Originating in western Europe in the sixteenth century, present day Protestantism has adherents in all corners of the earth, due largely to colonialism and missionary activities by various denominations and sects. It is one of the three branches of Christianity - Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are the other two - and it grew out of the Reformation movement which sought to reform the Catholic or universal church. Though it has no single founder, the figure most associated with this historic period is German Augustinian friar Martin Luther who lived from 1483-1546. Martin Luther is known as the "Father of Reformation", but other notable reform leaders came after him, including Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and John Knox.
Some trace the roots of Protestantism to 1517 when Martin Luther posted a list of grievances against the Roman Catholic Church called the Ninety-Five Theses. This was the first open dissent to Church authority and the issues contended involved the conflicts between Bible teaching and Church practice. Public dissent was accelerated by the invention of the printing press in Europe because for the first time the holy scriptures became widely available to regular people. This initiated a newfound sense of empowerment.
Today the three largest U.S. Protestant denominations are Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans, but Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Episcopalians are also prominent. Protestantism is the most dominant religion in North America, Australia and New Zealand.
The spiritual writings of Protestantism are found in the Holy Bible, which is divided into two parts, the Old and New Testaments. Protestantism rests on the belief that God deals directly with humans and salvation is gained by faith, though because of diverse denominations, faith is expressed through many forms and varying rituals. As a central tenet of Christianity, most Protestant denominations teach that humans inherited sin from the first parents, Adam and Eve. It thus became necessary for God to become human in the person of Jesus Christ, God's son, who died in atonement for the sins of all. Individual salvation is predicated on the acceptance of this belief. Of the seven original sacraments defined by the Catholic Church, only two are observed by Protestant denominations today: Baptism and the Eucharist.
Resources and Links
- Protestant History www.historicist.com/protestant_history.html
- Religion Online www.religion-online.org
- Protestant Denominations www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/rel/xprotest.html
- A World Religions Reader, Ian S. Markham (Editor), Blackwell Publishers, 1996
- Handbook of Denominations in the United States, Frank S. Mead, Abingdon Press, 1995