Is Protestantism and the Protestant Church Biblical? The History, Beliefs, Myths and Facts

What is Protestantism?

Protestantism encompasses faith and practice that originated with doctrines and religious, political, and ecclesiological impulses of the Protestant Reformation. The term Protestantism has been used in several different senses, often as a general term to refer to "Western Christianity" that is not subject to papal authority, including some traditions that were not part of the original Protestant movement.

Is Protestantism Biblical?

What the Bible Really Teaches:

Protestant and Protestantism

Protestantism is one of the three major divisions in Christendom that claims to be Christian; the others are Catholicism and the Eastern "Orthodox" churches.

Protestantism began in Europe with the Reformation of the 16th century. Early leaders were Martin Luther and John Calvin. King Henry VIII in England led the church in his country out of communion with the Church of Rome after the Pope refused to grant him a divorce with the right to remarriage. Although he opposed Protestant doctrines, his action in ending the Pope's role in England contributed to the advance of Protestantism under Henry's successors.

The exact origin of the term protestant is unsure, and may come either from French: protestant or German: protestant. However, it is certain that both languages derived their word from the Latin: protestantem, meaning "one who publicly declares/protests", which refers to the letter of protestation by Lutheran princes against the decision of the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which reaffirmed the edict of the Diet of Worms in 1521, banning Martin Luther's 95 theses of protest against some beliefs and practices of the early 16th century Catholic Church.

The term Protestant was not initially applied to the Reformers, but later was used to describe all groups protesting Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Since that time, the term Protestant has been used in many different senses, often as a general term merely to signify so-called Christians who belong to neither the Roman Catholic, Eastern or Oriental "Orthodoxy" churches.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation was the 16th century movement which led to the separation of the Protestant churches from the Roman Catholic Church. It is usually said to have started when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the cathedral in Wittenburg, Germany calling for a discussion of false doctrines and malpractices within the Catholic Church as he saw them. These included the sale of indulgences and the doctrine underlying them, as well as the powers of the Pope. He had not, however, intended to create a rival church.

The fundamental principles of the Protestant Reformation is known as the Five Solas. Luther was supported by several European leaders and religious provoking a religious revolution that began in Germany, and extending through Switzerland, France, Netherlands, England, Scandinavia and some parts of Eastern Europe, especially the Baltic countries and Hungary. The response of the Roman Catholic Church was the movement known as the Counter-Reformation or Catholic Reformation, that begun with the Council of Trent.

Background of the Protestant Reformation

Moral Corruption in the Leadership of the Church

The years leading up to the Protestant Reformation were plagued by moral corruption and abuse of position by some in the Roman Catholic Church. The priesthood was guilty of several abuses of privilege and responsibility, including simony (using one's wealth or influence to purchase an ecclesiastical office), the selling of relics and indulgences, pluralism (holding multiple offices simultaneously) and absenteeism (the failure to reside in the parish where they were supposed to minister). The practice of celibacy which was imposed by the church on the priesthood was often abused or ignored, leading to immoral conduct on the part of the clergy. Secular-minded, ignorant priests corrupted their position by neglect or abuse of power.

During the fifteenth century the worldliness and corruption by men in the church reached its worst. The problem of corruption reached all the way to the papacy. The Renaissance affected the popes of the period. Many of the Renaissance popes such as Julius II (1441-1513) were humanists who were more interested in classical culture and art than in spiritual concerns. Some, such as Alexander VI (1431-1503), lived notoriously wicked and scandalous lives. Leo X (1475-1521), the son of Lorenzo de' Medici and pope when Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses, once said that God gave him the papacy, so he would "enjoy it."

Among those who spoke out for a reform of the church was the Dominican Giralamo Savonarola (1452-1498) of Florence, Italy. This fiery preacher spoke out against the corrupt morals of the city's leaders and the abuses of the papacy. The people were won over to Savonarola's cause in Florence, but because of religious rivalries and political circumstances, the movement was short-lived. Although innocent, Savonarola was hanged and burned for heresy in 1498.

Early Reforming Religious Movements

During the late middle ages several heretical movements arose that challenged some of the basic doctrines of Scripture and Roman Catholic Tradition. Many of these movements were officially condemned by the Church as heresy and were severely suppressed.


