By Ray F. Dively
Protestantism is the general name for all denominations outside the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Protestantism resulted from a great religious and political movement, the Reformation, which began in Europe in the 1500s. The word “protestant” comes from the Latin protestants, one who protests. It was first used in Germany in 1529. At that time a Diet, or special assembly at Speyer decreed that the Bible should be taught only along the lines authorized by the Roman Catholic church. The assembly also decreed that Mass should be restored in the German states where it had been discontinued. Several princes and fourteen imperial cities made a formal protest against the decrees. Because of their protest, they became known as Protestants. The name soon came to mean all those who separated from the Catholic Church. There are now hundreds of Protestant denominations and sects that differ slightly or greatly from each other.
Protestantism may be said to have expressed itself in two main forms, classical Protestantism and radical Protestantism. Classical Protestantism includes the original groups which first revolted against the Roman Catholic church, especially Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans. Lutheranism, founded by Martin Luther, was the earliest expression of Protestantism. Calvinism or “Reformed Christianity,” came second in historical order and forms the largest Protestant denomination in the world. It originated in the teachings of John Calvin. Protestant denominations which follow the Calvinistic teachings include the Presbyterians, and various Reformed churches in America and Europe. Anglicanism grew out of Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic church. It includes the church of England and related groups such as the Protestant Episcopal church in the United States.
Radical Protestantism designates religious groups that broke away from classical Protestantism or grew up independently. Many such groups were formed around some particular doctrine which members of the group felt to be expressive of the essential core of Christianity. Several radical Protestant denominations stress evangelicalism, or salvation through repentance and faith in Christ. Their members often exhibit an intensely personal religious commitment and may view the church as essentially voluntary association. You are a Christian before joining their church. The main groups include the Baptist, Congregationalists and Methodists.
The Reformation was a religious movement of the 1500s that resulted in the establishment of Protestantism or denominational churches. The Reformation movement began in the heart of a German Augustian monk named Martin Luther. Among his conclusions was that only the Bible, not the pope was infallible, or free from error.
Luther’s outrage at the way indulgence, or spiritual pardons, were sold in Saxony led him to speak out against the Catholic Church. On October 31, 1917, he nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the All Saints church building in Wittenberg. He had no intentions of starting a movement to destroy the Catholic Church. He meant only to reform abuses within. But, when the theses was circulated throughout Germany, they stirred up a major upheaval. Later Luther was declared a heretic and excommunicated. He defied the pope and began to organize his conservative Lutheran church in 1522. Luther was the first to translate the New Testament into the language of the people of Germany.
The reformation spread to Switzerland, France, En-gland and other countries. More and more man-made churches were begun. Since that time and even now more sects are beginning.
The Roman Catholic church and the denominational churches are religious sects and not churches, for the Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). He did not say, “churches” but church. The Lord promised to build only one church. The church was built upon Christ. Christ is the only foundation (1 Cor. 3:11), and chief corner stone (Eph. 2:20). The church was established on the day of Pentecost 33 A.D. (Acts 2). The Lord purchased the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
We must teach the Roman Catholic and Protestant people how to become Christians. We must do this in love. Let us face our responsibility and teach all people about Christ and his church (Mk. 16:15; Matt. 28:19). For without Christ and his church they are lost.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 12, p. 22
June 16, 1994