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Protestantism is the branch of Christianity that split away from the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the Reformation during the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. Originating in the "95 Theses" of Martin Luther and heavily influenced by John Calvin during its early development, denominations of Protestantism are now the dominant religions in much of central and northern Europe as well as North America and are widely practiced throughout much of the rest of the world.[1]


The name "Protestant" originated from the "protestation" in which the leading German princes friendly to the Reformation united with fourteen cities of Germany on Apr.\il 25, 1529, against the decree of the Roman majority of the second Diet of Speyer. It was a designation quite colorless from the religious point of view, and was first used as a political epithet by the opponents of those who signed the protest. It was not necessarily applied in an opprobrious sense, however, so that the adherents of the new doctrines could interpret it as testifying to their steadfastness and courage. It has always been less common in Germany than elsewhere, though later, in the time of the Enlightenment, the implication it carried that the type of Christianity which it designated stood for freedom and tolerance commended it to many. In the nineteenth century it became the shibboleth of the "liberal" ecclesiastical and theological schools; more recently the growth of ultramontanism as a political power has given it a wider currency; and it is very frequent for any non-Roman Catholic to term himself a Protestant, whether he professes Christianity or not.


The adherents of the Reformation at first preferred to call themselves "Evangelicals," while their opponents styled them "Lutherans," "Zwinglians," "Calvinists," etc., thereby emphasizing their sectarian and heretical character, and implying at best that they were a schismatic body separated from the true Catholic Church. The same names were employed by the Protestants themselves in their factional disputes. After 1530 the expression "Adherents of the Augsburg Confession" came into use. The French name, "Huguenots," originated in Tours.

The early Protestants shrank from styling themselves a church, Luther asserting merely that he and his adherents belonged to the universal Church. The idea that the Evangelicals or the Lutherans were the Church arose in connection with the concept of the Church as a school, helped on by the course of events. It was customary to speak of "our churches" (congregations) and hence, after the churches of the states were consolidated and had adopted more or less generally one creed, the phrase "our Church" came into vogue, and was perverted into "we are the Church."


The German Protestants, when they found it necessary to speak of themselves as a distinct organization, used at first, and as late as the Formula of Concord, the term "Reformed Church." It was after 1580 and during the controversy over the doctrine of ubiquity that the "Lutheran Church" was first heard of, though circumstances did not tend to make the name popular. About 1600 the Calvinists and Philippists began to appropriate to themselves the name "Reformed," and to call those "Lutherans" who differed from them. During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) this usage became general and was promoted by custom outside of Germany. Most of the Scandinavian Lutheran churches officially call themselves Evangelical. In France and Holland the Protestants always called their churches "Reformed," implying that they were Calvinistic or Zwinglian rather than Lutheran; and in England other names were given non-Roman Catholic organizations, such as "Established Church," "Presbyterian Church," and the like, none of them being named after any of their leaders.

External Development

Territorial Conquests

About 1600, or at the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618, the rising tide of the Reformation had reached the climax of its first impulse. Meanwhile the Counter-Reformation by the Catholics was largely successful in Poland, Italy, France and Spain. In Germany, however, the Protestant estates were the more numerous and the more powerful; the Huguenots in France had attained an assured position by the Edict of Nantes; the northern Netherlands had renounced Catholicism; in England the only question was whether the established Church of England or the Puritans should prevail; and the Scandinavian north had become thoroughly Lutheran. In general the Germanic countries retained the gains of Protestantism during the Reformation period, although some parts along the Rhine always were Catholic. The secure position guaranteed to the Protestants of Germany by the Peace of Westphalia were permanent. The royal house of Saxony became Catholic; the leadership of Protestant Germany was now Prussia; in England and in Scandinavia Roman Catholicism was, and remained, excluded. In France, on the other hand, Protestantism was well-nigh exterminated by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and Protestants lost ground in Poland Bohemia, Austria, and Hungary.

Concept of Toleration

The Enlightenment had great influence upon the external development of Protestantism; it created the idea of tolerance and changed the position of the State churches. The Reformation had originally held to the old doctrine of a single Christian Church and but one true Christian faith, and in its way it went as far in actually constituting this Church and faith as the old Church had done. In the opinion of Luther the word of God and the sacraments were the marks of the Church and the faith; and, with Melanchthon's help, he thought he had formulated these marks in articles of faith which might serve as legal bases for deciding between conflicting parties, each of which claimed to represent the Church and the faith. Luther also believed that the Christian authorities should lend their aid to the Gospel, so that, with his approval, the medieval theory of the relations between the Church and the State was carried over into Protestantism.

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) marked the beginning of the idea of toleration, decreeing that Catholics and Protestants should no longer regard one another as heretics, and providing that in case a Protestant prince went over from the Lutheran to the Reformed confession or vice versa, his subjects should be free to follow or not. Increasingly, the states tolerated small Protestant sects. By the late 18th century Pietism and the progress of theological thought made princes question whether it was to their interest to uphold pure doctrine with too great zeal, while new theories of the relation of Church and State prepared the way for the belief that the State should exercise only a general supervision over the Church and should treat different religious bodies alike. Theological toleration was first granted among the Protestants in the Netherlands, where the Remonstrants and other sectarian congregations were tolerated as early as the seventeenth century. In Prussia Frederick the Great was the first German prince to give freedom to the Mennonites, Unitarians, and others. By the 19th century all German states place the Catholic and Protestant Churches de facto on an equal footing, and the equality of individuals before the law is guaranteed, although that did not stop Bismark from attacking Catholics politically in the Kulturkampf. A Protestant presence has grown up in Roman Catholic territories and vice versa.

