Australian Christian Church Histories - Denominations (2023)

Below is a brief summary of the stories of the early Christian churches in Australia during the 18th and 19th centuries. For a more detailed summary, please use the links provided.


Formerly the Church of England, but renamed in 1981. In the First Fleet, the Reverend Richard Johnson was a licensed chaplain. He was initially responsible for 1,100 inmates, soldiers, and settlers. He served as him for 6 years until he was joined in 1794 by the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who would serve the colony for the next forty years.

The Anglican Church of Australia, formerly known as the Church of England Australia, is a Christian church and a self-governing church of the Anglican Communion. It is the second largest church in Australia, after the Roman Catholic Church.

In early colonial times, the clergy of the Church of England worked closely with the governors. Richard Johnson, a chaplain, was charged by the governor, Arthur Phillip, with improving "public morals" in the colony, but he was also heavily involved in health and education.

The Church of England lost its legal privileges in the Colony of New South Wales by the Church Act of 1836. Drafted by reform-minded Attorney General John Plunkett. The act established legal equality for Anglicans, Catholics, and Presbyterians and was later extended to Methodists.

In 1945, the Church of England, as it was called, was still the largest denomination in Australia.

In 1985, the general synod of the Australian church approved a canon to allow the ordination of women as deacons, and in 1992, the general synod approved dioceses to ordain women to the priesthood.

Roman Catholic

The first Catholics to arrive in Australia came from the First Fleet in 1788. They were mostly Irish convicts. Around a tenth of all the convicts transported to Australia were Catholic and half of them were born in Ireland.

Fathers John Joseph Therry and Philip Connolly, both government-appointed chaplains in London, arrived on 3 May 1820. Their arrival can be seen as the formal establishment of the Catholic Church in Australia. His salary was £100 a year paid by the government. Father John Therry was involved in the establishment of St. Mary's Cathedral.

The first Catholic bishop in Australia was John Bede Polding, who arrived in Sydney in September 1835 and served for a total of 42 years.

(Video) Christian Denominations Family Tree | Episode 1: Origins & Early Schisms

In 1833 there were about ten Catholic schools in the country. From this time until the late 1860s, Catholic schools received some government assistance under a variety of schemes.

The establishment of Catholic religious orders can be seen in the form of the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, founded by John Polding in 1857, and the Sisters of St. Joseph, founded in 1866 by Father Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop. The Sisters of the Good Samaritan were, in fact, the first congregation of religious founded in Australia.

The first Pope to visit Australia was Pope Paul VI on November 30, 1970.


Methodism, also known as the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity that teach Wesleyan-Arminian theology, which derives from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John's brother Charles Wesley were also important early leaders in the movement. It originated as a revival movement within the 18th century Church of England and became a separate denomination after Wesley's death. The movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States, and beyond due to vigorous missionary work, and today it numbers approximately 80 million adherents worldwide.

The Australasian Methodist Church was a Methodist denomination created on January 1, 1902. Five Methodist denominations in Australia: the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodists, the Bible Christian Church, the United Free Methodist Church and the New Connection Methodist Church joined to find a new church.

The church ceased to exist in 1977 when most of its congregations merged with the many congregations of the Congregational Union of Australia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia to form the United Church in Australia. However, there are still several Methodist churches in Australia, especially in Queensland.

wesleyan methodist

Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by various denominations and organizations around the world. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley, an 18th-century British evangelist who was a Christian clergyman and theologian in the Church of England. He formed the Methodist movement with the help of his younger brother Charles, who wrote many of the Methodist Church's hymns.

The Wesleyan Church has more than 469,000 adherents in more than 5,000 churches around the world.

The first Methodist minister, the Reverend Samuel Leigh, arrived in Australia in 1815 aboard the Hebe, and John Lees erected the first Methodist church in 1817 on land donated by Lees at Castlereagh, Sydney.

Leigh was referred to as a 'Wesleyan minister'. The Governor promptly wrote to the British government that while Leigh's conduct was exemplary, they only wanted Church of England ministers in future. However, the government granted Leigh land for a chapel in Macquarie Street, Sydney. It was completed in 1819. By the 1820s, other Methodist groups were active, with Sunday schools, a Bible society, and support for missions in Polynesia. However, by 1836, British Methodism was disillusioned with the work in the Colony and the heavy demands it placed on its resources to obtain limited returns. In 1855, the British conference granted autonomy to a separate body comprising churches in colonies in Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Various branches of Methodism in Australia merged in the 20 years from 1881, with a union of all groups except lay Methodists, forming the Australasian Methodist Church in 1902. The Church merged again with the Presbyterian Church and the Congregationalist Union of Australia in 1977 to form the United Church.

The Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia was officially formed in 1946 under the leadership of an Australian minister, Kingsley Ridgway. Several districts were formed across the country, one in Victoria, one in New South Wales, one in Queensland (in 1982) and one in North Queensland in 1993. The Church experienced further growth in the 1980s, particularly in Queensland, much of this as a result of Reverend Don Hardgrave's church planting strategies.


Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches that practice Congregationalist church government, in which each congregation manages its own affairs independently and autonomously.
Robert Browne, who is considered the 'Father of Congregationalism', born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England around 1550, preached his radical ideas about the true nature and glory of the Christian church. He held secret meetings where he explained the doctrine of his church and attacked the bishops and clergy of the established church. He was arrested in April 1581 and imprisoned.

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Many Congregational churches claim descent from the original Congregational churches in a union theory published by Robert Browne in 1592. In Britain, early Congregationalists were called Separatists or Independents to distinguish themselves from Presbyterian Calvinists. Some Congregationalists still call themselves "independents."

In Australia, the Fellowship of Congregational Churches is a small group of evangelical churches found in five Australian states, but mainly in New South Wales, the remnants of the Congregational Church in Australia. In 1977, most of the Congregational churches in Australia belonging to the Congregational Union merged with the United Church. Only 27 churches in New South Wales remain outside of the United Church and continue as Congregational churches. So the Fellowship of Congregational Churches is only 30 years old.


The United Church of Australia opened its doors on June 22, 1977. It was a union of three churches that had existed in Australia for nearly two centuries. These churches were:

  • The Congregational Union of Australia
  • The Australasian Methodist Church
  • The Presbyterian Church of Australia

The beliefs of the United Church are drawn from the Bible and the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. The Church also pays attention to the testimony of the Reformation in the Scottish Confession of Faith (1647), the Declaration of Savoy (1658), and the preaching of John Wesley in his Forty-four Sermons (1793).

The Church is governed by several interrelated, non-hierarchical councils, each with responsibility for various functions or roles within the denomination. Board meetings include:

  • congregation (place)
  • Presbytery (regional)
  • Synod (state)
  • National Assembly)

The UCA is a non-episcopal church, which means that it has no bishops. The leadership and pastoral role in the UCA is performed by the Presbytery as a body (meeting). However, many members seem to understand that the 'Presbytery President' or the 'Moderator' of the Synod perform this role. This position may be filled by an ordained minister or a lay person. In many Presbyteries there is also an 'Officer of the Presbytery' who may be an ordained or lay minister.

church of Christ

The denomination claims to "focus on the essential aspects of the Christian faith, allowing for a diversity of understanding with the non-essentials".

The Churches of Christ in Australia is a Christian movement in Australia. It is part of the Restoration Movement with historical influences from the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

The Church of Christ is one of the smallest denominations by membership in Australia.
Churches of Christ Australia dates back to 1845. In one case, an immigrant from Great Britain, Thomas Magarey, who had become in Nelson, New Zealand the first Church of Christ congregation there, joined a Scottish Baptist group in Adelaide who had abandoned her name appellation. . He left that group after his dissatisfaction with them and in 1846 a chapel was built. When the year 1865 came around, there were five Christian churches in South Australia, with 253 members.

The Churches of Christ were established in Sydney in 1852 by Albert Griffin. The first Church of Christ in Melbourne met in the tent that was the home of John Ingram and his wife in Prahran in 1853.

In Queensland, a small group met at Albion, Brisbane in 1871, however it was not until August 1, 1882 that C.M. Fischer and T Geraghty established the first Church of Christ at Zillman Waterholes (now Zillmere, Queensland).


At the beginning of the 17th century, dissident Christians fleeing persecution fled to the Netherlands and settled in the Waterland area. When one of the congregations adopted a General Baptist view, the pastor, John Smythe, baptized himself and then other members of the Church who wished to be baptized as adult believers*.

Some members of this congregation returned to England in 1612 under the leadership of Thomas Helwys, who was soon arrested for writing a treatise calling for complete religious tolerance. Despite the setback, this group, known as General Baptists, grew a lot*.

