Two distinct branches of Protestantism grew out of the Reformation. The evangelical churches in Germany and Scandinavia were followers of Martin Luther, and the reformed churches in other countries were followers of John Calvin and Huldreich Zwingli. A third major branch, episcopacy, developed in England. Particularly since the Oxford movement of the 19th cent., many Anglicans have rejected the word Protestant because they tend to agree with Roman Catholicism on most doctrinal points, rejecting, however, the primacy of the pope (see England, Church of; Episcopal Church; Ireland, Church of). In addition, there have been several groups commonly called Protestant but historically preceding the rise of Protestantism (see Hussites; Lollardry; Waldenses). Protestantism has largely been adopted by the peoples of NW Europe and their descendants, excepting the southern Germans, Irish, French, and Belgians; there have been important Protestant minorities in France, Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland.
The doctrine that the individual conscience is the valid interpreter of Scripture led to a wide variety of Protestant sects; this fragmentation was further extended by doctrinal disputes within the sects notably over grace, predestination, and the sacraments. Certain movements have claimed new revelations (see Agapemone; Latter-Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of; New Jerusalem, Church of the). Of a fundamentally distinct nature is Christian Science, which as an article of faith repudiates any medical treatment.
Since the 1960s a main thrust in Protestantism has been toward reunification (see ecumenical movement); this was particularly strong in North America. Most Protestant and many Eastern Orthodox churches are allied in federated councils on the local, national, and international levels (see World Council of Churches and National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America).
For some of the major tendencies in Protestantism, see Adventists; Anabaptists; Baptists; Calvinism; Congregationalism; Lutheranism; Methodism; Pentecostalism; Presbyterianism; Puritanism; spiritism; Unitarianism.
For individual churches in addition to those already mentioned, see Brethren; Christian Catholic Church; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Christian Reformed Church; Christians; Churches of Christ; Churches of God, General Conference; Protestantism; Evangelical and Reformed Church; Evangelical United Brethren Church; Friends, Religious Society of; Huguenots; Mennonites; Moravian Church; Ranters; Reformed Church in America; Salvation Army; Scotland, Church of; Scotland, Free Church of; Seventh-Day Baptists; Shakers; United Church of Canada; Universalist Church of America.
The chief characteristics of original Protestantism were the acceptance of the Bible as the only source of infallible revealed truth, the belief in the universal priesthood of all believers, and the doctrine that a Christian is justified in his relationship to God by faith alone, not by good works or dispensations of the church. There was a tendency to minimize liturgy and to stress preaching by the ministry and the reading of the Bible. Although Protestants rejected asceticism, an elevated standard of personal morality was advanced; in some sects, notably Puritanism, a high degree of austerity was reached. Their ecclesiastical polity, principally in such forms as episcopacy (government by bishops), Congregationalism, or Presbyterianism, was looked upon by Protestants as a return to the early Christianity described in the New Testament.Theological Development
Protestantism saw many theological developments, particularly after the 18th cent. Under the influence of romanticism, which stressed the subjective element in religion rather than the revelation of the Bible, the formal systems of early Protestant theology began to dissolve; this doctrine was best expressed by Friedrich Schleiermacher, who placed religious feeling at the center of Christian life. Along with this came the assertion that the fatherhood of God and the unity of humanity were the basic themes of Christianity. Later there was a neoorthodox movement, which, under the leadership of Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, sought a return to a theology of revelation; a new school of Bible interpretation as expressed in the work of Rudolf Bultmann; and a theology, derived in part from existentialism, developed by Paul Tillich.
In the United States, four broad theological positions cut across denominational lines: fundamentalism, which stems from the antitheological periods of revivalism in the 18th and 19th cent. (see Great Awakening) and adheres to a literal interpretation of the Bible and a pietistic morality; liberalism, the heir to the Social Gospel movement, which encourages freer interpretation of theological doctrines and emphasizes church responsibility for social justice; Pentecostalism, which emphasizes ecstatic religious experience especially as communicated through the gifts of the Spirit; and the neoorthodoxy of Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth.
See P. Tillich, The Protestant Era (1948, repr. 1957); R. M. Brown, Spirit of Protestantism (1961); E. G. Léonard, A History of Protestantism (2 vol., tr. 1965-67); W. Pauck, The Heritage of the Reformation (rev. ed. 1968); R. Mehl, The Sociology of Protestantism (tr. 1970); M. E. Marty, Protestantism (1972); R. T. Handy, A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (2d ed. 1983); J. Dillenberger and C. Welch, Protestant Christianity (2d ed. 1988).
While churches which historically emerged directly or indirectly from the Protestant Reformation generally constitute traditional Protestantism, in common usage the term is often used to refer to any Christian church which is in opposition to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This usage is imprecise, however, as there are non-Roman Catholic and non-Eastern Orthodox churches which predate the Reformation (notably Oriental Orthodoxy). The Anglican tradition, although historically influenced by the Protestant Reformation in what is called the English Reformation, differs from many Reformation principles and understands itself to be a middle path—a via media—between Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines. Other groups, such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, reject traditional Protestantism as another deviation from Christianity, while perceiving themselves to be restorationists.
There are about 500 million Protestants worldwide, among approximately 1.5 billion Christians. These include 170 million in North America, 160 million in Africa, 120 million in Europe, 70 million in Latin America, 60 million in Asia, and 10 million in Oceania.
Protestants can be differentiated according to how they have been influenced by important movements since the magisterial Reformation and the Puritan Reformation in England. Some of these movements have a common lineage, sometimes directly spawning later movements in the same groups. Only general families are listed here (due to the above-stated multitude of denominations); some of these groups do not consider themselves as part of the Protestant movement, but are generally viewed as such by the public at large:
The Protestant movement began to coalesce into several distinct branches in the mid-to-late sixteenth century. One of the central points of divergence was controversy over the Lord's Supper.