In addition to the Lutheran and Reformed established churches a number of "Free Churches" have sprung up, so that Protestantism in Germany at the present time is highly complex. In almost all other Christian countries toleration was made a principle of the law of the land during the 19th century, at least with reference to Catholics and Protestants, in most cases with reference to all sorts of Christian sects, old and new. At the same time the principle of an Established Church has not been abandoned, though it has been restricted. There are still many established or rather privileged churches, both Catholic and Protestant, in Europe. The United States and France are the only countries in which before World War I there was complete separation of Church and State.

20th century

A characteristic of later Protestantism is the very general tendency of groups to combine, though often by the loosest of bonds. [Gatherings like those of the Evangelical Alliance may be mentioned as manifestations of the tendency. Denominational lines are less closely drawn than of old, there is a disposition to set aside minor differences in the interest of Christian fellowship, and separate organizations have been united in England and America among the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches. Above all, there is an ever-increasing disposition to combine for practical Christian work (see Church Federation).] A "German Evangelical Church Committee" was formed in 1903 as the result of the recognized need of a confederation of the national Churches and to work for their common interests. The missionary activity of the nineteenth century, both at home and abroad, and the manifold forms of benevolent and charitable work which are sometimes loosely comprehended under the term "home missions," are notable and vital characteristics of modern Protestantism; and articles on work for special classes—emigrants, Jews, seamen, workingmen, etc. The Bible and Tract societies, societies like those for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, and many others have been active. They reveal the great development and achievements of organized Christian work in the 19th and 20th centuries by modern Protestants. In connection with home missions the work of Salvation Army (in Britain and the U.S.) is notable, both for its results and because it well illustrates certain differences between German and Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.

Numbers and Distribution in 1900

One of the most striking facts in the history of Protestantism in the 19th century was its great expansion in North America. The United States by 1910 had the largest Protestant population of any land—from 65,000,000 to 66,000,000 (out of a total population of 79,000,000)[2], which is based upon the census of 1900. Britain probably comes next with 38,000,000 Protestants (total population 42,500,000) and Germany third with somewhat more than 35,000,000 (total population 56,000,000).[3]

Reformed Protestantism:

  • Great Britain 20,500,000
  • Germany 3,000,000
  • Switzerland 2,000,000
  • Netherlands 3,000,000
  • Hungary 2,500,000
  • France 500,000
  • United States 65,000,000
  • Canada 2,000,000
  • Australia and New Zealand 1,500,000
  • India 1,500,000
  • South Africa 1,000,000
  • Elsewhere 2,000,000
    • Total Reformed 104,500,000


  • Germany 32,000,000
  • Norway and Sweden 7,500,000
  • Denmark 2,500,000
  • Finland and the Baltic Provinces 6,000,000
  • Hungary 1,250,000
  • United States 6,000,000
  • Elsewhere 750,000
    • Total Lutheran 56,000,000


  • England 10,750,000
  • Scotland and Ireland 750,000
  • British Empire 4,000,000
  • United States 2,500,000
    • Total Anglican 24,000,000

Protestant missions 5,500,000

Grand Total 182,000,000

The Fundamental Principles: Luther

see Martin Luther and Melanchthon

A theory of Protestantism which has been widely prevalent makes it consist of a formal and a material principle, the former grounded in the doctrine of the all-sufficiency of Scripture for everything in the Church, the latter in the concept of justification by faith. Attempts to expound the theory have usually suffered from lack of clearness and faulty method, the attempt having been made to construct without sifting the concrete historical material, so that only too often the result has been to confuse the two questions, how Protestantism actually presents itself in history and how the investigator would like it to be. Perhaps the most satisfactory method is to begin with a sketch of certain of the ideas of Martin Luther, the main founder of Protestantism. The chief points wherein Luther appeared as a new messenger of the Gospel may be grouped under the five heads which follow.

Norms of Faith

Regarding the Bible as the only indubitable source of authority in religion, Luther rejected the Roman Catholic teaching regarding tradition. Concerning inspiration he stood on the same ground as the Roman Church, but he declared that the latter did not accord to the Scriptures their full rights. In controversy as to whether he might really and justly appeal to the Scriptures, he asserted what has become the distinctively Protestant position—that the Scriptures are not obscure and in need of the explanation of the Fathers, and, secondly, that they have not a twofold sense, a historical and a spiritual, but a literal sense only. Along with his unreserved readiness to follow blindly the authority of Scripture as the word of God—qualified, however, on occasion by recourse to experience—Luther recognized the ecumenical creeds, and with them the old dogmas of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, which he found confirmed by the Scriptures. It was his method to press forward from the human nature of Christ to true knowledge of God, and this method has always been important in Protestantism. It has regulated the pericopes in the Lutheran Church, has pointed inquirers to the practical way, and has centered attention upon edification and the knowledge of God in the benefits of Christ as the essence of knowledge. Of the creeds, Luther held the Apostles' to be the most important, regarding it as a precious document of antiquity which confirmed his understanding of the Gospel, and appealing to it to prove that he taught nothing new, but only the genuine old doctrine. He consistently represented that the ecumenical creeds formed a bond, and the strongest bond, between the "kingdom of the pope" and the Evangelical churches; and in the dogmas of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ he saw in like manner a certain measure of common ground. On the other hand, while both the Roman Catholic Church and Luther maintained the inspiration of the Scriptures, their mode of treatment was too divergent to permit the German Reformer to feel any special sympathy with the ancient Church on this score.

