PROTESTANTISM . [This article provides an overview of the Protestant branch of Christian religion. The historical origins of Protestantism are examined in Reformation. Particular manifestations of Protestantism are discussed in Denominationalism and in numerous articles on Protestant churches and biographies of Protestant leaders.]
Protestantism is a worldwide movement that derives from sixteenth-century reforms of Western Christianity. As a movement it is both a set of church bodies and a less well defined ethos, spirit, and cultural achievement. Thus, one speaks of Reformed or Methodist churches as being Protestant, just as one may speak of a "Protestant ethic" or a "Protestant nation."
Through the years different needs have occasioned a variety of attempts to determine the definitional boundaries of Protestantism. Sometimes there may be theological or liturgical motives for restricting these boundaries. Some Anglicans, or members of the Church of England, for example, who stress how closely they are identified with the ancient catholic tradition, often resent being classified as Protestant at all. So do Lutherans of similar outlook, even though the term Protestant was first applied in 1529 on Lutheran soil. At another extreme, many Protestants refuse to include movements like the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons in their ranks, even though these new nineteenth-century religious traditions flourished on Protestant soil and kept something of the Protestant impulse in their church life.
Four Protestant Clusters
For demographic purposes, David B. Barrett in his World Christian Encyclopedia (1982) tries to bring some order to definitional chaos by classifying the non-Roman Catholic and non-Orthodox part of the Christian world into five families, or blocs, which he calls "Protestant," "nonwhite indigenous," "Anglican," "marginal Protestant," and "Catholic (non-Roman)." All but the last of these have some sort of Protestant ties. The mainstream Protestant category includes long-established Northern Hemisphere churches such as the Congregationalist and Baptist. The Anglican family includes plural, low church, high church, evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and central (or Broad church) traditions. The category of marginal Protestants includes Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Religious Science, and Unitarian, Spiritualist, and British-Israelite churches.
The existence of the fourth category, nonwhite indigenous Christianity, "a whole new bloc of global Christendom," Barrett speaks of as "one of the more startling findings" documented in his survey. Its existence has been long known, but few, says Barrett, realized that by 1980 it numbered eighty-two million. For all their independent rise and growth, however, nonwhite indigenous forms of Christianity still derive from missionary efforts by classic Protestants. They share many of the doctrines and practices of the Western parentages. In almost all cases they also share the familiar names Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, and the like. Therefore, while attention to them may be secondary, these younger churches do belong in any encyclopedic coverage of the longer Protestant tradition.
Location of Old and New Protestantism
After more than 450 years, worldwide Protestantism is entering a new phase, because of this shift of power to nonwhite indigenous versions. Classically the movement was strongly identified with northwestern Europe and Anglo-America. Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once spoke of the Reformation itself as a family quarrel of northwestern European peoples. From the early sixteenth century until well into the nineteenth, the vast majority of the heirs of this Reformation did remain in Europe and its North American colonies. The Latin American nations were almost entirely Roman Catholic in makeup. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, this older Protestantism underwent vast expansion through missionary efforts to convert people in all nations and to establish churches everywhere. It was in the mid-twentieth century that the inventive and often autochthonous character of the nonwhite indigenous groups became evident, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Latin America, and the Pacific island world.
The power shift from northwestern Europe, where established Protestantism consistently lost power in the face of secularizing forces, to the vibrant world of the Southern Hemisphere portended great changes in the Protestant ethos as well. For centuries Protestant religion had been seen as an impetus toward capitalist economies, yet the new growth came in portions of the world where capitalism had little chance and few promoters. This religious emphasis in Europe had characteristically been established in coordination with the state. However, in the new nations of Africa or in Latin America, where Catholicism was first established but where anticlerical revolutions later barred privilege to any Christian bodies, nonwhite indigenous Protestantism had to make its way as a movement independent of state establishment or privilege.
Other changes came with the shift. Historically the Protestantism of Europe relied on thought patterns that depended upon and connected with older Catholic philosophies. The Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century protested against some uses Catholics made of, for example, Platonic or Aristotelian philosophies through the centuries. Yet soon they were themselves developing theologies that relied on the mainline Western philosophical synthesis. In the new area of growth, however, leaders of nonwhite indigenous flowerings of Protestantism did not have the luxury of exploring these philosophical schools. They saw no need to relate to them and often explicitly rebelled against them.
All these changes make generalizing about Protestantism far more difficult at the beginning of the twenty-first century than at the end of the nineteenth. Often one must fall back on definitions from the classic period, the first three or four centuries, keeping in mind the exceptional new developments as a subtheme. In any case, much of the plot of Protestantism after its period of expansion has revealed the dialectic of adaptation and resistance on the part of both missionary agents and the missionized. The agents of the West often arrived along with merchants or military forces, and they had to choose between being openly identified with their purposes or establishing an, at least, subtle detachment from them. Inevitably they were bearers of Western national values, but they could choose to keep their distance from uncritical embrace of these values. On the other hand, those who accepted Christianity at the hands of the missioners also had the choice of adopting as much of Western culture as possible or picking and choosing those elements of Protestantism that they could most easily or advantageously graft onto their old culture and ways.
Protestant Diversity and Coherence
The first perception of both old and new Protestantism has always been its diversity. Barrett claims that the one billion and more practicing Christians of the world belong to 20,780 distinct denominations. While more than half the Christians are Catholic, the vast majority of these 20,780 denominations would be classed as part of the Protestant movement. Thus, in classic Protestantism, in 1980 there were almost 345 million people in 7,889 of these distinct bodies in 212 nations. The nonwhite indigenous versions, almost all of them Protestant, were located in 10,065 distinct bodies. There were also 225 Anglican denominations and 1,345 "marginal Protestant" groups. Indeed, this diversity and this fertility at creating new, unrelated bodies were long used as a criticism of Protestantism by Roman Catholicism, which united under the Roman pope, and by Orthodoxy, which was divided more into national jurisdictions but saw itself as united in holy tradition.
It is possible to move behind this first perception of the chaos of unrelated bodies to see some forms of coherence. Great numbers of Protestant bodies, along with many Orthodox ones, are members of the World Council of Churches, established in 1948, which has a uniting confessional theme around the lordship of Jesus Christ. In many nations there are national councils or federations of cooperating churches, which allow for positive interaction even where there is not organic unity. World confessional families of Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, and others throughout the twentieth century brought into some concord these churches that have family resemblances. Finally, there have been significant mergers of Protestant churches both within families, such as Lutheran with Lutheran, Presbyterian with Presbyterian, and across family lines, as in America's United Church of Christ, which blended a New England Congregationalist tradition with a German Reformed heritage.
Whoever chronicles Protestant diversities and coherences also has to recognize that significant differences appear within each group and that important elements of concord transect the groups. Liberal Episcopalians and Methodists may have more in common with each other on many issues and in numbers of practices than either of them has with conservative members of their own communion. It is probably the better part of discretion not to seek rigid categories in classifying Protestant bodies; the concept of something like "zones" is more fruitful. Thus across the Protestant spectrum one may begin with "high church" Anglican zones, where many formal practices of Catholicism prevail, the liturgy is extremely complex, and worship is highly adorned (with icons, incense, and artifacts or gestures). At the opposite end of the spectrum and at least as securely in the orbit of sociological Protestantism is a "low church" zone, where groups may have rejected as much as possible from the Catholic past; for example, the Quakers seek utter simplicity and silence in worship and make no use of the sacraments of Catholic Christianity at all.
Some Protestant Elements Held in Common
To accent only Protestant diversity, as demographers or critics may be tempted to do, does not take into account the fact that the word Protestant arose to cover a distinct set of phenomena. In the minds of those who use the term, it may denote something fairly specific. The easiest way to put a boundary around Protestantism is to deal with it negatively and say that it is the form of Western Christianity that rejects obedience to the Roman papacy. Such an approach is an immense clarifier, since Protestants do reject the papacy. The only remaining element of confusion in this negative definition comes from the fact that Western (non-Roman) Catholic Christians also reject the papacy. In 1980 this group, including the Catholic Apostolic, Reformed Catholic, Old Catholic, and Conservative Catholic churches, numbered 3,439,375, as against 344,336,319 old- and new-style Protestants.
While the resistance to papal claims is a uniting factor, it is not likely that many people ever choose to remain loyal to Protestantism on such marginal and confining grounds alone. One is Protestant for many reasons; one then differentiates one's faith and practice from Roman Catholicism in nonpapal-versus-papal terms. That issue was strong in the sixteenth century at the time of the Protestant break with Rome, and it became a subject of intense controversy late in the nineteenth century, when papal infallibility was declared. The controversy remains to plague Catholic-Protestant ecumenical relations. But in the daily life of believers, the rejection of the papacy has little to do with churchly commitments. One must seek elsewhere for the positive elements and accents of Protestantism, even if it shares many of these with Catholicism.
The first common mark of Protestantism is historically clear and clean; virtually all Protestant groups derive from movements that began in the sixteenth century. When later groups were formed, as were the Disciples of Christ in nineteenth-century America, they may not have seen themselves as working out the logic of earlier Protestantism; yet historians at once traced the roots of this typical new group to various older Presbyterian and Baptist forms, among others.
A very few Protestant groups can also trace their lineage back to pre-Reformation times. Modern Waldensians, for example, are heirs of a movement begun under Pierre Valdès (Peter Waldo) in the twelfth century, and some modern Czech churches are heirs of traditions that go back to the Hussite Jednota Bratrská (Society of Brethren, known in Latin as Unitas Fratrum) of the fifteenth century. Yet the Waldensians, the Czech groups, and others began to be recognized as something other than illicit sects on Roman Catholic soil as a result of the Protestant breakthrough. At another point on the spectrum is the Church of England, or Anglicanism. Most of its articulators stress that they remain the church Catholic as it has been on English soil since the Christianization of England. Although it has kept faith in the apostolic succession of bishops and has retained many pre-Reformation practices, the Anglican communion as it has existed since the break with Rome under Henry VIII in the sixteenth century is vastly different from the Catholic church under Roman papal obedience in England before and since the Reformation. In short, the Waldensians, the Czech groups, and the Anglicans alike were, and were seen to be, part of the Protestant revolt from both the viewpoints of Roman Catholic leadership and historical scholarship ever since.
To have undergone formal separation from the papally controlled church or to have been transformed by the fact that one's tradition changes through such separation are the major historical marks of Protestantism. Individual groups may have parentage in the Middle Ages or may have sprung up late in the twentieth century, yet the sixteenth-century breach in Christendom is the event by which Protestant existence is somehow measured. Beyond the normativeness of that breach, Protestants begin to share elements of Catholicism. That certain elements are shared in no way diminishes their importance in Protestant definition. They tend to acquire a special color when viewed through the prism of Protestant experiences.
God in Protestantism
All Christian movements, unlike some other religions, focus finally on their witness to God. Protestantism is theistic. There have been momentary expressions by theological elites of a "Christian atheism," but these have been dismissed by the Protestant public as idiosyncratic, personal forms of witness or philosophical expression. Then, too, some prophets and observers have pointed to a "practical atheism" among Protestants who in their ways of life seem to ignore the claims of God upon them. Yet such practical atheism is unself-conscious, reflexive. When called to their attention, it is usually vigorously dismissed by the people to whom it is applied, a sign that they regard theistic belief to be focal.
At the left wing of marginal Protestantism, as Barrett clarifies it, stand some former Protestant groups that have retained certain elements of the Protestant tradition. Among these are Unitarianisms of humanistic sorts and Ethical Culture movements, which grew up on Jewish soil in America but acquired some Protestant traits. It is significant that such groups are dismissed by the vast cohort of Protestants precisely because they are humanistic, or because they exclude themselves from Protestantism, usually on grounds of theism.
If Protestants are not humanistic or atheistic, they also are not pantheistic. Individual pantheists may exist as mystics, and there have been pantheistic Protestant heresies, so regarded both by those who have innovated with them and by those who have excluded their advocates. In some formal theological circles, one sometimes hears advocated teachings that seem to verge on pantheism, the proposition that the world and God are coextensive, identical. Yet articulators of such teachings usually take pains to distance themselves from pure pantheism, for example, through panentheisms, which speak both of identity and distance. Marginal Protestants such as the Mormons teach doctrines that look pantheist to mainstream Protestantisms. Here, as so often, it is their departure from theism that is at issue in the principles of exclusion.
