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Introduction: 500th Anniversary

  • 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the launching of the Protestant Reformation (in Wittenberg).
    • This led me to consider my own relationship to Protestantism.
    • I concluded that I am not a Protestant.
  • Luther – monk and (in effect) campus minister in the college town of Wittenberg. There were several influential Reformation leaders:
    • Luther – Wittenberg (Germany)
    • Zwingli – Zürich (Switzerland)
    • Calvin – Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Everyone’s celebrating the birth of Protestantism. There is much to celebrate.
    • The reformers made it possible to rethink Christianity.
    • The Bible at least was becoming accessible in modern languages.
    • Many of their reforms led to a degree of personal freedom unknown in medieval Europe.
    • Luther “discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of 1500-year-old, 200-proof Joy — bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture.” -- Robert Capon
    • My own (adopted) church tradition, the Restoration Movement, stemmed from Protestantism. (In the 19th century, they even called themselves the [continuing] Reformation.)
  • Despite the title I have given to the podcast, I do not mean to disrespect Protestants—and I certainly don’t mean to misrepresent them.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

What exactly is a Protestant?

  1. Not a non-Catholic. Orthodox, Church of the East, Independents – are neither Protestant nor Catholic.
  2. Members of a movement within Christianity spawned in 16th century (Western) Europe
    1. Lutherans, Calvinists, Zwinglians
    2. Anglicans (with Henry VIII)
    3. Normally excluded: Anabaptists, who rejected most incorrect Protestant doctrines.
    4. For context, if you are from a Restoration Movement or Baptist background, your spiritual ancestors flourished first in the 17th century. Churches of Christ believed their job was to continue the Reformation, especially in the area of Christian unity, although other issues came to define the movement in the 19th century, like baptism and church autonomy.
  3. Protesting for / against certain doctrines and practices
    1. Against works salvation, indulgences, etc.
    2. For authority of scripture alone. A call to return to apostolic doctrine.
    3. Yet preserved the Reformation view that the ministry of the Word and sacraments are reserved to ordained clergy.
    4. Sayings:
      • Scripture Alone (Mark 7:6-9) – scripture is self-interpreting.
      • Faith Alone (Rom 3:28) – We don't need to do anything to be saved.
      • Grace Alone (Eph 2:8) – We are not justified by works, whether ours or through the merit of the saints, whose merit in Catholic theology could be applied to the sinner.
      • Christ Alone (1 Tim 2:5) – He is our only mediator
      • Glory to God alone (Rom 16:27) – Not to Mary, angels, or the saints!
    5. These are wonderful sayings. Or are they? Let’s revisit them in a little while.
    6. Highly recommended: Alec Ryrie's book Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World.

Why reacted so strongly against Roman Catholicism?

  1. Unbiblical practices
    1. Indulgences (and the financial scandal of selling salvation)
    2. Simony (selling of clerical office)
    3. Prayers to Mary (who was promoted to "mother of God" in 431 AD)
    4. Many O.T. (Jewish) features were imported into the church, esp. from the 4th century on.
      1. Altar, incense, oil, holy objects, special robes…
      2. Protestants removed some of these, though most kept the relics of altar, robes, etc.
    5. Unbiblical doctrines
      1. Purgatory
      2. Papacy
      3. Penance
      4. The 5 extra "sacraments": extreme unction, orders, matrimony, confirmation, confession (besides Eucharist and baptism)
    6. Centuries of suppression of thought and expression
      1. Protestants before 1517 — Hus, Wycliffe
      2. Tight control — not that the Protestants wouldn’t have tight control of their own!
      3. Inquisition (established in the 13th century, especially active in the 14th-17th centuries)
      4. Scriptures forbidden
        1. Kept in Latin, the language of the educated and the clergy
        2. Distrust of the people with fear of revolt
        3. Tradition on same level as scripture (Council of Trent, Catholic Counter-Reformation)
        4. Translation a capital crime!
    7. The corruption of the clergy (worldliness, pederasty, homosexuality, extortion, etc.)