Private Judgment

When Luther fell back upon his experiences with reference to the Bible and Christ, and renounced all church teachings contrary to these experiences after, in his hour of need in the monastery, he had failed to find comfort in what she authoritatively offered him, he followed a conviction of individual responsibility and compulsion which Protestants since his time have designated as "private judgment." In thus exalting his personal religious and moral convictions above authority and tradition he acted in the spirit of the Renaissance. At the same time, while the Renaissance relied without reserve upon the autonomy of the individual, and, in the last analysis, on purely empirical, egoistic, and unmoral individualism, Luther added from the word of God the concept of man created in the image of God, and understood Christianity as both freedom and compulsion. It has ever since been the problem of Protestantism to reconcile the freedom of the world of man, and of the Church, with God's revelation, and to assign to the conscience its proper function as guide of conduct and belief when enlightened by the Gospel, or the law of Christ. Luther well knew the limits of conscience in judging others, and he was willing to leave each one to God, even the heretics if they would only keep silence and refrain from disturbing civil affairs by agitation. For himself, he recognized that he was a debtor to the Gospel, and he asserted his independence in matters of belief only in so far as the new man in him had taken the place of the Old Adam. He never lost the consciousness of sin, and by word and act he made clear the true place of conscience in Christianity.

Justification by Faith

Luther's concept of justification was derived immediately from the Bible, although he always defined it in the sense and words of Augustinian and scholastic tradition: justificatio—"a setting right"—"a making over of the sinful man to a righteous one." His view differed from the Roman only in that this making over comes to pass through faith alone, and not in any way through works or merit. Luther's dissent from Roman teaching developed from opposition to the doctrine of penance as it was then presented. Roman Catholicism taught that justification is attained through the means of grace of the Church, that is, first through baptism, which removes the taint of original sin, then through penance by those who, after baptism, fall into mortal sin. In the monastery Luther became convinced that he had lost the forgiveness and grace of baptism, and with burning zeal he turned to the sacrament of penance. Here the system of laying down stern conditions of absolution, which were almost invariably modified in virtue of the "power of the keys" (see Keys, Power of the), both terrified him and filled him with doubt. In reading the Pauline epistles, moreover, he came to believe that God offers his grace without conditions and without regard to merit, provided only that there be faith. He likewise came to the conclusion that justification abides, while grace is ever ready for the acceptance of faith without need of any intermediary. It was in asserting this free and unconditional offer of God's grace to faith that Luther broke with the Roman doctrine of justification, which teaches increasing degrees of grace, and that to become worthy to share in grace man must in each degree do "what in him lies."

Luther's doctrine of justification is nothing less than a new concept of God. It means that God is love. Love is, to be sure, one of the attributes of God in the Roman Catholic system, but it is there placed after God's freedom and omnipotence, and is not the essence of his being. To Luther God, both as he is revealed in Christ and as he is still concealed from man, is unlimited, positive love. His love is so great and mighty and mysterious that the human mind can not fathom it; it is in every sense too high for reason, and is revealed in Christ, who is God in human form.

New Ethical and Legal Standards

To Luther it seemed an incomprehensible misunderstanding when it was alleged that his doctrine of justification opened the way to moral laxity; in his opinion it alone gave real life and constancy to moral earnestness and joyousness. Faith did not free from the obligation of works, but only from excessive valuation of them. The certainty of pardon, he thought, assured to the guilty one that he who pardoned would help, and furnished the strongest impulse to the will to do penance, that is, to forsake sin and perform good works. Luther's opponents, on their part, could not comprehend how he was able to find the Roman Catholic form of penance too lax and yet hold to the thought of a God whose mercy was without limit. But Luther saw no incompatibility in a merciful and a holy God. He believed in a twofold destiny of men, blessedness and condemnation. God's unlimited mercy is the most effective means he can use to win men to the former; not fear, but gratitude, is the strongest motive to obedience; and it is inconceivable that the merciful, pardoning God will not supply moral power where it is needed.

Luther broke through the external character of the law by explaining it, not as the inscrutable will of God which must be accepted implicitly as a revelation, but as based in the divine nature itself. In like manner the German Reformer transformed the concept of the blessedness of heaven. To the Roman Catholic Church the blessedness of heaven is the "beatific vision," which is the comprehensible aim of a Christianity whose God is blessed by virtue of his exalted nature. For Luther, too, God is blessed according to his nature, but this nature is love, and when one has on earth experienced proof of God's unwavering and unfathomable love in the forgiveness of sins, then there is life and blessedness in the present world, a foretaste of what will be fully enjoyed only in heaven. For the Roman Catholic the ecstatic visions of mysticism are the foretaste of heaven on earth. Luther was at times influenced by mysticism, but he never longed for visions and ecstasies, and his mysticism was only a means of learning and drawing near to God. This new idea of blessedness, with his concept of God, made it possible for Luther to speak of the certitude of salvation; and he could even make confidence in it a Christian duty, since God is love. The thought of God's ever certain grace meant to him, not indifference and weakness on the part of God toward sin, but God's power over sin; and blessedness meant for him, not a morally neutral good, but good as good, and the vital element of heaven.

