Protestantism is one of the major divisions within Christianity. It has been defined as "any of several church denominations denying the universal authority of the Pope and affirming the Reformation principles of justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the primacy of the Bible as the only source of revealed truth" and, more broadly, to mean Christianity outside "of an Orthodox or Catholic church". It is a movement that is widely seen as beginning in Germany with The Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 as a reaction against medieval doctrines and practices, especially in regard to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology. The doctrines of the over 33,000 Protestant denominations vary, but most include justification by grace through faith alone, known as Sola Gratia and Sola Fide respectively, the priesthood of all believers, and the Bible as the supreme authority in matters of faith and morals, known as Sola Scriptura, Latin for "by scripture alone".
In the 16th century, the followers of Martin Luther established the evangelical (Lutheran) churches of Germany and Scandinavia. Reformed churches in Hungary, Scotland, Switzerland and France were established by other reformers such as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Knox. The Church of England declared independence from papal authority in 1534, and was influenced by some Reformation principles, notably during the English Civil War. There were also reformation movements throughout continental Europe known as the Radical Reformation which gave rise to the Anabaptist, Moravian, and other pietistic movements.
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 Christians who belong to none of the Churches of Catholic tradition (Roman, Orthodox, Monophysite or Nestorian Churches).
In 1517, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian friar, published the 95 theses. Popular history holds that these theses were nailed to a church door in the university town of Wittenberg by Luther himself, but this claim has recently come under scrutiny (see article on Martin Luther for discussion). Luther's propositions challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and a number of specific practices.
Luther was particularly criticizing a common church practice of the day, the selling of indulgences. In Catholic theology, an indulgence was the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. However, Pope Leo X had declared that indulgences were not only for the remission of temporal punishment, but also for guilt itself. (In other words, buying forgiveness.) To Luther, it appeared that selling indulgences was tantamount to selling salvation, something that he felt was against both biblical teaching and Roman Catholic doctrine. At the time, Rome was using the sale of indulgences as a means to raise money for a massive church project, the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.
The Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (commonly known as the 95 theses) was a request for a formal disputation that criticized the practice of selling indulgences. This kind of disputation was a common academic exercise during this era. Luther maintained that justification (salvation) was granted by faith alone, saying that good works and the sacraments were not necessary in order to be saved. A copy of the disputation eventually made it to the hands of the regional bishop, who in turn forwarded the disputation to Rome.
Although the doctrines of Protestant denominations are far from uniform, some beliefs extending across Protestantism are the doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fide.
Protestant churches generally reject the Catholic doctrines of papal supremacy and magisterial authority, including both papal infallibility and the general infallibility of the Church. Because of this, Protestant ministers and church leaders have somewhat different roles and authority in their communities than do Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox priests and bishops.
The Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church. German theologian Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses on the sale of indulgences in 1517. Parallel to events in Germany, a movement began in Switzerland under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli. The political separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VIII, beginning in 1529 and completed in 1536, brought England alongside this broad Reformed movement. The Scottish Reformation of 1560 decisively shaped the Church of Scotland and, through it, all other Presbyterian churches worldwide.
Following the excommunication of Luther and condemnation of the Reformation by the Pope, the work and writings of John Calvin were influential in establishing a loose consensus among various groups in Switzerland, Scotland, Hungary, Germany and elsewhere. In the course of this religious upheaval, the German Peasants' War of 1524–1525 swept through the Bavarian, Thuringian and Swabian principalities. After the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) in the Low Countries and the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598), the confessional division of the states of the Holy Roman Empire eventually erupted in the Thirty Years' War of 1618–1648. This left Germany weakened and fragmented for more than two centuries, until the unification of Germany under the German Empire of 1871.
The success of the Counter-Reformation on the Continent and the growth of a Puritan party dedicated to further Protestant reform polarized the Elizabethan Age, although it was not until the Civil War of the 1640s that England underwent religious strife comparable to that which its neighbours had suffered some generations before.
The "Great Awakenings" were periods of rapid and dramatic religious revival in Anglo-American religious history, generally recognized as beginning in the 1730s. They have also been described as periodic revolutions in colonial religious thought.