The Albigensians arose in southern France in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The Abigensians (also called Cathari) held to a strict dualism similar to the ancient gnostics. They believed that the world with all its misery and corruption was created by an evil God (that sometimes is associated with Satan) and that the spiritual and heavenly realm was created by the good and true God. Nonetheless, the Cathars also believed that there are particles of the lost kingdom of God in this world, and they need to be found. They practiced an exaggerated asceticism (they viewed self-starvation as an "assurance" of salvation), considering themselves the only pure and perfect. They also held the New Testament to be the sole standard of authority and completely rejected the Old Testament and the vengeful and angry God described within it. (Not that there ever was a difference between the God of the Old and New Testaments, of course. More weight was simply put on God's justice in the Old Law while in the New, with the coming of Christ, more weight was put on His mercy and love. His justice and mercy have always remained the same though). The sect became the object of a fierce campaign of just persecution when Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against them in 1204.


A movement known as the Waldensians was probably founded in the eleventh century by Peter Waldo. Traveling preachers known as the Poor Men of Lyons emphasized the study and preaching of the Bible. They translated the New Testament into the vernacular, rejected the Catholic doctrines of the priesthood and of purgatory, and of indulgences and prayers for the dead, and advocated a return to the Scriptures as the only authority in religion, seemingly ignoring the New Testament's endorsement of tradition as equal along with scripture (2 Thessalonians 2:15). They denounced all lying as a grievous sin, refused to take oaths and considered the shedding of human blood unlawful. They consequently condemned war and the infliction of the death penalty and even renounced self-defense. Others rejected infant baptism, transubstantiation, and tried to return to "simple apostolic Christianity". They allowed any "believer" to administer sacraments, rejected Catholic feast days with very few exceptions, and they ultimately disassociated themselves from physical paraphernalia including buildings, cemeteries, liturgies, and the like.

John Wycliffe

In England, John Wycliffe (1324-84), a well-known professor at Oxford, also challenged the authority of the papacy. During the Avignon Papacy, he argued that all legitimate dominion comes from God and is characterized by the authority exercised by Christ on earth – not to be served but to serve. During the Great Schism, Wycliffe taught that the true Church of Christ, rather than consisting of the pope and church hierarchy, is the invisible body of the elect. He promoted the study of Scripture over the Tradition of the Church. He taught that the Scriptures ought to be put into the hands of the elect, and in their own language. Wycliffe thus provided an English translation in about 1384.

Wycliffe denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, called the Pope anti-Christ, argued the priesthood of all believers, condemned the saint cult and the veneration of relics. He repudiated the sale of indulgences and masses for the dead. He believed that lordship held by humans is forfeited by mortal sin. He also believed that no monks or clergy, not even the righteous, could hold temporal possessions without sin, and further that it was lawful for kings and princes to deprive them of what they held unlawfully.

Wycliffe was eventually condemned for heresy, but his influence continued. His followers, called "Lollards," spread his teachings as an underground movement in England. They rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, the veneration of images, clerical celibacy, and other Catholic doctrines as abominations. They were an important influence in England on the eve of the Protestant Reformation.

Like the heretics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Wycliffe started with an attack on clerical wealth; he then went on to dispute the authority of the Church and, finally, its sacramental system.

John Huss

Another early voice calling for reform was John Huss (1369-1415), a Bohemian preacher and scholar. Influenced by Wycliffe's writings, Huss argued that the true Church was not the institution as defined by Catholicism, but the body of the elect under the headship of Christ. He insisted the Bible is the final authority by which the pope or any Christian is to be judged. Huss was burned for heresy in 1415, about a century before Luther's stand in Wittenberg. The Hussite movement continued to grow after their leader's death, preparing the way for the Protestant Reformation.

Some Interesting Facts About Martin Luther,

The Originator of Protestantism

Protestantism originated with Martin Luther (1483-1546), an ex-Catholic. Even though Protestants would contend that they follow “true biblical Christianity,” and not a man, they are inclined to defend Martin Luther. This is because Martin Luther was the first identifiable spokesman for their version of “Christianity.” Prior to his separation from the Catholic Church in 1520, there was no public defender of what we now know to be Protestantism, the core doctrines of which are justification by faith alone and Scripture alone.

