What’s a Protestant? Their Beliefs & Variations from Catholics


“Doctrine on Hearth:” An Introduction to Protestantism:

Probably the most well-known works on the origins of Protestantism started with this literary portraiture: “The person who thus known as upon a saint was later to repudiate the cult of the saints. He who vowed to change into a monk was later to surrender monasticism. A loyal son of the Catholic Church, he was later to shatter the construction of medieval Catholicism. A loyal servant of the pope, he was later to determine the popes with Antichrist. For this younger man was Martin Luther.”1

The late Dr. Roland Bainton’s magnus opus on the Reformation, Right here I Stand: A Lifetime of Martin Luther rightly facilities the Protestant religion on the extraordinary individual of Martin Luther. It’s laborious to overestimate the significance of Martin Luther (1483-1546) to the Reformation and, thus, to Protestantism. There have been different vital figures in fact. There was Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the Archbishop of Canterbury who compiled the Ebook of Widespread Prayer, a notable achievement in historical past which integrated loads of Scripture into the week-to-week companies of the English Reformed Church There was, in fact, John Calvin (1509-1564) of Geneva and John Knox (1513-1572) of Scotland. There have been lesser-known however fairly notable figures of Protestantism resembling Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) the priest-turned-pastor of Grossmünster in Zürich. Probably the most influential pastors and theologians to form a lot of Protestantism additionally suffers from title recognition: Martin Bucer (1491-1551) of Strasbourg.

Exceptional historic occasions actions are often related to the outstanding leaders who prompted them. Protestantism is not any completely different. Whether or not it’s the preeminent names of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Thomas Cranmer, or whether or not different names resembling George Whitfield, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Richard Baxter, Thomas Watson, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, the Rev. Billy Graham, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Dr. D. James Kennedy, or a bunch of others, there isn’t any denying that sure figures stand out within the historical past of Protestantism and its persevering with improvement. But, past the leaders, behind the biographies, there was all the time the concept. “Theology on Hearth” was the title of a J.I. Packer article on the Puritans. Such a title is suitable to introduce the query, “What’s Protestantism and Why is it Necessary?” The reply, in a phrase, is embedded inside Dr. Packer’s considerate phrase. Protestantism is an thought, possibly even, “an thought on fireplace.” This “thought on fireplace,” leads us to think about not merely “a Man” however the “Motion.”


Protestantism is a Motion: The Historical past of Protestantism

Protestantism could also be considered when it comes to historical past, however additionally it is a matter of the person believer and her response to God. Protestantism is a motion inside the broader Church of our Lord Jesus Christ that’s fueled by a preeminent concern for a private relationship with God by way of Jesus Christ in line with Scripture. The theological foundation for the connection is “justification by religion, by way of the grace of God, in Jesus Christ, in line with the Scriptures, and all to the glory of God.” The 5 “Solae” articulate the highly effective doctrines that gas the Protestant religion: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. Rigorously adopted, the 5 Solae stored the motion on the “proper street, trustworthy to the Phrase and trustworthy to the Reformation of the Church.”2

Protestantism is each an ecclesial motion of the Church, and a devotional urge inside the believer. Traditionally, that which can be known as “the Protestant religion” emerged from perceived and plain abuses inside the Roman Catholic Church throughout the late fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries within the British Isles and Northern Europe. The “protests” towards each instructing and praxis was not restricted to Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists. Even the Roman Catholic Church responded to the “Protestants” with a “Counter-Reformation” to convey transformation.

The time period, Protestantism, stays a historic actuality because the motion has retained its fundamental tenets however taken new types within the International South and the International East. Protestantism is a private response to both self, or a selected Christian neighborhood, with its fundamental concern for private salvation by way of Christ in line with the Scriptures The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, all the time reforming) is an acceptable description of the heartbeat of the Protestant religion for a given neighborhood (i.e., a denomination, a neighborhood church, or perhaps a nationwide physique) in addition to for the person.