In the 20th century, Protestantism, especially in the United States, was characterized by accelerating fragmentation. The century saw the rise of both liberal and conservative splinter groups, as well as a general secularization of Western society. Notable developments in the 20th century of US Protestantism was the rise of Pentecostalism, Christian fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. While these movements have spilled over to Europe to a limited degree, the development of Protestantism in Europe was more dominated by secularization, leading to an increasingly "post-Christian Europe".
The three fundamental principles of traditional Protestantism are the following:
Protestants refer to specific groupings of churches that share in common foundational doctrines and the name of their groups as "denominations". They are differently named parts of the whole "church"; Protestants reject the Roman Catholic doctrine that it is the one true church. Some Protestant denominations are less accepting of other denominations, and the basic orthodoxy of some is questioned by most of the others. Individual denominations also have formed over very subtle theological differences. Other denominations are simply regional or ethnic expressions of the same beliefs. Because the five solas are the main tenets of the Protestant faith, Non-denominational groups and organizations are also considered Protestant. Due to all these factors, an exact count is not possible, but it is estimated that there are approximately 33,000 Protestant denominations.
Various ecumenical movements have attempted cooperation or reorganization of the various divided Protestant denominations, according to various models of union, but divisions continue to outpace unions, as there is no overarching authority to which any of the churches owe allegiance, which can authoritatively define the faith. Most denominations share common beliefs in the major aspects of the Christian faith, while differing in many secondary doctrines, although what is major and what is secondary is a matter of idiosyncratic belief.
There are about 800 million Protestants worldwide, among approximately 2.1 billion Christians. These include 170 million in North America, 160 million in Africa, 120 million in Europe, 70 million in Latin America, 60 million in Asia, and 10 million in Oceania.
Protestants can be differentiated according to how they have been influenced by important movements since the magisterial Reformation and the Puritan Reformation in England. Some of these movements have a common lineage, sometimes directly spawning later movements in the same groups. Only general families are listed here (due to the above-stated multitude of denominations); some of these groups do not consider themselves as part of the Protestant movement, but are generally viewed as such by the public at large.
Since the term "Protestant" often refers to those Christians not of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Oriental or Eastern Orthodox faiths, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are occasionally called Protestant, but they do not adhere to most Protestant principles.[dubious ] Neither do they follow Catholic traditions or creeds. Contrary to traditional Christian practice, Mormons believe in a Priesthood organization consisting of Prophets, Apostles, Seventy, Patriarchs, High Priests, Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons. Latter-day Saints do not hold to the sola scriptura principle of the Bible being the authority of God but in a literal Priesthood authority given to worthy male members to teach the Gospel and administer its ordinances. Neither do they hold to the sola fide concept of faith in Jesus Christ alone, but believe in the combined efforts of deity and man to achieve salvation, that salvation is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel, and that covenants are made to establish the standards necessary for salvation. Latter-day Saints have fervent convictions in Jesus Christ, but due to the radical differences of their additional texts and belief structure, they are frequently not listed as Christian.
The original separation of the Church of England (then including the Church in Wales) and the Church of Ireland from Rome under King Henry VIII largely took a Catholic form. Through the efforts of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas Cromwell, both with Lutheran sympathies, the churches later assumed a reformed character.
In the 19th century some of the Tractarians proposed that the Church of England and the other Anglican churches were not Protestant but a "Reformed Catholic" or middle path (via media) between Rome and Protestantism. This assertion was attacked by, among others, the Church Association. Today, the Anglican Communion continues to be composed of theologically diverse traditions, from Reformed Sydney Anglicanism to High-Church Anglo-Catholicism.
in English-speaking countries
The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the Reformers' basic differences in theological beliefs in opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church of the day. The Latin word sola means "alone", "only", or "single".
