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Protestantism encompasses the forms of Christian faith and practice that originated with the doctrines of the Reformation. The term is derived from the Protestation at Speyer delivered by a minority of delegates against the (1529) Second Diet of Speyer, which passed legislation opposed by the Lutheranism. Since that time, the term has been used in many different senses, but not as the official title of any church until it was assumed (1783) by the Protestant Episcopal Church (since 1967 simply the Episcopal Church in the United States of America#Official names) in the United States, the American branch of the Anglican Communion. Protestantism as a general term is now used in contradistinction to the other major Christian faiths, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy[1].

The doctrines of the Reformation can be summarized as a) the rejection of papal authority, b) rejection of some fundamental Roman Catholic doctrines, c) the priesthood of all believers, d) the primacy of the Bible as the only source of revealed truth, and e) the belief in justification by faith alone[2][3].

Definition and origins

The Reformation came about through a number of factors, both political and theological. The Holy Roman Empire was by the 1500s, made up of approximately 300 states and imperial cities, each to some degree self-governing, most under a feudal lord - a prince, duke, margrave, etc. The 1521 Edict of Worms originally forbade Lutheranism teachings, the status of which within the Catholic Church was still unclear, within the Holy Roman Empire. However, the 1526 session of the Diet (assembly), the imperial parliament, gave each ruler within the empire the power to decide the religion of his subjects according to the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio, allowing a local lord to forbid Lutheranism and enforce Catholicism, or forbid Catholicism and enforce Lutheranism.

In 1529, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Speyer revised this policy again and declared that until there was clarification of the Catholic Church's position from another Ecumenical council all further new religious developments in the empire would remain forbidden:

"Those that until now have followed the Edict of Worms should continue to do so [ i.e., where Lutheranism has been forbidden, it remains forbidden]. In the areas where this has been deviated from, there shall be no further new developments and no-one shall be refused Mass [i.e., where Lutheranism has been permitted, Catholicism must be at least permitted]. Finally, the sects which contradict the sacrament of the true body and blood, shall absolutely not be tolerated, no more than the Anabaptists [i.e., anything beyond Lutheranism or Catholicism is outlawed everywhere]."

The term Protestant was initially applied to a group of princes and imperial cities within the Holy Roman Empire who "protested" against this decision, and therefore originally referred only to those who wished to forbid Catholicism and enforce Lutheranism within their territories.

Later, Protestant came to be used as the collective name for those who opposed Roman Catholic practice in general and whose followers separated from it. Earlier "reformers" such as John Wycliff and Jan Hus did not advocate such a separation but rather sought to purge what they saw as impurities within the Catholic Church. Anachronistically, they can be seen as reformers as their work heavily influenced the thinking of those who did formally separate, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, and John Knox. Template:Protestant In England, the word "Protestant" later came to be used to refer to the established Church of England. Protestants who are not members of the Church of England are further delineated as non-conformists. In German language-speaking and Scandinavian countries, the word "Protestant" still refers specifically to national Lutheran churches[citation needed] (in contrast to Reformed churches), while the common historical designation (evangelical) for all churches originating from the Reformation is a term that, in the United States, is used to refer to specifically conservative Protestant churches. Some Western, non-Catholic, groups are labelled as Protestant (such as the Religious Society of Friends), despite the reality that they recognize no historical connection to Luther, Calvin, or the Catholic Church.

As an intellectual movement, Protestantism grew out of the Renaissance and West European universities, attracting some learned intellectuals, as well as politicians, professionals, skilled tradesmen, and artisans. The new technology of the printing press allowed Protestant ideas to spread rapidly, as well as aiding in the dissemination of translations of the Christian Bible in native tongues. Nascent Protestant social ideals of liberty of conscience and individual freedom were formed through continuous confrontation with the authority of the Papacy, and the hierarchy of the Catholic priesthood. The Protestant movement away from the constraints of tradition, toward greater emphasis on individual conscience, anticipated later developments of democratization, and the so-called "Age of Enlightenment" of later centuries.

