Pulpit of Protestant Church in Mikolow, Poland

Protestantism is the second largest form of Christianity with collectively between 800 million and more than 900 million adherents worldwide or nearly 40% of all Christians. It originated with the 16th century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy and sacraments, but disagree among themselves regarding the real presence of Christ in the EucharistThey emphasize the priesthood of all believers, justification by faith alone (sola fide) rather than by good works, and the highest authority of the Bible alone (rather than with sacred tradition) in faith and morals (sola scriptura). The "five solae" summarize basic theological differences in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church.

Protestantism is popularly considered to have begun in Germany in 1517 when Martin Luther published his Ninety-five Theses as a reaction against abuses in the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church, which purported to offer remission of sin to their purchasers. Although there were earlier breaks and attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church—notably by Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus—only Luther succeeded in sparking a wider, lasting, and modern movement. In the 16th century, Lutheranism spread from Germany into Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Iceland. Reformed (or Calvinist) denominations spread in Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland and France by reformers such as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Knox. The political separation of the Church of England from the pope under King Henry VIII began Anglicanism, bringing England and Wales into this broad Reformation movement.

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. Protestant churches reject the idea of a celibate priesthood and thus 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. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the literacy rate in England was about 60 per cent, in Scotland 65 per cent, and in Sweden eight of ten men and women were able to read and to write. Colleges and universities were founded. For example, the Puritans who established Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628 founded Harvard Collegeonly eight years later. About a dozen other colleges followed in the 18th century, including Yale (1701). Pennsylvania also became a centre of learning.

Protestantism is diverse, being more divided theologically and ecclesiastically than either the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, or Oriental Orthodoxy. Without structural unity or central human authority, Protestants developed the concept of an invisible church, in contrast to the Roman Catholic view of the Catholic Church as the visible one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. Some denominations do have a worldwide scope and distribution of membership, while others are confined to a single country. A majority of Protestants are members of a handful of Protestant denominational families: Adventists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Baptists, Reformed, Lutherans, Methodists, and Pentecostals. Nondenominational, evangelical, charismatic, independent and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity. Proponents of the branch theory consider Protestantism one of the three major divisions of Christendom, together with the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodoxy (both Eastern and Oriental).

There are more than 900 million Protestants worldwide. In 2010, a total of more than 800 million included 300 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 260 million in the Americas, 140 million in Asia-Pacific region, 100 million in Europe and 2 million in Middle East-North Africa. Protestants account for nearly forty percent of Christians worldwide and more than one tenth of the total human population.

In European countries which were most profoundly influenced by the Reformation, Protestantism still remains the most practiced religion. These include the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom. In other historical Protestant strongholds such as Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Latvia, Estonia and Hungary, it remains one of the most popular religions. 



Beliefs & Practices

Protestantism is one of the three major branches of Christianity, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It shares with all other Christians core beliefs in the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, the necessity of grace to save humans from the consequences of sin, and the centrality of Jesus' death and resurrection for salvation. Composed of hundreds of denominations with an expansive variety of doctrines, rituals, and religious practices, Protestantism formed from the split with Roman Catholicism during the Reformation.

Sacred Narratives

Protestants believe that they are saved by God's forgiving grace. There are varying views among Protestants regarding such matters as the nature and extent of human participation in salvation. Read More

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Protestants believe in an all-powerful God who is perfectly good, loving, and holy. Most share the orthodox Christian view of Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Traditionally they believe that angels and the devil exist. Read More

Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

Human nature was created good, but through the fall became sinful, that is, fundamentally self-centered. The purpose of existence is to glorify God and live a life of service to God and others, which is possible only through God's free gift of spiritual life. Read More

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Protestants believe that suffering is a form of evil. Evil has come into the world through the work of Satan and through human rebellion against God. With other Christians, most Protestants recognize that we do not fully understand why specific instances of evil and suffering occur. Read More

Afterlife and Salvation

Traditionally, Protestants believe salvation is a gift of God, granted by faith. On the day of judgment, all people will be resurrected, those who have believed and trusted in Christ to a life of blessedness in the presence of God, and those who have rejected God's gift to a place of torment and separation from God. Read More

Sacred Time

Some Protestant traditions do not acknowledge sacred time other than Christmas and Easter. For many Protestants, however, sacred time is organized by a liturgical calendar that celebrates all the major events in the life of Jesus and in the early Church throughout the course of each year. Read More

Sacred Space

Protestants have largely rejected the use of images and statues in worship. They tend to have plainer, more austere worship spaces than Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. There are differences, however, with some Lutherans and many Anglicans tending more toward the Catholic end of the spectrum than other Protestants. Read More

Rites and Ceremonies

The rituals of baptism and the Lord's Supper have been among the most important and contentious aspects of Protestantism. These practices embody important theological differences that distinguish the branches of Protestant Christianity (Reformed/Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, etc.). Read More

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Protestant daily life is shaped by the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers—which has implications for such matters as vocation and work ethic—and by the belief that salvation is by faith, which leads to an emphasis on nurturing a personal relationship with God. Read More


Protestant symbolism tends to direct attention to the key doctrines of salvation by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (as a gift of the Spirit), and sola scriptura (the primacy of the Bible). Read More


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