A personal word:
a warm welcome to this web site.
This web site provides an introduction to Protestantism, exploring its multi-faceted nature and development. There are approximately 600 million Protestants worldwide, making up about 30% of all Christians. Protestantism continues to shape and influence Christianity in the modern world.
A Map of the Protestant Population in Europe is available.
A survey for Protestant Christians is also available.
The challenge for all Protestants is to reflect on their shared history within the church founded by Christ himself, who remains its head (Ephesians 4:15-16) and find new ways of relating to the rest of Christendom. Particularly in the last 30 years or so, the growth of the ecumenical movement has led to new ways by which Christians of all denominations can engage in dialogue and work together in proclaiming the gospel.
What is 'Protestantism' ?
The word 'Protestant' derives from the protests made by German princes at the Second Diet of Speyer in 1529. The Diet voted to end the toleration of those who followed the teachings of Martin Luther within Germany, which had previously been granted at the first Diet in 1526.
The core of Protestant teaching lies within the Five Soli (Latin: 'Alone'), which lie at the heart of Protestant theology. Essentially, Protestantism is characterised by emphasis on the Bible as the sole source of infallible truth and the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone. In addition, Protestants have traditionally encouraged private interpretation of the Bible by individuals rather than relying on the interpretation of the church (as is the case, for example in Roman Catholicism with its Magisterium, or teaching authority). As a result of differing interpretations, various groups have emerged such as Baptists, Lutherans and Methodists, each holding their own distinctive doctrines. These are discussed in the denominations section.
The Protestant Historian Philip Schaff in the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge offered this summary of Protestant beliefs:
The Protestant goes directly to the Word of God for instruction, and to the throne of grace in his devotions; whilst the pious Roman Catholic consults the teaching of his church...From this general principle of Evangelical freedom, and direct individual relationship of the believer to Christ, proceed the three fundamental doctrines of Protestantism - the absolute supremacy of (1) the Word, and of (2) the grace of Christ, and (3) the general priesthood of believers...
NOTE: The term Evangelical (from the Greek evangelion : 'Good news') is often used as a synonym for 'Protestant'. More accurately, it might be described as a movement within Protestantism emphasising evangelistic outreach and commitment to social change. However it can also be used for anyone with an desire to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, irrespective of denomination.
1. Figures are taken from the Wikipedia website as of 2013: List of Christian denominations by number of members.
2. Calvary Chapel and Vineyard are non-denominational churches, but are considered to be Protestant in their theology.
3. The Evangelical Church in Germany and the Church of Sweden are both Lutheran denominations, the Assemblies of God is Pentecostal and the Zion Christian Church is an independent African church.
NOTE: Figures are taken from the Association of Religion Data Archives: ARDA.
NOTE: Figures are taken from the US Religious Landscape Survey 2012: Pew Forum.
Sample size: 17,010. Totals exceed 100% due to rounding.
The Reformation Wall, Geneva.
From left to right: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox.
Protestantism and the Church
Protestantism as we now know it dates from the 16th century, but the church from which it sprang is of course much older. The Reformers saw themselves as returning to a bibliocentric form of Christianity as distinct from what they perceived as corruption and the Reformation was seen as necessary to restore the church to correct doctrine and practice.
The Reformation also led to an emphasis on the invisible church, in which all true believers are found across all denominations. This concept, which could possibly be traced back to the 4th century writings of Augustine of Hippo, was developed by John Calvin among others. It stood in contrast to the Roman Catholic church, which insisted on a visible unity, under the headship of the Pope.
For we have said that Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term 'church' it means that which is actually in God's presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name 'church' designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord's Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love; in the Word of the Lord we have agreement, and for the preaching of the Word the ministry instituted by Christ is preserved. In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance.
There are very many ambitious, greedy, envious persons, evil speakers, and some of quite unclean life...Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called 'church' in respect to men.
Reformation Europe, Late 16th Century.
Prayers for Unity
When discussing the subject of unity, the words of Christ come to mind:
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one."
John 17:21-12 (KJV)
A personal prayer:
Lord, thank you for making us part of the Body of Christ. We praise you for your mercy, your goodness and your unfailing love. Throughout the ages, countless peoples have given testimony of your grace and mercy. We pray that this same grace and mercy may be given to us today. Though your church has faltered, it can never fail because you uphold it. May all of us, no matter what our individual denominational reasonings lead us to believe, serve you with openness of heart, gentleness of spirit and keenness of mind. You prayer was that we may be one: may we strive for that oneness today, recognising our common bond as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
A Comparison table between Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is also available together with a chart:
The Branches of Christianity
May God bless you as you read these pages.