Protestantism on occasion has had deistic proponents, agents of a natural religion that made no room for a personal God, special revelation, or reasons to pray to an unresponsive, divine, originating, but now absentee force. In eighteenth-century England there were Anglican Deists, and in the continental Enlightenment one heard of equivalents. In practice, many Protestant believers may act as though they are deistic in their prayer life, which means that they somehow believe in a divine force but see no reason for prayerful intercourse with it. Yet deism has consistently in due course been seen as a deviation from, not a part of, the Protestant impulse.
The God of the Bible and Trinitarianism
The freedom that belongs to the Protestant ethos has made room for the enterprising and innovating philosopher of religion, but the determining element in Protestant concepts of God has been some form of adherence to the biblical witness. The God of Protestants is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Along with Catholics, Protestants believe in the God revealed in the Hebrew scriptures, which Protestantism has taken over intact from Judaism and made its own. This God, Yahveh, is the God of Israel and the God of the prophets. Protestantism thus relies on God as creator and sustainer of the universe, existent though hidden, being and not nonbeing, somehow an agent in history. Although not all Protestants speak of a "personal" God, most conceive of God as personal and thus addressable.
Protestant theologians spoke of the Protestant intention as one directed to what H. Richard Niebuhr called "radical monotheism." This intention has meant that Protestants share the concern of Hebrew prophecy to distance believers from "many gods" and false gods alike. The Protestant impulse, sometimes directed even against itself by its own prophets, has been iconoclastic. Pioneers of the movement such as John Calvin saw the natural human mind as an instinctive idol maker, always busy serving either the true God or gods of its own making, who must be smashed. It would be impossible to say that Protestant believers have been more successful at being radical monotheists than have others; yet reflective Protestantism has been so nervous about icons or images that might be construed as having identity with the divine or divinized figure they represent that the iconoclast always has a privileged place in Protestant arguments.
The battle against icon and idol in Protestantism may sometimes continue on the abstract planes of philosophical discourse or theological definition, but the iconoclastic position is usually stated most forcefully when Protestants explain the biblical account of Israel's witness to Yahveh, the one God. The God to whom Protestants point is one who, although hidden, exists, acts, and speaks through a divine word. This God is in every case a God of judgment and mercy, wrath and love, holiness and forgiveness.
While some Protestants have been unsure about the meaning of the covenant with Israel in the Old Testament, few have doubted the witness to God in the New Testament. The God of Israel is present in a special way in Jesus of Nazareth. Some forms of liberal Protestantism were reluctant to speak of Jesus as partaking uniquely in the divine nature associated with the one he called Father. When they showed this reluctance, this was in the interest of radical monotheism. When most other forms of Protestantism remained content with or became emphatic about classic creeds that associated Jesus Christ with God, they did so in conscious reference to the fact that this in no way detracted from monotheistic faith. Protestant interpretation of philosophies of history have always seen this God of Israel as somehow active in history.
At the same time, Protestantism is a Christ-focused faith. Here again one may speak in the language of H. Richard Niebuhr about a tendency that he saw as less compatible with true Protestantism and that, indeed, was a heresy on any terms. Some forms of evangelical, Christ-centered Protestantism, he charged, were guilty of a "Unitarianism of the Second Person" of the Trinity. This meant that just as earlier theistic Unitarians believed only in the divinity of the one God whom Jesus called Father, at the expense of the Son and the Holy Spirit, these gospel-minded people, without usually meaning to, identified Jesus almost exclusively with God and had little to say or do about God apart from witness to Jesus.
Not all Protestants have been ready to use the inherited language of the preexistent Logos, or Word, that became incarnate in the historical Jesus. They have, however, found ways to witness to the bond between Jesus and God. In his best-known hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," Protestant pioneer Martin Luther spoke of Jesus Christ as "the Lord of hosts" and then burst forth with the assertion "And there's no other God." There is no other God than the one revealed in Jesus Christ. Such witness led to radical expressions that verge on the ancient heresy of patripassionism, the claim that God the Father suffered with the Son on the cross. In this spirit Martin Rinkhart offered a line in a Good Friday hymn to the effect that in the death of Jesus "our God is dead." Nineteenth-century critics, especially left-wing Hegelians, seized on incautious lines like these to claim that the death of Jesus meant the death of God, even on orthodox soil. Rinkhart and the Protestants were not ready for such consequences or corollaries, but they left themselves open to this claim, so eager were they to proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ. Protestants in the main have been so Jesus- or Christ-centered that they are more willing to take such risks than to side with humanistic or minority liberal Protestants who broke up notions of the Trinity and saw Jesus as a distinctive but not unique human.
As for what the creeds describe as the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, one despairs of pointing to a distinctive witness held by almost all Protestants. Negatively, again as a corollary to the nonpapal witness, Protestants have refused to identify the Holy Spirit with the tradition, the magisterium or official teaching, or the papal authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Most have been more at home seeing the Holy Spirit connected with revelation and authority as the inspirer of the text of the Bible. Some left-wing reformers of the sixteenth century and their heirs down to twenty-first-century Pentecostal Protestants have been ready to speak of revelation from the Holy Spirit direct to the individual, apart from scripture. Yet it is significant that in their minds, this revelation occurs alongside and not in antagonism toward or independent of what is heard in the inspired Bible.
This witness to God in three persons, historically as Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit, has added up to a Protestant trinitarianism. Once the term Trinity is introduced, it is difficult to see what distinctions remain. True, a few Protestants, especially among the Pentecostals and others who resist Catholic creeds and dogma, reject the trinitarian approach because the word does not appear in the Bible and because it points to human formulations. Yet without using the term, they tend to reproduce the substance of trinitarian faith even while rejecting its formulations.
In sum, the distinctive characteristics of Protestantism emerge from the variety of models that Protestants endorse in forming their churches. Because of their diversity, Protestant churches have been less likely or less able to converge on the basis of each other's witness than have churches in the more homogeneous Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. As a result, Protestants are thrown back more on story than on dogma, more on biblical narrative than on creedal formulation, yet for the most part without rejecting dogma or creed. And they have been pressed to develop special ways of understanding how God is mediated and present in human affairs and, specifically, in the circle of believers and the church. Urgent on its agenda for centuries, then, has been the concept of mediation in formal authority and structure.
Authority and Structure: The Scriptures
If the believer on Protestant soil is to be responsive to God as creator (or, sometimes, Father), Son, and Holy Spirit, questions arise. Who says so? How is this God to be known? What are the boundaries of witness to such a God? Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism stress the authority of tradition, magisterium, apostolic succession of bishops (as do Anglicans and some Lutherans), and, uniquely to Catholicism, the Roman papal office. They also testify to God's revelation in scripture, but Protestantism is thrown almost wholly on scripture. Since the end of the nineteenth century, however, more and more Protestants have been willing to see a relationship between the Bible and tradition. They have become contextual thinkers who see that the Bible reiterates the tradition it grows out of. Yet for their ancestors in faith the Bible held a special status, and tradition or papal authority could never match it. So emphatic was this Protestant emphasis that critics from within, such as the Enlightenment-era Protestant Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, complained that Luther substituted the Bible as a "paper pope" for Protestants to match the authority of Catholicism's human pope.
The Bible of Protestantism is the canon of the Old and New Testaments, and almost never the Apocrypha, which has special status in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. The canon is theoretically open; it is conceivable that a book could still be added to it. So teach most Protestants. It is difficult to imagine the circumstance in which the many Protestant church bodies could agree on a later-discovered and apparently canonical-level writing, yet, for thoughtful Protestants, the openness of the canon is a partial safeguard against making an icon or idol of the Bible.
While the Bible has become the only document used and useful for uniting Protestant witness or helping determine Protestant theological argument—it provides at least something of the genetic programming of Protestantism, or the ground rules for their games—there is here as so often a very broad spectrum of approaches to its authority. Most Protestants have accepted the Luthern mark sola scriptura, that the Bible alone is the authority; but this formula tells all too little about how to regard the book.
At one extreme, conservative Protestants who have resisted modern historical criticism of biblical texts stress that the Bible is somehow not only inspired but infallible and inerrant. The inerrancy applies not only to revelation in matters of faith but also in all details of history, geography, and science, at least as would apply to the original autographs. Some of the originators of Protestantism often used language of biblical authority that was so confident of biblical truth that it gave reasons for later theologians to build elaborate theories of this inerrancy. In later centuries, some dogmatic teachers went so far as to propound mechanical or dictation theories, in which the author of a biblical writing was a kind of conduit or secretary for God, at the expense of personal inspiration and independent style. Most proponents of inerrancy, however, have been less extreme. They have tended to build on the basis of various Aristotelian or Baconian philosophies, stressing syllogisms in which a perfect, hence inerrant, God chooses to engage lovingly in revelation, hence taking care to assure that readers receive no error or ambiguity. These inerrantists have engaged in heated polemics against all, no matter how high their view of biblical authority, who have not found inerrancy to be a biblical or theologically defensible concept.
At the other end of the spectrum are a minority of Protestants, chiefly in academic centers, who have completely adopted post-Enlightenment views of biblical criticism. They have thus treated the biblical text as they would any other ancient literary text. They grant no special status to the inspiration of biblical authors. For them the Bible still has authority as a document that both reflects and promotes the norms of the Christian community. Many schools of interpretation, even among those who have immersed themselves in historical and literary criticism, find that the Bible "discloses," or potentially discloses, what God would reveal. This disclosure or revelation, it is contended, can occur even if the Bible includes grammatical inaccuracies, historical misstatements, and scientific concepts long proven wrong and rendered obsolete. The polemic of these contenders is against the inerrantists, who, they claim, do make the Bible into a quasi-papal authority or turn it into an icon at the expense of radical monotheism.
The spectrum is visible in another way when one considers how different Protestants regard the reader of the Bible. At one end, there are those who contend that "the right of private judgment" is the Christian mark of distinctiveness. Thus Martin Luther was said to have challenged the emperor in 1521 to convince him that he, Luther, was wrong on the basis of the Bible and reason. One cannot go against conscience for the sake of authority. In a sense, the conscience and intelligence of the individual in such a case take priority over claims of the community. At the other end of the spectrum, there is as much concern as in any other part of Christianity for Christian community and the nurturing of the word in the context of congregation or church. In these cases, the church is credited with preserving the Bible, seeing that it is embodied in people who effectively display its power in their lives, and calling people to belief on the basis of biblical texts that are turned into calls of faith by living people. In all cases, it is fair to speak of Protestants as being especially "people of the Book."
The Authority of the Church
Lacking paper authority as they do, and unwilling as they are for the most part to yield to bishops as having a determinative role in dispensing tradition, how do Protestants see the authority of the church? The vast majority of Protestants in all ages, though they be churched and faithful, have rendered secondary to the Bible all other church authority, creeds, confessions, and forms of polity. When they are serious and are seriously confronted, most Protestants characteristically will say that they get authority for teaching and practice from the Bible alone.
Despite this claim, reflective Protestants will also admit that over the centuries they have spilled much ink in treatises on churchly authority. As much as Catholics, they may have exacted sweat and blood from people who ran afoul of church authorities, who tested the bounds of orthodoxy, or who came under ecclesiastical discipline. Protestantism, in other words, may seem chaotic to the outsider who sees its many groupings and varieties, but to most confessors and members the chaos is minimized, because they are ordinarily touched only by the authority system of which they are a part, that of their own church.
Once one insists on making churchly authority secondary, other values come to be dominant in association with the church. The church on Protestant soil is a fellowship, a congregation of people who have like minds or similar purposes. The church may be seen as "the body of Christ" or "the communion of saints" before it is an authority to compel conformity in teaching or practice. Yet once one assigns values to the group, even in forms of Protestantism that accent the right of private judgment or go to extremes of individualism, there must be and in practice have been many subtle ways to assert authority and to effect discipline. A small congregation's authority on Baptist or Congregational soil can be felt more immediately, for instance, than might Catholic authority asserted from the distance between Rome and India by a not always efficient and always pluralistic church. Democracies can turn authoritarian. Ambiguity about authority can often lead to expressions of arbitrary discipline. So polity and authority have been nagging questions in Protestantism.