Basic theological tenets of the Reformation

Main article: Five solas

The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the Reformers' basic theological beliefs in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. The Latin word sola means "alone," "only," or "single" in English. The five solas were what the Reformers believed to be the only things needed in their respective functions in Christian salvation. Listing them as such was also done with a view to excluding other things that hindered salvation. This formulation was intended to distinguish between what were viewed as deviations in the Christian church and the essentials of Christian life and practice.

  • Solus Christus: Christ alone.
The Protestants characterize the dogma concerning the Pope as Christ's representative head of the Church on earth, the concept of meritorious works, and the Catholic idea of a treasury of the merits of saints, as a denial that Christ is the only mediator between God and man.
  • Sola scriptura: Scripture alone.
Protestants believe that the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church obscure the teachings of the Bible by convoluting it with church history and doctrine.
  • Sola fide: Faith alone.
Protestants believe that faith in Christ alone is enough for eternal salvation (as stated in Ephesians 2:8-9), whereas Catholics believe "faith without works is dead" (as stated in Epistle of James). Protestants believe that practicing good works attests to one's faith in Christ and his teachings.
  • Sola gratia: Grace alone.
The Roman Catholic view of the means of salvation was believed by the Protestants to be a mixture of reliance upon the grace of God, and confidence in the merits of one's own works, performed in love. The Reformers posited that salvation is entirely comprehended in God's gifts, (i.e. God's act of free grace) dispensed by the Holy Spirit according to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ alone. Consequently, they argued that a sinner is not accepted by God on account of the change wrought in the believer by God's grace, and that the believer is accepted without any regard for the merit of his works — for no one deserves salvation.
  • Soli Deo gloria: Glory to God alone
All glory is due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through his will and action—not only the gift of the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus on Christian cross but also the gift of faith in that atonement, created in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. The reformers believed that human beings—even saints canonization by the Roman Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy—are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them.

On the theological front, the Protestant movement began to coalesce into several distinct branches in the mid-to-late sixteenth century. One of the central points of divergence was controversy over the Lord's Supper.

Real Presence in the Lord's Supper

Main article: Real Presence

Although early Protestants generally rejected the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and wine used in the sacrificial rite of the Mass lose their natural substance by being transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ (see Eucharist), they disagreed with one another concerning the manner in which Christ is present in Holy Communion.

  • Lutherans hold to the Real Presence as Consubstantiation (although some Lutherans disapprove of Consubstantiation because of misunderstandings, it was Philipp Melancthon's term used with Martin Luther's approval), which affirms the physical presence of Christ's true Body & Blood supernaturally "in, with, and under" the Consecrated Bread and Wine. Lutherans point to Jesus' statement, "...This IS my body...". According to the Lutheran Confessions of Faith the Sacramental Union takes place at the time of Consecration, when Christ's Word's of Institution are spoken by the celebrant . Lutheran teaching insists that the Consecrated Bread & Wine ARE the truly abiding and adorable Body & Blood of Christ in a Sacramental Union, while also affirming the Lord's Supper ranges along the continuum from Calvin to Zwingli.
  • The Reformed closest to Calvin emphasize the real presence, or sacramental presence, of Christ, saying that the sacrament is a means of saving grace through which only the elect believer actually partakes of Christ, but merely WITH the Bread & Wine rather than in the Elements. Calvinists deny the Zwingli assertion that Christ makes himself present to the believer in the elements of the sacrament, but affirm that Christ is united to the believer through faith—toward which the supper is an outward and visible aid, this is often referred to as dynamic presence.
  • A Protestant holding a popular simplification of the Zwinglian view, without concern for theological intricacies as hinted at above, may see the Lord's Supper merely as a symbol of the shared faith of the participants, a commemoration of the facts of the crucifixion, and a reminder of their standing together as the Body of Christ (a view referred to somewhat derisively as memorialism).
  • Anglicans (members of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America in the USA, the Scottish Episcopal Church in Scotland and other Protestant churches claiming the Anglican heritage) recognize Christ's presence in the Eucharist in a spectrum (according to specific denominational, diocesan, and parochial emphasis) ranging from acceptance of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, through the Lutheran position, to high Calvinistic notions. However, the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth of the 39 Articles - an Anglican Confession following the Augsburg Confession - teach that Christ's Body and Blood in the Consecrated Elements are truly present in a spiritual modality.

