A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Appendix II

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As Mr. Williams has been very concise in his account of the religious denominations existing in the United States of America, the following brief sketch is added.

The Congregationalists are the predominant religious denomination in each of the New England states, Rhode Island excepted. It has been computed that there are in Massachusetts Proper 350 congregations; in Connecticut 212 ; in Maine 114; and in Rhode Island 8. The churches in New Hampshire and Vermont are chiefly Congregational.[1] They are divided into Calvinists of the old school, a large number of Hopkinsians, Arminians, Unitarians of different grades, &c.

The Congregationalists are not numerous in the Middle and Southern States; they have, however, a number of churches in New Jersey, and South Carolina.

The Baptists form the most numerous body, Congregationalists excepted, in New England. They have greatly increased of late, for it appears from the report of the General Convention of Baptists for Foreign Missions, assembled at Philadelphia, May 7, 1817, that the number of their churches, in the United States, was 2727, of their ministers 1935; that the number baptized last year amounted to 10,000, and the whole number of members in fellowship was 183,245. Their clergy are organized into Associations.[2] This body is generally composed of Calvinists or Hopkinsians. In the foregoing account none of the members of the Baptist congregations are included, but only those in actual communion.

There are also Arminian, or Free Will Baptists, Sabbatarians, Haldamites, Mennonites, Bunkers, and Separates,[3] who, though differing from the Baptist Associations above- named, as well as from each other in many points, yet all agree in denying infant baptism. These denominations air not included in the preceding computation.

The Presbyterian churches, under the jurisdiction of the General Assembly, preponderate in the Middle States. In New York are Antiburgher Seceders, and other classes, who embrace the Presbyterian form of church government. The tenets of the Genevan school are generally maintained by this denomination; but some have adopted, at least in part, the Hopkinsian system.

The General Synod of the Reformed Dutch Church is a considerably powerful body of Presbyterians, not acting in concert with the General Assembly, nor with any other circle of Presbyterians; their churches are principally in New York 4nd New Jersey. The General Synod of the Associate Reformed Church is another connexion of Presbyterians, not acting in concert with either of the bodies above-mentioned. The Presbyterians are also numerous in the Southern States; and have several large congregations in South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. It is computed that there are about eighty seven Episcopal churches in New England. Those in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island were, in 1810, organized, and styled "The Eastern Diocess Of the United States of America." Their Bishop is the Right Rev. Alexander V. Griswold. Connecticut, where there are many Episcopalians, forms another Diocess, under the superintendence of a bishop. There are also bishops in those of the Middle and Southern States, where there is a large number of Episcopalians.[4] A few of the Episcopal churches arc Calvinistic; but it is understood, that they generally embrace Arminian sentiments.

The Roman Catholics have in the United States of America one archbishop in Baltimore, and bishops in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Beardstown, Ken'y, and New Orleans.

Their number, including those in Louisiana and some Indian tribes, is said to amount to 140,000.[5]

The Friends, or Quakers, are a numerous denomination of Christians in the United States. There are thirteen collections of this people in New England. The celebrated William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, by his meekness and wisdom, did honour to this society, whose sentiments he embraced and defended. They have at present fifty four congregations in that state. This denomination have been eminently distinguished for their zealous and persevering efforts to procure the abolition of the slave trade. There are nearly one thousand congregations of Friends in this country.

The Methodists are a numerous and popular combination in the United States. The greatest part of this denomination are in the Middle and Southern States. There are, however, in Massachusetts twenty societies of this people, and eighteen in Maine. Those in this country are all, with a very small exception, Westleian, or Arminian Methodists.

The German Moravians are a numerous and respectable body of Christians in Pennsylvania. In the village of Bethlehem they have two large stone buildings, in which the different sexes are educated in habits of industry, being employed in various useful manufactures. They have also flourishing settlements in North Carolina; and one church in Rhode Island.

The German Lutherans have several places of worship in Pennsylvania and New York.

There are twelve societies of Universalists in New England—seven in Massachusetts, four in Maine, and one in New Hampshire. There is also a society of Universalists in Pennsylvania. One part of this denomination are disciples of Chauncy and the other of Murray in their sentiments. The Separates are said to have six churches in Connecticut.

There are two Sandemanian churches in New England; one in Danbury, Connecticut, and one in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There is also a small number of Sandemanians in Boston.

There is a considerable number of believers in the doctrines of Swedenborg In the United States. They have churches or temples, as they call them, in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. There are also a few who embrace his sentiments in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Ohio. There are likewise Halcyons, who agree with the Swedenborgians, in maintaining the sole divinity of Jesus Christ; though they differ in other respects.[6]

There is in the United States a considerable number of the followers of Mr. Elias Smith, formerly a Baptist minister in the Warren Association. They call themselves Chrystians, and profess to found their opinions solely on the sacred scriptures. In many respects they are said to harmonize with the Free Will Baptists. Mr. Smith, in some of his publications, advocates the doctrine of the annihilation of the finally impenitent; but he is said to have frequently changed his opinions. Those who wish to know more of this denomination are referred to Smith's New Testament Dictionary, and Benedict's History of the Baptists.

