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Dave - This is a common observation among students of contemporary American religion, though it's been more or less true for two hundred or so years now. Traditionally, it's been organizational rather than theological factors that have separated most Reformed churches - in America, this is the Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, perhaps even Methodists. Indeed, in the nineteenth century many of these denominations split into evangelical and non-evangelical wings; in the twentieth, many split into liberal and conservative camps. Indeed, in the early 1800s, evangelical Presbyterians and the Congregationalists briefly united and became a single denomination for a while. Evangelical, conservative Baptists looked around in the 1940s and realized they had more in common with evangelical, conservative Presbyterians than with liberals of their own denomination.

Now, it's entirely possible to read too much into the 'two-party' (as Martin Marty calls it) schema as opposed to what's traditionally been called 'church,' or denominational history. But there's certainly something to it. If you'd like more, there's Marty's five volume history of American religion. The sociologist Robert Wuthnow has also published The Restructuring of American Religion, which is very flawed, but is also frequently cited on this thesis.

The very fact of the failure of 'brand loyalty' in American Protestantism and resulting confusion among 'consumers' is the very reason that Joseph's claims were accepted to the extent that they were. People longed for authority and what more final authority could there be than that claimed to arise from the first 'vision'. If it hadn't been Joseph, it would have been someone else, this was the ultimate gap in the market for those who could not bear to accept apostolic succession.

I think the current move is more a logical result of the common Protestant belief in a priesthood of all believers. Once you have that plus a culture where historically there were dozens of different sects then it seems inevitable that eventually the sects wouldn't matter.


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