In Protestant theology, as the bread shares identity with Christ (which he calls "my body"), in an analogous way, the Church shares identity with Him (and also is called "the Body of Christ"). Thus, controversies over the Lord's Supper seem to be only about the nature of the bread and wine, but are ultimately about the nature of salvation and the Church; and indirectly about the nature of Christ.


Template:Section-stub See the articles Laity, Holy orders and Priesthood of all believers

Whereas Catholics look to the Church for authority, Protestants look to the Bible for authority.

Within the Church

Many Protestant churches practice similar rituals to Catholicism—chiefly baptism, Eucharist, and matrimony—frequently varying or de-formalizing the rites (although this is not the case in some Lutheran and Anglican parishes).

Secular authority

  • Lutheran - doctrine of the two kingdoms
  • Reformed
  • Anglican

Radical - Anabaptist and peace churches

Later development


Protestants can be differentiated according to how they have been influenced by important movements since the magisterial Reformation and the Puritan Reformation in England. Some of these movements have a common lineage, sometimes directly spawning later movements in the same groups.

Pietism and Methodist movement

Main article: Pietism

The German Pietism movement, together with the influence of the Puritan Reformation in England in the seventeenth century, were important influences upon John Wesley and Methodism, as well as through smaller, new groups such as the Religious Society of Friends ("Quakers") and the Moravian Brethren from Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany.

The practice of a spiritual life, typically combined with social engagement, predominates in classical Pietism, which was a protest against the doctrine-centeredness Protestant Orthodoxy of the times, in favor of depth of religious experience. Many of the more conservative Methodists went on to form the Holiness movement, which emphasized a rigorous experience of holiness in practical, daily life.


Main article: Evangelicalism

Beginning at the end of eighteenth century, several international revivals of Pietism (such as the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening) took place across denominational lines, which are referred to generally as the Evangelical movement. The chief emphases of this movement were individual conversion, personal piety and Bible study, public morality often including Temperance (virtue) and Abolitionism, de-emphasis of formalism in worship and in doctrine, a broadened role for laity (including women) in worship, evangelism and teaching, and cooperation in evangelism across denominational lines.


Main article: Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism, as a movement, began in the United States early in the twentieth century, starting especially within the Holiness movement. Seeking a return to the operation of New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues as evidence of the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" or to make the unbeliever believe. became the leading feature. Divine healing and miracles were also emphasized. Pentecostalism swept through much of the Holiness movement, and eventually spawned hundreds of new denominations in the United States. A later Charismatic movement movement also stressed the gifts of the Spirit, but often operated within existing denominations, rather than by coming out of them.


Main article: Liberal Christianity


Modernism, or Liberalism, does not constitute a rigorous and well-defined school of theology, but is rather an inclination by some writers and teachers to integrate Christian thought into the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. New understandings of history and the natural sciences of the day led directly to new approaches to theology. Though, the protestants refer more to the newer bible.


In reaction to liberal Bible critique, Fundamentalism arose in the twentieth century, primarily in the United States and Canada, among those denominations most affected by Evangelicalism. Fundamentalism placed primary emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, and typically advised separation from error and cultural conservatism as an important aspect of the Christian life.


Main article: Neo-orthodoxy

A non-fundamentalist rejection of liberal Christianity, associated primarily with Karl Barth, neo-orthodoxy sought to counter-act the tendency of liberal theology to make theological accommodations to modern scientific perspectives. Sometimes called "Crisis theology", according to the influence of philosophical existentialism on some important segments of the movement; also, somewhat confusingly, sometimes called neo-evangelicalism.


Main article: Neo-evangelicalism

Neo-evangelicalism is a movement from the middle of the twentieth century, that reacted to perceived excesses of Fundamentalism, adding to concern for biblical authority, an emphasis on liberal arts, cooperation among churches, Christian Apologetics, and non-denominational evangelization.


Main article: Paleo-orthodoxy

Paleo-orthodoxy is a movement similar in some respects to Neo-evangelicalism but emphasising the ancient Christian consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium AD, including in particular the early Creeds and councils of the church as a means of properly understanding the Scriptures. This movement is cross-denominational and the theological giant of the movement is United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden.


