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What is a Protestant?

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A Protestant is a Christian who belongs to one of the many branches of Christianity that have developed out of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther in 1517. Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses “protested” against unbiblical teachings and traditions in the Roman Catholic Church, and many Europeans joined his protest. New churches were founded outside of the Catholic Church’s control. The major movements within the Protestant Reformation include the Lutheran Church and the Presbyterian Church (largely associated with John Knox). The Anabaptist or Free Church movement is considered by some to be part of Protestantism; others classify the Anabaptists as an independent group altogether.

Among today’s Protestant groups, much variety has developed in the form of denominations in both the U. S. and abroad. Some of the larger Protestant groups in the U. S. include the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Churches (multiple denominations), and many others.

The common beliefs among the early Protestant churches included the five solas. The five solas refer to faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, Scripture alone, and God’s glory alone. These five solas emphasize the following points:

First, Protestants hold to the Holy Bible as the sole authority regarding matters of faith and practice. The Roman Catholic Church holds to the authority of the pope as well as sacred tradition. The Orthodox Church accepts sacred tradition while rejecting the authority of the pope. The view that the Bible is the only authority is expressed in the term Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) that emphasizes God’s inspired words in the Bible as our perfect authority (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21).

Second, Protestants hold to faith alone apart from works. The Roman Catholic Church teaches seven sacraments and often speaks of works as part of a person’s salvation. However, Ephesians 2:8–9 clearly says 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 hold to living for God’s glory alone. While Roman Catholicism agrees with this belief, it is often expressed in conjunction with faithful obedience to the Church and its leaders. In contrast, Protestants believe in 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 give allegiance to God alone, affirming the giftedness of every follower of Jesus Christ (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12:1–8).

While there is much variety among today’s Protestants, the original Protestant movement emphasized a free church that worshiped Christ and focused on the key teachings of the Bible regarding Jesus, Scripture, salvation, and God’s glory.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022