Luther likewise had a new idea of the content of the good, or the law. For Roman Catholicism the moral law in its final analysis is a collection of statutes commanding and forbidding definite things, a code decreed by God instead of man. For Luther, the law (which the natural man can not understand) becomes a single idea applicable to every individual and every situation. As God is love and can not help giving forth love, so he requires nothing but love from any one. Faith feels an inner compulsion to show forth love, and makes the Christian the servant of all, even while exalting him as lord of all things.

Church and Sacraments

Luther regarded the Church as in principle nothing but a community of individuals. The only necessary mark of the Church is the presence of believers, who are united through Christ, the head of the body of which each believer is a member. The thought of the body of Christ means for Luther that the Church is not an organization, but an organism, which lives in and with Christ himself. Christ's spirit and word are the medium by which the Church works. In Roman Catholic teaching the presence of priests properly ordained is essential to the Church, not the attendance of worshipers; and in so far as the Roman theory is not that of a sacred order, it is expressed in legal ordinances. Luther thinks in principle only of an attitude of mind which can not be expressed in terms of law.

Luther's new ideas concerning the constitution of the Church are developed in his An den christlichen Adel. He preferred to say "Christendom" rather than "Church," and in this work he represents Christendom as ordered in estates and callings. He declares that the worldly estates belong to the body of Christ and are on an equality with spiritual persons, both in their religious quality and from the point of view of their moral actions. A rightly chosen priest is no different from a public official, and all men are alike fit for the service which Christ has appointed to Christendom, namely, to work together for the good of body and soul. Luther by no means had in mind only the nobles, to whom he addressed his appeal, but expressly mentioned shoemakers, smiths, and farmers. They must all know that they are all spiritual estates, all equally ordained priests and bishops, to the end that each in his way may be useful and serviceable to the other and help him to live and grow as a Christian in his appointed place.

Luther often declared that, while all are spiritual priests, there are also priests of the Church, that is, those whose duty it is to administer the word and the sacraments. This leads to his theories of the Church in relation to its rites and ceremonies. He never doubted that there should be special provision for all the elements of worship in Christendom; what was new with him was that he distinguished between the concepts "Church" and "organization for public worship," considering the latter, so to speak, as only a province of the former. He found no difficulty, however, in regarding the Church, in its capacity of an organization for public worship, as instituted by God and ordered by Christ, endowed by him with special gifts. Its function is to extend the kingdom of Christ, its foundation the command to baptize. He was convinced that any Christian could read the Bible and profit from it, but he believed that all, himself included, needed also the instruction of well-ordered preaching. He would not, however, have the hearing of sermons made a "commandment of the Church," aiding in salvation by compliance with a law. Hence, in ordering the Evangelical service Luther put all emphasis on the preaching of the word of God, to the end that the Bible might be understood and have its full efficiency as the true means of grace. He put the sacraments by the side of preaching, because in his own experience he had found help and comfort in the sacraments. In his doctrine of the Lord's Supper he retained more of the old doctrines than elsewhere; but he utterly rejected the concept of sacrifice, and put no other interpretation on the mystery of the Supper than that it inspired the trembling, guilty conscience to faith. His regard for church services and rites never became a snare to him. He was convinced that unjust excommunication does not exclude from the Church; he taught that if the priests of the Church will not serve, any Christian brother may officiate in their place; and he regarded parents' reading of the Bible, catechetical instruction, and prayers at home as supplementary to the similar offices of the Church, and filled with the same sort of power.

The Lutheran Church

see Martin Luther and Lutheranism

The Reformed Church

Character and Foundation

Not withstanding various creeds and confessions prepared for different lands, it is allowable to speak of the Reformed Churches, since the characteristic features of these formulations are not essentially different. No more will be attempted here than to note the peculiarities of the Reformed body in comparison with the Lutheran. The later was the earlier form of Protestantism; for this reason it is necessarily considered first in a historical treatment of the subject. Numerically the Reformed Church is to-day by far the stronger.

Originally the reformation was a single movement, but before long it was carried forward by very different personalities. The greatest man of the time beside Luther who renounced the ancient faith was Zwingli, though conflict ensued when the two leaders met. This fact was due in great measure to the natural limitations of each, and to Luther's inability to understand his fellow Reformer, particularly with reference to the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, even though the real divergence of the Reformed from the Lutherans on the latter tenet was due not to Zwingli, but to Calvin. Zwingli, however founded no school, and the only region which can be regarded as Zwinglian, even in a limited sense, is German Switzerland, though a few survivals of his system may be traced in Reformed organization and modes of worship. The true founder of the Reformed Church was Calvin, who was, in some respects more influential even than Luther.

Theory and Use of the Bible

To Calvin the Bible was in a peculiar sense the one thing and everything. This does not imply that he believed more fully in the inspiration of every word than did Luther, or that Melanchthon was less convinced that the Bible alone gives man certainty; but that Calvin took the concept of the whole Bible as the very word of God more deeply than did either Luther or Melanchthon, and it had for him more practical consequences. He applied his theory of the Bible more logically than did Luther or Melanchthon. Luther, like Melanchthon, was concerned primarily only with what "brings Christ," so that he could disregard much of the Old Testament. For Calvin, Christ (or our salvation) is the center of the Bible. But he was in a certain sense more of an exegete than Luther or Melanchthon. He saw much in the bible which they did not see, and he let much work upon his mind which Luther put off with the reflection that it did not concern Christ, and which Melanchthon, with his pedagogic interests passed over as too dark or too subtle. Furthermore, Calvin found relations with Christ where Luther did not find them, and he had a more abstract or legalistic intuition of Christ than had Luther. Luther looked into the heart of Christ and there found the heart of God, but for Calvin neither Christ nor God had much heart. He found the doctrine of reprobation in the Bible, and therefore accepted it calmly and unmoved, reserving all recognition of divine mercy and long-suffering for the elect. Luther was disturbed by the twofold predestination which he found in the Bible and pronounced it a riddle. For Calvin this riddle did not exist; he held that what God does is right because he does it; and he ignored the presence of any moral problem.