Main article: Christian ecumenism

The ecumenical movement has had an influence on mainline churches, beginning at least in 1910 with the Edinburgh Missionary Conference. Its origins lay in the recognition of the need for cooperation on the mission field in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Since 1948, the World Council of Churches has been influential. There are also ecumenical bodies at regional, national and local levels across the globe. One, but not the only expression of the ecumenical movement, has been the move to form united churches, such as the Church of South India, the Church of North India, The US-based United Church of Christ, The United Church of Canada and the Uniting Church in Australia. There has been a strong engagement of Eastern Orthodox Church churches in the ecumenical movement.

In 1999, the representatives of Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church signed The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, apparently resolving the conflict over the nature of Justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation, although some conservative Lutherans did not agree to this resolution. On July 18, 2006 Delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously to adopt the Joint Declaration. [1][2]


Protestants often refer to specific Protestant churches and groups as denominations to imply that they are differently named parts of the whole church. This "invisible unity" is assumed to be imperfectly displayed, visibly: some denominations are less accepting of others, and the basic orthodoxy of some is questioned by most of the others. Individual denominations also have formed over very subtle theological differences. Other denominations are simply regional or ethnic expressions of the same beliefs. The actual number of distinct denominations is hard to calculate, but has been estimated to be over thirty thousand. Various Christian ecumenism have attempted cooperation or reorganization of Protestant churches, according to various models of union, but divisions continue to outpace unions. Most denominations share common beliefs in the major aspects of the Christian faith, while differing in many secondary doctrines. There are "over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries" and every year there is a net increase of around 270 to 300 denominations.[4] According to David Barrett's study (1970), there are 8,196 denominations within Protestantism.

Families of denominations

Only general families are listed here (due to the above-stated mulititude of List of Christian denominations); some of these groups do not consider themselves as part of the Protestant movement, but are generally viewed as such by scholars and the public at large:

  • Anabaptist
  • Anglicanism
  • African Methodist Episcopal
  • Baptist
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Evangelicalism
  • Lutheranism
  • Methodism and the Holiness movement
  • Pentecostalism and Charismatic (movement)
  • Religious Society of Friends
  • Reformed churches/Congregational church /Presbyterian Church
  • Restoration Movement
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church
  • Non-denominational

Number of Protestants

There are about 590 million Protestants worldwide. These include 170 million in North America, 160 million in Africa, 120 million in Europe, 70 million in Latin America, 60 million in Asia, and 10 million in Oceania. Nearly 27% of all Christians (2.1 billion) today are Protestants.[citation needed]

Notable Protestant religious figures

(in alphabetical order by century.)

Fifteenth century

  • Jan Hus, Czech reformist/dissident; burned to death by Roman Catholic Church authorities for unrepentant and persistent heresy.

Sixteenth century

  • Jacobus Arminius, Dutch theologian, founder of school of thought known as Arminianism
  • Heinrich Bullinger, successor of Zwingli, leading reformed theologian
  • John Calvin, French theologian, Protestant Reformation and resident of Geneva, Switzerland, he founded the school of theology known as Calvinism
  • Elizabeth I, England Queen known for reforming the national religion of England
  • Abraomas Kulvietis, jurist and a professor at Königsberg Albertina University, as well as a Reformer of the Lithuanian church.
  • John Knox, Scottish Calvinist reformer,
  • Martin Luther, German religious reformer, theologian, founder of the Lutheran church in Germany, founder of Lutheranism
  • Philipp Melanchthon, early Lutheran leader
  • Menno Simons, founder of Mennonitism
  • Huldrych Zwingli, founder of Swiss reformed tradition
  • John Smyth (1570–1612), founder of the Baptist denomination
  • Martynas Mažvydas was the author and the editor of the first printed book in the Lithuanian language.First Lithuanian Protestant Archdeacon of Ragainė.