First, there has been ambiguity about the lay-clerical distinction. Theologian Hendrik Kraemer, in A Theology of the Laity (1958), accurately pointed out that Protestantism was a revolt against authoritarian and overly hierarchical clericalism. Yet almost all Protestantism retained a professional and ordained clergy, somehow setting it aside with sacred sanctions and for special functions. The "somehow," however, became problematic. Protestantism wanted to engage in a leveling of ranks by insisting that all believers were priests, that they could all intercede for one another at the altar, symbolically before the throne of God. Then what were these ordained "priests," or whatever Protestants called their ministry or clergy, and how did they hold power?
Kraemer, historian Wilhelm Pauck, and others have shown that authority (in all but Anglicanism, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and other "high" episcopal bodies) resides chiefly in the word of God and in the responsive congregation. The minister has tended to become the person called and set aside to be the more expert preacher and expounder of the word. Yet Protestantism was unwilling to say that the laity could not be expert at speaking the word, which was accessible to all. It was also easy to demonstrate that the succession of faith in congregations that were responsive to the word was vulnerable to faithlessness and error or heresy. To claim that ministry consisted in the clergy's unique right to administer the sacraments or holy ordinances was something that not all Protestants were eager to do. They did not want the sacramental life to seem in any way magical. As a result, in almost all cases they retained a specially sanctioned clergy, ascribed great authority also to the laity, and left the status of both ambiguous and thus problematic.
Confessions and Creeds
Church authority is not only an issue of clergy and laity. It must also concentrate on the substance or content of the faith that holds people together and finds them members of one Protestant confession and not another. Of course, heredity, accident of birth, and many casual factors based on aesthetics, personal choice, or marriage across denominational lines have played their parts. But thoughtful Protestantism has also insisted that its members are not only "believers" but "believers in" and in some ways, necessarily, "believers that" something or other is true. Whether or not they call these creeds or confessions, and whether these statements are formal or informal, there tend to be some common expressions that give clarity to faith and that establish boundaries between one set of beliefs and others.
Most Protestant bodies display their distinctiveness by resorting to documents from the times of their origins. In their first or second generation, leaders of groups were called upon or felt impelled to define themselves and to witness to their truths. For Lutherans the instrument was chiefly the Augsburg Confession; for the Reformed, the Heidelberg Catechism; for Presbyterians, the Westminster Confession; and for Anglicans the Thirty-nine Articles. Even loose bodies such as seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England Congregationalism in America produced enough creeds and confessions to make up large anthologies. These documents have attracted various levels of respect and authority. Some came to be neglected or even rejected by huge parties. Yet the ecumenical movement, in which these churches had to find out who they and their counterparts were, exposed to view these ancient documents and showed their enduring power.
By some Protestants their originating confessions were believed quia ("because"), that is, because they were held to be simply and perfectly congruent with biblical witness. Others held to them quatenus ("insofar"), that is, insofar as they witnessed to biblical truth in later times and special circumstances. At times the claim was much more informal than either of these, and in some cases it is not possible to point to a church confession at all. For many Protestants a confession says "This we believe" as a hearty declaration to the world; for others it comes across as "This you must believe" and is used to rule out heresy or to provide a basis for polemics.
Protestant Church Polities
As with confession, so with structure, or polity: Protestantism presents a broad spectrum of often mutually incompatible polities. Again, they can be inclusively categorized according to what they negate. They all resist the notion that the Roman papacy is the best, or only, conduit of divine revelation and that the guardianship of the Christian church must rest in the hands of the pope as the vicar or representative of Christ on earth. Beyond that, most Protestant churches have preserved elements of the polity that came with their birth, transformed by exigencies of local, contemporary demands and, in the modern world, adjustments to the managerial and bureaucratic impulse. Yet even in the last and most practical case, the Protestant impulse is to see some legitimation for polity in the Bible and in the experience of the early Christian church.
On one end of this spectrum are churches like the Anglican church or the Lutheran church in Sweden, which insist on apostolic succession in an episcopacy that is of the essence (displays the esse ) of the church. Elsewhere, as in Methodism and much of Lutheranism, bishops belong to the bene esse of the church; they are beneficial for its order but theoretically could be replaced in a different polity. Many Reformed churches rely on synodical or connectional and associational patterns under the rule of presbyters or elders. From the days of the radical reformation in the sixteenth century through various later Baptist and Congregational witnesses into modern times, and especially in burgeoning nonwhite indigenous Protestantism, the authority and even the autonomy of the local congregation is asserted.
Those Protestants at the "catholic" end of the spectrum, who regard bishops as of the esse of the church, have been least ready to see their polity as negotiable in an ecumenical age. Presbyterian, synodical, and congregational bodies, while emphatically cherishing and defending their polities, have shown more signs of flexibility. A safe generalization suggests that even Baptist and Congregationalist groups, who find biblical rootage for congregationalism, have adopted enough bureaucratic instruments that they have functional polities that transcend mere congregationalism. Yet they would find it a part of their Protestantism to be suspicious of bishops.
Alongside church confession and internal polity has been the issue of the authority of the church or religious realm in or alongside the state or governmental and civil realms. Here one can speak of a long trend, based on Protestant latencies, to move from church establishment toward disestablishment and a celebration of voluntarism.
It is historically inaccurate to say, based on the record of American celebration of "separation of church and state" with Protestant concurrence, that Protestantism has always been voluntaristic. It would be more fair to say that the sixteenth-century Reformation carried with it some potential for voluntarism—seeds that broke open, sprouted, and grew from two to four centuries later.
In the late twentieth century, most of the new nations in which nonwhite indigenous Protestantism prospered had undergone experiences of modernization that, whatever else these meant, provided no room for fusion of church and state or an interwoven pattern of religious and civil authority. Similarly, it was on the soil of largely Protestant nations such as the United States that the greatest degree of constitutional separation between the two authorities first occurred. Yet political philosopher Hannah Arendt is correct to chide Protestants for claiming that modern democracy with its religious freedom is simply a Christian invention. Some Christians have found it easy to reach into their repository of options to find impetus for supporting republicanism based on Enlightenment principles and practical support of equity and civil peace whenever pluralism has been strong.
Historical Protestantism in almost all its mainstream and dominant forms first simply carried over authority patterns from medieval Catholicism. In the Church of England, the Presbyterian church in Scotland, the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia, the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and wherever else leaders had the power to do so, they naturally clung to establishment. They simply broke from Roman Catholic establishment to form Protestant versions. Martin Luther supported a "territorial church" with princes as bishops. Elsewhere, monarchy and legislative bodies gave establishment power or privilege to the favored church and forced disabilities on others.
Only the left-wing, or Anabaptist, churches of the first generations were independent of the state, and they tended to be harassed as much by Protestant establishments as by Catholic establishments. Where they became powerful, as did the Puritans from England who founded New England, they reversed themselves and became the new established monopoly church. Even in much later republics, where no form of Protestantism ever came to dominance, Protestants were tempted to reassert power by looking for legal privilege.
Despite all these establishmentarian dimensions, it is also fair to say that Protestantism did contain the seed that helped disestablishment and separation of church and state develop. A religion of the word, Protestantism called for that word to separate people from attachment to the culture as it evoked decision. So the boundaries of the church and the state could not be coextensive, as they aspired then to be in Catholicism. Whatever "the priesthood of all believers," "the right of private judgment," and the call to conscience in biblical interpretation meant theologically, they had as their practical consequence an honoring of individualism and personal profession of faith. Both of these would become confined were there an official and authoritative church.
Another way to describe this individualism is in terms of modern theologian Paul Tillich's famed "protestant principle" of prophetic protest. This principle calls believers to question all structures and institutions, also and especially those of their own state and church. Naturally, Protestants have not found it any easier to do this than have others, since seldom does one wish to give up ease and privilege and to share power voluntarily. Yet, in contrast to much Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology, Protestant theology at least had a legitimating principle for criticizing church structure and its bond with human governmental authority. Protestantism, then, has lived with a heightened dialectic. On the one hand, it called for support of government, in the terms of Paul's biblical letter to the Romans, chapter 13, as God's instrument. On the other hand, it was critical, along the lines of Revelation 13, of civil and ecclesiastical government as being especially subtle and potent concentrations of power, symbols, and capacities for self-idolization and the oppression of others.
Personal Experience as Authority
A word should be said about personal experience as authority in Protestantism. From the first its "spiritualists," "mystics," and "enthusiasts," who claimed that God spoke directly to and through them, have been both recognized and under suspicion. Those who carry these claims to extremes, as did many of the Quakers, or Friends, the seventeenth-century Puritan sect, and some modern Pentecostals, know that they are "on the margin," out of step with mainstream Protestantism. Their own protests and the way the rest of Protestantism unites against them reveal this.
At the same time, few Protestants have been willing to resist going further than Orthodox and Catholic teachers in granting much authority to individual assent in the grasp of faith. Calvin spoke of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind of the believer who hears the word of God or reads the Bible. Luther's possibly apocryphal cry at the Diet of Worms in 1521, a cry against emperor and pope, state and church, "Here I stand!" has acquired mythical dimensions as an act of Protestant heroism. There is always at least the theoretical possibility that the individual may be right and the church wrong, a possibility that both nagged and inspired Luther and other reformers.
In the end, most Protestantism asks the Christian who claims to have had an experience of God or a direct revelation and a call to individual conscience to subject these claims to the responsibilities of the congregation or church at large. There may be great suspicion by fellow believers of such claims, and the individuals who make them may suffer liabilities and persecution. Yet on the other hand, Protestantism honors "heart religion," insists on heartfelt response to the word and the claims of God upon the mind, and thus it sees experience as an authority alongside the Bible and the church.
Original or classic Protestantism was more ready to see itself as distinctive in the content of faith than is modern pluralist Protestantism. In the sixteenth century, late medieval Catholicism presented what to Protestant eyes was an egregious violation of God's system of approach to human beings. Catholicism had generated, or degenerated into, a system that progressively depended more and more upon human achievement. Key words were human merit or humanly gained righteousness. Elaborate schemes, for example, the sale of indulgences to help make up the required number of merits to assure salvation, had been devised. These led to abuses, which contemporary Catholic reformers and later historians have agreed made Protestant revolt plausible.
Protestantism across the board held to generally extreme views of human finitude, limits, "fallenness," and need. Mainstream and marginal reformers alike were not convinced by claims that human beings retained enough of the image of God upon which to build so that their own works or merits would suffice to appease a wrathful God. They exaggerated the way Catholicism had diminished the role of Jesus Christ as giver of a gift or imparter of grace upon the wholly undeserving. Once again Paul Tillich from the twentieth century can be called in as witness to what Protestantism affirmed: that God "accepts the unacceptable." Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God does not wait for sinners to become acceptable through their efforts.
In the sixteenth century, there were many variations on this theme, and Martin Luther's proclamation of "justification by grace through faith," while at home in all of Protestantism, was not necessarily the chosen formula for all Protestants. Yet all did accent divine initiative, human limits, the gifts of God in Jesus Christ, and the new condition of humanity as a result of divine forgiveness. The variations from the first included some new Protestant ways of propping up the moral quest. Not all were as sure as Luther was that the law of God, as revealed in the Ten Commandments or the sermon on the mount, played no positive guiding role in salvation. They often feared "antinomianism" or lawlessness. The grace-proclaimers protected themselves against this by insisting that faith must be active in love, that works must follow grace, that "sanctification" is an inevitable consequence and correlate of "justification."
Where such resorts to human claims and achievements were not part of original Protestantism, they did develop later. An example of this was a revision on Dutch and then English soil in a movement named after one Jacobus Arminius and called Arminianism. This system proclaimed the benevolence of a God who gave humans more capacity for benevolence on their own. In some Unitarianism this teaching became a kind of philosophical or moral system that moved to the edges of Protestantism. In Wesleyan Methodism it remained "evangelical," gospel-centered, but picked up on the themes of sanctification and the quest for perfection. In the latter case, it did not make the sacrifice of Christ or the imparting of grace as a gift unnecessary or even secondary. Somehow, then, Protestants have concentrated on faith and grace in distinctive ways. Modern Catholicism, however, has undergone such a revitalizing of faith in similar approaches to grace that the distinctively Protestant note has become compromised—a trend that most Protestants profess to welcome enthusiastically. Protestantism has considered the church always to be reforming, never reformed; Catholicism and Protestantism alike, many would say, stand in need of being reformed, and from time to time they move past rigid, older identities and formulas. Such moves are not incongruent with the Protestant ethos and spirit.