With this Calvin made the divine motive in creation and redemption not love, but glory, so that he could write: "Our salvation was the care of God in such a way that, not forgetful of himself, he set his own glory in the first rank, and therefore created the world to the end that it should be the scene of his own glory." Divine omnipotence, working evil as well as good, stands first in Calvin's system, preeminent over divine justice, and supreme above every law, whether natural or revealed. This Calvinistic concept of the divine omnipotence was momentous for the Reformed Church because its originator succeeded in convincing many that it is the fundamental Biblical concept of God. Nevertheless, many of the Reformed have revolted against it. Arguments against predestination can be found in the Bible, and therefore this dogma has always been the chief source of controversy in Reformed theology.

Legalism and Otherworldliness

With Calvin, as with Melanchthon, the thought of repentance went with that of promise. Repentance must precede, although it does not produce, justification. How repentance manifests itself, what God requires as sanctification, and how the moral demands on the Christian are satisfied, Calvin determined from the Bible as a code of statutory laws. He would have a purification of the acts and forms of life after a Biblical pattern which Luther and Melanchthon never dreamed of. As a matter of fact, he succeeded in divesting Geneva of its old national customs, and everywhere in the Reformed Church appears the same tendency to conform the external matters of life to the words of the Bible in a manner quite foreign to Lutheranism. At the same time, Reformed morality has never spent itself in striving after "apostolic simplicity" and the like, and while the "weightier matters of the law" are never forgotten, there has always been a sharp line of demarcation between the Lutherans and Reformed, as seen, for instance, in the development of Puritanism.

A noteworthy trait in Calvin's personal piety is due to the large part which the future life had in his thinking. If the world is all for God's glory, the Christian has nothing else to do in the world and in his calling than to serve God. That it is well to fight against every worldly pleasure is the fundamental thought of Calvin's ethics; and the abnegation of self is held to be the height of Christian achievement. The Christian can find joy only in the hope of heaven and in the vision of God in his immediate glory. The Reformed Church, furthermore, shows a tendency to direct its thoughts to heaven in a way which works on the imagination more than is the case with Lutherans. Calvin was no mystic; but the long list of independents and sects among the Reformed shows a propensity to mysticism, ecstasy, and fanaticism. Chiliastic expectations and the like are also more at home among the Reformed than among Lutherans.

Theocracy and Church Freedom

Concerning the State, Luther and Calvin agreed only in holding that it had a duty from God with respect to the Gospel. Luther believed that Church and State are independent, each in its sphere, but mutually bound to help one another. Only when the institutions of the Church (bishops, synods, etc.) prove insufficient, is the State called on to intervene outside of its peculiar field (justice, defense, oversight of civil life, trade, etc.). The Church may advise the State, but the latter should finally determine what it will do. It may be inefficient or wholly indifferent, but this does not justify open resistance; the Christian attitude toward the government must then become one of passive endurance (so both Luther and Melanchthon). In marked contrast with this, the Reformed never scrupled to take arms against the State when it opposed them (in France, the Netherlands, England); they held that a government which sets itself against God and the Bible thereby forfeits its rights. Neither may the government decide upon its course of action in concrete cases; its duty is laid down by God in the Bible. The Old-Testament pattern was ever in Calvin's mind; the Old Testament furnished him with his basis of criminal law; and the end in view was to produce a "people of God" by governmental agencies. Unlike Melanchthon, Calvin desired to set up a theocracy, though not a hierocracy; he required obedience to God, to Christ, and to the Bible, not to himself or to the Church.

While Lutheranism, as a rule, remained subject to the jurisdiction of even unfriendly civil authority, non-German Protestantism assumed a less pliant attitude, even proceeding, as in the case of the Huguenots and Puritans, to armed resistance. This position, however, was not merely caused by surrounding conditions, but was a matter of actual principles derived from the Bible, which also furnished the theory of the internal organization of the Reformed Churches (see Presbyter, Presbyterate, II.). The Reformed Church often assumed the character of a State Church, particularly in Zwinglian territory, where ecclesiastical administration even became part of the department of State; but in such cases the State was either so strong or so friendly that no one thought of claiming independence. Secessions have been not infrequent (cf. Scotland). The principle has always been that the Reformed congregation of God is sovereign, subject to but one lord, Christ. All members stand on an equality, and officials are appointed and controlled directly by the congregation as a necessary inference of this independent sovereignty. Church government for Calvin meant independent discipline, whereas the Lutherans made this a duty of the State (see Church Discipline). In the opinion of Calvin the Church was the congregation. Its rites and ceremonies were a part of the general apparatus for the glory of God, and the pedagogic element in divine service sank into the background. It was a duty to exclude the unworthy. Desire to fulfil this duty led to a most minute and active pastoral care, and, in general, it may be said that the Reformed Church puts more stress than the Lutheran upon this part of the pastor's work. The Reformed Church has also shown great missionary and proselytizing zeal—a direct consequence of its concept of the glory of God as the chief end of man.

