What does it mean to be a Protestant?*

The word ‘Protestant’ today often carries overtones of something rather negative, inviting or involving divisions and stirring antagonism. Of course, the term has been misused, and sometimes political concepts have dominated, instead of the spiritual and moral elements of Biblical Protestantism.

The original sense of the word, however, emphasizes a positive attitude, and derives from the Latin in which it denotes “Standing for a witness”, making a firm attestation of deep convictions. This is clearly revealed in the first recorded use of this word at the time of the 16th Century Reformation. At the Diet (Council) of Spires in 1529, a response was made by a group of German Christian princes to threats to their religious and territorial liberties. They declared, “We are resolved by the Grace of God to maintain the pure and exclusive teaching of God’s Holy Word… We protest that we, for us and our people, neither consent nor adhere in any manner to the proposed decree in anything that is contrary to Good, to His Holy Word, to our right conscience, to the salvation of our souls “.

These men were the first designated ‘Protestants’ and the title was subsequently used in other European countries by those who benefited from and adhered to the great Reformation. Like Dr Martin Luther who affirmed, “”My conscience is subject to the Word of God, here I stand, I can do no other.” Historically then, a true Protestant is one who believes the Holy Scriptures to be the true Word of God, and exclusively authoritative for Christian belief and behaviour.

There have been so many changes in the last five centuries that it may be considered that this term should be buried in history, and its significance forgotten. But it still has a place in Britain today as Her Majesty the Queen declared herself to be a Protestant when she made the Accession Declaration in February 1952, saying, “I do solemnly, and in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare, that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to the law”.

On June 2nd, 1953, at our Queen’s Coronation Service in Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked her the following questions: “Will you maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? “  Her Majesty answered these and other questions by laying  her hand upon the open Bible and saying, “All this I promise to do …”.

A word which is given such prominence on important state occasions must have some meaning for us today. You will see that it’s use is closely related to the Bible. In fact, at the Coronation the Queen was presented with a copy of God’s Word and at the presentation the following words were used: ” Our Gracious Queen, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom, this is the royal law, these are the lively Oracles of God. “

While it is improper to contend for divisive terminology, nothing can be more important than a right understanding of what apostolic Biblical Christianity really is, and this was historically represented in early Protestantism.  At the Reformation, it was the discovery of the Way of Salvation taught in the Bible that gave men their love for God’s Word and which promoted their efforts to promote this teaching. William Tyndale suffered exile from Britain to provide us with an English translation, which efforts resulted in his martyrdom. Many who distributed and purchased his New Testament treasured it’s truths so highly that they also were put to death as ‘heretics‘ because of their confession of faith in pure Bible teaching.

We would encourage you to read the Bible for yourself to find out what God says about you and your relationship with Him.

In summary, its message runs, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” There is no one who is righteous and God in His sight. But God is Love, and to shows His Love, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Saviour of guilty sinners. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross an atoning death to deal with sin, then He rose from the dead and now is exalted in Heaven as the only Saviour. In the light of these truths, you are encouraged to confess and turn from your sins and to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your soul’s eternal salvation.

(* Source – The Protestant Alliance and Chapel Library)

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