Protestantism Overview

March 17, 2015 · updated February 15, 2022

In a 2002 study conducted by the Pew Research Council, 53 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestant Christians. There are approximately 500 million Protestants in the world.[#2517397]

Protestantism is not a denomination in itself, but a general branch of Christianity with shared roots and core values. Today's Protestant denominations occupy a broad spectrum from conservative to liberal and formal to casual.

Protestantism originated in the 16th-century Reformation and most modern Protestant denominations can trace their heritage to one of the major movements that sprung up in the 16th century.

Lutherans, of course, owe their origins to the teachings of Martin Luther, a German monk who famously posted 95 Theses against the Catholic church in 1517.

Presbyterianism is based in the teachings of John Calvin and Reformed theology, as well as those of John Knox. The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian.

Anglicans and Episcopalians trace their heritage to the Church of England that resulted from King Henry VIII's break from the authority of Rome. He just wanted a divorce and was otherwise happy with Catholicism, but reformers took the opportunity to (eventually) make theological and liturgical changes, too.

Evangelicalism (and to a slightly lesser degree, Methodism) is indebted to Pietism, a 17th century Protestant movement emphasizing a holy life, individual study of the scriptures, and better training of ministers.

The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are products of the "Radical Reformation" of the later 16th century.

Protestant denominations differ in the degree to which they reject Catholic belief and practice. Some churches, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, tend to resemble Catholicism in their formal liturgy, while others, like Baptists and Presbyterians, retain very little of the liturgy and tradition associated with the Catholic Church.

In common with Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Protestants adhere to the authority of the Bible and the doctrines of he early creeds. Protestants are distinguished by their emphasis on the doctrines of "justification by grace alone through faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the supremacy of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and order."[#2517398]

Most Protestant churches recognize only two sacraments directly commanded by the Lord - baptism and communion - as opposed to the seven sacraments accepted by the Catholic Church.