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What Is a Protestant? (2)


Covenant Reformed News

August 2017  •  Volume XVI, Issue 16

What Is a Protestant? (2)

It is important to note that the word Protestant, both in its first historical use and ever since, is not merely negative (protesting against the false doctrines, etc., of Rome); it is both positive and negative.

This is evident from the word itself in terms of its Latin etymology. It comes either from pro (for) and testari (to witness) or from protestatio (a declaration). So a protest was a setting forth of a strong affirmation in defence of a position. Thus the Protestants at the Diet of Speyer in 1529 proclaimed that “they must protest and testify publicly before God that they could consent to nothing contrary to his Word.”

The 1529 Protestants had a two-sided message like Peter and John in Acts 4. To the hostile religious authorities, they spoke both negatively: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (19), and positively: “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (20).

In short, Protestants are for the truth and, therefore, against the lie. To put it slightly differently, we are opposed to error because we hold fast to God’s infallible Word.

But what do Protestants believe that Word to teach? One helpful summary of Protestant beliefs is the Five Solas (from the Latin for “only” or “alone”).

Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone is the Word of God. The Bible is inspired (II Tim. 3:16), inerrant (John 10:35), authoritative (as the voice of the living God), sufficient (not needing supplementation by the church or alleged direct revelation) and perspicuous or clear. This last characteristic of the Word does not mean that every verse in the Bible is easily understood by all human beings. The perspicuity of Scripture means that its main truths, which find their centre in salvation in Jesus Christ, can be grasped by all believers through the Holy Spirit by making prayerful use of the ordinary means.

Flowing from their faithful confession regarding the Scriptures, the Protestants, unlike the Roman Catholics, promoted and engaged in Bible translation (from the original Hebrew and Greek into the languages of Europe), Bible reading, Bible preaching (expounding the verses, chapters and books of Scripture) and Bible catechizing (so that even the children knew the content and doctrines of the Word).

The biblical truth of sola Scriptura exposed Rome’s teaching. Rome smuggled in the Apocrypha, as if it were part of the Word of God. Rome made its tradition of equal authority with the Bible. This went hand-in-hand with its unbiblical and anti-biblical doctrines: Mariolatry (the idolatrous veneration of the Virgin Mary), purgatory (an alleged place of fire where believers bear the temporal punishment of their sins), transubstantiation (the change of the bread and wine into the literal body, blood and divinity of Christ), the mass (an unbloody sacrifice offered by a priest for the sins of the living and the dead), the papacy and its hierarchy (in contrast to the New Testament’s permanent church offices: pastors, elders and deacons), five additional sacraments (confirmation, marriage, ordination, penance and the last rites), etc.

Sola Scriptura is needed today against Rome just as much as in the sixteenth century. Rome still holds the same heresies as it did at the Reformation, for it has not given up one of them and has reaffirmed all of them (e.g., at Vatican II and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). In fact, since the Reformation, Rome has added more heresies, such as, papal infallibility in 1870 (the pope cannot err in matters of faith or morals when speaking ex cathedra) and the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary in 1950 (her physical ascent into heaven at the end of her earthly life). If Rome today is compared with Rome 500 years ago, as regards her heresies, Rome has not gotten better or stayed the same; Rome has gotten worse!

Not only is sola Scriptura needed just as much (and more) today against Rome, but it is also crucial versus other heretical movements that have arisen, especially higher criticism of the Bible and modernistic theology. These attack the infallibility of God’s Word, reckoning that there are errors in Scripture and its doctrines. Faithful Protestantism declares, “Thy word is true from the beginning” (Ps. 119:160).

Sola Scriptura also opposes Pentecostalism, Charismaticism and Neo-Charismaticism. All of these renewalist groups add to God’s verbal revelation in the Bible. Thus they especially deny the sufficiency of God’s Word, contrary to II Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation opposed the Charismatics or renewalists of its day among the Anabaptists.

Sola Scriptura is our watchword over against twenty-first-century political correctness. Not the moralizing of the liberal media, not opinion polls, not celebrity opinion but God’s Holy Word determines truth and morality. Here we affirm the authority of Scripture as God’s Word to judge all fallen and foolish humanistic standards. “Thus saith the Lord!” This is Protestantism! In the famous dictum of William Chillingworth, “The Bible alone is the religion of Protestants.” 

As Westminster Confession 1:10 states, “The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture.”   
Rev. Angus Stewart, pastor of Covenant PRC, Ballymena, N. Ireland
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 16
  • Issue: 16
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

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


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