The Lords Supper and Liturgy

The difference concerning the Lord's Supper was originally felt (by Lutherans at any rate) to be the greatest distinction between the two branches of Protestantism (see Lord's Supper for full statement of both Lutheran and Reformed views and practise), although, as a matter of fact, the bitter controversy was concerned chiefly with differences in the form of the ceremony. The theory of worship differs throughout in the two Churches. Here also Calvinism claimed to follow the Biblical pattern. Calvin tried to arrange all festivals according to the New Testament, but in so doing he had to introduce many "necessary" innovations—Sunday (from the seventeenth century, first among the Puritans, = the Sabbath) as the only holy day (no more saints' days, and scarcely a trace of Christmas), no pictures or images, no candles, no altar (only a table), no vestments, no organ, no hymns (only the Psalms), no liturgy, or a most meager one. Lutheranism, on the other hand, retained all of the old and familiar service that could be interpreted as Evangelical and modeled its liturgy for Sunday and for the Eucharist on the service of the mass. The Reformed Lord's Supper, on the contrary, is held to be based simply upon the apostolic pattern.

A noteworthy fact in Reformed church history is the continued production of creeds or "confessions" (as the Reformed prefer to call them). It shows a different attitude toward symbols from that of the Lutherans; the confessions are regarded as actual statements of the chief doctrines, and of late it has sometimes been declared in credal form that this or that tradition is no longer believed in. The great weight laid on the forms of life as well as of the service and constitution of the Church has promoted the growth of sects, since where such things are supposed to be derived from the Bible alone, there is often much room for difference of opinion as to what the Bible requires. Lastly it may be noted that in the time of orthodoxy the Reformed Church was much more productive in scholarship than the Lutheran.

Internal Development in 19th century

Pietism and the Enlightenment

The great movement of Pietism was, properly speaking, only an earnest attempt to give practical realization to the standards of the time of orthodoxy, especially in private life. The Bible was not made the sole authority of faith and life to the satisfaction of many earnest but one-sided souls. The Protestant Church was distrusted as having become in its way as much bound to its system and as authoritative as the Roman. The Reformed Church, however, for all its precision of definition, had a vein of underlying mysticism, while Lutheranism had an impulse from its founders to interpret repentance and conversion as a violent change in the individual life. The result was that form of Pietism which is, perhaps, the most important—the painful striving of individuals to make their Christian calling surer and strenuous efforts to attain personal Christianity, true inwardness, and depth. As a whole, however, Pietism exercised a conservative influence on Protestantism, and afforded orthodoxy the new strength to arise to a veritable renaissance after the decline of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.

The Enlightenment gave Protestantism a distinctly new character. It signified for Protestantism as such the letting loose of its secular interests, and in spirit was more akin to the Renaissance than to the Reformation. Clericalism and orthodoxy it regarded as its foes because of their claim to possess an authoritative, divine truth which the human mind might not criticize. The rapid growth of the commerce of England and Holland in the seventeenth century and the wealth which followed brought to these non-Roman Catholic lands questions of all sorts—social, political, philosophical, and religious. Bacon's attempt to found a new practical science was in part a reaction against Melanchthon's method. The time had come for Protestantism to have a deductive philosophy, at least of the world, and it is hardly an accident that, with the exception of the Jew, Spinoza, all great philosophers since Descartes have sprung from Protestantism, and that most of them have had a certain sympathy with it.

The Passing of Orthodoxy

As a system Protestantism is intellectual and spiritual rather than liturgical and legalistic. Protestant theology of the seventeenth century addressed itself to the common people. One might say that it aimed to make every Christian a theologian. The specific endeavor was to make the Bible plain and widely known, since only thus, it was believed, could piety be rightly grounded and real. Before the end of the century, however, theologians were rudely disturbed in this work by the demand to judge the results of reason simply by the weight of the evidence for them. When this was applied to orthodox notions of natural knowledge of God and his law, a yawning chasm opened, for theology regarded natural knowledge as a remnant of an earlier knowledge which was supernatural in its origin as was all truth, which is revealed in full in the Bible; and in the background lurked the conviction that the unaided mind is impotent. The doctrines of the Enlightenment set up a new kind of mind, confident in itself, and feeling no need of instruction from religion. There was a revival of the spirit of the Renaissance, which had been repressed by the Reformation, although sympathy with the Reformation was not lacking. Luther had appealed to his experience as a witness to truth, but his time was not able to understand and explain fully the functions of experience in relation to religion. The Enlightenment took up this problem. The controversy in principle concerned the place of supranaturalism in the search for truth. All sorts of compromises were tried by both sides. The enlightened were ready to defend revelation after they had proved that its content agreed with the investigations of reason, and the orthodox reversed the process. Finally, a new point of view was won in a changed apprehension of what is credible.

The contest was fought out chiefly in the fields of the natural sciences and history. The faith of the Church, inevitably from its dependence on the Bible, was closely bound up with the ancient notions of the world and the Ptolemaic system. In spite of orthodox opposition, the new Copernican system steadily won more and more the adherence of thinking minds, and the new science even invaded the domain of religion with the so-called physico-theological argument for the existence of God. Herein it vindicated the power of the reason to attain real and sure belief in God. Had the new science issued only in skepticism or materialism, it must have disintegrated Protestantism. But when it brought the proof that reason is capable of independent and convincing achievement in the religious sphere, it opened the way to a general revision of the concept of God with the help of reason. Incidentally it cut at the root of the belief in miracles, and tended to make such things as the belief in a devil, in witches, and in magical powers obsolete in Protestant piety.