About 30 years later, members of a Congregational church in London came to similar views and began to practice believer's baptism. Unlike the earlier group, these Baptists were Calvinists and came to be known as Particular Baptists*.

In the aftermath of the Wesleyan revivals, some Methodists also embraced Baptist views and formed a revitalized wing of General Baptists*.

The three came together in England during the 19th century.*

The Baptist Church in Australia began in Sydney in 1831, more than 40 years after the British penal colony was first established, when the first Baptist worship service was held on April 24. More than forty years have passed since the British penal colony was established. It wasn't until 1835 that Henry Dowling, a strict Calvinist, established the first church in the city of Hobart. John Saunders, sent by the Baptist Missionary Society of England, formed a church in 1836. The first state union was formed in Victoria in 1862. The National Baptist Union was founded in 1926 by representatives of existing state unions.

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The first preacher was John McKaeg and the first baptism was at Woolloomooloo Bay in 1832.

In South Australia, church services had been held since 1837, but the arrival of the Reverend Silas Mead in 1861 marked a new and expanded identity for Baptists in Adelaide. He established the Flinders Street Church, which was a model for many others, and his people started several suburban churches.

The first Baptist services in Melbourne were in 1837, when it was still part of New South Wales. Reverend John Ham arrived in 1843 and formed the Collins Street Church. The discovery of gold in Victoria during the 1850s sparked a growth boom in Victoria. Baptists shared in this growth, forming a Baptist Union in 1862.

* Provided by Rev. Peter R Green


The first Lutherans to arrive in Australia in significant numbers were immigrants from Prussia, arriving in 1838 with Pastor August Kavel. This period in Prussia was marked by a persecution of former Lutherans who refused to join the Prussian Union under King Frederick William III. On May 23 and 24, 1839, Kavel called a meeting of the elders of the three Prussian settlements at Klemzig, Hahndorf, and Glen Osmond. At this meeting, the constitution of the new Australian Lutheran synod was adopted.
In 1841, a second wave of Prussian immigrants began. with the arrival of Prof. Gotthard Fritzsche. He settled with immigrants from his group, in Lobethal and Bethanien.

Relations with the first Prussian settlers were initially quite harmonious, but this would change. In 1842, Pastor August Kavel, in an attempt to consolidate the settlers into a localized community, strongly urged settlers from the early settlements of Klemzig and Hahndorf to move to the newly established Langmeil. Many of the settlers from these villages refused and an underlying tension arose between these communities and the pastor Kavel.

At the synodal meetings of 1844 and 1845 the issue of millenarianism was discussed. Kavel, who developed millennial views, was preaching on the subject. Fritzsche did not agree with millenarianism and discussed the issue at these meetings. No resolution was reached at the end of the 1845 synod. This disagreement between the two pastors divided the Lutheran community.
The most significant event took place at the Bethany synod meeting on August 16 and 17, 1846. The issue of millenarianism was raised again, and as the discussion heated up, Kavel and his followers left the synod. They went to neighboring Langmeil and there their own synod met, while the rest continued with his synod. Kavel's followers formed the Immanuel Synod and Fritzsche's the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia was renamed the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia (ELSA) in 1863.

Following the death of Kavel (1860) and Fritzsche (1863), the Emanuel Synod and the ELSA managed to reconcile some of their differences. This resulted in a "Confessional Union" but not an organizational merger.
The ELSA continued to coexist independently with the other Lutheran synods until 1966. Its name changed in 1944 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA). One group broke away from ELSA in 1904 and became a district of the Ohio Synod of the United Lutheran Church in America. This group called itself the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia auf alter Grundlage (ELSA a.a. G) (auf alter Grundlage - on the old basis).

In 1856, a new independent synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Victoria (ELSV), with Pastor Matthias Goethe as president, was founded to serve Lutheran congregations in Victoria.

In 1860, the year of Kavel's death, a group broke with the Emmanuel Synod. This splinter group developed a union with the ELSV, which was called the Evangelical Lutheran General Synod (General Synod).
In 1874, the Emmanuel Synod also developed an affiliation with the ELSV. The ESLA opposed the practice of the ELSV of calling non-Lutheran pastors, for which reason the Confessional Union they had with the Synod of Emmanuel was dissolved. With this event, the Emmanuel Synod was renamed the Evangelical Lutheran Emmanuel Synod (ELIS).