It appears from the most authentic intelligence which could be obtained, that there are, in the United States, about three thousand Jews.

They have one synagogue in New York; two in Philadelphia; one in Charleston, South Carolina; and one in Virginia.

The numerous religious denominations in the United States all unite in approving and establishing Bible Societies. The Congregationalists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Moravians, and Methodists have made energetic exertions to convert the heathens, both in our own and foreign countries. Sunday Schools have also been established; and various societies formed to promote the present and future welfare of mankind: for instance, the Peace Societies which have been honoured with the approbation of the Emperor Alexander and Prince Galitzin, President of the Russian Bible Society. A society has also been formed for the religious and moral improvement of seamen, and there are many other religious and benevolent institutions. It has been justly remarked, that "At no time since the days of the apostles have equal exertions been made for the advancement of Christian knowledge, piety and virtue, as are at this time, and have been for a few years past, both in Europe and in our own country."[7]

The diversity of sentiment among Christians has been exhibited in the preceding pages. The candid mind will not consider those various opinions as an argument against divine revelation. The truth of the sacred writings is attested by the strongest evidence, such as the miracles recorded in the New Testament; the accomplishment of the prophecies; the rapid spread of the gospel, notwithstanding the most violent opposition; the consistency of the several parts of the inspired pages with each other; the purity and perfection of the precepts of christianity; their agreement with the moral attributes and perfections of the Deity; and their benevolent tendency to promote the good of society, and advance our present and future happiness. Perhaps there may be as great a variety in the moral, as in the physical world.

From this diversity in mind, some may have a natural bias towards one religious system, and some to another. "The education of different persons," says Dr. Watts, "has a mighty influence to form their opinions, and to fix their practices; and this, it must be confessed, is not in a man's own choice; but depends on the providence of the great and blessed God, the Overruler of all things."

Notwithstanding the great variety of opinions which divide the christian world, the following articles are acceded to by all who profess to believe in divine revelation.

1. That there is one Supreme Being of infinite perfections.
The Manicheans may seem to be an exception to this article of belief, because they maintained the doctrine of two principles. But as they supposed the good principle would finally be victorious, and reign supreme, their evil principle may only be considered as a powerful demon.

2. That this Supreme Being is the object of religious worship.—This appears naturally to result from the preceding article; if we admit the being of a God, the propriety of worshipping him is obvious.
Trinitarians pray to one God in three persons; Unitarians address God in the person of the Father only. Roman Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary and other saints; but they profess to address them only as intercessors and mediators, and that one God is the ultimate object of their religious worship. The Swedenborgians address all their prayers to Jesus Christ, because they believe he is the Supreme and only Deity, made visible and accessible in a human form; and therefore to be alone worshipped.

3. That Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, (that is, the anointed of God,) to whom the prophecies of the old testament refer. All who profess to believe in divine revelation agree in this article, though their ideas respecting Christ's person, and the ends of his mission, are widely different.

4. That there will be a resurrection of the dead. The doctrine of a literal resurrection was indeed denied by some of the Gnostics, and is still by a few modern denominations; yet even these admit a resurrection of some kind, though they explain the term metaphorically.

5. That piety and virtue will be rewarded in a future state, and impiety and vice punished. This article includes the idea that piety and virtue are indispensably necessary to happiness. This point is universally acceded to; and therefore, upon every religious system now embraced, it is our duty and interest to be virtuous and pious.

The wretched state of the world at the time of our Saviour's appearance, which is exhibited in the Introduction to this work, evinces the necessity of the Christian dispensation.

The gross superstition of the Pagans, the degeneracy of the Jewish nation, the inconsistency of the ancient philosophers, and their uncertainty respecting a future state, elucidate the apostle's declaration, that "life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel."[8] It also appears from our introduction, that it is highly unreasonable to consider the various opinions among Christians as an objection to the truth of divine revelation. At the time of Christ's appearance, there was a variety of modes in the pagan worship,[9] and a great diversity of philosophical opinions. The Jews were divided in their opinions at the time of our Saviour, and there are still some remains of the ancient sects.

