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Protestantism is one of three main groups currently within Christianity. The term "Protestant" represents a diverse range of perspectives, denominations, individuals, and related organizations. It is derived from "Protestors". While no particular belief or practice can be said to define this branch of Christianity (indeed, a commonly given definition is merely "any Christian denomination which is not Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian"), those denominations considered to be well within the realm of Protestantism all have firm roots in the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther's 95 Theses during the sixteenth century.

Protestantism is currently the dominant religion of many first-world countries such as the United States and England. Protestantism - in particular, evangelicalism - is also currently the fastest growing branch of Christianity today, with significant growth in countries such as China (Christian News Service), India and many nations in Europe as well as Africa.


[edit] Definition and origins

In the early years of the Reformation, the term Protestant applied to a group of princes and imperial cities who "protested" the decision by the 1529 Diet of Speyer to reverse course, and enforce the 1521 Edict of Worms. The 1521 edict forbade Lutheran teachings within the Holy Roman Empire. The 1526 session of the Diet had agreed to toleration of Lutheran teachings (on the basis of Cuius regio, eius religio) until a General Council could be held to settle the question. However, by 1529, the Roman Catholic authorities felt they had gathered enough power to end toleration without waiting for an official pronouncement from any council.

In a broader sense of the word, Protestant came to be used as the collective name for those individuals and churches who advocated a formal separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Earlier "reformers" such as John Wycliff and John Huss 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. The roots of this movement are typically accredited to Martin Luther and his 95 Theses. However, following Luther's posting of the 95 Theses at Wittenburg, significant contributions to the Protestant cause were made by reformers like John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, and John Knox.

In England and other regions of the United Kingdom, the word "Protestant" can 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-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 labeled as Protestant (such as the Religious Society of Friends), despite the reality that they recognize no historical connection to Luther, Calvin, or the Roman 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 Bishop of Rome, 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 "Enlightenment" of later centuries.

[edit] Basic theological tenets of the Reformation

During the Reformation, several Latin slogans emerged, illustrating the Reformers' concern that the authorities of the Church had distorted the message of justification before God, and salvation in Jesus Christ. The Reformers believed it was necessary to return to the simplicity of the Gospel in terms of the issues designated by these slogans.

[edit] Solas

Main article: Five solas

There were five Solas, four discussed here. The fifth, Soli deo gloria (to God alone the glory), was intended to underlie the other four. These slogans essentially became rallying cries to challenge the problems the Reformers believed they had identified, which are:

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.
Protestants believe that the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church obscure the teachings of the Bible by convoluting it with church history and doctrine.
Protestants believe that faith in Christ alone is enough for eternal salvation, unlike Roman Catholics who believe it requires "faith and good works." Instead, Protestants believe that practicing good works attests to one's faith in Christ and his teachings.
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.

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.

[edit] Real Presence in the Lord's Supper

Main articles: Real Presence and Lord's Supper

Although most 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 or Consubstantiation (although some Lutherans disapprove of Consubstantiation because of misunderstandings, it was Philip 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 USA, 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.

[edit] Authority

See the articles Lay, Ordained and Priesthood of all believers

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

[edit] Within the Church

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

[edit] Secular authority

Radical - Anabaptist and peace churches

[edit] 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.

[edit] Pietism and Methodist movement

Main articles: Pietism and Methodism

The German Pietist 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 Brotherhood from 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.

[edit] Evangelicalism

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 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.

[edit] Pentecostalism

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" 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 also stressed the gifts of the Spirit, but often operated within existing denominations, rather than by coming out of them.

[edit] Modernism

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.

[edit] Fundamentalism

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 important aspects of the Christian life.

[edit] Neo-orthodoxy

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.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Paleo-Orthodoxy

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.

[edit] Ecumenism

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 Orthodox 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]

[edit] Denominations

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 ecumenical movements 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. Poopy! According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) by David B. Barrett, et al, there are "over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries". Every year there is a net increase of around 270 to 300 denominations. According to David Barrett's Study(1970), there are 8,196 denominations within Protestantism, and 223 distinctions of Roman Catholicism that can be broken down to produce 2,942 separate denominations.

[edit] Families of denominations

Only general families are listed here (tens of thousands of individual denominations exist); 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:

[edit] 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 today are Protestants.

[edit] Notable religious figures

In alphabetical order by century

[edit] Fifteenth century

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

[edit] Sixteenth century

[edit] Seventeenth - nineteenth centuries

[edit] Twentieth century

[edit] Twenty first century

[edit] References

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Defense of Protestant Christianity

[edit] Criticisms of Protestant Christianity

[edit] Miscellaneous

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