Unbiblical Protestant Emphases

  1. Salvation
    1. Faith alone
      1. Luther’s rejection of James
      2. Luther’s insertion of alone in Romans 3:28.
      3. Matthew Bates has written an excellent book, suggesting "faith alone" should be renamed "allegiance alone." Check out Salvation by Allegiance Alone.
    2. Grace and works
      1. Considered baptism a work (some). Infant baptism still accepted.
      2. Today, most have accepted the Sinner's Prayer.
    3. Law and legalism
      1. Deep confusion over the meaning of Law in Romans and Galatians, where it indicates the Law of Moses (the Torah)!
      2. Paul is not warning us of the danger of works-salvation, but of Torah-salvation!
    4. Once Saved, Always Saved — no two-stage salvation (as in the N.T.)
      1. Luther rejected Hebrews, since in multiple passages it refutes “eternal security.”
      2. Legacy: Presbyterians and Baptists (though American Baptists are usually only lightly Lutheran or Calvinistic).
    5. Purgatory removed; instant heaven for all.
  2. Atonement
    1. Original sin
      1. Claimed to be going all the way back to apostolic doctrine
      2. But like every one of us, the reformers were tinted lenses.
        1. Luther was an Augustinian monk.
        2. This explains why, for example, he did not reject original sin, predestination, state church, etc.
    2. Satisfaction theory
      1. Made sense in a feudal society, where crimes or offenses against the lord of the manor were far more serious than crimes against commoners.
      2. Yet with God there is no favoritism!
      3. It’s not that God is unwilling to forgive. But the ransom payment (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim 2:6; Heb 9:15) is made to the Devil, not to God!
    3. Imputation of guilt or righteousness.
      1. Neither is true. We are born in a state of grace (no Original Sin).
      2. Imputation is not enough; we need to live a holy life if we are to be deemed righteous in God’s eyes (Heb 12:14). Isaiah 64 ("filthy rags") is grossly misunderstood.
    4. The sinner continues to sin in hell, meriting continued punishment, or
      1. Any sin, however small, against an infinite God requires infinite punishment.
      2. Jesus implied that the punishment of some would end before the punishment of others (Luke 12:47-48).
  3. Scripture
    1. The word is seldom preached with conviction—which is one reason those Protestant preachers who do expound the scriptures stand out today!
      1. Humanistic ideas and church programs and strung together in the preacher’s agenda list, seasoned with proof texts, yet without any real teaching of the Bible.
      2. Paul told Timothy to read the scriptures publicly, and from there to preach (exhort) or teach (1 Tim 4:13-16).
    2. Seminaries do not, for the most part, train leaders in godliness. Jesus’ ministerial training program combined scriptural study practical apprenticeship (Acts 4:13).
    3. In few congregations do the leaders actually expect the members to study the scriptures.
      1. Many churchgoers no longer even bring a Bible to church.
      2. Even “confirmation” classes expect fairly little of catechumens.
    4. Protestants ignore the deuterocanonical works (the O.T. Apocrypha).
      1. The Catholics and Orthodox canonized them.
      2. Until quite recently, many Protestants still made use of them. The Apocrypha were part of the original King James Bible.
      3. They are important for illuminating intertestamental events, and even if they are not scripture, they are useful.
    5. Failure to adhere to Protestant traditions and interpretations often leads to censure or ostracism. E.g. today it is fashionable for popular preachers and apologists to hold to Calvinism. Seldom have I heard anyone speak against it, or admit he is not persuaded by the great reformer of Geneva.
    6. Protestants may have fewer traditions than Catholics, and that probably means fewer superstitious beliefs, but they have traditions aplenty. Yes, we are all guilty of inconsistent reasoning or superstition or bias of one kind or another.
    7. Scripture is far from self-interpreting. The basic message shines through, but for most of the 1000 pages and 500 doctrines of scripture, training in theology or access to other sources is highly beneficial.
  4. Church
    1. Clergy / laity
    2. Not evangelistic (c.1500-1800). (Evangelicals got involved in foreign missions, though centuries later. Catholics, in the meantime, were taking the message to Asia and South America.
    3. Low expectations.
      1. Some seminaries teach that 25% of membership in attendance is the norm. (Except for Christmas and Easter, of course.)
      2. Protestants prefer “church” to assembly, which is the actual translation of ekklesia.
    4. Downplay communion, many abandoning weekly observance, and virtually none holding to the original meal.
    5. Forms of address (special)
      1. Matt 23:5-12 – no honorific titles!
      2. Some are deeply offended if we don’t call them by their honorific title.
      3. “Pastor” – whereas this word technically speaking doesn’t even appear in the Bible! (Unless you have read the Latin Vulgate—where pastor, shepherd, is a common word.) Protestant power politics are well known
        1. And bring the faith into disrepute.
        2. Does Jesus, who prayed for Christian Unity (John 17), have nothing to say about the cavalier attitude of breaking off and starting a new group when the going gets rough?
    6. No man is the head of the church.
      1. There is but one leader, Christ Jesus.
      2. That’s why in the NT congregations are led by elders – a plurality, avoiding the dangers of one-man rule (and autocracy).
  5. Kingdom
    1. Protestantism never moved past the church-state of the 4th century.
    2. Equated the kingdom (realm) with the Empire or with the world — worldly either way!
    3. Politics
      1. Special honor to visiting politicians (James 2:1)? Special honor to military personnel—whereas the early church was pacifist for its first 300 years?
      2. Longing for power.
      3. Worked to use power of government to silence their enemies. Illegal to preach without a license, e.g., so home groups were forbidden. (Not that different from Catholics in this regard.)
    4. Persecution of dissenters
      1. Luther: Suggested the execution of revolting peasants / Was strongly antisemitic / Opposed the Anabaptists (the movement of the day that seems to have been closest to N.T. Christianity).
      2. Calvin: Geneva — Servetus
      3. Zwingli — drowned the Anabaptists; he himself was killed in battle.
    5. Change from “in the world” to virtually being the world (at least in the Roman Empire).
    6. Christendom refers to political Christianity, places where there is a church state.
  6. Slogans revisited
    1. Scripture Alone – In Protestantism, as in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, it’s scripture plus. Creeds, catechisms, and church traditions are held to just as passionately as scripture. In fact, it seems impossible to follow scriptura sola -- although we do need to keep the authority of scripture primary.
    2. Faith Alone – Insofar as “faith alone” is equivalent to “grace alone,” emphasizing that we can do nothing to earn salvation, we must heartily agree.
      1. But the use of an unscriptural phrase (directly contradicting James 2:24), implying that repentance might come after conversion, must be rejected.
      2. Further, Luther’s insertion of the word alone in Rom 3:28 is not only an incorrect translation, but rests on a misunderstanding of Paul’s point. Paul is denying that the Law of Moses is necessary in order for us to be righteous.
      3. Many Protestants realize the inadequacy of the slogan today. For example, Matthew Bates has published a book titled Salvation by Allegiance Alone, in which he suggests that the word time-worn word faith, which sounds like mere mental assent, be replaced by the stronger allegiance (Kelly M. Kapic, "Do We Need a New Word for 'Faith'?: Why Theologian Matthew Bates would have evangelists profess 'allegiance' to Christ," in
        Christianity Tooday July/August 2017, 90.
    3. Grace Alone – All Christians need to be more grateful to the Lord. It’s all by grace! But grace isn't opposed to obedience.
    4. Christ Alone – There are no other mediators (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6, 9:15, 12:24). If we truly follow the teaching and example of Christ, we will be pleasing to God.
    5. Glory to God alone (Rom 16:27) – Amen!
  7. Miscellaneous
    1. Deëmphasis of communion, which is probably reinforced by the reaction against Catholic “priestcraft” (to use the 19th century term).
    2. Individualism—especially in the North American context—which makes them (in the absence of a humble spirit of learning from history)…
    3. … especially susceptible to unhealthy practices and tendencies:
      1. The Health & Wealth gospel
      2. The Signs & Wonders gospel
      3. Easy-believism
      4. Easy divorce
    4. Division — 1000s of denominations, and most of them have split multiple times! As some Catholics observed, Now instead of one pope and one Bible, there are 10,000 popes, each with his own Bible!
      1. Luther and Zwingli did not cooperate, even though they agreed on nearly every doctrine!
      2. Comparison: Stone-Campbell Movement had major differences on multiple doctrines and practices, but united all the same. Restoration-of-Christian-Unity movement.
      3. Many interpret the “branches” of John 15, or the “members” of 1 Cor 12, as different denominations. But that is not how Jesus or Paul intended these metaphors to be understood.


