What is Protestantism?

by Rev. Peter McIntyre - Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
It is not a Policy. It is not an Empire. It is not even a Church.
What is Protestantism?
On this important Reformation Anniversary, we do well to stop and ask the question, 'What is Protestantism?' To some, Protestantism represents a church, to others a political ideology, to others a sectarian entity while there are those who conceive Protestantism to be a cultural association. There is some truth in all of these assertions. Churches, since the Reformation, wear the name of a Protestant. There is a political element to Protestantism, and this has been the case since the Reformation. Sadly, the term has been abused so that those who are known as nominal Protestants have had the tendency to have a blatant disregard, to the point of hatred, for those of the opposing faith. Protestantism has provided individuals with a rallying point, a place of common interest for those with a common culture. These various aspects and outcomes of Protestantism fail to define, however, what is at the heart of this movement which altered the course of Europe 500 years ago.

Let us consult with J.A Wylie, one of the greatest historians of the Reformation. How does he begin his vast "History of Protestantism"? He succinctly outlines what Protestantism is not:

"It is not a policy. It is not an empire with its fleets and armies ... It is not even a Church with its hierarchies and synods and edicts..."

What, then, according to the great historian, is Protestantism? It is "a principle", a principle that has had the greatest and most sublime effect upon the human race:

"It is a creative power. Its ... influence is all-embracing. It penetrates into the heart and renews the individual. It goes down to the depths ... and regenerates society. It thus becomes the creator of all that is true, and lovely and great; the founder of free kingdoms, and the mother of pure churches."

Wylie disavows the theory that this principle originated with the period we call 'The Protestant Reformation'. He goes back further still in his quest for the origin of what lies at the heart of Protestantism and discovers that it did not begin with human reason, nor was it the outcome of human progress:

"Protestantism ... is a Divine graft on the intellectual and moral nature of man, whereby new vitalities and forces are introduced into it, and the human stem yields henceforth a nobler fruit."

While this principle received the name Protestantism during the Reformation period, it was always present in the world. What then is this principle? Have we another name, another title, another definition? Closing Chapter One, Book One of his Magnum Opus, J.A. Wylie with one brush stroke answers the opening question:

"In a word, Protestantism is revived Christianity".

Reference: 'History of Protestantism' by J.A. Wylie
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