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The early Protestant groups emerged in sixteenth-century Europe in what came to be called the Reformation. The term "Protestant" was first used in , when five German princes seeking church reform issued a statement Latin, protestatio at the Diet of Speyer. This statement of belief declared solidarity against the powerful Roman Catholic majority. Later in the sixteenth century the term came to describe two reforming movements that separated from the Catholic Church: Lutheranism, based on the teachings of Martin Luther — , and Reformed, based on the work of Huldrych Zwingli — and John Calvin — An additional stream of protest against the Catholic Church, which featured a rejection of infant baptism, was called "Anabaptist.

Protestantism has subsequently spread throughout the world, although some contemporary groups have moved away from and beyond their Protestant roots. The beginnings of Protestantism are traditionally associated with an event that took place on 31 October ; Martin Luther , then a Catholic priest, nailed his "Ninety-five Theses" to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Criticizing elements within the Roman Catholic Church that Luther viewed as not rightly based on Scripture, these were intended as items for debate.

Luther's emerging critique of the Catholic Church and his developing theology led to his excommunication by Pope Leo X in His writings and reforming activities gave rise to the formation of "evangelical" churches that opposed Catholic theology and sought to focus authority for Christian faith and practice on the Old and New Testaments instead of the teachings of the church. The joint "protestation" of princes at the second Diet of Speyer in led to the use of "Protestant" to describe those who opposed the halting of the reform movement, something Roman Catholics at the diet proposed to do.

But the term also had a positive meaning. The Latin protestari means "to witness," "to profess," or "to declare formally," which was consistent with the desire of those at the Diet of Speyer to "testify openly before God … and likewise before all persons and creatures" according to their consciences.

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Thus, Protestants are those who witness, or testify, to their Christian faith. Although the term did not appear until , during the s new churches had begun to emerge that could be called "Protestant. The new churches and movements represented the theological beliefs of Luther and, later, those of Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin , and the Anabaptist Menno Simons — The followers of Luther established Lutheran churches, whereas those who followed Zwingli and Calvin were called "Reformed" or "Calvinist. The Anabaptist stream of Protestantism was made up of groups that emphasized baptism not for infants but for mature believers who professed their faith in Jesus Christ.

This view made Anabaptists suspicious in the eyes of Catholics as well as Lutherans and the Reformed. Typically Anabaptism was also marked by a strong sense of social radicalism, the desire to order the church according to New Testament patterns and practices, and an expectation of the imminent end of the world.


Since the sixteenth century there has been a proliferation of Protestant bodies worldwide. These groups are termed "denominations" Latin, denominare; "to name" in the United States. Today so-called mainline denominations have their own identities, while Protestants across denominational lines sometimes primarily identify themselves as "evangelicals," stressing the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or as "fundamentalists," interpreting Scripture in a literal sense.

As these groups function through church bodies in different countries, they incorporate various cultural practices that accompany their theological beliefs. There is no single head or leader of Protestantism, each church family instituting its own form of church government. Protestantism emerged out of Martin Luther's protest against the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church as he understood them in the context of sixteenth-century Germany.

Protestants today continue to be marked by a rejection of Catholic dogma, church structure, and views on authority. They also differ from Eastern Orthodoxy in theological views and in matters of church government and authority.

The critique of Catholic teachings can be summarized through Reformation slogans that became watch-words among Protestant adherents. The first of these is "Scripture alone" sola scriptura. Luther's initial criticism of Catholic teachings involved the practice of indulgences, the paying of money to reduce the number of years spent in purgatory. Luther believed that the practice was not scriptural. His developing theology was centered on the conviction that it is Scripture alone, not Catholic teaching magisterium or tradition, that provides authority for the church and the Christian.

Scripture is God's Word and is the source from which theological understandings are developed. This contrasts with the Catholic view that it is the church through its traditions that interprets Scripture and thus that tradition plus Scripture are the sources of authority. Because of the conviction that it is in Scripture that God's Word and presence are found, Protestantism focuses on the interpretation of the Bible.

The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance? by Gay, David H. J.

A second slogan is "Christ alone" solus Christus. The Scriptures bear witness to Jesus Christ as God's incarnate Word, for it is in him that the full expression of God is found. As the second person of the Trinity , Jesus became a human being, and he is the only agent through whom salvation can be accomplished. Protestantism stresses that salvation—a restored relationship with God in which human sin is overcome—is possible only through the work of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. For Protestants, Christ is the sole agent of salvation, and one can be saved apart from the church and its sacraments, which are emphasized in Catholicism.

A third slogan is "grace alone" sola gratia. Protestant theology emphasizes that salvation is God's free gift. Salvation is not earned; it is not gained by human works or by righteousness of any kind. Humans are sinful and incapable of performing any actions that can remove their sin or make them right, or "just," in the eyes of God.

Yet God showed his love by sending Jesus Christ to die for the sins of the world so that the relationship between God and humans that had been ruptured by sin could be restored. Salvation is provided solely through God's gracious love in Christ. This view contrasts with the traditional Roman Catholic belief that humans can cooperate with God's grace and thus provide an element of their salvation through the doing of works that are good in God's sight. Finally, there is "faith alone" sola fide. Humans receive the gift of salvation by faith.