The Protestant Response to God
To speak of Protestant creeds and a Protestant substance or content does justice to the cognitive dimensions of its faith. At the same time, one can easily exaggerate these elements. In the lives of most people called Protestant, behavioral factors are at least as vivid and more easily grasped, if defined with more difficulty. One can readily consult a dogmatics text to see what Protestants believe or are supposed to believe. It takes more subtle observation, more willingness to risk generalization, to observe their response in practice.
Protestantism has honored the rites of passage through life. Few Protestants would call their ordinances "rites of passage," yet most can easily be led to see that their sacraments and ceremonies do relate the individual to cosmos and community in patterns that match those observed on other soil by historians of religion. They may not see themselves classified with "the primitives" with respect to initiation, fertility, or funerary rites, but there are parallels.
Thus, almost all Protestants—Quakers chiefly excepted—see the need for a rite of initiation. With so few exceptions that they do not merit pointing to, this rite is "water baptism," something shared with the rest of Christianity. Most Protestants retained infant baptism, as either an instrument of grace (as in Lutheranism) or an expression of covenantal life (as in most of Reformed Protestantism). Yet Protestants, when called to reflect, also resisted what they saw to be Catholic notions of ex opere operato, which Protestants regarded as a "magical" application of human elements in sacramental life. This left those who baptized infants with the burden of showing how faith can be active among children who can have no rational conception of what is going on. How to explain the decision that was still called for in response to gifts of grace in faith, or the expectation that some disciplined life must follow?
Many mainstream Protestants compensated by accenting reaffirmation of baptism in some version of a rite of confirmation. Others saw each act of repentance and each day's conscious Christian affirmation as a new death of "the old Adam" and a "being born again" as a new being in Christ. These ideas have held the imagination of millions and made it possible for the rite of initiation to occur very early in human life.
At the same time, the logic of Protestantism and the impulse to connect rites of initiation with conscious response to the word of God led many Protestant branches to grow restless about infant baptism and to move closer to locating initiation in or after adolescence, as so many other religions have it. This meant a further move from seeing water baptism as an instrument of grace to seeing it as a human response based on decision. The new evangelizers or converters, then, called for a decision that issued in repentance and faith and then initiation. "Adult baptism" as a sign of response, usually dramatized in baptism by immersion, better exemplified the sense of ordeal and the passage across a "liminal" or threshold stage to new community. As a result, whole church bodies became "Baptist," and the baptist forms of Protestantism came to prevail progressively in the modern world, where the demand for choice and identity grew more intense. Most of fast-growing nonwhite indigenous Protestantism stressed this form of passage.
Marriage, regarded on Orthodox and Roman Catholic soil as a sacrament with an imparting of grace, distinctively stopped being that on most Protestant soil. The reformers tended to regard it as essentially a civil act, with the church serving merely as an agent to bless the couple and to hear their vows. The church was the custodian and recordkeeper of the state's work until the modern secular state took over the recording functions. One could, at least in theory, be validly married without the blessing of the church and clergy. In practice, however, the impulse of people to see their acts of bonding and fertility sacralized has won out. On most Protestant soil, whatever the theology of the marriage ceremony and act, people have seen to the development of elaborate churchly rites at times of nuptials. Yet it is distinctively Protestant to prevent notions of grace-giving or sacramental character from developing in most places.
Protestantism has not encouraged distinctive funeral traditions, but almost everywhere its churches have been participants in memorial or mourning rites. Again there occurred the negation of the Catholic notion that a sacrament was involved at the point of passage to a life to come. Some Protestants use oils for symbolic purposes associated with prayer for healing but assign them no sacramental or instrumental significance. When death comes, there is much reflection upon the event and its meaning. Almost always a cleric holds rites of the word that accent the gospel of what God has done in and for the deceased person and assure that God's love is stronger than death. These rites may occur in the sanctuary of a church or in a mortuary, and burial (whether of a body or ashes) can occur on church cemetery grounds or in public burial places. Here Protestantism offers few consistent words except that one sees the life of the believer wrapped up in divine beneficence despite human frailty.
Alongside baptism, then, the only act seen as sacramental in the vast majority of Protestantism is the sacred meal. Such meals are common in religions, and Protestants often have failed to see theirs in a larger context. Yet they have almost unanimously—the Salvation Army and the Quakers being the nearly sole exceptions—taken over the Catholic sacrament of this meal and put their stamp on it. For centuries the Mass, in which the laity received bread and the clergy partook of bread and wine, was the repeated event in which Jesus Christ was made really present through priestly act, the word of God, and faith.
Lutheranism, as an expression of a conservative Reformation, came closest to keeping the sacramental worldview with its implications for the bread and wine as body and blood of Christ. But even Lutheranism rebelled against ex opere operato concepts and did not want to see a change in the visible elements, a transubstantiation, of any sort. This could lead to what Lutherans saw to be superstitious or magical reverence. Most other Protestants sided with the Reformed tradition. They did not see the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion as an occasion for seeing God in Christ as present or for regarding Christ as sacramentally experienced in assemblies. Instead they located the Lord's Supper in a system of grace as a human response, to which people brought their faith and their intentions in response to a command of God.
Whatever their doctrinal attitude toward the rite, these Protestants took the meal seriously. For example, the nineteenth-century Protestant movements associated with the Disciples of Christ, which were attempts to restore primitive Christianity, rejected Catholic and Lutheran sacramental views. Yet, more than most Protestants, they kept the frequent, indeed weekly, practice of sharing the sacred meal, which usually takes place during the formal Sunday observance of congregations, although usually with less frequency than in the sacramental and Catholic churches. Communicants receive both bread and wine (or, in some temperance-minded bodies, unfermented grape juice) from a central table, either at that table or in the pew. The event occurs in a spirit of great solemnity, after there have been preaching and examination of hearts.
The Role of the Word
While baptism and the Lord's Supper as sacraments, and marriage, confirmation, and funeral rites as practices, receive much attention, Protestantism is supremely a religion of the word. By this most believers mean not simply the word of the Bible but the Logos of God, the expression of God. God creates the universe by a word, pronounces sinners forgiven by a word, speaks the word to heal them, builds community through the word.
This has necessarily meant dissemination of the word. Protestantism was born early in the age of Johann Gutenberg during a revolution in printing that made literacy necessary and the spread of words possible. Some modern critics have seen Protestantism as so identified with Gutenberg's invention of movable type and a great impulse to use it that they predict its demise as print gives way to the competition from electronic and visual disseminations. However, Protestantism also makes much of the oral word and sees voice as a summons for belief. Its leaders have long quoted the Pauline notion that "faith comes by hearing" and hearing by the word of God. This has meant that most Protestant revitalizations have occurred as theologies of the word or, for the people, as enhanced preaching.
Protestantism came on the scene after the great tradition of Catholic preaching was over, and there was little new attention being given to homiletics. For Protestants, the preached word or sermon, expounding the word and applying it to the needs of people in a new day, became a challenge to the Mass as the focal act of worship. This vast majority of Protestants measure the effectiveness of worship by reference to the preaching. It is the scriptural word that gives power to baptism and the Lord's Supper, whether as instruments of grace or as human response. The word shapes prayer; people use the word in teaching and conversation. In times of crisis, it is the word that inspires intercessory prayer. Most Protestant healing involves no herbs, potions, or exercises—only spiritual direction under the word. There are as many theories about why faith comes from hearing and believing the word as there have been theologies, Protestant bodies, or movements and ages in Protestantism. Given the complexity of human psychology, the variety of social contexts, and the pluralism of philosophical options, it is difficult to picture a final definition. Despite the lack of a unitary position on the power of the word, Protestants are united in believing that somehow theirs is a religion of the word.
In describing baptism (whether sprinkling of infants or immersion of adults), the Lord's Supper, and the act of preaching and the uses of the word, the outlines of Protestant worship become generally clear. To these should be added that Protestants characteristically have gathered for worship in buildings set aside for that purpose. While they believe that the gathered community may effectively baptize, eat and drink, hear and pray under the sky or in secular buildings, they have had an impulse to set aside and consecrate a sacred space, which symbolically, not actually, becomes a house of God.
The building may be of almost any architectural style. Original Protestant churches tended to be slightly stripped-down Catholic churches that had been taken over by Protestants. In general, the concept of being "stripped down" is appropriate; when Protestants build churches, they tend to be somewhat simpler than Orthodox or Catholic churches. Rejecting icons and minimizing the sacral role of statues and painting, Protestants have tended to use pictorial art for purposes of teaching, reminder, or inspiration. This approach has led to direct and simple expressions, with the exception of a very few periods in which Protestants did revert to ornate Gothic expressions.
The sacred space usually accents a place for preaching, a baptismal font or pool, and a table or altar for the Lord's Supper. Around these the people gather, in pews or on chairs. The gathering occurs to recognize the presence of God, to follow divine commands to congregate for purposes of praise, to build the morale of the group for purposes outside the sanctuary, and to celebrate the seasons of the church year, the events of the week, and the passages of life.
With few exceptions, Protestantism is also a singing religion. It took the act of praising in song, which had become largely a preserve of clergy and choir, and enlarged it to include the congregation. There may be chorally apathetic Protestantism, but in practice Protestants honor the word of God in song. Most of their revivals—Luther's and Charles Wesley's are but two examples—have been promoted through distinctive song.
Except in Seventh-day Adventism, Protestant worship almost always occurs on Sunday, the Lord's Day, the Day of Resurrection, although believers are urged to worship at any time or place. Most Protestants observe the inherited Catholic church year but have purged it of many of its occasions. That is, they annually follow the life of Christ from Advent and Christmas, with its birth rites, through another season of repentance and preparation, Lent, on the way to a climax at Good Friday and Easter weekend, and then a festival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The more Puritan forms of Protestantism, however, saw something "papist" in these seasonal observances and did away with almost all of them, sometimes including Christmas itself. The rest of Protestantism, which kept the church year of observances, also honored biblical saints like Paul and John on special days but rejected most postbiblical saints. It was believed that honor directed to them distracted from worship of God in Christ. In many places a new church year tied to national and cultural events has emerged. Thus in the United States many observe a Thanksgiving Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day, Stewardship Sunday, Lay Sunday, and the like. The impulse to ritualize life is strong even on the purging, purifying, and simplifying soil of Protestantism.
The Way of Life
How, it may be asked, can one speak of a Protestant way of life when the ways are so varied? What do a wealthy American high church Anglican executive, a Latin American Pentecostal, and a black under oppression in South Africa have in common as a "way of life"? It would be foolish to impose a single ideal, force a straitjacket, or overgeneralize a vision, but something can and must be said about Protestant styles of behavior. Sometimes activities are so obvious that no one bothers to note them, and this is the case with some Protestant commonalities.
First, most overlooked and yet obvious on a second glance, is the widespread assumption that the life of grace to which Protestants witness by faith must issue in some form of personal ethic. This seems unremarkable, but by no means have all religions of the world made much of this moral notion. Many have centered themselves more on matters of rites and mores than on matters of conscience and morals. Protestantism has almost always been stereotyped as moralistic in intention and outlook. Catholic Christians have dismissed some of their own heresies, such as Jansenism, as being like "grim Calvinism" or dour Protestantism. Others have rebelled against the Protestant impulse to reform the world, to rearrange by law or example or injunction the lives of others, or to convert the experience of grace into severe new legalisms. While these rejections of Protestantism may be based on exaggerations or partial misperceptions, there is enough consistency in Protestantism to warrant elaboration of the theme.
Catholic Christianity has stressed personal ethics and produced people of impressive moral conviction and achievement. Yet often it has implied that participation in the Mass and the act of having a soul saved are paramount, and that the faithful as a group are the moral agents. Protestantism, through its tendency toward individualism, expects more of an internalization and personal application of the message of the church.
Protestantism has often been impelled to be critical of the sexual mores of its day and to ask its people for restraint in expressions of sexuality. Partly under the impetus of sixteenth-century reformers who, as clerics, had been celibate but who later married, established families, and lived in "parsonages," Protestants chose to affirm sexuality in familial contexts. Scorning monasticism most of the time, and speaking of the vocation to propagate where that was possible, Protestants became champions of the family. Their critics see Protestantism as being so familial that it tends to adopt the norms of bourgeois families wherever these appear, without sorting out what is temporary cultural expression from what is integral to the faith or biblically based. Sometimes, despite Protestant individualism, the individual who is not vividly involved in family life has felt left out by the norms of preaching and teaching that see the family as a basic unit of revelation, nurture, and discipline.