The preceding work farther evinces, that the Pagan world still practise a variety of religious rites; and that the Mahometans are as much divided as the Christians. Neither are those who reject revelation better agreed among themselves; for it appears that the greatest infidels, which any age ever produced, were divided and unsettled in their philosophical opinions. Voltaire leaned to deism, and seemed for some time to have adopted it; but insensibly falling into Spinoza's system, he knew not what to believe. D'Alembert, involved in uncertainty respecting the being of a God, asserts that it is more rational to be skeptical than dogmatical on the subject. We find Diderot, after having decided against the deist, deciding in the same peremptory manner for or against the skeptic or the atheist; and Rousseau, that prodigy of inconsistency, sometimes declaring his certainty of the existence of a Deity, and writing the most sublime eulogies upon Christ, that human eloquence could devise; at other times a distinguished champion of skepticism and infidelity. Surely a difference of sentiment cannot reasonably be objected against Christians, when we find the most celebrated Infidels thus divided, and inconsistent with themselves and each other.

The differences among Christian denominations will appear still greater than they really are, unless we recollect that a large number of the ancient sects, which are described in the preceding work, are now extinct. It is also to be considered, that the opinions of several sects are nearly the same, though under different names, and some few modifications. Mr. Evans, in his "Sketch of the denominations of the Christian world," observes, that the most distinguished denominations, which attract our attention at the present day, may be included under the following threefold arrangement.

1. Opinions respecting the person of Christ. These include all the various grades of Trinitarians, Sabellians and Unitarians.

2. Opinions respecting the means and measure of God's favour. Under this head Calvinists, Baxterians, Arminians and others are comprehended.

3. Opinions respecting church government, and the administration of ceremonies. These include the Roman Catholic, Greek, Episcopalian churches, and various denominations of Dissenters.

To these divisions Mr. Evans adds a few denominations, which cannot be classed with propriety Under any of these three general heads.

From the foregoing view of the various religions of the different countries of the world, it appears, that the Christian religion is of very small extent, compared with the many and vast countries overspread with Paganism and Mahometanism. This great and painful truth is further evidenced by the calculations which have been made of the population of the world,[10] and the proportion of the principal religious denominations to each other.

In reviewing the history of the various denominations of Christians in past ages, humanity is deeply wounded by the intolerant spirit which has been so often exhibited by the dominant party. Till of late, attempting to suppress by persecution, what were deemed erroneous opinions, was judged lawful, not by Catholics only, but by the Reformers, by Episcopalians, and almost all the different denominations of Dissenters. But such is the happy progress of religious liberty and toleration, that at present, almost all sects and parties of Christians disclaim the right of using coercive measures in the sacred concerns of religion.

Though the ends to be answered by divine Providence, in permitting such a variety of opinions, cannot be fully comprehended; yet we may be assured, that they are under the direction of an all-perfect Being, who governs in infinite wisdom.

"From seeming evil still educing good.
And better thence again, and better still
In infinite progression." Thomson.

Why providence has suffered the Christian religion to be hitherto confined to so small a portion of the globe is also a mystery which we cannot fathom. But we are encouraged by many prophecies in the sacred scriptures to expect a period when the gospel shall be universally extended, and received with unanimity; when all superstition shall be abolished; the Jews and Gentiles unitedly become the subjects of Christ's universal empire, and the knowledge of the Lord fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea.

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. See General Repository,No. VI, and Boston Recorder, 1816.
  2. See proceedings of the General Convention at Philadelphia, 1817.
  3. There is an Association of Separate Baptists.
  4. Boston Recorder, 1816.
  5. This statement was given by the Rev. Dr. Matignon, who now officiates at the Roman Catholic church in Boston.
  6. See New Jerusalem Magazine, 1817.
  7. Christian Disciple, July, 1814.
  8. Cicero, famous throughout the learned world for his inquiries after truth, and investigations into the nature, moral faculties, and future expectations of man, gives us the sum of all the knowledge that could be acquired without revelation. In his Tusculan questions, lib. i. he gives us to understand, that whether the soul be mortal or immortal is a question which cannot be positively decided. He devoutly wished that the immortality of the soul could be proved to him. So that with all his knowledge, and after all his researches, he was not able to determine a fact, on which the happiness of the rational creature, for time and eternity, must depend. See Boudinot's Age of Revelation.
  9. According to Themistius, an ancient Greek orator and philosopher, there were more than three hundred sects of the Western philosophers, differing greatly on subjects of high importance. According to Varro, there were two hundred and eighty eight different opinions entertained by them concerning the summum bonum, or chief good; and three hundred opinions concerning God; or as Varro himself declares, three hundred Jupiters or supreme deities. See President Dwight's Sermon on the Nature of the Infidel Philosophy
  10. Mr. Cummings, in his Geography, estimates the population of the world at eight hundred millions ; and gives the following statement of the religious divisions of the inhabitants. Of the four principal religious denominations, Christians, 170,000,000. Jews, 9,000,000. Mahometans, 140,000,000. Pagan's, 481,000,000. Total, 800,000,000. Subdivisions among christians may be thus : Protestants, 50,000,000. Greeks and Armenians, 30,000,000. Catholics, 90,000,000. Total, 170,000,000. Hence it appears that about one fifth part only of the human race have yet embraced the Christian religion in any of its forms.