Western Christianity that is not subject to papal authority. The term is from the protestatio at the Diet of Speyer of 1529 by Lutheran princes against the policies of Charles V that would have practically eliminated the Lutheran territorial churches. The term has positive connotations in the sense of witness and testimony to the truth. It is not just negative in the sense of protest against something. Historically, there have been a variety of Protestant expressions of faith and many Protestant churches or denominations. Protestant thought can be traced to John Huss (c. 1369-1415) of Bohemia. Huss questioned the authority of the Pope, as well as neglect of the Bible and the doctrine of grace. Huss was influenced by John Wycliffe (c. 1329-1384) of England, who upheld the superior authority of the Bible over the papacy.
The Protestant schism came in the sixteenth century. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a professor in the faculty of theology at the University of Wittenberg and vicar of the Augustinian order. On Oct. 31, 1517, Luther challenged the sale and abuse of indulgences by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. Luther denied the primacy of the Pope and the infallibility of general councils in 1519 at the Leipzig Disputation. In 1520 Luther urged the civil rulers to reform the church. The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther and condemned his teachings in 1521. After Luther’s condemnation by the Diet of Worms (1521), the Elector of Saxony protected Luther at Wartburg castle. Luther translated the NT into German while he was at Wartburg. The Diet of Speyer of 1526 granted princes the right to organize national churches. Lutheranism spread through many parts of Germany and Scandinavia. In the sixteenth century, “Protestant” meant Lutheran.
Luther urged that Christians are justified only through God’s grace, which is received through faith. Christians are not justified or made righteous through their works or merits that result from their works. The Christian can therefore be described as “at once justified and a sinner” (simul justus et peccator). The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us by God and received by faith. We are thus justified by a righteousness that is extrinsic and alien to us personally. Although we are pronounced righteous by God in Christ, we continue to be sinners. Luther’s theology of the cross (Theologia Crucis) held that the saving and merciful God is known only as hidden in Christ crucified (see 1 Cor 1:17-31). Luther upheld the priesthood of all believers. He rejected purgatory, the veneration of saints, relics, monasticism, celibacy of the clergy, and Masses for the dead. Lutheranism has included several confessional statements that provide written summaries of doctrine. Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms appeared in 1529, and he prepared the Schmalkaldic Articles in 1536. Luther supported the Augsburg Confession (1530), which was drafted by Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560). Melanchthon also prepared the Apology for the Augsburg Confession (1531). Lutheranism may be summarized in terms of belief in justification by faith alone (sola fides), justification by God’s grace alone (sola gratia), and the Bible as the only authoritative rule of faith (sola scriptura). Lutheran Churches in North America include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Lutheran Church-Wisconsin Synod.
The Reformed Protestant tradition is associated with John Calvin (1509-1564). He was the leading figure in the sixteenth-century movement of reform in Switzerland. Calvin’s reform is especially associated with the city of Geneva, Switzerland. In July 1536, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) convinced Calvin to stay in Geneva to organize the reform. Calvin and Farel were expelled from Geneva in 1538, but the city council invited Calvin to return in 1541. Calvin worked to establish a theocracy in Geneva, and Calvinism came to dominate the Protestant movement of reform. Another leader of reform in Switzerland was Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). He initiated the Swiss Reformation in Zurich in 1519. Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531 during the civil war between Zurich and Roman Catholic cantons. Zwingli was succeeded in Zurich by Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). In May 1549, differences between the reformed churches in Zurich and Geneva were resolved by the Zurich Consensus (Consensus Tigurinus), which was agreed to by Calvin, Farel, and Bullinger. The Reformed Church movement in Switzerland was consolidated by their agreement.
Calvin published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. The last edition of the Institutes was published in 1559. His teaching emphasized the sovereignty of God, scripture as the supreme rule of faith and life, the total depravity of humanity after the Fall, the predestination of the elect to salvation and the reprobate to damnation, and the importance of the church as an ordered and disciplined community. The ministers or officers of the Reformed Church included pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. The Dutch Reformed theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) sought to moderate Calvinist teaching concerning predestination and the importance of free human will relative to divine sovereignty. The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) of the Dutch Reformed Church responded to Arminianism by upholding strict Calvinist principles concerning total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistibility of grace, and the perseverance of the saints. The Reformed Church in Switzerland influenced the French Huguenots, the Scottish Church reforms of John Knox (c. 1513-1572), the Puritans in England, and the reformed churches in the Netherlands. Calvin’s influence is seen in the American Reformed, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches.
