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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

18 April 2006

Protestant Christianity

Q: What exactly is Protestantism? What are the speculations and traditions of this religion?

A: Protestantism isn’t a religion but a generic title for much of Christendom that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during or after the time of the Reformation. It originally encompassed the Lutherans but later came to mean especially followers of Zwingli, Calvin and Knox, Arminius and Wesley, and many of the Anabaptist and Radical reformers. It remains difficult to define, since many conflicting theologies get lumped together under the Protestant banner.

Speyer Protest StatueInitially, only the Evangelicals (the original Lutherans) were the “Protestants.” This came because of an official protest they lodged with the emperor concerning forced imposition of Catholicism following the Second Diet of Speyer in 1529.

Later, after the Lutheran “Protestants” gained certain concessions, others also claimed the name so they could enjoy certain legal benefits it offered — particularly, those who “protested” Speyer were allowed free worship in areas in which the rulers allowed the followers of Luther to preach and teach. Because so many who held opposing theologies to Luther and his followers assumed the Protestant mantle, much of Lutheranism now rejects the title. We desire not to be lumped together with others who believe and teach differently.

Some Protestants are “high church,” with elaborate ceremonies similar to those of Catholicism. Others have “low church” services with little or no liturgy. Most have pastors who don’t wear special clergy clothing, but some Protestant bodies have vested clergy. Many ordain and encourage woman pastors; many don’t. Some believe in strict double-predestination, where God has decided from all eternity who goes to heaven or hell while others believe that it’s totally man’s free will making the choice; still others fall somewhere in-between.

In short, it’s impossible to fully define Protestantism without writing a fair sized book. If you want a very brief summary, I’d say that Protestant churches are Western Christian bodies with roots in Roman Catholicism who reject the rule of Rome and the primacy of the pope.

Please see Lutheran or Protestant? — a previous article along these lines. Read also the linked article by Pastor Kinnaman, Lutherans Are not Protestants.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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