Virtually one billion individuals, at this writing of this text, belong to that very important a part of the Christian religion known as Protestantism. The phrase is, in fact, from the phrase “protest.” And whereas “protest” harkens again to Luther—to John Wycliffe of Oxford and John Hus of Bohemia earlier than Luther (and even to different comparable leaders and teams earlier than these “morning lights of the Reformation”)—the which means of Protestant was, is, and can, little question, proceed to be, an impulse within the Church for reform. Protestantism that started in England within the 15th century and in Western Europe within the 16th century was not merely about reform from plain abuses of religion and observe inside the remnant of the medieval Church, that’s, the Roman Catholic Church.


Protestantism Is a Message: The Reformation and Protestantism

As we now have mentioned, one can’t separate Protestantism from Martin Luther. And it follows logically that one can’t separate Martin Luther from the Reformation. The Reformation started with “the morning star of the Reformation,” John Wycliffe (1320-1384) of Oxford. Wycliffe and his band of preachers, known as Lollards, had been involved that the individuals of England weren’t listening to the phrase of God within the frequent tongue. Certainly, stained-glass home windows and fervour performs had been the first means that individuals acquired the gospel of Jesus Christ within the Center Ages in England. Whereas this was undoubtedly enough in some circumstances to transform the soul, it was altogether inadequate to develop the soul. On this sense, then, the Nice Fee was not being fulfilled within the British Isles.

So, John Wycliffe set about to vary that. He not solely preached the Bible within the English language of the individuals, however he additionally despatched out his Lollards throughout the land, changing the touring ardour performs, with evangelistic messages. A hearth started to blaze throughout the realm: the flame of revival.3 This highly effective motion was picked up by leaders on the continent. A kind of leaders was a Roman Catholic priest by the title of John Hus. Hus ministered in Bohemia, the trendy Czech Republic. He preached within the tongue of the individuals within the superior doctrines that he discovered within the Bible resembling salvation by grace by way of religion in Jesus Christ. Whereas Wycliffe and Hus had been the morning stars of the Reformation, Martin Luther was the exploding nova of the Reformation. Conscious of his work constructing on the labors of these earlier than him, Luther wrote,

“St. John Huss prophesied of me when he wrote from his jail in Bohemia, ‘They may roast a goose now (for ‘Huss’ means ‘a goose’), however after 100 years they’ll hear a swan sing, and him they’ll endure.’And that’s the means it will likely be, if God wills.” [LW 34:103]

Dr. Martin Luther was a professor of Bible and theology at Wittenberg when he started to grasp the doctrines of grace. Particularly, he discovered within the guide of Galatians that we’re not justified by works of the flesh however solely by religion. There have been different needed reforms that wanted to be made within the Roman church of the day. Luther got down to just do that together with his 95-Theses nailed to the church door at Wittenberg, a kind of 16th-century Fb.

Aided by the printing press of Gutenberg, Martin Luther’s doctrine start to unfold all through the continent. Others assimilated the teachings of Luther into their very own nationwide church buildings. Thus, we see the ministry of John Calvin in Geneva. Calvin, maybe greater than some other reformer of the period, systematized and appropriated the doctrines of grace into the Genevan church and even the Genevan political, financial, and governmental processes. On this sentence, we see that the Reformation was the explosion of Protestant thought. It’s at this level that we should always contemplate what the Protestant thought is fabricated from and the way it differs from the Roman Catholic doctrines of the day.


What’s the Greatest Distinction between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism?

Protestant thought facilities upon the divine revelation of Almighty God in his phrase, the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, Protestantism insists that each believer needs to be grounded in that Phrase and have entry to that Phrase. Whereas Roman Catholic clergy carried out the service of the Mass with an emphasis upon “Ex opere operato,” from the work labored. Protestant ministers performed worship companies that centered within the Phrase preached and Sacraments administered in line with the religion of the believer. In its most extreme interpretation, not altogether unjustified with the state of the medieval Church, this doctrine meant that the efficacy, or energy, of the Sacraments had been tied to the motion of the priest. Such a view was repugnant to the renewed spirit of Martin Luther, Calvin, and others. Not solely did this imply that the Roman Catholic priest reserved an influence that the Reformers ascribed solely to Christ, however that the individuals had been dependent upon the Roman priesthood for the allotting of God’s grace.

