Guess what – they didn’t!
Many people assume that the various Protestant churches – the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. – were once a single church but somehow broke up. But actually, each Christian denomination began independently: The Presbyterian Church was the Church of Scotland, the Anglican/Episcopal Church was the Church of England, the Lutheran Church was the Protestant church that began in Germany, and the Methodist Church began as a Bible study, with a new “method” of studying the Bible.
What Does Protestant Mean?
The word “Protestant” was what the early Protestants called themselves, “pro” meaning “for,” and “test” referring to the Testament, or the written Word of God in the Bible. They wanted Christians to get back to basics, back to following the directives of the Lord Himself as He has given them to us personally in Scripture.
The Catholic Church had gotten far away from the basics, with priests selling indulgences (literally accepting payment for absolving your sins, as if they have that authority!), considering the Pope as the head of the Church rather than Jesus Himself, and deeming that people can go to “purgatory” (another unbiblical concept) rather than to either Heaven or Hell. Peter is considered by Catholics as the first Pope, but we know that Peter was married – because Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39 and Matthew 8:14-15) – so even the standard of priests remaining celibate for a lifetime doesn’t jibe with Scripture.
Is the Reformation When Protestants Started?
It’s sort of ironic that the word “protest” has evolved from that to mean to “rally against” something, almost with an implication of anger, because the Protestants actually considered themselves to be rallying in favor of following in the footsteps of Jesus (and still do). The point wasn’t even to leave the Roman Catholic Church at all but rather to reform the Church internally, back to Biblical standards.
And there’s that word, “reform.” On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, explaining 95 things that he believed the Church was doing against Scripture. This launched the Reformation, which also held the priesthood of all believers (not just priests) and justification by faith, not works (our own actions or efforts).
Thus the Protestant Reformation was born. This strong disagreement of theological perspectives caused the schism within the Catholic Church in the mid-1500s, and so Protestant churches popped up in various areas of Europe where people wanted to get back to Biblical basics again.
Another important reformer was John Calvin, a lawyer-turned-priest who had to leave his native France when Protestants were being killed. He fled to Geneva, Switzerland, where he wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin’s efforts occurred at around the same timeframe as Luther’s actions, so the Reformation was indeed a widespread movement.
How Protestants Influenced the Catholic Church
This theological revolution actually helped to reform the Catholic Church internally, also – they don’t sell indulgences anymore. And they encourage their members to read the Bible for themselves and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the Protestants do. All of the various factions of the greater Church have actually strengthened each other and influenced each other for the better, as it turns out.
Christians of all stripes now sing many of the same songs in church every week, and we collectively inadvertently ensure that the Bible remains the Number One Bestseller at all times. (The New York Times doesn’t bother listing it anymore, even though it should.) We not only buy Bibles for ourselves but also for family, friends, and strangers who we know need to hear that God loves them. There are entire organizations devoted to giving Bibles to people across the globe.
Christianity is the most populous religion of the world, with one-third of the global population considering themselves Christian. And those are just the ones we know about! Christianity is different from any other religion in its stipulation to love those who hate us, and in the belief that God has actually visited mankind – in the form of a person, the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ – at a point of time in history just to set us on the right path once and for all. And that’s something that Protestants, Catholics, and other Christians of all kinds can agree on.