Seventeenth - nineteenth centuries

  • Jacob Albright, founder of the Evangelical Church
  • Jacob Amman, founder of the Amish church
  • Francis Asbury, early bishop of American Methodism
  • Jonathan Edwards (theology), American Puritan theologian, Great Awakening reformist preacher, Calvinist
  • George Fox, Founder of the Religious Society of Friends
  • William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania
  • William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury under Charles I of England
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher, German theologian considered founder of Liberal Christianity
  • Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher considered the "Father of Existentialism" and influenced Karl Barth and neo-orthodoxy theology.
  • Philipp Jakob Spener, "father" of the Pietist movement
  • Charles Wesley, Anglican priest, Methodist leader, poet, & hymn writer
  • John Wesley, Anglican priest, founder of the Methodist movement
  • George Whitefield, Great Awakening reformist preacher
  • William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, renowned for his treatise In Darkest England and the Way Out
  • Edward Irving, Scottish clergyman, generally (but wrongly) regarded as the founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church
  • Ellen G. White, James Springer White, Joseph Bates (Adventist), Uriah Smith, John Harvey Kellogg Pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism
  • Charles Taze Russel, Judge Rutherford founders of the Watch Tower Bible and tract society, more commonly known as Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • Mme. Henriette Feller, missionary to Quebec and founder of Feller College.
  • Nikolaus Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf, Founder and Bishop of the Moravians
  • August Gottlieb Spangenberg, Leader of American Moravian missions, Bishop, German theologian
  • Charles P. Chiniquy, Catholic Priest converted to Presbyterian Preacher, Quebec and Illinois

Twentieth century

  • Karl Barth, Swiss theologian along with Emil Brunner known for Neo-orthodoxy also known as "Dialectical theology" and "Crisis theology"
  • Cornelius Van Til, American theologian known for his development of pre-suppositional apologetics
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, involved in the resistance against Nazism and executed shortly before the end of World War II
  • Jerry Falwell, American evangelist and political activist
  • Austin Farrer, Anglican theologian, preacher, and philosopher
  • Billy Graham, American evangelist
  • John Stott, Anglican Minister, preacher and author
  • Nicky Gumbel, Anglican British evangelist
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., peace and civil rights activist
  • C. S. Lewis, Anglican novelist, literary scholar, and lay theologian
  • Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian and ethicist
  • H. Richard Niebuhr, American theologian and ethicist
  • Pat Robertson, American charismatic/evangelical leader
  • Francis A. Schaeffer, Christian apologist
  • Paul Tillich, Lutheran existentialist theologian
  • John Howard Yoder, Mennonite theologian and ethicist
  • James Dobson, American psychologist and conservative activist, founder of Focus on the Family Ministry
  • Charles Swindoll, American theologian, author, pastor, founder of Insight for Living

Twenty first century

  • Marcus Borg, American Episcopal theologian (Lutheran background)
  • John B. Cobb, theologian, involved in Process theology
  • Franklin Graham, American evangelist (son of Billy Graham)
  • Stanley Hauerwas, American Christian theologian and ethicist
  • Ian Paisley, Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster also a senior politician in Northern Ireland, UK
  • John Shelby Spong, Retired (Episcopal) Bishop of Newark, New Jersey
  • N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham and New Testament scholar
  • Thomas C. Oden, United Methodist presbyter and theologian
  • Brian McLaren, "emergent church" guru
  • William Willimon, United Methodist Bishop and theologian
  • Edir Macedo, founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil


Template:Citations missing

  1. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
  2. Encarta Dictionary under "protestant"
  3. Merriam Webster Dictionary under "protestant"
  4. World Christian Encyclopedia (2nd edition). David V. Barrett, George Kurian and Todd Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001

See also

  • International Museum of the Reformation
  • Anglicanism
  • Anti-Catholicism
  • Anti-Protestantism
  • Arminianism
  • Black Legend
  • Catholic Evangelical
  • Calvinism
  • Christianity
  • Christian eschatology
  • Christian humanism
  • Detailed Christian timeline#Renaissance and Reformation
  • List of former Protestants
  • Forgiveness
  • Protestant Reformation
  • Protestant work ethic
  • Southern United States
  • List of Protestant churches
  • Feller College
  • Persecution of Christians

External links

Defense of Protestant Christianity

Criticisms of Protestant Christianity