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What Is a Protestant? (1)


Covenant Reformed News

July 2017  •  Volume XVI, Issue 15

What Is a Protestant? (1)

People refer to Protestant congregations, denominations, people, ideas, etc. In the British coronation oath, the monarch avers, “I am a faithful Protestant.” Given differing ideas regarding Protestantism and with 2017 being the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the question, “What is a Protestant?” is especially important.

This question will be answered historically (Where and when did the term Protestant originate? What does this tell us about its meaning?), theologically (What are the key doctrines of Protestantism?) and ethically (What are the crucial aspects of the morality and lives of Protestants?). Our answer will get to the heart of the identity of Protestantism, for we will not deal with secondary or peripheral issues but what Protestantism essentially is.

So what is the historical origin of the word Protestant? The term Protestant arose in what country? Germany (not Britain). In what city? Speyer in southwest Germany. In what century? The sixteenth century. In what year? 1529, twelve years after Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

To explain more fully, the Imperial Diet (or general assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire met in Speyer in 1529. The Roman Catholic majority decided that Martin Luther was rightfully under the imperial ban (i.e., he was reckoned legally dead, so that anyone was allowed to rob, injure or kill him without any judicial consequences); Luther’s writings and teachings were forbidden; the Reformation was not allowed to spread.

However, six princes and fourteen imperial cities protested against this decision: We must follow our consciences in submission to the Word of God! The preaching of the Holy Scriptures must not be bound!

These Protestants had the same spirit as Martin Luther, who declared in 1521 at Worms, another Imperial Diet, eight years before Speyer, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” In this famous statement, you will notice that Luther refers three times to the Word of God or the Scriptures and twice to his conscience, for his conscience was bound to the Word.

The first Protestants in 1529 and Martin Luther had the same spirit as “Peter and the other apostles” in Acts 5:29, who testified, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” All these believers in Jesus Christ took a stand for God’s truth before hostile authorities, displaying spiritual courage at great personal risk.

Rev. Angus Stewart, pastor of Covenant PRC

Last modified on 01 September 2017
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001


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