From this one “protest,” the Reformed church buildings exalted the Phrase above the one who disbursed it, whether or not by preaching or by way of the Phrase made seen, the Sacraments. A radical systematic theology would comply with from this singular thought: that the believer, by advantage of the life, demise, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has important entry to God with out the necessity of a priest.

There may be continuity and discontinuity from the medieval Roman Church to the trendy Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t stay because it was. As we speak’s Protestant believer have to be cautious to acknowledge the large strides made inside the Roman Catholic Church and the frequent heritage that every one Western Christians have. That being mentioned, variations stay on how God’s grace is appropriated by a believer. Grace comes as a present in each main Christian teams however is accessed by way of the “Magisterium” of the Roman Church, the hierarchy of the clergy, or for Protestants by way of a private relationship with God by way of Christ. This distinction has proved to be each a power and a supply of continuous dispute inside the bigger Protestant motion.


Why Are There So Many Protestant Denominations?

There are two main causes for Protestant denominations. The primary cause is that if Protestantism is a motion and never a “substitute church” for the present church of the day—and we posit that that is exactly what Protestantism is, a motion—then the appliance and appropriation of this motion should by its personal emphases be nationalized. That is to say that Protestantism, with its stress on the preeminence of the Phrase of God for all that’s very important in religion and life, in addition to the Nice Fee being realized by the companies of the Church performed within the frequent language of the individuals, was certain to flourish in nationwide communities. Thus, we see the Dutch Reformed Church tracing its roots to the Protestant religion coming to the Netherlands. Anglicanism and Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism, together with Baptists, thrived as offshoots of the Reformation within the British Isles. Even in the US, at the moment, the main Protestant dominations and traditions are remnants of British, Dutch, or German settlers who transported their religion throughout the Atlantic Ocean and settled in on the coasts, plains, and mountains of the New World.

The opposite cause for the proliferation of sub-groups inside the bigger Protestant motion has to do with the Protestant doctrinal, if not cultural, intuition. The doctrine that emphasised a private relationship with God by way of Christ, with out the need of a church hierarchy, was typically used to advertise a continued reformation inside a Reformation. A central idea of the Reformation had been (and stays) ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, all the time reforming). Nonetheless, some, then and now, use this individualized tenet of Protestantism to divide from current communities. Usually, the division is consenting and even wholesome, giving much more expressions of religion to a neighborhood. Different instances, the splintering reveals a doable germ of revolt that was embedded inside the little children of Luther.


Evangelicals and Protestantism

It’s attention-grabbing that as Dr. Martin Luther acquired his doctorate at Wittenberg College, he vowed, with the opposite graduates, “I swear to defend evangelical reality vigorously.” We, thus, see that “evangelical” was a phrase already in use by Luther and others nicely earlier than October 31, 1517 (the date when Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg). Evangelical is an English phrase derived from the Greek, Evangel. This good biblical phrase is one employed to explain the proclamation of the Good Information of Jesus Christ: that what God has required, God has equipped, in Christ Jesus. That is what Luther vowed to defend, even earlier than his personal private reformation. 