The use of the phrases as summaries of teaching emerged over time during the reformation, based on the overarching principle of sola scriptura (by scripture alone). This idea contains the four main doctrines on the Bible: that its teaching is needed for salvation (necessity); that all the doctrine necessary for salvation comes from the Bible alone (sufficiency); that everything taught in the Bible is correct (inerrancy); and that, by the Holy Spirit overcoming sin, believers may read and understand truth from the Bible itself, though understanding is difficult, so the means used to guide individual believers to the true teaching is often mutual discussion within the church (clarity).
The necessity and inerrancy were well-established ideas, garnering little criticism, though they later came under debate from outside during the Enlightenment. The most contentious idea at the time though was the notion that anyone could simply pick up the Bible and learn enough to gain salvation. Though the reformers were concerned with ecclesiology (the doctrine of how the church as a body works), they had a different understanding of the process in which truths in scripture were applied to life of believers, compared to the Catholics' idea that certain people within the church, or ideas that were old enough, had a special status in giving understanding of the text.
The second main principle, sola fide (by faith alone), states that faith in Christ is sufficient alone for eternal salvation. Though argued from scripture, and hence logically consequent to sola scriptura, this is the guiding principle of the work of Luther and the later reformers. As sola scriptura placed the Bible as the only source of teaching, sola fide epitomises the main thrust of the teaching the reformers wanted to get back to, namely the direct, close, personal connection between Christ and the believer, hence the reformers' contention that their work was Christocentric.
The other solas, as statements, emerged later, but the thinking they represent was also part of the early reformation.
The Protestant movement began to coalesce into several distinct branches in the mid-to-late 16th century. One of the central points of divergence was controversy over the Lord's Supper. Early Protestants rejected the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and wine used in the sacrificial rite of the Mass lose their natural substance by being transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. They disagreed with one another concerning the presence of Christ and his body and blood in Holy Communion.
The official view of the Catholic Church on the matter is that Protestant denominations cannot be considered "churches", but rather that they are ecclesial communities or "specific faith-believing communities" because their ordinances, doctrines, are not historically the same as the Catholic sacraments and dogmas, and the Protestant communities have no sacramental/ministerial priesthood, and therefore lack true apostolic succession. According to Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) the Orthodox Church shares the same opinion on the subject.
Contrary to how the Protestant reformers were often characterized, the concept of a catholic or universal Church was not brushed aside during the Protestant Reformation. On the contrary, the visible unity of the Catholic Church was an important and essential doctrine of the Reformation. The Magisterial Reformers, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, believed that they were "reforming" the Catholic Church, which they viewed as having become corrupted. Each of them took very seriously the charges of schism and innovation, denying these charges and maintaining that it was the Catholic Church that had left them. In order to justify their departure from the Catholic Church, Protestants often posited a new argument, saying that there was no real visible Church with divine authority, only a "spiritual", "invisible", and "hidden" church- this notion began in the early days of the Protestant Reformation.
Wherever the Magisterial Reformation, which received support from the ruling authorities, took place, the result was a reformed national Protestant church envisioned to be a part of the whole "invisible church", but disagreeing, in certain important points of doctrine and doctrine-linked practice, with what had until then been considered the normative reference point on such matters, namely the Papacy and central authority of the Catholic Church. The Reformed churches thus believed in some form of Catholicity, founded on their doctrines of the five solas and a visible ecclesiastical organization based on the 14th and 15th century Conciliar movement, rejecting the Papacy and Papal Infallibility in favor of Ecumenical councils, but rejecting the latest ecumenical council, the Council of Trent. Religious unity therefore became not one of doctrine and identity, but one of invisible character, wherein the unity was one of faith in Jesus Christ, not common identity, doctrine, belief, and collaborative action.
Today there is a growing movement of Protestants, especially of the Reformed tradition, that reject the designation "Protestant" because of its negative "anti-catholic" connotations, preferring the designation "Reformed", "Evangelical" or even "Reformed Catholic" expressive of what they call a "Reformed Catholicity" and defending their arguments from the traditional Protestant Confessions.
Unlike mainstream Evangelical (Lutheran), Reformed (Zwinglian and Calvinist) Protestant movements, the Radical Reformation, which had no state sponsorship, generally abandoned the idea of the "Church Visible" as distinct from the "Church Invisible". It was a rational extension of the State-approved Protestant dissent, which took the value of independence from constituted authority a step further, arguing the same for the civic realm.