It is not easy to strain all the Protestant impulses for personal ethics and morals into a single mold. In general, Protestantism has called not just for applying the faith within the Christian community but for taking it into the world as well. The line between the sacred and the secular calling and sphere was supposed to be a fine one, whether it turned out to be so in practice or not. Some Protestant ethics have been legalistic, a somber response to the commands of God in the divine law. Yet more frequently reformers have insisted that Protestantism is an issuing of faith in forms of love that seek to serve as conduits of God's agapē, which is a spontaneous, unmotivated love. This understanding, it has been claimed, is more liberating than those Catholic forms that stress almsgiving or doing good to obtain merit and thus would be partly self-serving. Similarly, Protestant ethicists have often criticized Catholics for using models of human desire and friendship or natural love, not the agapē that exemplifies the initiative of divine love.
Protestant response often generates an ethic of attention to the life of the church. Lacking the appeal of the sacramental presence of Christ in the reserved communion Host, or bread, or the understanding that something happens uniquely in the sanctuary, Protestants have often had to work strenuously to provide reasons for attending worship regularly. "Go to church" becomes a large part of the ethic, and the quality of Christian life is often measured by faithfulness in participation on church premises.
As for social ethics, Protestantism includes several strains. There has been a denial of the world of a sort that, in H. Richard Niebuhr's terms, pits Christ against culture or sees Christ to be too pure and lofty to be stained in society and thus sees Christ above culture. There have been constant temptations for Protestantism, where it prevails, simply to baptize the surrounding culture in forms of a Christ of culture. Then all lines between the Christian and the world on some terms or other are obscured.
Two other types have tended to dominate wherever Protestants have been reflective and self-critical. One of these would be called by observers and critics a form that keeps transforming culture with a millennial or utopian tinge. In this version, Protestants pick up biblical witness to the always-coming kingdom of God. Proclaiming this coming kingdom involves a prophetic denouncing of the world as it is, the vision of a better world, and some sort of program for reaching it. This transforming strain of Protestantism tends to prevail in times when progressivism is plausible in the culture and calls forth a buoyant, activistic kind of response. On its soil there have been genuine efforts to change the structures of society, to promote more justice. Many Reformed and especially Puritan and later moderate evangelicalisms have been dedicated to such models.
This form of approach tends to call forth common action by the church. Either through movements, demonstrations, or the issuance of teaching and prophetic proclamations, church bodies ask for corporate wrestling with issues. The church as church takes some stand in society and tries to work for change that will make the empirical world look like or realize some dimension of life in the kingdom of God. Then the accent on personal morality is not secondary, but it becomes specialized. It works in some aspects of life but not in others.
The other main Protestant stream also asks for engagement with culture, but it is more individualistic and relies less on progressivist models. Although the kingdom of God may be wholly eschatological, coming or to come only after human history as now known is exhausted, the individual Christian is not relieved of responsibilities of citizenship. But he or she is now a more isolated representative who does not wait for and may not agree with joint Christian efforts. In this school there is more accent on the perduring element of the demonic in human history. People are seen as more intransigent, as less malleable to change. The task of the church is more otherworldly, and salvation is seen in individualistic and spiritualizing terms. There are instincts to be more conservative, to support the status quo at its best, to honor the government and the authorities or powers that be as ordained of God.
In either case, Protestantism has been culturally productive. Whether on corporate or individual terms, this movement, in the eyes of many social thinkers, including Max Weber, took advantage of new economic opportunities that arose during and after the Reformation era in western Europe and Anglo-America. By turning its ascetic and self-denying powers from the search for salvation, as in the monastery, to the search for productive life in the secular setting, Protestants produced new motives and energies. They were ready to work hard and long. They wanted to be stewards of the earth and its resources. They would not waste and wished to save. Consequently, as they took risks with capital and invested, they developed a "Protestant ethic," which spread wherever Protestantism did.
More recent sociologists have questioned Weber's thesis. There seems to have been capitalism, as in fifteenth-century Venice, before there were Protestants. There is an equivalent to the Protestant ethic in nations such as Japan, where there have never been many Protestants. Motivations for capitalist venture were too broad to be clustered under a "this-worldly ascetic" motif. Yet the Protestants, for the most part, in Europe and now in nonwhite indigenous circles, have been great promoters of individual work and responsibility. The use of leisure, the concept of siesta and fiesta, is not dealt with so consistently where Protestants dominate. They would live out a divine-human drama in the workaday world, one that calls for them to be productive and busy.
Only with broadest brush strokes need one show how Protestantism issues in a variety of thought patterns. It goes almost without saying that as a religion of the word it must connect with other patterns of word use, other systems of thought. While it could inherit much of Catholic theology and convert it to embody the new or renewed Protestant concepts, Protestantism also placed on individuals more burden for formulation than did Catholicism, where more was inherited through the tradition. Since Protestantism also induced variety and pluralism, it became important for each group or profound thinker to formulate what was special about his or her locale, context, public, and program. The freedom that Protestantism professed to bring was a mandate and a license to be enterprising in theological form-building.
By contrast, in reaction to the Reformation, Roman Catholicism through the Council of Trent tended to freeze theological development. Experiment was downgraded, and innovation was a subject that induced suspicion. The theologian became the reformulator, the custodian of assured truths. Developmental or modernist thought was formally condemned, and the papacy came to elevate Thomistic scholasticism to privileged—indeed, virtually monopolistic—status. Protestantism also engendered scholasticisms and orthodoxies but was unable to suppress the experimental tendencies it had opened up.
Protestant theology saw the Bible as its basic set of texts and, often, the only norm and source for theology. Many thinkers, with their churches, were ready also to accept the main themes and modes of early Christian orthodoxy from the creed-making period. To these they added the statements of faith from the first or second generation of each Protestant expression. Finally, there was room for individual witness and ingenuity dependent upon available philosophy and urgent cultural necessity. Protestantism was born not in episcopal residences or monasteries but, for the most part, in universities and academies. This meant that the new formulators were uncommonly exposed to rival and alien—but also sometimes alluring—patterns of thought.
Protestant thought has moved through a number of epochs. The first generation tended to be open, explosive, rich in dialectic, ready for ambiguity, indulgent with paradox. A second period led to reaction and scholastic impulses to nail everything down, to be secure and neat, to defend propositions of faith. Later, in most of the older Protestantism, new movements of the heart, new Pietisms, forced changes in thought patterns. These were quickly supplanted by the rationalisms of the Enlightenment, which colored Protestantism almost everywhere. Then came a crisis of historical consciousness, a readiness to see everything in the Christian scheme colored by accident and contingency in history. In the twentieth century, among the explosion of options, there was some embrace of existentialist and personalist outlooks. To the non-Protestant Christian, this meant individualist irresponsibility. To the churched forms of Protestantism it became both a challenge and a threat, as theologians applied Protestant witness in varied thought patterns in changing cultures. In nonwhite indigenous Protestantisms new patterns are still emerging.
That Protestants chose preaching, hymnody, architecture, and the like for cultural expression and economics or reform for social expression can be inferred from preceding passages. In general, Protestantism has been less fertile than Catholic Christianity in affirming the literary and artistic worlds. Sometimes this has resulted from a certain suspicion about the validity of the earthly venture for the sake of salvation. Tillich balanced his "protestant principle" with "Catholic substance," the ability to relish and invest in the sights and sounds of human endeavor, which was often lacking in Protestantism. Sometimes moralism has prevented Protestants from literary expression, since literature often pushes at the edges of moral convention. The tinge of iconoclasm in much of Protestantism has kept it from being free for artistic expression.
All this has meant that Protestantism seemed most productive in the field of music, perhaps because the kinetic character of music seemed to be congruent with a word-centered, iconoclastic tradition. One thinks here of the musical poets of Protestantism, most notably the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. In literature there have been John Milton and John Bunyan, but in the contemporary world Protestantism has seldom helped produce anything approaching modern classics. In the visual arts geniuses like Lucas Cranach or, supremely, Rembrandt, have given expression to their evangelical sympathies and Protestant outlook. But this artistic tradition is no match for Catholic versions. The Protestant movement, then, has concentrated on other fields and still awaits substantial aesthetic articulation.
Protestantism has been in decline in its heartland, western Europe and the British Isles. The old establishments there survive, but languidly, and churches are nearly empty in much of secular western Europe. In North America the picture is more complex, varied, and promising. While mainstream Protestantism as an heir of establishment has been languishing, revitalized conservative movements, more worldly than their antecedents, prosper. The greatest growth is in nonwhite indigenous Protestantism, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Following present trends in the Southern Hemisphere, Christianity, and Protestantism with it, is on the way toward becoming numerically dominant. What it will choose to retain from the missionary forms of Protestantism and where it will choose to innovate are not yet determined. As the two clusters come together, the result will help determine the future of Protestantism wherever that form of Christianity propagates itself.
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One of the more ambitious histories of Protestantism is Émile G. Léonard's Historie générale du protestantisme, 3 vols. (Paris, 1961–1964), translated as A History of Protestantism (London, 1965–1968). Most Protestant history is simply incorporated as half of the latter third of general church histories, such as Kenneth Scott Latourette's A History of Christianity (New York, 1953). The most extensive easily accessible bibliography is in my own Protestantism (New York, 1972). One way to approach Protestantism is through its root experience in the Reformation era; on the thought of the period, see Wilhelm Pauck's The Heritage of the Reformation, rev. ed. (Oxford, 1968); Harold J. Grimm's The Reformation Era, 1500–1650, 2d ed. (New York, 1973), is especially useful for its bibliographies.
Louis Bouyer's The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (London, 1956) is an informed view by a Calvinist turned Catholic. Einar Molland's Christendom: The Christian Churches, Their Doctrines, Constitutional Forms, and Ways of Worship (New York, 1959) is especially interesting for its comparison between Protestant and other forms of Christianity. Few scholars have attempted to discern the genius of Protestantism as a whole, but there are good reasons to consult an imaginative attempt by Robert McAfee Brown, The Spirit of Protestantism (Oxford, 1961), or George W. Forell's The Protestant Faith (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1960); for a European view, see Karl Heim's The Nature of Protestantism (Philadelphia, 1963). John B. Cobb, Jr., in Varieties of Protestantism (Philadelphia, 1960), treats modern theology.
Asselt, William J. van, and Eef Dekker, eds. Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise. Grand Rapids, Mich., 2001.
Berg, Johannes van Den. Religious Currents and Cross-Currents: Essays on Early Modern Protestantism and the Protestant Enlightenment. Leiden and Boston, 1999.
Dillenberger, John, and Claude Welch. Protestant Christianity: Interpreted through Its Development. 2d ed. New York, 1988.
Marty, Martin E. Protestantism in the United States: Righteous Empire. 2d ed. New York, 1986.
Marty, Martin E., ed. Theological Themes in the American Protestant World. Munich and New York, 1992.
Marty, Martin E., ed. Varieties of Religious Expression. New York, 1993.
Martin E. Marty (1987)
Protestantism takes its name from the petition presented by certain German towns and princely states at the Imperial Diet of 1529. It signified their formal adherence to the doctrinal principles of the movement of evangelical protest that had raged in Germany surrounding the controversial teachings of the dissident Catholic monk Martin Luther (1483–1546). In 1529 the Imperial Diet attempted to bring an end to the controversy by reaffirming a strict prohibition of Luther's teaching, first banned by the Edict of Worms in 1521. The evangelical states entered their "protestation." This association was formalized by the presentation the following year of an evangelical confession of faith, the Confession of Augsburg (1530), and the formation in 1531 of a defensive alliance, the Schmalkaldic League, to guard the new faith.