Evangelical is, first and all the time, one who declares the Gospel, the Evangel, the Good Information of Jesus Christ. Protestantism is basically evangelical in its theology and observe. Protestant thought is worried with the fulfilling of the Nice Fee on the planet in line with the Scriptures. So, the evangel of God is the residing legacy of Protestantism. The phrase grew to become extra notably related to enthusiastic actions like Methodism throughout the eighteenth-century Wesleyan evangelical revivals and the First Nice Awakening in America with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The time period was more and more used to explain these Protestants most energetic in missions, preaching for private renewal, and for responding to the “cultural mandate” (bringing each space of life underneath the Lordship of Jesus Christ).4


Protestantism is a Mosaic

I recall Dr. D. James Kennedy (1930-2007) saying that the Lord gave us denominations in order that numerous individuals can entry the Gospel at varied phases in life. For instance, one individual is wounded and is drawn to the therapeutic liturgy of the Anglican church. One other individual has been burned by an autocratic and authoritarian non secular background and is drawn to the consultant neighborhood lifetime of a Presbyterian church. But, one other, destitute and misplaced in lots of suburban church buildings (nevertheless trustworthy they might be in making an attempt to welcome him) finds the message of Christ in a Pentecostal road mission. I imagine that each biblical reality and our personal expertise validate Dr. Kennedy’s assertion.

I consider the Church, the Bride of Christ, like an exquisite mosaic. There are millions of embedded items of divinely wrought glass, each coloration within the broad spectrum, embedded inside the clay of the earth the place we now reside. The cuts are as diverse as the colours. To make certain: there’s one Mild. However because the Mild is dispersed by way of the prism of our cultures, our communities, and our very lives, a vibrant profusion of religion erupts in celestial celebration. This is the Church of our Lord throughout the globe and all through the ages.

There may be unity within the variety, commonality within the variations, and a singular religion inside the numerous saints. This construction and that form, this shade and that tint, are collectively—rigorously, artfully, providentially—positioned into the mosaic. While you stand again you achieve perspective. You step away additional. The odd assortment of coloured glass and stone has intention and objective. For, now, you’ll be able to see. The mosaic is an image of Jesus. Some may name me Pollyanna for viewing the Physique of Christ this fashion. However to look at the concept of Protestantism (which can exist in each department of Christianity), noting its adaptability, constant progress, and common attraction is to acknowledge the vitality of Jesus Christ alive on the planet at the moment.


Michael Milton author photo

Michael A. Milton, PhD (College of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and at the moment serves because the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He’s the President of Religion for Dwelling and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the writer of greater than thirty books and a musician with 5 albums launched. Mike and his spouse, Mae, reside in North Carolina.


Reference Notes

1. Right here I Stand: A Lifetime of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton. 

2. “The ‘Solas’ of the Reformation,” The Lutheran Ministerium and Synod-USA (weblog).

3. The English Reformation by Arthur Geoffrey Dickens.

4. The “Cultural Mandate” is most related to the theological commitments of Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and D. James Kennedy. This view has remained a powerful a part of the Reformed Custom inside Protestantism. The Cultural Mandate relies upon Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them. And God mentioned to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.’” An instance of viewing world historical past by way of the lens of the Cultural Mandate is present in D. James Kennedy, What If Jesus Had By no means Been Born? (Thomas Nelson, 2008).


1. World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Church buildings and Religions within the Fashionable World AD 1900-2000 by David B. Barrett.

2. The Historical past of Christian Doctrines by Louis Berkhof.

3. Romans: Justification of Religion (Romans 1-4) by J.M. Boice.

4. Sermons on Galatians by John Calvin.

5. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Current Day. Vol. 2 by Justo L. Gonzales.

6. The Subsequent Christendom: The Coming of International Christianity by Philip Jenkins.

7. Galatians by Martin Luther, edited by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer.

8. Protestantism: A Very Brief Introduction by Mark A. Noll. 

This article is a part of our Denomination Sequence itemizing historic information and theological details about completely different factions inside and from the Christian faith. We offer these articles that can assist you perceive the distinctions between denominations together with origin, management, doctrine, and beliefs. Discover the varied traits of various denominations from our record under!

Catholic Church: Historical past, Custom & Beliefs

Baptist Church: Historical past & Beliefs

Presbyterians: Historical past & Beliefs

Mennonites & Their Beliefs

United Methodist Church: Historical past & Beliefs

Seventh-Day Adventists & Their Beliefs

Lutheran Historical past & Beliefs

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