The ELIS in 1884 broke relations with the General Synod, due to this same practice of calling non-Lutheran pastors. When this event occurred in 1884, a small group of ELIS decided not to break away and organized as a separate synod called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod Immanuel auf alter Grundlage (ELIS aa G).

On August 27, 1956, UELCA and ELCA adopted the Theses of Agreement, which laid the foundations for the merger of the two organizations. The final merger took place at Tanunda, South Australia, in a joint synod held from 29 October to 2 November 1966. The merged organization was named the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA).

In 1973, the Lutheran Church of Australia published its first hymnal, the 'Lutheran Hymnal', revised in the mid-1980s into the current hymnal, the Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement.

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The name of the Church comes from the Greek word presbuteros, which is the New Testament word for an elder or mature Christian leader.

The roots of the Presbyterian Church go back to John Calvin, a 16th-century French reformer. Calvin trained for the Catholic priesthood, but later converted to the Reform Movement and became a theologian and minister.

Calvin devoted much attention to practical issues such as the ministry, the church, religious education, and the Christian life. He was somewhat forced to lead the Reformation in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1541, the Geneva city council promulgated Calvin's Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which set forth rules on matters relating to church order, religious training, gambling, dancing, and even profanity.
Second in importance after John Calvin in the history of Presbyterianism is John Knox. He lived in Scotland in the mid 1500's. He Led the Reformation in Scotland following Calvinist principles, protesting against the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots and Catholic practices. His ideas set the moral tone for the Church of Scotland and also shaped its democratic form of government. The Presbyterian form of church government and Reformed theology were formally adopted as the National Church of Scotland in 1690. The Church of Scotland remains Presbyterian today.

Presbyterian Christianity reached Australia with the arrival of Presbyterians from different Presbyterian denominations in Britain in the late 18th century.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia was formed when the Presbyterian Churches of various Australian states united in 1901. The churches that formed the Presbyterian Church of Australia were the Presbyterian Churches of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. . These state churches were (and still are) incorporated by separate Acts of Parliament (ie by the respective state legislatures) for ownership purposes. (These laws are known as Property Trust Laws.)

The oldest church in Australia is, in fact, the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, New South Wales. Built in 1808 by Scots Covenanters who arrived on the Coromandel ship in 1802, its first communion service was conducted by the Rev. John Dunmore Lang in 1824. Dunmore Lang, a controversial figure, played an important role in the establishment of the Church of Scotland in Australia. a Protestant denomination that followed the Presbyterian form of organization.

eastern orthodox

The Orthodox Church is one of the three main Christian groups (the others are Roman Catholics and Protestants). About 200 million people follow the Orthodox tradition. The word 'orthodox' takes its meaning from the Greek words orthos ('right') and doxa ('belief'). Therefore, the word orthodox means correct belief or correct thought.

It is made up of various autonomous churches that are either 'autocephalous' (meaning they have their own head) or 'autonomous' (meaning they govern themselves).

The Orthodox churches are united in faith and by a common approach to theology, tradition, and worship. They are based on elements of Greek, Middle Eastern, Russian and Slavic culture.

The Orthodox Churches share with the other Christian Churches the belief that God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and the belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially from other Churches in its way of life and worship, and in certain aspects of theology.


The Apostolic Church is a Christian denomination originating from the Pentecostal movement. The term "apostolic" represents the denomination's belief that it follows the teachings of the twelve apostles who followed Christ. With roots in the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905, it seeks to represent first century Christianity in its faith, practices and government.

It is a worldwide Christian denomination in the Anabaptist tradition. The Apostolic Christian Church practices credobaptism, closed communion, greeting other believers with a holy kiss, a cappella worship in some branches (in others, singing is on the piano), and women's veiling during services. The Christian Apostolic Church ordains only authorized men to administer baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the laying on of hands. Not all Christian Apostolic Churches practice the veil for women; however, it is seen in the majority.

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1. Church History in Ten Minutes
2. Denominationalism (LIVESTREAM)
(Robert Breaker)
3. The Babylon Bee Guide to Every Christian Denomination
(The Babylon Bee)
4. Part 3: Top 5 church denominations changed (6 features of Australian Church_2019Briefing) v2
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6. History of Christianity in Australia
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