The emergence of formal Protestant churches crowned a decade of evangelical ferment sparked by the teachings of Luther and attempts by the church to silence his followers. The Reformation is traditionally deemed to have begun in 1517, the year Luther published his Ninety-five Theses against indulgences. But the pressure for reform within the Catholic Church was of long standing. Luther, in this sense, followed a long line of distinguished churchmen and thinkers who criticized abuse within the church. Much of this criticism focused on the poor morals and low educational standards of the clergy and the venality and worldliness of the clerical hierarchy. But this dissatisfaction also reflected a fundamental long-term shift in the relationship between clergy and laypeople since the High Middle Ages. By the sixteenth century laypeople were eager to exercise more direct control over parts of civic culture that previously had been largely in the clerical domain, such as schools and hospitals. With the rise of lay literacy, education and even the skills of reading and writing were less wholly a clerical preserve, and laypeople judged their clergy by more demanding standards. The century around the Reformation witnessed a significant increase in the amount of money laypeople were channeling into the church through donations, the remodeling of their parish churches, and the founding of chantries, altars, and special masses.
Luther's teaching made such a powerful impact because it effectively provided an outlet for both of these strands of criticism. The first ten years of the Reformation movement were marked by the publication of a steady stream of Luther's writings denouncing clerical abuse and calling for reform. In the process he developed a radical theology of reform that found little place for the mediating role of the priesthood. Luther's criticisms initially found their strongest resonance among intellectuals and fellow members of the clerical orders. Humanists, who had their own criticisms of clerical laxity, were at first broadly supportive, as were many within the clerical estate who shared Luther's disillusionment with the clerical leadership. As his attack on the church broadened, Luther's views found increasing resonance in the German imperial cities, sophisticated communities that allowed a broad scope for the expression of lay opinion.
THEOLOGICAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL FOUNDATIONS
The core of Luther's new theological system was less a critique of clerical morals than a fundamental reevaluation of his understanding of grace and salvation. Justification by faith—by God's grace alone and not through works—was a liberating theological concept for those who, like Luther, had labored under an overwhelming burden of their own sinful natures and the impossibility of conciliating a pitiless God through propitiary works. But quite apart from the emotional release, evidently as powerful for many of Luther's followers as for the reformer himself, the doctrine of justification also had significant implications for the life of the church. If good works were of no effect, then many of the church's institutions and vocations, including memorial masses, monasteries, and purgatory, lost their purpose. Through justification Luther also placed new emphasis on the relationship between God and the individual Christian, and this, rather dangerously expressed as "the priesthood of all believers," did much to undermine the spiritual vocation of the priesthood. Luther's confidence in the laity may have been short-lived, but it provided the motivation for his greatest literary achievement, the German vernacular translation of the Bible (New Testament, 1522; complete Bible, 1534).
Vernacular scripture provided the crucial bridge between Luther the theologian and a wider popular movement. Many who could not comprehend the implications of justification could grasp the potency of the reformers' demand for "pure scripture," with its implicit criticism of late medieval theology and the authority of tradition. According to studies of the popular response to Luther, "pure scripture" (rein evangelium) became the slogan of the German urban Reformation in the years of its most rapid growth (1521–1524). From this point forward the commitment to vernacular scripture and to a generalized knowledge of the Bible among the Christian population was a leitmotiv of all Protestant churches.
Luther's preaching was characterized by a strong apocalyptical sense. Luther clearly believed that he was a preacher of the last days, and his struggle with the papacy was for him the final climactic battle with the Antichrist. In this respect it is hardly surprising that he at first gave little attention to church building. His whole being was bound up in the call to repentance, not the creation of a counterchurch. But as the new churches took shape, the need for order became obvious. In 1529 Luther responded to this pressure with two catechisms, one for adults (Large Catechism) and one for children (Small Catechism), which set the tone for the strong educational impulse that became a leading characteristic of the Protestant movement. Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560), Luther's friend and disciple, provided a systematic theology for the new movement with his Loci communes (1521). Another follower, Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558), revealed a talent for church organization reflected in the drafting of published church orders for the new churches of north Germany and Scandinavia.
These developments were a recognition that the movement of reform had become an independent church. Beginning in 1525 a wave of important cities, including Nuremberg, Strasbourg, and Augsburg, formally adhered to the Reformation and were followed by a number of the most important German princely states, including Hesse, Saxony, and Brandenburg. In 1357 Denmark adopted a Protestant church order, followed by Sweden in 1539. In a parallel process, the last efforts at a formal reconciliation with the Catholic Church, the Colloquy of Regensburg in 1540, failed. The establishment of Protestantism was complete.
With the establishment of formal Protestant churches, reformers acknowledged that the gulf between Protestantism and the Catholic hierarchy was now unbridgeable. But church building was also a defense of Protestant orthodoxy against challenge from within. Luther's movement was characterized from the beginning by an emotional contradiction. On the one hand, the movement in its early years was fueled by an enormous sense of release. Liberation from the weight of traditional Catholic devotional practice was the emotional heart of Luther's doctrine of grace. In addition the incautious formulation of the priesthood of all believers seemed to validate a large lay role in the interpretation of scripture but in fact revealed more starkly a fundamental problem of authority. If the power of the church hierarchy to arbitrate on matters of doctrine was denied, who then was to exercise this authority? Luther's response, that scripture was the final source of authority, invited a mass of conflicting interpretations, particularly in a movement that eagerly promoted free access to the words of scripture through vernacular translation.
It was soon apparent that these fundamental problems would not easily be resolved. Luther was alarmed by evidence of radicalism in the Wittenberg movement on the part of colleagues, such as Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1480–1541), and the self-taught laymen known as the Zwickau prophets. Luther's personal authority was enough to crush these local critics, but he could only watch, powerless, when in 1525 a wide swath of south Germany rose in revolt, claiming Luther's gospel as its inspiration for its program of social reform. The reaction to the Peasants' War (1524–1525) revealed the conservatism of the magisterial reformers. Luther urged the German princes to crush the rebels, and obedience to the established secular authority was henceforth a fundamental cornerstone of the creed of Lutheran churches. But the ending of the Peasants' War did not lead to the destruction of the sectarian instinct. The radical wing of the Reformation reconfigured as Anabaptism, a broad-ranging movement that encompassed a wealth of congregations and prophetic leaders, many of them self-educated laypeople from outside the normal clerical structure. The movement reached its first apogee in their "kingdom of a thousand years" in Münster, a north German city that fell into radical hands through the normal political process. Once in control the Anabaptist leadership declared Münster the new Jerusalem, where the saints might await the imminent end time. The incident attracted huge publicity among both the adepts, who flocked to Münster, and the increasingly appalled mainstream church leaders. In 1535 an army supported by both Catholics and Protestants suppressed the kingdom with great barbarity, a first indication that the established churches might have more in common than divisions over doctrine implied. Anabaptism, in fact, proved surprisingly resilient, particularly in the Netherlands, where the Friesian priest Menno Simons (1496–1561) revived a movement shorn of its more violent apocalypticism. Other groups, such as the Antitrinitarians, found refuge in the more confessionally diverse lands of eastern Europe.
The horror of sectarianism was only one aspect of the disappointment that confronted leaders of the evangelical movement in the decades after the establishment of Protestant churches. Luther endured the progressive alienation of many who had initially welcomed his call for reform. The Peasants' War signaled the limits of the movement's appeal to the rural population, and 1525 also witnessed a decisive break with the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536), though many of the younger humanists remained faithful to Luther. By the end of the decade Luther was also embroiled in a damaging dispute with the leader of the Swiss Reformation, Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531). In the longer term reformers also were forced to contemplate disappointment on a more fundamental level, a recognition that the Reformation had not achieved the wholesale reform of morals and that the effort to bring laypeople to an informed understanding of faith would be long and arduous. Surveys of the condition of the churches, or visitations, conducted in the Lutheran lands found that in the 1580s most inhabitants lacked even the most rudimentary understanding of the essentials of doctrine. Consideration of this evidence has led some historians to talk of the failure of the Reformation, though this seems overdrawn. The movement for renewal within the Catholic Church experienced similar problems in overcoming ingrained habits of belief and practice.
The real shortcoming of Luther's movement was its failure to put down deep roots outside of the German Empire or neighboring lands susceptible to German cultural influences, such as Scandinavia and parts of eastern Europe like Hungary and Bohemia. Promising beginnings in the lands of western Europe, such as France and the Netherlands, had by the 1540s been erased by determined opposition from the local lay powers, and even in England the Protestant settlement introduced under Henry VIII and Edward VI seemed successfully reversed in the reign of Mary Tudor. By the time of Luther's death in 1546 it was clear that Protestantism would not, as had once seemed possible, carry all before it.
Zwingli was an independent thinker of the first rank. Appointed to the position of people's priest in Zurich in 1518, Zwingli seized the opportunity to introduce root and branch reform. By 1525 Zurich had carried through a civic Reformation, the first city to do so, expelling Catholic priests and abolishing the Mass. The impact of Zurich's radical Reformation was initially profound in Germany as well as in the Swiss Confederation, but it was limited by a damaging
THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF PROTESTANTISM
The question of which groups within society were most attracted to Protestantism and why has long divided scholars. Undoubtedly Luther's movement initially found its most profound resonance among the populations of towns, though precisely which groups embraced the new movement varied according to local circumstances. The urban elites, sensible to the wider political implications of confronting conservative political neighbors or superiors, were not normally the prime movers, though often, when pressure for reform became irresistible, they would assert control of the movement to preserve their own authority. In some German towns the Reformation became a vehicle for prosperous but politically excluded groups within the citizenry to break the power of an entrenched oligarchy.
Much research on different case studies has sought to establish whether the Reformation appealed disproportionately to different trade groups. In aggregate this work has hardly improved on the contemporary verdict of the shrewd sixteenth-century Catholic writer Florimond de Raemond. The first "victims" of the new faith were in his observation "painters, clock-makers, draughtsmen, jewellers, booksellers, printers—all those whose crafts demand a certain degree of superior discernment" (Duke, Lewis, and Pettegree, 1992, p. 35) Printers and booksellers were especially important early converts to Protestantism, and in general the evangelical doctrines made deeper inroads among trades characterized by a high degree of literacy or mobility. Trade groups whose skills were relatively portable, such as goldsmiths or weavers, provided a disproportionate number of converts, whereas those with a low degree of product innovation, such as butchers and others in the food production process or coopers, proved disproportionately resistant to the new doctrines. In this sense the venerable "Weber thesis" may have expressed an essential truth. Max Weber (1864–1920) argued that an essential aspect of Calvinism that he called the Protestant work ethic created a climate particularly conducive to the growth of capitalism. In its purest sense the Weber thesis failed to command support. It may be that Weber indeed identified a real connection but inverted the causal relationship. The Reformation, and perhaps especially Calvinism, proved most alluring to groups that were already socially and economically mobile.
The importance of highly skilled members of new trades in the movement also explains why so many towns and cities were willing to open their gates to large groups of religious refugees and protect them against the resentment of indigenous guilds and tradesmen. The value of such newcomers to the local economy, particularly in towns experiencing stagnation, was widely recognized at the time. Indeed the Reformation, by stimulating an enormous movement of peoples between European lands of different confessions, played as important a role in stimulating protoindustrial development as any other aspect of economic change during the early modern period.
The Reformation also played an important role in recasting social relationships within the community. The role of women in society was drastically reordered, many have argued to their disadvantage. The denigration of the female religious vocation certainly cut independent career opportunities, and the end of the cult of saints removed many female role models. Against these outcomes Protestant societies often successfully articulated a new vision of the dignity of female roles within the family and tenaciously defended the rights of women within this context. Calvinist consistories, for instance, devoted considerable attention to upholding the dignity of marriage and protecting women from brutality, abandonment, or ill-treatment. Many women benefited from the legitimation of clerical marriage, which gave clerical families for the first time the legal protections of a legitimate relationship. Indeed, clergy families became a powerful new social force in most Protestant cultures, a phenomenon linked to the increased professionalization of the Protestant ministry. By the end of the sixteenth century an increasing proportion, in many areas a majority, of clergy in post were university educated, and the increased desirability and social prestige attached to their work was reflected in the emergence of recognizable clerical dynasties.
