Protestantism is one of the three major branches of Christianity, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It shares with all other Christians core beliefs in the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, the necessity of grace to save humans from the consequences of sin, and the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation. Composed of hundreds of denominations with an expansive variety of doctrines, rituals, and religious practices, Protestantism formed from the split with Roman Catholicism during the Reformation in the 16th century. Led by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others, the reformers broke from the Roman Catholic Church due to abusive ecclesiological structures and theological differences. Protestants share an adherence to the centrality of scripture (both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament) as well as a doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Different Protestant denominations have to varying degrees maintained or rejected Roman Catholic forms of worship. Anglican and Lutheran churches have maintained liturgies and rituals similar to those of the Roman Catholic Church, whereas other denominations, such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and United Church of Christ, have developed less liturgical forms of worship. Most Protestants practice baptism and communion as key rites of Christian initiation and ongoing devotion. Though originating in Europe, Protestant Christianity has spread across the globe through missionary activity and now has members from nearly every country, race, and ethnicity.


Quick Fact Details:

  • Formed: The date often cited as the beginning of the Protestant movement  is 1517, based on the date of Martin Luther’s first act of dissent: the public posting of his 95 Theses, criticizing Roman Catholic practices and teachings. At the time, however, Luther had no intention of starting a new Christian tradition called “Protestantism,” but hoped to reform the Catholic Church. Protestantism as a movement evolved in the decades following this act as Luther’s ideas and theological arguments took root and the Catholic Church resisted and rejected them.
  • Origin: Though Martin Luther and his immediate followers were residents of various Germanic states (Germany not becoming a nation-state until the 19th century), they were also subjects of the Holy Roman Emperor.
  • Sacred Texts: Martin Luther considered certain books contained in the Catholic version of the Bible (based on the Septuagint) to be of lesser value as he used the Hebrew Masoretic Text, which also excluded these books from the canon. Therefore the Protestant Old Testament contains 39 books whereas the Roman Catholic Old Testament contains 46 books and includes sections of common books not included by Protestants. The New Testament is the same in both traditions.,, The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions (2006), The Encyclopedia of Religion (2005), the Religious Movements Page at the University of Virginia, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (2002), and the Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999).

Protestantism is one of the major divisions of the Christian faith. Traditionally, Protestantism includes all churches outside of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church traditions. Protestant churches affirm the principles of the Protestant Reformation set into motion by Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517. Protestants were first called by that name because they “protested” against the papacy and Roman rule within the Church.

Protestantism itself contains many different denominations. They include the Lutheran Church (named after Martin Luther), the Presbyterian Church (associated with John Knox), and the Baptists (also called the Free Church movement and associated with churches that baptize only believers).

The Protestant tradition has historically been represented by the five solas: faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, Scripture alone, and God’s glory alone. The five solas emphasize the following three doctrinal points:

First, Protestants hold to the Holy Bible as the sole authority regarding matters of faith and practice. The Orthodox Church, by contrast, recognizes sacred tradition as equally authoritative. The Roman Catholic Church includes sacred tradition and the authority of the Pope. The Reformers expressed this distinction with the term sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”). Protestants emphasize the inspired Word of God as our perfect authority (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21).

Second, Protestants hold to faith alone for salvation, apart from works. The Roman Catholic Church requires the keeping of seven sacraments and often speaks of works as part of a person’s salvation. However, Ephesians 2:8–9 clearly supports the Protestant doctrine that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Third, Protestants believe in living for God’s glory alone. While Roman Catholic teaching agrees with this belief, it is often expressed in conjunction with faithful obedience to the Church and its leaders. In contrast, Protestants teach the priesthood of every believer, as stated in 1 Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Protestants reject the Catholic priesthood system and instead pledge allegiance to God and His glory, affirming the giftedness of every follower of Jesus Christ (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12:1–8).

Protestantism continues to reach approximately 800 million people today seeking to worship God under the authority of Scripture, believing in salvation by faith alone, and honoring the priesthood of every born-again person.

Recommended Resources: The Gospel According to Rome: Comparing Catholic Tradition and The Word of God by James McCarthy and Logos Bible Software.





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