Early Protestants generally rejected the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and wine used in the sacrificial rite of the Mass lose their natural substance by being transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. They disagreed with one another concerning the manner in which Christ is present in Holy Communion.
In Protestant theology, as the bread shares identity with Christ (which he calls "my body"), in an analogous way, the Church shares identity with Christ (and also is called "the Body of Christ"). Thus, controversies over the Lord's Supper may seem to be only about the nature of the bread and wine, but are ultimately about the nature of salvation and the Church; and indirectly about the nature of Christ. There are as many different views on the question as there are Protestant denominations.
Wherever the Magisterial Reformation, which received support from the ruling authorities, took place, the result was a reformed national church envisioned to be a part of the whole visible Holy catholic Church described in the creeds, but disagreeing, in certain important points of doctrine and doctrine-linked practice, with what had until then been considered the normative reference point on such matters, namely the See of Rome. The Reformed Churches thus believed in a form of Catholicity, founded on their doctrines of the five solas and a visible ecclesiastical organization based on the 14th and 15th century Conciliar movement, rejecting the Papacy and Papal Infallibility in favor of Ecumenical councils, but rejecting the Council of Trent. Catholic unity therefore became not one of doctrine and identity, but one of invisible character, wherein the unity was one of faith in Jesus Christ, not common identity, belief, and collaborative action.
Today there is a growing movement of Protestants, especially of the Reformed tradition, that reject the designation "Protestant" because of its negative "anti-catholic" connotations, preferring the designation "Reformed," "Evangelical" or even "Reformed Catholic" expressive of what they call a "Reformed Catholicity and defending their arguments from the traditional Protestant Confessions.
The German Pietist movement, together with the influence of the Puritan Reformation in England in the seventeenth century, were important influences upon John Wesley and Methodism, as well as through smaller, new groups such as the Religious Society of Friends ("Quakers") and the Moravian Brethren from Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany.
The practice of a spiritual life, typically combined with social engagement, predominates in classical Pietism, which was a protest against the doctrine-centeredness Protestant Orthodoxy of the times, in favor of depth of religious experience. Many of the more conservative Methodists went on to form the Holiness movement, which emphasized a rigorous experience of holiness in practical, daily life.
Beginning at the end of eighteenth century, several international revivals of Pietism (such as the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening) took place across denominational lines, largely in the English-speaking world. Their teachings and successor groupings are referred to generally as the Evangelical movement. The chief emphases of this movement were individual conversion, personal piety and Bible study, public morality often including Temperance and Abolitionism, de-emphasis of formalism in worship and in doctrine, a broadened role for laity (including women) in worship, evangelism and teaching, and cooperation in evangelism across denominational lines.
Adventism, as a movement, began in the United States in middle nineteenth century. The Adventist family of churches are regarded today as conservative Protestants.
Modernism, Liberalism and Sunderianism do not constitute rigorous and well-defined schools of theology, but are rather an inclination by some writers and teachers to integrate Christian thought into the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. New understandings of history and the natural sciences of the day led directly to new approaches to theology.
Pentecostalism, as a movement, began in the United States early in the twentieth century, starting especially within the Holiness movement. Seeking a return to the operation of New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues as evidence of the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" or to make the unbeliever believe became the leading feature. Divine healing and miracles were also emphasized. Pentecostalism swept through much of the Holiness movement, and eventually spawned hundreds of new denominations in the United States. A later "charismatic" movement also stressed the gifts of the Spirit, but often operated within existing denominations, rather than by coming out of them.
In reaction to liberal Bible critique, fundamentalism arose in the twentieth century, primarily in the United States and Canada, among those denominations most affected by Evangelicalism. Fundamentalism placed primary emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, and typically advised separation from error and cultural conservatism as an important aspect of the Christian life.
A non-fundamentalist rejection of liberal Christianity, associated primarily with Karl Barth, neo-orthodoxy sought to counter-act the tendency of liberal theology to make theological accommodations to modern scientific perspectives. Sometimes called "Crisis theology", according to the influence of philosophical existentialism on some important segments of the movement; also, somewhat confusingly, sometimes called neo-evangelicalism.
Evangelicalism is a movement from the middle of the twentieth century, that reacted to perceived excesses of Fundamentalism, adding to concern for biblical authority, an emphasis on liberal arts, cooperation among churches, Christian Apologetics, and non-denominational evangelization.
Paleo-orthodoxy is a movement similar in some respects to Neo-evangelicalism but emphasising the ancient Christian consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium AD, including in particular the early Creeds and councils of the church as a means of properly understanding the Scriptures. This movement is cross-denominational and the theological giant of the movement is United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden.
The ecumenical movement has had an influence on mainline churches, beginning at least in 1910 with the Edinburgh Missionary Conference. Its origins lay in the recognition of the need for cooperation on the mission field in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Since 1948, the World Council of Churches has been influential, but ineffective in creating a united Church. There are also ecumenical bodies at regional, national and local levels across the globe; but schisms still far outnumber unifications. One, but not the only expression of the ecumenical movement, has been the move to form united churches, such as the Church of South India, the Church of North India, The US-based United Church of Christ, The United Church of Canada and the Uniting Church in Australia, which have rapidly declining memberships. There has been a strong engagement of Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movement, though the reaction of individual Orthodox theologians has ranged from tentative approval of the aim of Christian unity to outright condemnation of the perceived effect of watering down Orthodox doctrine.
In 1999, the representatives of Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church signed The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, apparently resolving the conflict over the nature of Justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation, although some conservative Lutherans did not agree to this resolution. This is understandable, since there is no compelling authority within them. On July 18, 2006 Delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously to adopt the Joint Declaration.