October 2017 • Volume XVI, Issue 18
What Is a Protestant? (4)
After summarizing the origin and the meaning of the name Protestant, and briefly explaining the biblical and Reformation truth that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone to the glory of God alone according to Scripture alone (the Five Solas), in the first three articles, we now need to fill out other important aspects of Protestantism.
First, Protestantism is creedal. This is a much misunderstood issue in our day. The popular misconception is that, since Protestants believe in sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), they do not hold to the creeds. Wrong! It was the Anabaptists, whom the Protestants opposed just as much as the Roman Catholics, who believed that sola Scriptura meant no creeds.
At the Diet of Speyer in 1529, the first Protestants protested (hence their name) against the ungodly decisions of the Roman Catholic majority on the basis of Scripture alone. In 1530, the very next year, they agreed to the Augsburg Confession—a creed!
In the specifically Reformed (rather than Lutheran) branch of the Protestant Reformation, many more creeds were written by those who held sola Scriptura. In fact, the four volumes of James T. Dennison, Jr.’s Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries in English Translation contain 127 creeds in the 173-year period from 1523 to 1695. That is a new creed on average every 16 months or so!
So here we have two facts regarding the foundational period of Protestantism: first, it contains the clearest statements of Scripture alone in church history and, second, it has the highest rate of production of confessions in church history. How are these two things to be reconciled and understood?
It is not difficult. Sola Scriptura means that the Bible alone is the written Word of God and is, therefore, the supreme judge of faith and morals. The creeds summarize what the inspired, infallible and supremely authoritative Word of God teaches.
Not only do faithful Protestants today have confessions; they also maintain and uphold them, and teach the biblical doctrines that they summarize.
Second, Protestants are true churchmen and love Christ’s church. Protestants are not individualistic, with everyone going off on his own and doing his own thing.
The Protestant Reformation was the reformation of an organization or body of believers, the church. This means it was a reformation of church doctrine (including the Five Solas), church creeds, church preaching, church sacraments, church discipline, church government and church worship. This is the desire, goal and result of godly Protestantism: biblical and Protestant churches, governed by biblical and Protestant principles, with members convicted of biblical and Protestant truth, so that glory is given to the Triune God alone in Jesus Christ!
Third, Protestants and Protestant churches protest against the lie and for the truth. The history of faithful Protestantism is a history of the church militant. This is what has happened over the last 500 years, going back to the Diet of Speyer (1529), and Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” at Worms (1521) and his Ninety-Five Theses (1517).
In reality, though not in terminology, the faithful witnessing of Protestantism goes back to Jan Hus in Bohemia, John Wycliffe in England, the Waldensians in and around the Alps, Gottschalk in various parts of Europe, Augustine in North Africa, etc.
This same fight for the faith is evident in the pages of the Bible in the battles of the apostles against the Sadducess and Judaizers in Acts and the epistles, in the ministry of the Lord Jesus versus the scribes and Pharisees in the gospel accounts, and in the labours of the faithful prophets, like Elijah, in the Old Testament.
In our day, out of love for the truth and in order to gain others to it by God’s grace, faithful Protestant people and churches protest against apostasy: liberal theology, Arminianism, women in church office, false ecumenism (with Roman Catholicism, other false or departing churches and the cults), sodomy and lesbianism in church office-bearers and members, syncretism with pagan religions, etc.
The child of God also has a right and a calling to protest unbiblical teaching and practice in his own church because of his office of believer, for he is a prophet, priest and king through sharing in the spiritual anointing of Jesus Christ. His protest should be made in an orderly, ecclesiastical fashion, according to the Reformed confessions and the church’s code or church order. Such a protest should be made humbly and yet boldly, with much prayer and fortified with the Holy Scriptures to God’s glory.
Psalm 119 superbly sums up the spirit of biblical Protestantism: “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (104); “Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (127-128).
Next time, we shall conclude by considering some of the major ethical teachings of Protestantism, DV.
Rev. Angus Stewart, pastor of Covenant PRC in Ballymena, N. Ireland
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851