The Anabaptists were radical Protestants who held that only believing adults should be baptized. They called for the rebaptism of those who were baptized as infants. Anabaptists also stressed the importance of inner religious experience and held that believers should not be involved with or subject to the civil authority. Military service was rejected. Anabaptist groups tended to support nonresistance and pacifism. There were Anabaptist groups in Germany, Switzerland, Moravia, and the Low Countries. Noted Anabaptist leaders included the Zwickau Prophets Nicholas Storch (d. c. 1530) and Thomas Müntzer (c. 1489-1525), Jacob Hutter (d. 1536), Melchior Hoffmann (c. 1500-c. 1543), and Menno Simons (c. 1496-1561). Anabaptists were persecuted by both Roman Catholics and other Protestants. The Anabaptist tradition continues in the Mennonites, the Hutterites, the Amish, the Quakers, and some Baptists.
Anglicans are categorized as Protestants by many Roman Catholics, Protestants, and some Anglicans. Article XIX of the Articles of Religion clearly states that “the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith” (BCP, p. 871). However, some Anglicans are ambivalent about being categorized as Protestants because of the importance of the catholic tradition in Anglicanism. In this regard, catholicity is understood in terms of what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all in the church rather than submission to papal authority and Roman Catholic doctrine. The Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches are understood by some Anglicans to be branches of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. When a confirmed member of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches is received into the Episcopal Church, the bishop says, “we recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion” (BCP, p. 418). Anglicanism reflects both catholic and Protestant influences in liturgy, polity, and doctrine.
John Wesley (1703-1791) was the founder of Methodism within the Church of England during the eighteenth century. Methodism was a movement of pietistic revivalism. Wesley was a student at Oxford when he organized a “Holy Club” that included his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788), George Whitefield (1714-1770), and several other students. They were “methodical” in their devotion to disciplines such as Bible study and visiting the needy. They came to be known as Methodists. John Wesley had a conversion experience at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, in 1738. He recalled that his heart was “strangely warmed.” Charles also had an experience of inner conversion in 1738. The Methodist revival emphasized personalized faith and conversion of the heart. Methodist theology has been characterized as Arminian. John and Charles both engaged in an itinerant ministry of preaching. Charles wrote over 5,000 hymn texts, including “Come, thou long expected Jesus” (Hymn 66), “O for a thousand tongues to sing my dear Redeemer’s Praise” (Hymn 493), and “Love divine, all loves excelling” (Hymn 657). Hymn singing has an important role in Methodist worship. John organized and extended the Methodist Movement. Lay preachers were used to proclaim the gospel. Conferences of lay preachers were held in England from 1744. In 1784 John ordained Thomas Coke (1747-1814) as Superintendent for the Methodists in America. John also instructed Coke to ordain Francis Asbury (1745-1816) as a Superintendent. Coke and Asbury became joint superintendents of Methodist work in America. The title superintendent was changed to bishop in 1787. Preachers were elected and ordained at the Christmas Conference in 1784 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Methodist Episcopal Church in America was begun. Charles opposed the ordinations by John, who was a priest of the Church of England. Charles also opposed separation from the Church of England. Although John performed more than twenty ordinations of English Methodists before he died, the schism of the Methodists from the Church of England followed his death. John and Charles Wesley are commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on Mar. 3. The United Methodist Church is one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States and the largest Methodist body in the world. There are also smaller Methodist churches in the United States, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The twentieth-century Pentecostal movement in the United States is associated with the ministry of Charles Parham (1873-1937) in the early 1900s. Parham connected baptism in the Spirit with glossolalia. In 1901 Parham led the Apostolic Faith movement in Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. Parham’s ministry was continued in 1906 in Zion City, Illinois. A significant expansion of the Pentecostal movement came with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, 1906-1909, under the African American pastor William J. Seymour. Pentecostalism upholds a continuing Pentecost in which baptism in the Spirit is accompanied by speaking in tongues and divine healing. Pentecostals are usually fundamentalists. Pentecostals have not generally been engaged in the ecumenical movement. The Charismatic Movement is considered by some to be a continuation or second wave of Pentecostalism. Participants in the Charismatic Movement believe in the availability of personal pentecostal experience in the Spirit, which may often be accompanied by speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts (charisms or charismata; see 1 Cor 12:8-10). Some Episcopal congregations reflect the influence of the Charismatic Movement.
Although there are many Protestant traditions and denominations, there are also many shared concerns and beliefs within Protestantism. Protestant churches generally emphasize the proclamation of the Word of God. Preaching and study of the Bible have an important role in Protestantism. The individual life of faith by grace is central, including personal morality with the Bible as the ultimate standard of belief and conduct. Many Protestant denominations showed interest in the ecumenical movement during the twentieth century, and some churches merged. There has been Protestant support for conciliar movements such as the World Council of Churches. Protestants were also active in social issues during the nineteenth and twentieth century, such as emancipation, suffrage, temperance, desegregation, and opposition to warfare and domestic violence.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.