Definition: Protestant

This evening I came across a good explanation of the term Protestant. The explanation is given while describing the historical time when the German states were divided according to each prince’s religious beliefs. The Holy Roman Emperor had signed the Edict of Worms which considered Luther and his followers outlaws because of their opposition to the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Charles [the Holy Roman Emperor] ordered the German rulers to … enforce the Edict of Worms throughout Germany. But this was too much, even for some of the Roman Catholic princes. However, the Diet did make some changes. By majority vote it ordered the Edict of Worms enforced in all Catholic states. In them no Lutherans were to be allowed to practice their religion. Where the edict could not be enforced without bloodshed, both Lutheran and Roman Catholic teachings were to be permitted.

The Lutheran princes refused to accept such a rule. They argued that it was unfair and demanded the Lutheran lands should be and remain strictly Lutheran. “We protest before God and before men,” the Lutheran princes declared, “that we and our people will not agree to anything in this decree that is contrary to God, to His holy Word, to our right conscience, and to the salvation of our souls.”

Notice the word “protest.” When the Lutheran princes used it, they meant it in the sense of “testify,” or “tell what we believe.” From that time on they were known as the Protesters or as the Protestants. This name lives on today and is used to identify Christian churches which do not agree with the teachings of the Roman Catholic religion.

Frederick Knohl, Martin Luther: Hero of Faith, (St. Louis: Concordia, 1962), 97.

With the statistics quoted in articles such as “Most Americans believe many religions lead to heaven“, it may surprise some that this is still an issue after 500 years. But in reality, what one believes does make a difference. For instance, Richard Bennett, a former Catholic priest, does a good job of comparing what the Bible teaches and what is taught by the Roman Catholic religion in this article about justification.

The full picture of the Roman Catholic salvation process begins with new birth, which is said to occur in infant baptism and which purportedly washes away original sin. The process of salvation is a long journey through all the sacraments, with the Sacrifice of the Mass, central to most events. Good works, merit, sacraments and saints, are all involved, but the focal point is always on inner moral goodness which one is always attempting to increase in order to be good enough to die in “sanctifying grace” and then to be saved or at least to land for a time in purgatory. In the Roman teaching, no assurance of salvation is ever given, even to the most devout.

This, sadly, has convinced many people that they can be good enough to earn God’s favor. But the Bible plainly teaches that we all are sinful people who have no hope except for the fact that Jesus died for us (see Rom. 3:21-26). That’s quite a difference. If you’re not convinced, read the rest of Bennett’s article.

Because of this important difference and many others, I will continue to claim the title Protestant. In the words of Martin Luther, “Unless I am convinced by the Holy Scriptures or by sound reasoning … I am tied by the Scriptures I have quoted and by my conscience. … God help me. Amen.

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