The Protestant emphasis on the family as the natural unit of social organization had a profound and persistent impact on the social culture of Protestant lands. In the first Reformation century Protestantism placed an obligation on the family to function as a sort of small church community, the head of the family instructing both children and servants in the rudiments of the faith. Such an emphasis gave full rein to the puritan instinct, by which families and groups of households dissatisfied with the morals of society practiced a culture of reinforcement and greater austerity within the privacy of their own homes. At its best this was a support to the wider community; applied with too critical an eye to the failings of others, it easily reinforced the sectarian instinct.
quarrel between Zwingli and Luther. The more conservative Luther was appalled by Zurich's radical "cleansing" of the local churches to remove all physical vestiges of Catholicism. The two men soon clashed over eucharistic doctrine, Zwingli again favoring a more radical solution, and after a failed attempt at reconciliation at the Colloquy of Marburg (1529), the gap between the two was unbridgeable. Inside the Swiss Confederation the appeal of the reform movement was retarded by suspicion of Zurich's motives. Although the two most powerful German-speaking urban cantons, Bern and Basel, eventually adopted the reform, the rural mountain cantons decisively rejected Protestantism and with it Zurich's imperial pretensions. Open confrontation in the Battle of Kappel wars left Zurich defeated and Zwingli dead on the field of battle. The Zurich Reformation was ultimately rescued by the leadership of Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575), but its capacity for expansion was decisively checked.
As Zurich retreated into introspection, a new leadership force emerged from the unlikely quarter of French-speaking Geneva. The small independent city was a late convert to reform, but in the 1530s it was a beacon for evangelical refugees from France, among them the young scholar John Calvin (1509–1564). After an uncertain beginning to a ministry that led to his expulsion and exile from 1538 to 1541, Calvin gradually imposed his personal stamp on the Geneva Reformation. By the time of his death Geneva had become a model Christian commonwealth and the center of a growing international movement.
Even more than Luther, Calvin was the spirit that underpinned the long-term survival of Protestantism. Calvin was a writer and thinker of exceptional clarity. Sharing Luther's gift for excoriating polemic, he also synthesized Reformation thought into a coherent systematic theology. His Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536; final expanded version 1560) was a work of genius that functioned equally effectively as a handbook for the individual Christian and for the Christian community. Along with Luther's vernacular translation of the Bible, it was among the most important literary products of the Reformation.
Guided by Calvin's preaching and supervised by the consistory, a joint morals commission staffed by clergy and lay elders, Geneva became the archetypal godly community. In the process the Reformation shed much of the apocalypticism that characterized the first generation. Calvinism, the least apocalyptic of the major Protestant schools, gave much greater attention to building the church in the community.
THE AGE OF RELIGIOUS WAR
The peaceful construction of the church in Geneva contrasted strongly with Calvinism's disruptive influence elsewhere in Europe. Calvin's strong emphasis on the sanctity of suffering together with the movement's sophisticated organizational structure provided the basis for church building even where the state power remained hostile. Calvin's followers (if not Calvin himself ) were also far more willing than Luther to contemplate defiance of the state power. Early Calvinist congregations in France and the Netherlands were characterized above all by a remarkable sense of providentialism, which allowed them to survive and even grow despite intense persecution.
A midcentury crisis in the affairs of several northern European states allowed Calvinist congregations the chance to seize power. While a Calvinist church swiftly established supremacy in Scotland—the consequence of a political revolution of which the Calvinist congregations were the beneficiaries rather than the cause—the emergence of churches in France and the Netherlands led to prolonged conflict. The French Wars of Religion (1562–1598) were a sustained struggle to prevent the Calvinist insurrection from undermining the Catholic character of the kingdom. Although Calvinists remained a decided minority, the Edict of Nantes in 1598 nevertheless guaranteed French Calvinist (Huguenot) churches important freedoms. In the Netherlands the Dutch revolt (1566–1609) led to the creation of a free Calvinist state in the northern provinces with the Union of Utrecht in 1579. In England the restoration of a Protestant settlement under Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, completed a decisive shift in the balance of religious power in northern Europe.
The century of conflict unleashed by Luther's teachings achieved some sort of resolution in the first half of the seventeenth century. In Germany the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555) permitted local autonomy for Catholic and Protestant principalities and bought the empire a half-century of uneasy peace. But tensions always simmered beneath the surface, not least because Calvinism, which had begun to make inroads into the German lands in the 1560s, was not included in the terms of the peace. A particular element of unpredictability was provided by successive electors of the Rhineland Palatinate, who after converting their lands to Calvinism in 1562 aspired to an aggressive leadership role. Toward the end of the century the Habsburg imperial family embarked upon a more active policy of recatholicization in their patrimony, and conflict loomed. The spark was provided by a rebellion in 1618 in Bohemia, one of the most integral yet most thoroughly protestantized parts of the Habsburg dominions. Fearing that the accession of the new emperor, Ferdinand II, would spell the end of Protestant liberties, Bohemians in 1619 offered their crown instead to the elector palatine, Frederick V. He foolishly accepted, preparing the way for the Habsburg reconquest of Bohemia and the investiture of his own territories. These events initiated the Thirty Years' War, a conflict that gradually involved most of the powers of Europe. Although the religious configuration was not straightforward—the German Lutheran princes initially refused to support the Palatinate, and France later joined the anti-Habsburg struggle for straightforward political reasons—religious issues underpinned the conflict and made it more bitter, more destructive, and more difficult to resolve. In particular the intervention of the Lutheran king of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolph, was essential in turning back the tide of Habsburg success and preserving the Protestant cause in central Europe.
In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia finally permitted the warring parties to extricate themselves from the conflict and brought to an end the period of European relations primarily governed by religious loyalties. The peace also effectively confirmed the de facto division of Europe between Protestant and Catholic. Henceforth Protestantism was the majority creed of Germany, Scandinavia, Britain, the Dutch Republic, and more isolated outposts in eastern Europe, such as Hungary. Missionary efforts by Protestants and Catholics alike concentrated more on sustaining isolated minorities than on attempts to upset this balance. The focus of conversion also shifted to the non-Christian world opened up by colonial expansion and, nearer home, to the Christianization of populations still mired in ignorance and unbelief among the numerically dominant rural populations and the newly emerging urban proletariat. The challenge these groups posed to formal religion was a constant theme of religious life during the next two hundred years, stimulating repeated attempts to revive the original evangelical fervor of the Reformation era.
THE CHURCH IN THE AGE OF REASON
The move away from religious warfare reinforced other social changes that gradually over the next century would have a profound impact on attitudes toward religion and the place of the church in society. This profound shift in attitudes toward intellectual and scientific questions led historians to dub this period the Age of Reason, though the effect of questioning historic certainties was often uncomfortable for official religion. This was an age characterized above all by new developments in the world of ideas. With the scientific revolution, experimental science came of age as a discipline and seized the imaginations
THE CULTURAL WORLD OF PROTESTANTISM
It is easy to assume that the relationship between Protestantism and artistic culture was antagonistic. Protestants certainly took a highly critical view of the artistic manifestations of Catholic devotional culture. Although Luther reproved the violent removal of images, hostility to pictures and sculptures of saints, particularly when they were the focus of devotion, often led to destruction. Such iconoclastic episodes characterized the first wave of the Reformation in many Lutheran and Swiss cities, such as Wittenberg in 1521 and Basel, with its Kirchensturm (church storm), in 1527. Churches influenced by Calvin took a still more radical position. Iconoclasm was a feature of the early stages of the religious conflict in France and the Netherlands, and England and Scotland experienced the violent, unauthorized removal of images.
The cleansing of the churches did allow for the preservation of some masterpieces, such as Jan van Eyck's Lamb of God altar in Ghent, which was removed to safety elsewhere. The collapse of the Catholic devotional tradition did not spell the end of religious art in Protestant countries. In Germany Lucas Cranach (1472–1553) gave artistic expression to the new Reformation doctrines. Cranach and his followers designed and produced highly influential images expressing both the polemical and antipapal rhetoric of the Reformation, such as Passional Christi und Antichristi (1521), and its new core doctrines, such as Law and the Gospel (1529). In the process they developed a wholly new artistic medium, the didactic woodcut, which played an important public role both as a means of book illustration and as single-page broadsheets. Mature Lutheran art also developed a distinctive pictorial form, the memorial picture (fine examples may be seen in the Wittenberg Stadtkirche).
In Calvinist cultures artistic hostility to religious pictorial art was more intense and enduring. Artistic energies were therefore often redeployed into other media, notably music. Calvin himself quickly grasped the value of music. Communal singing became a crucial part of the German service, specifically versions of the psalms set to music and sung unaccompanied in unison. These metrical psalms quickly became an identifying characteristic of Calvinist communities and were sung wherever congregations gathered, in church, in the fields, or even, during the religious wars, as armies went into battle. In more settled times distinguished composers provided harmonized versions for domestic entertainment, and it is in this form that they have continued to be most frequently performed.
The success of the metrical psalms opened the way for the Protestant rediscovery of religious music. Deprived of the Mass, Protestant composers developed the chorale, a musical form that reached its apogee in the music of the German Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). Protestantism found its most characteristic musical expression in congregational singing, not least the tradition of hymnody bequeathed by Luther to the German churches. Luther himself wrote hymns and firmly believed in their capacity to instruct and inspire. The tradition was renewed and continued by the English Nonconformist churches, notably the Methodist movement of the Wesleys. Hymn-singing has remained one of the most fondly maintained aspects of the Protestant tradition.
Protestantism also left its mark on the physical appearance of the church. In countries where it was not possible to appropriate former Catholic churches, Protestants erected new structures that reflected architecturally their greater emphasis on preaching and participation. Round, oblong, or hexagonal structures made the pulpit the focal point and eliminated the long choir leading to the high altar. Such structures were common in France, though few survived the destruction that followed the ban on Huguenot churches in 1685. Examples survived in Leiden, in the Netherlands, and Burtisland, Scotland. The rise of Nonconformist churches in the eighteenth century led to a new wave of building that followed these Protestant architectural principles even more rigidly, providing many of the best examples of church structures that make an elevated pulpit the focal point.
One cultural field in which the influence of Protestantism was profound is the novel. Protestants played a significant part in the development of the narrative form. The influence of the puritan conscience, obvious in the religious allegories of John Bunyan (1628–1688) and the poetry and prose works of John Milton (1608–1674), is equally present in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), whose hero, in the context of an adventure story of enduring appeal, struggles in the thrall of an all-powerful Providence. The power and appeal of nineteenth-century Nonconformity were echoed in the Victorian "industrial novels," notably Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton (1848) and the works of George Eliot (1819–1880). Finally, Samuel Butler (1835–1902), in The Way of All Flesh (1903), draws an enormously powerful vision of the suffocating respectability of clerical life in the last era during which the church provided a unique path to respectability. Butler's work is infinitely more acute in its psychological perceptions than Anthony Trollope's popular novels of ecclesiastical politics and cathedral life.
of the thinkers of all nations. The world of ideas found a newly confident philosophy, leading to the pleasing rational certainties of the Enlightenment.
The effects of these developments on organized religion were not straightforward. Most leading figures in the world of science strongly affirmed the existence of a divine being. Indeed many affirmed that science "proved" the existence of God. In this period the new science, the discoveries of the German Lutheran Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) and of Isaac Newton (1642–1727), was widely regarded as a bulwark against atheism. According to John Locke (1632–1704), the most influential thinker of the day, the conviction that there is a God "is the most obvious truth that reason discovers"; its evidence is "equal to mathematical certainty." The effect on belief was more subtle. The growing understanding of natural phenomena as capable of scientific explanation restricted the areas of the unknown in which God's power was seen to be at work. In the medical field this period experienced a sea change in attitudes toward epidemics from the conviction that plague was a heaven-sent punishment (in Dutch it was known as de gave Gods, God's gift) to a search for medical causes. The trial and execution of witches, still ferocious in the early seventeenth century, dwindled away by the end of the century. While most humans continued to believe in God, the belief in the Devil as a ceaselessly active force receded. The growing fixity in religious boundaries in Europe also led to a gradual increase in religious toleration. This was more a matter of fact than principle, a weary acceptance that differences between the religious confessions were too deep-seated to be eliminated. But toleration was also assisted by a more profound revulsion against persecution for religious belief.
This development was certainly halting and not without setbacks. During this period formal toleration was revoked in Hungary, and in Poland the Roman Catholic minority found relief from the frustrations of the country's endemic political turmoil by treating both Lutheran and Orthodox minorities with increasing severity. In England the resolution of the bitter legacy of the Civil War led, after the Restoration in 1660, to a switchback of vindictiveness interspersed by self-serving partial toleration until coexistence was finally embedded in the Toleration Act of 1689. In France, Louis XIV repudiated the privileges formerly granted the Huguenot minority. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 ordered the forcible closure of all Protestant churches and provoked the last major religious emigration of the Reformation era. But Louis's policy was widely perceived by contemporaries as anachronistic, and those countries that opened their doors to the refugees benefited greatly from the injection of the new economic skills brought by the Huguenots.