Luther's critical insight was that "the just shall live by faith" Rom. This means, Luther believed, that it is by faith, or trust, in God's gift in Jesus Christ, who died for the sin of the world Rom. This contrasts with the traditional Roman Catholic position that it is faith plus human works that produce salvation. According to the Protestant view, the Christian does works that are pleasing to God but does them as an expression of faith, not as a cause for salvation.

These major characteristics of Protestantism are also the basis for other distinctive views on such matters as sin, the church, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and eschatology future life.

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For example, on the basis of Scripture, Protestants reject the Catholic classification of sins as either "mortal" or "venial" and the doctrine of purgatory. As guides for living a Christian life, Protestantism looks to the centrality of love and justice as expressed in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself embodied God's love and commanded his followers to express this love. He saw love as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets of the Old Testament Matt.

Protestants also emphasize that those Christians who are related to God by faith and who follow Jesus Christ can live their lives in freedom as the children of God. The power of sin as the controlling force in life is broken by the forgiveness that comes through the death of Christ on the cross Eph. The power of the moral law to condemn sinners also is broken by the grace of God in Christ Rom.


Christian life is life in the Spirit who dwells in believers Rom. This gives Christians the freedom to follow Christ as their guide for moral conduct and to be open to the leading of God's Spirit in determining how to live and how to act. Christian freedom involves the responsibility of seeking the will of God in all things.

The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance? by Gay, David H. J.

For Protestants the goal of Christian living is to "do everything for the glory of God" 1 Cor. Freedom in Jesus Christ does not mean, however, that the moral law of God expressed in the Ten Commandments no longer has a role to play. The Reformed tradition of Protestantism has especially stressed the place of the law in Christian life. The law is seen as an expression of the will of God, which was fulfilled in Christ. The Ten Commandments are guides to the kind of conduct God desires humans to follow, and those who love God in Christ will keep the law and obey the commandments out of thankfulness for the forgiveness and salvation given in Christ.

Christians live an ethic of gratitude for the love of God expressed in Christ. Christian freedom, with an emphasis on thankfulness expressed through obedience to God's will, leads Protestant churches to emphasize the "fruit of the Spirit"—characteristics such as love, joy, peace, and kindness Gal. The will of God as expressed through the Old Testament prophets also provides ethical direction, for the power of sin requires that the cries of the prophets for justice, righteousness, and peace be repeated in every age.

This involves the church and its members in struggles for justice and peace and in active involvement in the problems of society. These ethical concerns emerge from biblical perspectives and are motivated by the call of Jesus Christ to follow him Mark Protestants believe in the authority of the Bible. The canon of Scripture in Protestantism consists of the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament.

The Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books, may be studied but do not possess theological status as part of the canon. Theological writings, pronouncements of church councils, confessions of faith, and creeds are subordinate standards for understanding the Bible, which for Protestants is authoritative as God's Word. Protestant churches vary in the amount of symbolism they display in their sanctuaries and during worship.

As the central symbol of Christianity, the cross is nearly always displayed in church buildings. Protestants usually display an empty cross, recognizing that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, rather than a crucifix, displaying Christ on the cross, as in the Roman Catholic tradition.

Most Protestants allow the cross to be worn in various forms of jewelry. One early Protestant leader of high standing was Martin Bucer — , of Strasbourg, who had strong ecumenical impulses and tried to bring reconciliation between the emerging theological positions of Lutheran and Reformed Christians.

In England, George Fox —91 , the founder of the Religious Society of Friends Quakers , possessed tremendous organizing abilities to accompany his magnetic personality and spiritual vitality. The founder of the Methodist movement was John Wesley —91 , whose itinerant preaching in England and voluminous writings, along with his great capacity for leadership, gained many followers and established a significant body of those who rejected the tenets of Calvinism.

Throughout the years Protestants have been leading figures in many areas of endeavor. Well-known Protestants in modern times whose influence has been world-wide include Albert Schweitzer — , best known for his medical work in Africa; Dietrich Bonhoeffer —45 , a German theologian who opposed Adolf Hitler ; Toyohiko Kagawa — , a Japanese Presbyterian minister, social worker, and evangelist; Martin Luther King, Jr. A number of Protestant women have made important contributions.

Queen Elizabeth I — was instrumental in establishing a moderate Protestantism in England, and Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon —91 , was a lay leader in the eighteenth-century British evangelical revival. Anne Hutchinson — , a New England colonist, was an early advocate of religious liberty and women's rights.

Anthony — , Quaker social reformer; Elizabeth Cady Stanton — , women's rights leader; Lucretia Mott — , Quaker minister and social reformer; and Jane Addams — , settlement house founder and peace activist. Martin Luther — provided Protestantism with its earliest theological expressions, while Philipp Melanchthon — was an important participant in theological disputations.

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Huldrych Zwingli — was a Swiss who began reforms in Basel and who, along with John Calvin —64 , was one of the leading theologians of the Reformed stream of Protestantism.