Protestant ecclesial leaders such as Hubmaier and Hofmann preached the invalidity of infant baptism, advocating baptism as following conversion, called "believer's baptism", instead. This was not a doctrine new to the reformers, but was taught by earlier groups, such the Albigenses in 1147.
In the view of many associated with the Radical Reformation, the Magisterial Reformation had not gone far enough, with radical reformer, Andreas von Bodenstein Karlstadt, for example, referring to the Lutheran theologians at Wittenberg as the "new papists". A more political side of the Radical Reformation can be seen in the thought and practice of Hans Hut, although typically Anabaptism has been associated with pacifism.
Early Anabaptists were severely persecuted by Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic civil authorities.
The German Pietist movement, together with the influence of the Puritan Reformation in England in the 17th century, were important influences upon John Wesley and Methodism, as well as new groups such as the Religious Society of Friends ("Quakers") and the Moravian Brethren from Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany.
The practice of a spiritual life, typically combined with social engagement, predominates in classical Pietism, which was a protest against the doctrine-centeredness Protestant Orthodoxy of the times, in favor of depth of religious experience. Many of the more conservative Methodists went on to form the Holiness movement, which emphasized a rigorous experience of holiness in practical, daily life.
Beginning at the end of 18th century, several international revivals of Pietism (such as the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening) took place across denominational lines, largely in the English-speaking world. Their teachings and successor groupings are referred to generally as the Evangelical movement. The chief emphases of this movement were individual conversion, personal piety and Bible study, public morality often including Temperance and Abolitionism, de-emphasis of formalism in worship and in doctrine, a broadened role for laity (including women) in worship, evangelism and teaching, and cooperation in evangelism across denominational lines. Some of the Major figures in this movement include Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga, John Stott, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Adventism is a Christian movement which began in the 19th century, in the context of the Second Great Awakening in the United States. The name refers to belief in the imminent Second Coming (or "Second Advent") of Jesus Christ. It was started by Baptist Minister William Miller, whose followers became known as Millerites. Today, the largest church within the movement is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The Adventist family of churches is regarded today as conservative Protestants. Although these churches hold much in common, their theology differs on whether the intermediate state is unconscious sleep or consciousness, whether the ultimate punishment of the wicked is annihilation or eternal torment, the nature of immortality, whether or not the wicked are resurrected after the millennium, and whether the sanctuary of Daniel 8 refers to the one in heaven or one on earth. The movement has encouraged the examination of the New Testament, leading them to observe the Sabbath.
Modernism and Liberalism do not constitute rigorous and well-defined schools of theology, but are rather an inclination by some writers and teachers to integrate Christian thought into the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. New understandings of history and the natural sciences of the day led directly to new approaches to theology.
Pentecostalism, as a movement, began in the United States early in the 20th century, starting especially within the Holiness movement. Seeking a return to the operation of New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues as evidence of the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" or to make the unbeliever believe became the leading feature. Divine healing and miracles were also emphasized. Pentecostalism swept through much of the Holiness movement, and eventually spawned hundreds of new denominations in the United States. A later "charismatic" movement also stressed the gifts of the Spirit, but often operated within existing denominations, rather than by coming out of them.
In reaction to liberal Bible critique, fundamentalism arose in the 20th century, primarily in the United States, among those denominations most affected by Evangelicalism.
A non-fundamentalist rejection of liberal Christianity, associated primarily with Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann, neo-orthodoxy sought to counter-act the tendency of liberal theology to make theological accommodations to modern scientific perspectives. Sometimes called "Crisis theology", according to the influence of philosophical existentialism on some important segments of the movement; also, somewhat confusingly, sometimes called neo-evangelicalism.
Evangelicalism is a movement from the middle of the 20th century, that reacted to perceived excesses of Fundamentalism, adding to concern for biblical authority, an emphasis on liberal arts, cooperation among churches, Christian Apologetics, and non-denominational evangelization.
