What Is the Definition of Protestantism?

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Protestantism is one of the major branches of Christianity today stemming from the movement known as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation began in Europe in the early 16th century by Christians who opposed many of the unbiblical beliefs, practices, and abuses taking place within the Roman Catholic Church.

In a broad sense, present-day Christianity can be divided into three major traditions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Protestants make up the second largest group, with approximately 800 million Protestant Christians in the world today.

The Protestant Reformation

The most notable reformer was German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546), often called the pioneer of the Protestant Reformation. He and many other brave and controversial figures helped reshape and revolutionize the face of Christianity.

Most historians mark the start of the revolution on October 31, 1517, when Luther nailed his famous 95-Thesis to the University of Wittenburg's bulletin board—the Castle Church door, formally challenging church leaders on the practice of selling indulgences and outlining the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone.

Learn more about some of the major Protestant reformers:

Protestant Churches

Protestant churches today consist of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of denominations with roots in the Reformation movement. While specific denominations vary widely in practice and beliefs, a common doctrinal groundwork exists among them.

These churches all reject the ideas of apostolic succession and papal authority. Throughout the course of the Reformation period, five distinct tenets emerged in opposition to Roman Catholic teachings of that day. They are known as the "Five Solas," and they are apparent in the essential beliefs of almost all Protestant churches today:

  • Sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"): The Bible alone is the sole authority for all matters of faith, life, and doctrine.
  • Sola Fide ("faith alone"): Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia ("grace alone"): Salvation is by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus ("Christ alone"): Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ because of his atoning sacrifice.
  • Soli Deo Gloria ("for the glory of God alone"): Salvation is accomplished by God alone, and only for his glory.

Learn more about the beliefs of four major Protestant denominations:



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Fairchild, Mary. "What Is the Definition of Protestantism?" Learn Religions, Sep. 16, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-protestantism-700746. Fairchild, Mary. (2021, September 16). What Is the Definition of Protestantism? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-protestantism-700746 Fairchild, Mary. "What Is the Definition of Protestantism?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-protestantism-700746 (accessed June 1, 2023).