In the field of history actual experience first shook faith in a special and positive revelation. The wrangling of denominations and sects and the misery of the religious wars indeed justified a doubt whether the true criterion of truth had been found. This was the background of the first deistic essays, which sprang expressly from religious interest. Then came deeper and wider study of past history, an expansion of geographical and ethnographical knowledge, and the first real acquaintance with heathen religions. It had to be admitted that antiquity offers many examples of a noble religiosity, and when it was asserted that all religions have an identical kernel, orthodoxy, because of its theory of a primitive revelation, at least could not deny that this was probable. The way was opened wide to the acceptance, in the name of Christianity itself, of general moral reason as the supreme guide in religious things. Then the very citadel of orthodoxy was attacked. Locke declared the Bible the palladium of rational Christianity, and so simplified its moral teaching that the natural law seemed no longer a hinting at the latter but its real content. The conviction became established that orthodoxy had fallen far short of understanding the Bible.

About the middle of the eighteenth century Protestantism looked back upon its orthodox period as sunken in deep error, and considered pure Christianity the champion of a natural religion, rational in its metaphysics and its morality. The idea of striving after perfection, immanent in the human spirit, and to be educated and molded by Church and State, was now its guiding-star in morals. The solution of its problems, both moral and religious, was sought not so much by laying down statutory requirements as by seeking underlying principles. Differences of individual opinion came to be tolerated, not because of an indifference to truth, but because it was recognized that the way of the Gospel is. to convince.

Late Nineteenth Century

The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed a revival of orthodoxy, which was followed by a new pietism that repeated all the excesses of the older in its recoil from the Enlightenment. The eager and fruitful interest in world history which characterized the century had its influence on church history and Biblical history, and made these departments the foremost in theological study. It seems to some that Albrecht Ritschl has rendered a distinct service to Protestantism by his powerful combination of the historical and the religious aspects of the person of Christ, but the time has not yet come for a system of dogmatics on the basis of investigable history. Neither is it possible at present to say what will be the ultimate significance for Protestantism of the latest school, that of comparative religion. It betokens a real gain in its interest in what was once thought alien and remote, while in its antagonism to all supranaturalism it betrays sympathies with the Enlightenment. The social and political changes inaugurated by the French Revolution, and the rapid and unprecedented development of industry and commerce, have brought moral problems which at first inspire more alarm than courage. Under the burden of the day's work and duties it is easy to forget that the mills of God grind slowly. The century has made the different denominations better acquainted with one another. During the last generation North America has come vigorously to the front in the field of scientific theological work. That the old conceptions of the Bible have their stronghold there at present is not strange. It must be admitted that in both the Lutheran and the Reformed Church the old types everywhere live on in spite of many readjustments.

Relation to the State

The rationalizing of the lex naturæ gave a new character to the jus naturæ as well as to natural religion and morality. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the State became continually more and more secularized under the influence of the new school of jurists (Grotius, Hobbes, Pufendorf, Thomasius, Pfaff, etc.), who found its basis in the consent of the governed rather than in divine right, and made its aim the welfare of the citizens, at the same time limiting welfare to the things of this world. Under this concept of the State every citizen has freedom, including the privilege of thinking as he pleases so long as he does not disturb public order. Religion becomes a private matter of the individual, and the State renounces all attempts to support and govern or control the Church, except in so far as the functions of the latter have points of contact with the interests and aims of the State. Of course, the old order was-not done away with in radical manner all at once, and governments adopted the new idea in different measure. In general, however, the spirit of the time seemed to threaten the complete disorganization of the Church, especially in Germany, where the existing order rested on the very different conceptions of Melanchthon. On Reformed territory the danger was less, since the Protestant Churches there were generally independently organized from the beginning. Anglicanism and Scandinavian Lutheranism had also a conserving force in the retention of the episcopate. After the founding of the Union in Prussia there was a reaction, due, in part, to the Reformation jubilee in 1817, which directed attention to the historical origin of Protestantism and the concrete ideas and aims of the Reformers. By 1900, however, the complete separation of Church and State has begun everywhere in Germany. The Protestant people still cherish their old church customs, with the possible exception of the Lord's Supper, and the interest shown by the laity in the scientific work of theology is full of promise.