Paleo-orthodoxy is a movement similar in some respects to Neo-evangelicalism but emphasizing the ancient Christian consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium AD, including in particular the early Creeds and councils of the Church as a means of properly understanding the Scriptures. This movement is cross-denominational and the theological giant of the movement is United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden.
The ecumenical movement has had an influence on mainline churches, beginning at least in 1910 with the Edinburgh Missionary Conference. Its origins lay in the recognition of the need for cooperation on the mission field in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Since 1948, the World Council of Churches has been influential, but ineffective in creating a united Church. There are also ecumenical bodies at regional, national and local levels across the globe; but schisms still far outnumber unifications. One, but not the only expression of the ecumenical movement, has been the move to form united churches, such as the Church of South India, the Church of North India, The US-based United Church of Christ, The United Church of Canada, Uniting Church in Australia and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines which have rapidly declining memberships. There has been a strong engagement of Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movement, though the reaction of individual Orthodox theologians has ranged from tentative approval of the aim of Christian unity to outright condemnation of the perceived effect of watering down Orthodox doctrine.
A Protestant baptism is held to be valid by the Roman Catholic Church if given with the trinitarian formula and with the intent to baptize. However, as the ordination of Protestant ministers is not recognized due to the lack of apostolic succession and the disunity from the Catholic Church, all other sacraments (except marriage) performed by Protestant denominations and ministers are not recognized as valid. Therefore, Protestants desiring full communion with the Catholic Church are not re-baptized (although they are confirmed) and Protestant ministers who convert are ordained to the Catholic priesthood after a period of study (cf Apostolicae Curae).
In 1999, the representatives of Lutheran World Federation and Catholic Church signed The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, apparently resolving the conflict over the nature of Justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation, although Confessional Lutherans reject this statement. This is understandable, since there is no compelling authority within them.
On July 18, 2006 Delegates to the World Methodist Conference voted unanimously to adopt the Joint Declaration.
In the mainstream of the Protestant Reformation there is the Biblical Unitarian Movement. Today, biblical Unitarianism (or "Biblical Unitarianism" or "biblical unitarianism") identifies the Christian belief that the Bible teaches God is a singular person-the Father-and that Jesus is a distinct being, his son. A few denominations use this term to describe themselves, clarifying the distinction between them and those churches which, from the late 19th century, evolved into modern British Unitarianism and, primarily in the United States, Unitarian Universalism.
In Italy the Biblical Unitarian Movement powered by the ideas of Sozzini and others is represented today by the churches associated with the Christian Church in Italy. This Movement in Italy claims a strong Christian and biblical soul. From the analysis of documents that you can find on the official site of the CCI, it is clear that the doctrinal position of this Christian confession of faith is therefore akin to the so-called Biblical Unitarian movement and on the other hand, far from that of Unitarian Universalist Association who, although they have the same origin in 1500 AD, through the centuries have suffered the influence of many non-biblical ideas (cf. Universalism). The Christian Church in Italy has significant similarities with the Biblical Unitarian movement, although it maintains a cautious position on some doctrinal points. Wilbur wrote about the Unitarian Movement: "The religious movement whose history we are endeavoring to trace...became fully developed in thought and polity in only four countries, one after another, namely Poland, Transylvania, England and America. But in each of these it showed, along with certain individual characteristics, a general spirit, a common point of view, and a doctrinal pattern that tempt one to regard them as all outgrowths of a single movement which passed from one to another; for nothing could be more natural than to presume that these common features implied a common ancestry. Yet such is not the fact, for in each of these four lands the movement, instead of having originated elsewhere, and been translated only after attaining mature growth, appears to have sprung independently and directly from its own native roots, and to have been influenced by other and similar movements only after it had already developed an independent life and character of its own.". From the analysis of documents that you can find on the official site of the CCI, it is clear that the doctrinal position of this Christian confession of faith is therefore akin to the so-called Biblical Unitarian movement and on the other hand, far from that of Unitarian Universalist Association who, although they have the same origin in 1500 AD, through the centuries, have suffered the influence of many non-biblical ideas (cf. Universalism).
