The adjective Protestant - pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, IPA: /'prɒtɪstənt/ - is used to describe those churches which are a part of Western Christendom but are distinct from the Roman Catholic Church and accept the religious principles advocated by Martin Luther (1483-1546)), John Calvin (1509-1564), and the other religious reformers of the early sixteenth century. 'Protestant', either as an adjective or as a noun, may also be used of an individual who is a member of one of these churches. The system of beliefs to which Protestant churches are committed is known as Protestantism.
The various Protestant churches do not all subscribe to exactly the same doctrines, but nonetheless there is a large measure of doctrinal agreement between them (especially by contrast with the Roman Catholic Church). Thus they all hold
- that salvation for the individual depends solely on faith, i.e., belief in Jesus' teachings and his claims about himself, and not on 'works', i.e., a good life, or reception of the sacraments of the Church; and
- that the ultimate authority in matters of faith is the Bible as interpreted, under God's guidance, by the individual himself or herself, and not the traditions of the Church or the Bible as interpreted in the light of those traditions.
(These core doctrines of Protestantism are encapsulated in the Latin slogan sola fide, sola Scriptura ('by faith alone, by Scripture alone'), which was used by the reformers of the early sixteenth century to contrast their position with that of the Roman Catholic Church.)
- Further, the religious services and forms of worship in the Protestant denominations are typically less elaborate and involve less ceremony and ritual than those in the Roman Catholic Church.
The principal Protestant denominations are those churches which broke with the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation - e.g., the Lutheran Church, the various Presbyterian Churches, and the Church of England (or Anglican Church) - and the churches which subsequently came into existence by separation from these first Protestant denominations - e.g., the Baptist Church, the Congregational Church, and the Methodist Church. It is sometimes argued, however, that the Anglican Church should not be regarded as a Protestant Church but is better seen as occupying a middle position between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
The English word 'Protestant' derives ultimately from the Latin verb protestari, which means: to declare publicly or to protest. In fact the word, or rather its German equivalent Protestant (pronounced with the stress on the final syllable, IPA: /prɔtɛs'tant/) was first used of those princes and other rulers within the Holy Roman Empire who protested against the decision of the second Diet of Speyer (1529) to reverse its earlier policy of religious toleration and to enforce Roman Catholicism in all the states of the Empire. It was only later that the word 'Protestant' was used to describe a church or individual opposed to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.