The Church of England

The Church of England claims to be distinguished from the Protestant Churches, Lutheran and Calvinist, of the European continent (as well as from those bodies which have at a later date separated from her communion), in that at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century she retained, along with the ancient creeds, the traditional order of the ministry, with its authoritative commission handed down in successive episcopal ordinations from the apostles. To these two leading elements of Catholic order may be added the retention of the old forms of liturgical worship, translated into English, simplified, and purged of superstitious accretions. With regard to worship, Bishop Jewel in 1685 said, "We are come as near as we possibly could to the church of the apostles, and of the old Catholic bishops and Fathers; and have directed according to their customs and ordinances not only our doctrine, but also the sacraments and the form of common prayer." In accordance with these principles the Preface of the first English Prayer Book (1549), retained in the present book under the title "Concerning the service of the Church," refers to "the ancient fathers" for the original of divine service, and declares that what is now set forth is "much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers." The continuous identity of the English Church before and after the Reformation is distinctly asserted in the same preface, when it is said, "The service in this Church of England these many years hath been read in Latin." With regard to doctrine, the convocation of 1571 in the canon (Concionatores) which required subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles laid down that "Preachers above all things be careful that they never teach aught to be religiously held and believed by the people except that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testament, and which the Catholic Fathers and ancient bishops have collected from that very doctrine." In the same spirit a canon of 1604 explains, "So far was it from the purpose of the Church of England to forsake or reject the Churches of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, or any such like Church [those that is, which still remained in obedience to the Roman see] in all things which they held or practised, that, as 'The Apology of the Church of England' confesseth, it doth with reverence retain those ceremonies which do neither endamage the Church of God, nor offend the minds of sober men, and only departed from them in those particular points wherein they were fallen, both from themselves in their ancient integrity, and from the Apostolic Churches which were their first founders." With regard to the ministry, in Europe generally the Reformers separated from the several national churches, and, without bishops (to whom the right of transmitting the ministry was restricted), thought themselves forced to choose between a lesser and a greater evil, the loss of the apostolic succession (see Apostolic Succession; and Succession, Apostolic), and the forfeiture of pure doctrine. Later the necessity of episcopal ordination came to be generally denied, and by some the necessity of any inherited ministry.

In England, on the other hand, there was no breach of continuity, no new church was set up. The English bishops, clergy, and laity as a body acquiesced in the changes that were made. It was not until 1570 that Pope Pius V. issued his bull deposing Queen Elizabeth, absolving her subjects from their allegiance, and commanding his adherents to withdraw from the English Church. As an evidence of continuity one bishop (Kitchen of Llandaff) held his office through all those troubled times—under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth I—never imagining that he had been a bishop in more than one church. The Preface to the Ordinal (1549; strengthened in 1662)—maintained in all branches of the Anglican communion—lays down the principle that the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons inherited "from the apostles' time" are to be "continued" in the Church of England, and accordingly that no one without episcopal consecration or ordination, either Anglican or other, is to be allowed to execute the functions of bishop, priest, or deacon. However, the Roman Catholic Church maintains that changes in the ordination rite in the Church of England invalidated it. The title "Protestant" the Church of England never accepted, though several of her divines have so described her position and theirs, meaning by the term "Reformed and anti-papal," but not using it in contradistinction to "Catholic." Thus Bishop Cosin (1675) speaks of the English Church as "Protestant and reformed according to the ancient Catholic Church "; and Bishop Sanderson (1689) speaks of "the true belief and right understanding of the great article concerning the Scripture's sufficiency being the most proper characteristical note of the right English Protestant, as he standeth in the middle between and distinguished from the papists on the one hand, and (sometimes styled) puritan on the other." The same position with regard to Catholic doctrine, worship, and ministry is claimed by the daughter or sister churches of the Church of England, in Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and the British Empire. Accordingly the bishops of the whole Anglican communion, assembled at the second Lambeth Conference in 1878, in their Official Letter declared:

"The principles on which the Church of England has reformed itself are well known. We proclaim the sufficiency and supremacy of the Holy Scriptures as the ultimate rule of faith, and commend to our people the diligent study of the same. We confess our faith in the words of the ancient Catholic Creeds. We retain the Apostolic order of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. We assert the just liberties of particular or national churches. We provide our people, in their own tongue, with a Book of Common Prayer and Offices for the administration of the Sacraments, in accordance with the best and most ancient types of Christian faith and worship."


See Quakers


see Church of Scotland

United States


See Latourette's monumental history of missionary work worldwide.[4]


Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher, the two greatest thinkers of Protestantism, refined its theological methods and raised it to a new level. Kant's distinction between pure and practical reason accomplished no more than to open up to theology new and fruitful paths of investigation. But his fundamental conception of reason as a law-giving potency was the culmination of the basal idea of the Enlightenment that the spirit is superior to all external nature, and it has permanent and far reaching religious value in so far as it has reference to no inborn empirically known function of reason, but to one which is to be understood and asserted only in the conviction that the spirit is of supernatural determination. Kant did not contribute much to the understanding of religion, but all the more to that of morality by his doctrine of the autonomy of the moral law. Schleiermacher made the daring attempt to free religion from intellectualism and moralism. His thought that the essence of religion is the absolute feeling of dependence is a profound one; it means that the pious man knows not that he lives, but that God lives in him; he lives not in his own power, but in a power received; he "is lived." Important also in Schleiermacher is the revival of a religious valuation of Christ. His system is loaded down, however, with esthetic and pantheistic notions, and more of the same sort has been brought into Protestantism by the school of Hegel. The most important idea of the latter, that of the consistent development of history, is now being tested.


  1. This article is largely based on F. Kattenbusch and Arthur C. A. Hall, "Protestantism" in New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, (1911) Vol. IX
  2. According to the estimate of H. K. Carroll reproduced in Christendom Anno Domini 1901, ed. W. D. Grant, , 1902, i. 530–531
  3. H. Zeller's figures for the Eastern Church are 106,480,000, Orthodox; 8,130,000 "other [Eastern] Christians."; H. A. Krose, gives Greek Orthodox 109,000,000l schismatic Orientals, 6,554,913; Raskolniks (Russian dissenters), 2,173,371. Roman Catholics 265,000,000; Eastern Church 117,000,000.
  4. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A history of the expansion of Christianity (7 vol 1939-1970), online edition