2 That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third
3 That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world."
The Moravian Church dates from 1457 when it was founded in Moravia, today part of the Czech Republic. The original church suffered persecution during the counter-Reformation and survived in an underground fellowship over the next hundred years or so. The present or Renewed Church is dated from 1727. The intention was not the 'Moravians' should be a separate church but should rather form societies within established churches, to encourage work already being carried on. This aim, however, was not realised for various reasons, and eventually a separate church was formed which stands firmly within mainstream Protestant tradition.
It was never intended to set up work in England because that was the domain of the established church and missionaries only spent time in London en route for America and the West Indies. Nevertheless for a time the Society included John and Charles Wesley but there were disagreements as the members wrestled with various theological issues. Eventually there was a separation and the Wesleys went in one direction and the Moravians in another. One of the few Moravian churches established in England was at Woodford Halse where some of my ancestors attended.
The Moravian church is remarkably unencumbered by written doctrine, preferring a simple statement, known as 'the ground of the Unity', which reads, in part:
"With the whole of Christendom we share faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We believe and confess that God has revealed Himself once and for all in His Son, Jesus Christ; that our Lord has redeemed us with the whole of humanity by His death and His resurrection; and that there is no salvation apart from Him. We believe that He is present with is in the Word and the Sacrament; that He directs and unites us through His Spirit and thus forms us into a Church. We hear Him summoning us to follow Him, and pray Him to use us in His service. He joins us together mutually, so that, knowing ourselves to be members of His body we become willing to serve each other. In the light of divine grace, we recognise ourselves to be a Church of sinners. We require forgiveness daily, and live only through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He redeems us from our isolation and unites us into a living Church of Jesus Christ."