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Last week, I bequeathed to history my very best “fair and balanced” view on the Catholic Church, and was duly rewarded with a barrage of e-mails wanting to know why I was so soft on Catholicism … and an even larger barrage stating that I am an ill-informed, Catholic-hating dweeb.

(***sigh***)

I’ll attempt to respond to all of that in the near future, but today I must move on to the other 37,000 denominations in the world. You need to have a feel for the religious landscape in America, because if you don’t, the liberal press will eventually distort the picture in your head – totally. And if you don’t know the landscape, you won’t know the battlefield.

With so much acreage to cover, I can’t hope to give you much “color commentary” on each one. In fact, I’ll just barely have room to outline the basic categories for you.

The broadest categories are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant – plus a few thousand unclassifiable groups like Messianic Jews, Muslim-background Isahis, New Agers, heresies and cults, and fringy syncretisms in Third World countries. I’ll try to thumbtack a few words onto each:

  1. The Catholics and …

  2. … the Eastern Orthodox both claim to be the original church. Each insists that the other is a split-off. (The Baptists also say they’re the original church, claiming lineage from John the Baptist.) Note: All evangelical mission organizations regard any large Catholic or Orthodox population as a legitimate and needy mission field.

  3. Springing from Martin Luther in 1517, the three main branches of Lutheranism in the United States are:

    • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (5 million members, pretty liberal)

    • Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (2.5 million members, conservative)

    • Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (1.1 million members, Lake Wobegon conservative).

  4. Reformed churches have 75 million people scattered throughout 107 countries. They are the spiritual descendants of Calvin, Knox and Zwingli. In the United States, they range from cold-but-correct (rather like the churches of the Pilgrims) to so ultra-liberal that they would have been burned at the stake in Geneva. I won’t mention any names, but you know the liberals from the endless headlines about their painfully slow surrender to the gay, feminist and pro-choice agendas.

  5. In the United States, the state churches are transplants from overseas, most notably the Episcopal Church (from the Church of England). The biggest difference between a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian is that the Episcopalian has made better investments.

  6. Then you have about 33 million Baptists, led by:

    • The Southern Baptist Convention, with 16 million members, which includes 5 million “home Baptists,” who on a given Sunday morning are out at the lake or just washing their cars. SBC folks are split between conservative and moderate, but they refuse to separate because that would make them smaller than the Methodists, perennially lurking in third place.

    • The black counterparts of the SBC (total 16 million members with overlap): the National Baptist Convention USA, National Baptist Convention of America, National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, and Progressive National Baptist Convention.

  7. Other black denominations are the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ (8 million members), African Methodist Episcopal Church (2.5 million members), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1.5 million members), and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (850 million members).

    Overall, we should be very grateful for the tenacity of the black churches, hanging on and witnessing faithfully, as you see by the numbers. Without their persevering influence, most inner cities and ghettoes in America would be a deadly Hell. On the downside, most black churches are as pyramidal and control-driven as they come. They must heal the clergy-laity split and learn to empower their members for the coming megashift in ministry.

    8. The other main liberal denominations are the United Methodist Church (8.3 million members), the Presbyterian Church USA (3.4 million members), and the United Church of Christ (1.3 million members), which is a merger of Congregational churches, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, the Christian Church, and the Disciples of Christ. There is a fair amount of variety in this mix, and each liberal denomination has growing conservative caucus groups, but overall, liberal churches have been shrinking for about 40 years.

The fizzling out of mainline liberal churches is well-deserved. Those listed above all started as solid, Bible-based networks, but most have devolved into institutions whose beliefs are the exact opposite of conservative churches on the main half-dozen beliefs of classical Christianity. And generally, their theological liberalism bleeds over into political and economic liberalism, thus feeding an ongoing stream of righteous-sounding balderdash.

Next Tuesday: A look at evangelicals, emerging churches, house churches, charismatics and others.

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