  1. First, we cannot define ourselves by what we are against.
    • The Catholics seem to have gotten the point: Protestants are against Catholicism.
    • Yet the broader global picture of Christianity is far more varied than the two-flavored dichotomy of Catholic and Protestant.
      1. Protestants have been guilty of acting as though the Orthodox, Anabaptists, Church of the East, and independents don’t exist.
      2. We should recall that the Orthodox, for example, never had a “reformation.”
    • Protestants do better when they shed denominational allegiance, embrace discipleship, and follow the Lord.
      1. Lest we too quickly assume that we are wholly different from the Protestants, remember the Pharisees. They were reformers—and well known for many “reforms” that lacked scriptural basis.
      2. It is only natural to assume our own objectivity. How perplexed the apostles and early Christians would be to see which of their teachings and practices we are holding to, which ones we have changed, and which ones we have ignored altogether!
  2. I do not mean to imply that all Protestants are missing out on Christ.
    • The Lord is the Judge.
      1. We trust him for his justice—yet justice would not save anyone, since we all stray, erring doctrinally and sinning both unwittingly and deliberately.
      2. We trust him for his grace, and hope that he who forgives sins will overlook many doctrinal errors, since none of us can claim apostolic infallibility.
    • We all owe Protestantism a debt of gratitude for numerous majestic hymns, Bible translation, the spread of literacy (esp. to read scripture—a low or even non-existent priority in Roman Catholicism), and a much-needed “housecleaning.”
    • Yet in the case of those Protestants who are “not far from the kingdom,” it’s not because of, but in spite of their various beliefs and practices critiqued in this podcast.
    • Nor do I mean to imply that those of us who are independents are above reproach. Yet the larger church political structures – hierarchies of power – foster abuse, and make servant leadership a rare thing indeed (Mark 10:42-45). Listen to the podcast on Lording it Over Others).
  3. Let’s learn from what is right in Protestantism, while rejecting what is wrong. The rule for ancient Christian prophecy, which Paul urged on the Thessalonians, is a propos: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil (1 Thess 5:19-22).
  4. For all the reasons addressed in this lesson, let’s drop the denominational labels. These labels and loyalties easily trap people in false theology, making the pursuit of truth difficult and even dangerous. After all, we are not called to be Protestants, but Christians, believers, disciples, brothers and sisters, friends—Christ-followers. Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body: one head, one body, no division. For this our Lord prayed (John 17), and for this we too must strive.

Next week: Why I am not a Fundamentalist