Even though Luther is the central figure in the history of Protestantism, few Protestants know much about him, or about how he came upon his beliefs. I invite the reader to consider the following facts.

  • Protestant Theology

    However vague and indefinite the creed of individual Protestants may be, it always rests on a few standard rules, or principles, bearing on the Sources of faith, the means of justification, and the constitution of the church. An acknowledged Protestant authority, Philip Schaff (in "The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge", s.v. Reformation), sums up the principles of Protestantism in the following words:

    "The Protestant goes directly to the Word of God for instruction, and to the throne of grace in his devotions; whilst the pious Roman Catholic consults the teaching of his church, and prefers to offer his prayers through the medium of the Virgin Mary and the saints.

    "From this general principle of Evangelical freedom, and direct individual relationship of the believer to Christ, proceed the three fundamental doctrines of Protestantism — the absolute supremacy of (1) the Word, and of (2) the grace of Christ, and (3) the general priesthood of believers. . . . "

    Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone)

    The first objective or formal principle proclaims the canonical Scriptures, especially the New Testament, to be the only infallible source and rule of faith and practice, and asserts the right of private interpretation of the same, in distinction from the Roman Catholic view, which declares the Bible and tradition to be co-ordinate sources and rule of faith, and makes tradition, especially the decrees of popes and councils, the only legitimate and infallible interpreter of the Bible. In its extreme form Chillingworth expressed this principle of the Reformation in the well-known formula, "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Protestants."

    Protestantism, however, by no means despises or rejects church authority as such, but only subordinates it to, and measures its value by, the Bible, and believes in a progressive interpretation of the Bible through the "expanding" and "deepening" consciousness of Protestant "Christendom". Hence, besides having its own symbols or standards of public doctrine, it retained all the articles of the ancient creeds and a large amount of disciplinary and ritual tradition, and rejected only those doctrines and ceremonies for which, according to them, no clear warrant was found in the Bible and which seemed to contradict its letter or spirit. The Calvinistic branches of Protestantism went farther in their antagonism to the received traditions than the Lutheran and the Anglican; but all (or most) united in rejecting the authority of the pope, the meritoriousness of good works, indulgences, the worship of the Virgin, saints, and relics, the sacraments (other than baptism and the Eucharist), the dogma of transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory, and prayers for the dead, priestly confession, celibacy of the clergy, the monastic system, and the use of the Latin tongue in public worship, for which the vernacular languages were substituted.

    Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone): An Examination

    According to Protestants, the Bible teaches that Scripture (the written word of God) is the only rule of faith for a Christian. Along with justification by faith alone (sola fide), Scripture alone (sola scriptura) was one of the central tenets of the Protestant reformation.

    However, the truth is that the Bible does not teach that Scripture is the only rule of faith for a Christian. The Bible teaches that both Scripture and apostolic tradition are sources of Christ's revelation, and that one must accept both of them along with the Church. That's why the Catholic Church has always taught that there are two sources of divine revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition); and that the Church instituted by Jesus Christ was given authority to determine the authentic meaning of Scripture and Tradition.

    If the Bible is the only rule of faith for a Christian as the above and many other heretics claim, then logically the Church would not be a rule of faith for a Christian. However, the Bible clearly teaches that one must hear the Church and follow Tradition.

    Matthew 18:17 "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

    2 Thessalonians 2:15 "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."

    Luke 10:16 "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me."

    This teaching of Jesus, that one must hear the Church under pain of being considered a heathen, refutes the entire idea of Scripture alone. This proves that the heretics that denies the Church denies Jesus Christ and the Bible.

    Jesus' condemnation of the "tradition of men" (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:8, etc.) had nothing to do with the true apostolic tradition, which the Bible says we must accept. Jesus was condemning the man-made practices of the Pharisees.