The Christian Church in Italy believes that God is only One Person in direct contrast with the doctrine of the Trinity which defines God as Three coexisting Persons in one Substance (Essence), merged into one being. So CCI adheres to strict monotheism by believing that Jesus was a perfect and holy man, virginally begotten in Mary, the promised Christ, the Son of God and that, as the glorified man, now is at the right hand of God praying for the whole Church. The movement the Christian Church in Italy was inspired from, rejects other doctrines taught for centuries, including the soteriological doctrines of original sin and predestination. The CCI for its peculiarity has no common trait with other religious movements which exalt Jesus as the only true God, as for example the Oneness Pentecostalism, the United Pentecostal Church International and the True Jesus Church.
Although the Reformation was a religious movement, it also had a strong impact on all other aspects of life: marriage and family, education, the humanities and sciences, the political and social order, the economy, and the arts. All Protestant churches allow their clergy to marry. Many of their families contributed to the development of intellectual elites in their countries. Since about 1950, women have entered the ministry, and some have assumed leading positions (e.g. bishops), in most Protestant churches. As the Reformers wanted all members of the church to be able to read the Bible, education on all levels got a strong boost. For example, the Puritans who established Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628 founded Harvard College only eight years later. About a dozen other colleges followed in the 18th century, including Yale (1701). Pennsylvania also became a centre of learning. The Protestant concept of God and man allows believers to use all their God-given faculties, including the power of reason. That means that they are allowed to explore God's creation and, according to Genesis 2:15, make use of it in a responsible and sustainable way. Thus a cultural climate was created that greatly enhanced the development of the humanities and the sciences. Another consequence of the Protestant understanding of man is that the believers, in gratitude for their election and redemption in Christ, are to follow God's commandments. Industry, frugality, calling, discipline, and a strong sense of responsibility are at the heart of their moral code. In particular, Calvin rejected luxury. Therefore craftsmen, industrialists, and other businessmen were able to reinvest the greater part of their profits in the most efficient machinery and the most modern production methods that were based on progress in the sciences and technology. As a result, productivity grew, which led to increased profits and enabled employers to pay higher wages. In this way, the economy, the sciences, and technology reinforced each other. The chance to participate in the economic success of technological inventions was a strong incentive to both inventors and investors.
In the Middle Ages, the Church and the worldly authorities were closely related. Martin Luther separated the religious and the worldly realms in principle (doctrine of the two kingdoms). The believers were obliged to use reason to govern the worldly sphere in an orderly and peaceful way. Luther's doctrine of the priesthood of all believers upgraded the role of laymen in the church considerably. The members of a congregation had the right to elect a minister and, if necessary, to vote for his dismissal (Treatise On the right and authority of a Christian assembly or congregation to judge all doctrines and to call, install and dismiss teachers, as testified in Scripture; 1523). Calvin strengthened this basically democratic approach by including elected laymen (church elders, presbyters) in his representative church government. The Huguenots added regional synods and a national synod, whose members were elected by the congregations, to Calvin's system of church self-government. This system was taken over by the other reformed churches.
Politically, Calvin favoured a mixture of aristocracy and democracy. He appreciated the advantages of democracy: "It is an invaluable gift, if God allows a people to freely elect its own authorities and overlords." Calvin also thought that earthly rulers lose their divine right and must be put down when they rise up against God. To further protect the rights of ordinary people, Calvin suggested separating political powers in a system of checks and balances (separation of powers). Thus he and his followers resisted political absolutism and paved the way for the rise of modern democracy. Besides England, the Netherlands were, under Calvinist leadership, the freest country in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It granted asylum to philosophers like Baruch Spinoza and Pierre Bayle. Hugo Grotius was able to teach his natural-law theory and a relatively liberal interpretation of the Bible.
