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LEADER RESOURCE 1: Christianity 2 Background

A quick review: Christianity, born at Pentecost in approximately 30 CE, grew for a thousand years. Around 318 CE, The Holy Roman Emperor Constantine converted and the institution of the Catholic Church was founded. A huge church conflict resulted in what is called the Great Schism of 1054 CE. (Write "Great Schism" at the top of newsprint, with an inverted "V" under it.) The Great Schism resulted in the splitting of the Catholic Church into the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. (Write names of branches on newsprint.) Eastern Orthodox Churches are self-governed and do not recognize papal authority over them. Each of these two major branches considers itself the True Church established by Jesus Christ and the Apostles.

Almost another 500 years went by, and the Roman Catholic Church experienced another significant rift. In 1517, Martin Luther, a monk, started a public debate over what he considered corruption within the church, with results he never could have predicted. The huge furor he set in motion started the Protestant Reformation (draw a line from "Roman Catholic Church" and write "Protestant Reformation"), which birthed dozens of non-Catholic Christian denominations in only a few years and eventually more than 30,000 denominations. (Draw lots of radiating lines from "Protestant Reformation" and write the number "30,000+".)

(Point out word "Protestant" to participants. Ask the youth what they think that word means. Protestant means "one who protests.") In this case, they were protesting the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church. One protester was John Calvin, a French theologian who broke with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1520s. (Write "John Calvin.") He was very influential, and many Protestants adopted Calvinist theology. (Write "Calvinism" on newsprint.)

(Refer to map/globe.) The Reformation spread like wildfire; there was widespread dissatisfaction with corruption in the church, and new non-Catholic Christian churches sprang up all over Europe. Denominations born in these early years (among others): the first Unitarian churches arose in Transylvania (indicate locations on map), the Lutheran Church (named for Martin Luther) formed in Germany, and Congregationalist groups met secretly in England—because after King Henry VIII broke with Rome and created the Church of England, it was no longer illegal not to be a Roman Catholic; it was now illegal not to be a member of the Church of England!

One of Martin Luther's ideas was particularly influential: that nobody needed an intermediary to have a relationship with God. (Write "Personal relationship with God.") Specifically, no priest or authority figure was necessary. This sounded reasonable, and people who adopted it as a belief followed it to other logical conclusions of both church and personal independence. (Write "more independence.") Some declared that only members had the right to decide what happened within their new churches. These were the Congregationalists—Puritans—who a few years later came to America, landed at Plymouth Rock, and began founding Congregational churches all over the colonies. Congregationalists and Unitarians from the Protestant Reformation are the direct ancestors of Unitarian Universalism, and this fierce and stubborn independence is still part of who we are today.

What other differences can youth name between Catholicism and Protestantism?

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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