    2 Thessalonians 3:6 "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."

    Further, the bible teaches that the church, not the bible, is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

    1 Timothy 3:15 "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

    As one former Protestant minister (who eventually saw the falsity of Protestantism) put it: "If I were writing that verse [1 Tim. 3:15] as a Protestant, I would have said that the Bible, not the Church, is the pillar and ground of the truth. But St. Paul says it's the Church. This means that the Church must be every bit as infallible as the Bible, and that it must present something unique by way of presenting the truth of Jesus Christ."

    The unique role of the Church is that it sets forth the true meaning of Scripture and Tradition in precise terms and dogmas, something the Bible was not intended to do in all of its passages, which should be obvious to any honest person considering the issue. All the thousands of sects that has been created throughout the ages, and especially after the Protestant reformation, simply because they didn't knew how to interpret scripture correctly, undeniably proves this fact. Moreover, if the Church is infallible and the pillar of truth, there must obviously be a way of recognizing its infallible teaching by means of a continued succession of authority which would safeguard the truth and exercise its authority (see The Papacy in Scripture).

    For a more in depth refutation of Scripture alone (sola scriptura), please consult the following article: The Bible does not teach Sola Scriptura (scripture alone).

    Sola Fide (Faith Alone) and Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)

    The subjective principle of the Reformation is justification by faith alone, or, rather, by free grace through faith operative in good works. It has reference to the personal appropriation of salvation, and aims to give all glory to Christ, by declaring that the sinner is justified before God (i.e. is acquitted of guilt, and declared righteous) solely on the ground of the all-sufficient merits of Christ as apprehended by a living faith, in opposition to the theory — then prevalent, and substantially sanctioned by the Council of Trent — which makes faith and good works co-ordinate sources of justification, laying the chief stress upon works. Protestantism does not depreciate good works; but it denies their value as sources or conditions of justification, and insists on them as the necessary fruits of faith, and evidence of justification.

    Sola gratia is the teaching that salvation comes by divine grace. Protestant reformers believed that this emphasis was in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, though the Catholic Church had explicitly affirmed the doctrine of sola gratia in the year 529 in the Council of Orange, which condemned the Pelagian heresy (which taught salvation apart from grace). As a response to this misunderstanding, Catholic doctrine was further clarified in the Council of Trent—the Council explained that salvation is made possible only by grace; the faith and works of men are secondary means that have their origins in and are sustained by grace.

    Sola Fide (or Faith Alone Through Grace Alone): An Examination

    Catholics believe in sola gratia. But it is a faith that is not separated from works (per James). Faith inherently includes these works (even Luther and Calvin agree with that). But we're not saved by faith alone (that's where Protestantism errs); we're saved by grace alone. That is the Catholic teaching. Grace is primary in the whole process, so in that very real sense we can say "saved by grace alone" (i.e., without separating works of course) -- whereas we can never say "saved by faith alone" (i.e., with works playing no part at all) -- which is classic Protestant heresy, or "saved by works alone" (i.e., without grace) -- which is the Pelagian heresy. The true Catholic position will always include the works alongside grace and faith.

    The majority of Protestants not only believe in faith alone, but also in eternal security, which means that according to them, a true believer cannot lose his salvation. These doctrines contradict both the natural law and reason which says that every man shall be rewarded or punished for his deeds. It also contradicts, word for word, the teaching of James 2 in scripture, which teach that faith without works is dead, and that man is not saved by faith alone. A person who believes in faith alone or eternal security is a heretic, because he rejects a truth he knows to be true from the natural law, that God is a rewarder and a punisher of our actions, and that faith alone does not justify a man only, but our deeds also.

    Galatians 5:19-21 "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God."

    How clear does it have to get? You can lose your salvation if you do certain things.

    For a more in depth refutation of faith alone and eternal security, please consult the following article: Justification by faith alone and eternal security refuted by the Bible.

    Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)

    Solus Christus ("by Christ alone"), is one of the five solas that summarise the Protestant Reformers' basic belief that salvation is through Christ alone and that Christ is the only mediator between God and man.

    The Protestants characterize the dogma concerning the Pope as Christ's representative head of the Church on earth, the concept of works made meritorious by Christ, and the Catholic idea of a treasury of the merits of Christ and his saints, as a denial that Christ is the only mediator between God and man.