Consistent with Calvin's political ideas, Protestants created both the English and the American democracies. In seventeenth-century England, the most important persons and events in this process were the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, John Locke, the Glorious Revolution, the English Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement. Later, the British took their democratic ideals to their colonies, e.g. Australia, New Zealand, and India. In North America, Plymouth Colony (Pilgrim Fathers; 1620) and Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628) practised democratic self-rule and separation of powers.These Congregationalists were convinced that the democratic form of government was the will of God. The Mayflower Compact was a social contract.
Protestants also took the initiative in creating religious freedom, the starting-point of human rights. Freedom of conscience had had high priority on the theological, philosophical, and political agendas since Luther refused to recant his beliefs before the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire at Worms (1521). In his view, faith was a free work of the Holy Spirit and could therefore not be forced on a person. The persecuted Anabaptists and Huguenots demanded freedom of conscience, and they practised separation of church and state. In the early seventeenth century, Baptists like John Smyth and Thomas Helwys published tracts in defence of religious freedom. Their thinking influenced John Milton's and John Locke's stance on tolerance. Under the leadership of Baptist Roger Williams, Congregationalist Thomas Hooker, and Quaker William Penn, respectively, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania combined democratic constitutions with freedom of religion. These colonies became safe havens for persecuted religious minorities, including Jews. The United States Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the (American) Bill of Rights with its fundamental human rights made this tradition permanent by giving it a legal and political framework. The great majority of American Protestants, both clergy and laity, strongly supported the independence movement. All major Protestant churches were represented in the First and Second Continental Congresses. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the American democracy became a model for numerous other countries throughout the world, e.g. Latin America, Japan, and Germany. The strongest link between the American and the French Revolution was Marquis de Lafayette, an ardent supporter of the American constitutional principles. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was mainly based on Lafayette’s draft of this document. The United Nations Declaration and Universal Declaration of Human Rights also echo the American constitutional tradition.
Democracy, social-contract theory, separation of powers, religious freedom, separation of church and state – these achievements of the Reformation and early Protestantism were elaborated on and popularized by Enlightenment thinkers. The philosophers of the English, Scottish, German, and Swiss Enlightenment - Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Toland, David Hume, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Christian Wolff, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau - had a Protestant background. For example, John Locke, whose political thought was based on “a set of Protestant Christian assumptions”, derived the equality of all humans, including the equality of the genders ("Adam and Eve"), from Genesis 1, 26-28. As all persons were created equally free, all governments needed the consent of the governed. These Lockean ideas were fundamental to the United States Declaration of Independence, which also deduced human rights from the biblical belief in creation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These rights were theonomous ideas (theonomy).
Also other human rights were initiated by Protestants. For example, torture was abolished in Prussia in 1740, slavery in Britain in 1834 and in the United States in 1865 (William Wilberforce, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln). Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf were among the first thinkers who made significant contributions to international law. The Geneva Convention, an important part of humanitarian international law, was largely the work of Henry Dunant, a reformed pietist. He also founded the Red Cross.
Protestants have always felt obliged to help men and women in need. They have founded hospitals, homes for disabled or elderly people, educational institutions, organisations that give aid to developing countries, and other social welfare agencies. In the nineteenth century, throughout the Anglo-American world numerous dedicated members of all Protestant denominations were active in social reform movements such as the abolition of slavery, prison reforms, and woman suffrage. As an answer to the "social question" of the nineteenth century, Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced insurance programs that led the way to the welfare state (health insurance, accident insurance, disability insurance, old-age pensions). To Bismarck this was "practical Christianity". These programs, too, were copied by many other nations, particularly in the Western world.
The arts have been strongly inspired by Protestant beliefs. Martin Luther, Paul Gerhardt, George Wither, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, William Cowper, and many other authors and composers created well-known church hymns. Musicians like Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy composed great works of music. Prominent painters with Protestant background were, for example, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Lucas Cranach, Rembrandt, and Vincent van Gogh. World literature was enriched by the works of Edmund Spenser, John Milton, John Bunyan, John Donne, John Dryden, Daniel Defoe, William Wordsworth, Jonathan Swift, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, Matthew Arnold, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Theodor Fontane, Washington Irving, Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Stearns Eliot, John Galsworthy, Thomas Mann, William Faulkner, John Updike, and many others.
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