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Religion Library: Protestantism

Quick Facts

Formedearly 16th century
OriginGermany
Followers500,000,000
DeityGod (Trinity)
Sacred TextsBible
HeadquartersNone

Protestantism is one of the three major branches of Christianity, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It shares with all other Christians core beliefs in the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, the necessity of grace to save humans from the consequences of sin, and the centrality of Jesus' death and resurrection for salvation. Composed of hundreds of denominations with an expansive variety of doctrines, rituals, and religious practices, Protestantism formed from the split with Roman Catholicism during the Reformation in the 16th century. Led by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others, the reformers broke from the Roman Catholic Church due to abusive ecclesiological structures and theological differences. Protestants share an adherence to the centrality of scripture (both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament) as well as a doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Different Protestant denominations have to varying degrees maintained or rejected Roman Catholic forms of worship. Anglican and Lutheran churches have maintained liturgies and rituals similar to those of the Roman Catholic Church, whereas other denominations, such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and United Church of Christ, have developed less liturgical forms of worship. Most Protestants practice baptism and communion as key rites of Christian initiation and ongoing devotion. Though originating in Europe, Protestant Christianity has spread across the globe through missionary activity and now has members from nearly every country, race, and ethnicity.

 

Quick Fact Details:

  • Formed: The date often cited as the beginning of the Protestant movement  is 1517, based on the date of Martin Luther's first act of dissent: the public posting of his 95 Theses, criticizing Roman Catholic practices and teachings. At the time, however, Luther had no intention of starting a new Christian tradition called "Protestantism," but hoped to reform the Catholic Church. Protestantism as a movement evolved in the decades following this act as Luther's ideas and theological arguments took root and the Catholic Church resisted and rejected them.
  • Origin: Though Martin Luther and his immediate followers were residents of various Germanic states (Germany not becoming a nation-state until the 19th century), they were also subjects of the Holy Roman Emperor.
  • Sacred Texts: Martin Luther considered certain books contained in the Catholic version of the Bible (based on the Septuagint) to be of lesser value as he used the Hebrew Masoretic Text, which also excluded these books from the canon. Therefore the Protestant Old Testament contains 39 books whereas the Roman Catholic Old Testament contains 46 books and includes sections of common books not included by Protestants. The New Testament is the same in both traditions.

Quick Fact Sources include www.adherents.com, www.bbc.co.uk/religion, The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions (2006), The Encyclopedia of Religion (2005), the Religious Movements Page at the University of Virginia, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (2002), and the Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999).

 
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