    Soli Deo gloria is a Latin term for "Glory to God alone". All glory is due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through his will and action—not only the gift of the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus on the cross but also the gift of faith in that atonement, created in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. The reformers believed that human beings—even saints canonized by the Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy—are not worthy of any glory, prayer, praise or veneration.

    Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone): An Examination

    The Catholic Church teaches that there is one God, the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three divine persons in one God. Jesus Christ is the second person of the Holy Trinity, true God and true man. God alone is adored and worshipped. This adoration or worship, which is given to God alone, is called latria.

    Saints in Heaven are not adored, but are venerated as holy men and women of God in Heaven. The veneration which is given to saints, which is not adoration, is called dulia. The veneration which is given to the greatest of all the saints, the mother of God, is called hyperdulia. Hyperdulia is also veneration, not worship or adoration.

    There are biblical reasons why the Catholic Church has always recognized the importance and the necessity of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the new Eve, the new Ark, the pure vessel, the sealed gate, and the Mother of God. To fail to have devotion to her is equivalent to a man in the Old Testament who would refuse to venerate the Ark of the Covenant or would refuse to march behind it to a battle. Such a man would fall prey to the enemies of God and would be separated from the camp of God's people (see The Biblical basis for praying to Mary and for Catholic teachings on Mary)

    Jesus is the only mediator between God and men, protestant say, so you can't include saints or prayers to them. This objection is false for many reasons. Just because Jesus is the only mediator does not mean that others do not mediate as part of the one mediation of Christ. For example, in John 10:16 Jesus says that He is the one and only shepherd; but He appoints Peter to shepherd His sheep in John 21:15-17. Ephesians 4:11 also teaches that there are many pastors or shepherds. The point is that these other sub-shepherds all work under and by the institution of the one shepherd, Jesus.

    Another example is that Jesus says He is the supreme judge. We read this in John 9:39 and in many other passages. Certain men of God, however, will also act on His behalf as judges in Heaven, even of angels. We read this in 1 Corinthians 6:2, Matthew 19:28, and elsewhere. Yes, Jesus is the unique mediator, because the mediator is the one who unites man to God. Jesus alone did this by His passion and death. We read this in 2 Corinthians 5:18. But that does not mean that within the one mediation of Christ there are not others who participate in His mediation. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches it.

    If Jesus' unique mediation excluded prayers to saints, then it would also exclude asking a fellow man to pray for you. There is no way around the logic of this argument. For when you ask a fellow man to pray for you, instead of going to Jesus directly, you are asking another person to act as a mediator with Jesus for you. That's what Catholics do when they pray to saints. Therefore, if prayers to saints are excluded by the unique mediation of Jesus, then asking others for prayers is definitely excluded as well.

    Not only do most Protestants accept the concept of asking others to pray for them – thus contradicting their rejection of prayers to saints – but, in the New Testament, St. Paul himself repeatedly asks others for prayers.

    Romans 15:30 "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me."

    Paul also tells others that he is praying for them.

    Colossians 1:3 "… praying always for you…"

    Paul even says that the prayers of others bestow gifts upon him.

    2 Corinthians 1:11 "Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf."

    The Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse also gives us a glimpse of how the saints and their prayers intercede for men.

    Revelation 8:3-4 "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."

    We see another example in Revelation chapter 5.

    Revelation 5:8 "… elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints."

    For much more biblical proof on the intercession of the saints from the Bible, please consult the following file: The Bible on praying to and venerating Saints.

    Regarding the Pope as Christ representative on earth. The Bible contains irrefutable evidence that Jesus made St. Peter the first pope. Among other things: the change of Peter's name; the keys of the kingdom – The striking similarity between Matthew 16 and Isaias 22; who is the Rock of Matthew 16? It's Peter; Peter's unfailing faith; Jesus entrusts all of His sheep to Peter; the prominence of Peter's name in Scripture; Peter takes the prime role in the replacement of Judas; Peter's primacy in the Acts of the Apostles and more. In addition, the early Church recognized the Bishop of Rome as the successor to St. Peter's authority (see The Bible teaches that Jesus made St. Peter the first Pope).

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