With the eighteenth century the Protestant churches of Europe were generally entering calmer waters—but at a price. Some of the established churches had reached too comfortable an accommodation with the state. In England the power of preferment created a subservient and venal clerical class, eager for advancement, uncritical of the status quo, while bitterly divided over inequalities of wealth. With curates existing on as little as £20 per year, pluralism was rife. Yet few protested against a system in which the only hope of advancement lay in dutiful and patient obedience to lay patrons. In Germany, too, Lutheran churches had drifted into a relationship of easy and unreflective obedience to the state, initiating a tradition of Erastian complacency that had disastrous results in later centuries.
This increasing ossification of established Protestant churches inevitably provoked a reaction. Within the churches there arose new and challenging movements of spiritual renewal. The frustration of hopes of reform led in turn to the rise of nonconformity and dissent.
Within the Protestant establishment the most serious spiritual challenge was posed by Pietism, which sought to supplement the emphasis on institutions and dogma by promoting the practice of piety. It found its chief inspiration in the writings of Johann Arnd (1555–1621), a Lutheran theologian in whose work mysticism played a profound role. In Pietism the emphasis on inner experience and the life of the spirit was balanced by the insistence that belief should be reflected by a deeper and active commitment to the Christian life. In this respect Pietism drew heavily on the inspiration of the English Puritan movement, many of whose leading writings were at this point translated into other European vernaculars, including German and Hungarian. English Puritans, weary of the partial Reformation of the English church, were also the original inspiration behind a tradition of dissent that had a profound impact on the development of Protestantism in North America. From the time of the first settlers in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims in 1620, a succession of nonconformist groups sought sanctity in separation in the virgin lands of the New World. Among the most successful were the Quakers, who like the German Pietists dedicated themselves to living in accordance with the inner light. Inspired by the preaching of George Fox (1624 – 1691), the Quakers believed that ordained ministers and consecrated buildings were unnecessary for a church, teachings that brought them into conflict with successive seventeenth-century English governments. In 1682 William Penn (1644–1718) founded Pennsylvania as a holy experiment based on Quaker principles.
THE CHURCH IN THE INDUSTRIAL AGE
The greatest of the dissenting traditions was the Methodist movement founded by John Wesley (1703–1791). Methodism to some extent grew from the same impatience with established churches that had spawned earlier dissenting movements, but it also tapped into the new frustrations that were a consequence of industrial growth. In particular the English parochial system was slow to adapt to the rapid growth of urban populations that followed the birth of industrialization. As a result large swaths of the urban population were effectively unchurched. Wesley's ministry attempted to reverse what he saw as the inexorable growth of ignorance and atheism.
Wesley, the product of both a conventional Anglican education and a failed colonial venture in Georgia in 1735, began his preaching ministry after a conversion experience led him to embrace practical religion. As the churches were closed to him, Wesley took to the fields, where in an astonishing fifty-year ministry he attracted huge crowds and a growing following. Wesley always opposed separation from the Church of England, which had denied him a pulpit, but the real distinctiveness of his movement was formally recognized soon after his death in the Plan of Pacification of 1795. Methodism was by then a distinct and vital force in English life characterized by a lack of hierarchy and devotion to the inspirational hymns of John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley (1707–1788). Evangelical Christianity also made itself felt in the established church and in secular politics through the twenty-year campaign, from 1787 to 1807, led by William Wilberforce for the abolition of the slave trade.
The growth of an industrial proletariat was only one of a number of related challenges posed to Protestantism during the nineteenth century. New systems of belief of a secular nature posed an implicit challenge to organized religion that became a direct challenge with socialism and marxism. The rise of secular concepts of social organization, influenced by the teachings of Voltaire (1694–1778) and Rousseau (1712–1778), was often directly hostile to the power of the church in government. These ideas found their purest echo in the U.S. Constitution and their most violent expression in the French Revolution. Even though the Protestant nations of Europe avoided the worst excesses of revolutionary France, the spirit of the age proved increasingly impatient with the established churches' pretensions to a monopoly of religious truth. In a gradual process governments across Europe enacted formal toleration and thus extended full civil rights to previously marginal groups, including Roman Catholics, Jews, and finally even atheists. The rise of the secular urge in politics also led to considerable conflict in areas where church-state relations had previously been essentially harmonious, such as education and ecclesiastical patronage.
European Protestant churches reacted to these diverse challenges in different ways. In several of the dominant Protestant confessions, state encroachment or the rise of Liberalism—the political insistence on individual freedom and constitutional government and the economic doctrine of laissez-faire—led to painful divisions within the church. In 1843 almost half the ministers of the established Presbyterian Church of Scotland left the church to found a new Free Church in a dispute over ecclesiastical patronage known as the Great Disruption. The new political circumstances prompted two major splits in the dominant Dutch Reformed Church, the Afscheiding of 1834 and the Doleantie of 1887. In England the Oxford movement (1833–1845) was also largely inspired by a sense of the moral corrosiveness of Liberalism, although there the leading figures eschewed separation, at least until their spokesman John Henry Newman (1801–1890) defected to Roman Catholicism.
In Germany the major challenge was posed by the rise of biblical criticism in an age in which scholarly discoveries for the first time called into question the literal truth of parts of the biblical canon. German universities found an impressively dispassionate response, arguing that reasoned criticism should be met by refutation rather than authority. With the German example, the Protestant churches of the mainstream adapted themselves relatively easily to the advance of science. In time churchmen learned to live with and even embrace the new climate of an age of mass political activism. In the Netherlands the towering figure of Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) presided over an explicitly confessional political party, the first mass membership party of the Netherlands, committed to upholding orthodox Calvinist values against the secular tide. This, indeed, was the era that saw the emergence of several explicitly religious parties in Europe, usually broadly in the conservative, Christian Democratic tradition.
The nineteenth century also saw a rapid expansion of Protestant missionary activity in Africa and Asia. This was a relatively new interest (compared to Catholicism's), and it had a complex relationship with the problems encountered in Europe itself.
THE CHURCH IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The twentieth century was a period of almost unprecedented political turmoil in Europe. Coupled with social changes of bewildering rapidity, the turmoil confronted Protestant churches with challenges that they struggled, often unsuccessfully, to meet. For the first time large sections of the population repudiated any formal belief. Protestant countries also for the first time faced the challenge of absorbing significant immigrant communities strongly committed to non-Christian belief systems. Even the Protestant confessions in the modern era shifted the balance of influence from Europe to the New World, which accurately reflected the shifting political and economic balance. To some extent this was anticipated in the nineteenth century by the proliferation of new religious movements rooted in a tradition of American revivalism. The Mormons (1830), Seventh-Day Adventists (1863), and Christian Scientists (1879) are the three most prominent examples. The American Great Awakening also transformed the Baptists from a small, rather marginal group into a huge church that by the end of the twentieth century had over 35 million members worldwide (mostly in the United States). In the twentieth century the most important movements of revivalism—Pentecostalism (1901), Fundamentalism, and (closely related to Fundamentalism) Evangelicalism—emerged from an American, conservative tradition.
For the more staid and decidedly uncharismatic European Protestant churches, the twentieth century threw up difficult challenges that often found them wanting. Faced with the discordant but powerful forces of nationalism, socialism, and class conflict, the churches were sometimes driven into positions that left an enduring stain on their reputations. During World War I (1914–1918), established Protestant churches on both sides enrolled as cheerleaders for a rampant militarism that at war's end left millions dead. Twenty years later the German Lutheran Church willingly embraced the nationalism and racial policies of the Nazi movement. The small dissident group that left the church over the issue of Nazi racial policies, the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche), has too often served as a fig leaf for the complacency or enthusiasm of the vast majority. Two centuries of Erastian subservience to the power of the state left the German church with few intellectual weapons to resist the lure of a regime antithetical to Christian principles.
The horrors of World War II accelerated the church's retreat from the front line in public affairs. Scarred by the experiences of the war era, European Protestant churches withdrew increasingly from any politically sensitive role in an age when church membership continued on an apparently inexorable decline. The postwar period also saw a significant detachment of Christian values, still generally regarded as a touchstone of decent behavior in most countries of the Protestant tradition, from formal church membership. In this curiously ambivalent yet not unaffectionate relationship, Protestant churches were valued still as a social institution, primarily as a purveyor of the sacraments of passage, such as baptism, marriage, and burial, by a far wider community than those who regularly attended church. The churches were for the most part happy to subsist in this curious netherworld between habit and redundancy. In the parts of Protestant Europe where the faith was still passionately upheld, such as Northern Ireland, sectarian passion was often seen more as an embarrassment than as a vindication of faith.
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, most European Protestant traditions had rejected such a distortion of their role as much as they had by then repulsed the wilder excesses of American Protestant evangelism, a rejection all the more striking given the otherwise all-pervasive influence of American culture on Europe. This movement depended heavily on the new media of television evangelism and on charismatic fundamentalism. These developments find their most significant echo in the nondenominational "house churches," which emerged at the end of the twentieth century as a significant force alongside the mainstream Protestant denominations.
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Craig, Gerald R. The Church and the Age of Reason, 1648–1789. London, 1960.
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Goertz, Hans Jürgen. The Anabaptists. Translated by Trevor Johnson. London, 1996.
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McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction. Oxford, 1988.
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Pettegree, Andrew, ed. The Reformation World. London, 2000.
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Wintle, Michael J. Pillars of Piety: Religion in the Netherlands in the NineteenthCentury, 1813–1901. Hull, U.K., 1987.
PROTESTANTISMtheological and ecclesiastic protestantism
dechristianization and secularization
protestant vitality: the awakening
protestantism and the state
protestants and reform campaigns
Protestantism was one of the three varieties of Christianity in nineteenth-century Europe, along with Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. The name originally referred to the protest made by Lutheran leaders at the Diet of Speyer in 1529, and in central Europe the term Protestant was still used as a synonym for Lutherans, but in general usage the term had come to include all Christians who rejected the authority of the pope and insisted upon the primacy of the Bible.
Protestantism was the dominant religion of northern Europe in the nineteenth century. The states of northern Germany and Scandinavia plus England, Wales, and Scotland all reported on national censuses that more than 90 percent of the population was Protestant. A majority of the population in Switzerland and the Netherlands was also Protestant, although such figures counted nominal Protestants (by birth and baptism, but not by practice). In addition, large Protestant minorities (20 percent of the population or more) existed in some of the states of southern Germany (including Baden and Bavaria), plus Hungary and Ireland.
Across southern Europe (which was overwhelmingly Catholic) and in most of eastern Europe (where the dominant faith might be Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, or Islam in a few regions of the Balkans), Protestantism included but a tiny portion of society. It is also noteworthy that some countries with small Protestant minorities such as Catholic France (1.8 percent after the loss of Alsace and part of Lorraine to Germany in 1871) or Orthodox Russia (2.6 percent), the Protestant minority sometimes exercised a disproportionate
|Regions of Europe with Protestant majority populations (Nominal Protestants as identified in national census)|
|Sweden and Norway (1875)||99.9%|
|England and Wales (1887)||95.6%|
influence, as members of the Calvinist Église Reformée (Reformed Church) did in France and the Baltic Lutheran population did in imperial Russia. But in many Catholic countries, especially Portugal, Spain, and Italy, the Protestant community was especially tiny (0.01 percent of the population of Portugal) and exercised extremely little influence. The Spanish census of 1884 identified 32,435 priests and 14,592 nuns but only 6,654 Protestants. Indeed, the Spanish constitution of 1876 still restricted freedom of religion for Protestants, who were allowed to worship, but only in private; any public announcement of Protestant worship was illegal. And the Vatican still held, as Pope Pius IX underscored in the Syllabus of Errors (1864), that it was wrong to believe that "Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church."
The Protestant population of nineteenth-century Europe belonged to a large variety of different churches. The three principal varieties of Protestantism were (1) Lutheranism, concentrated in Germanic central Europe and Scandinavia, where more than 90 percent of the population was typically Lutheran; (2) the Reformed Churches, which derived chiefly from the teachings of John Calvin, notably the Dutch Reformed Church, the Église Reformée in France and Switzerland, and the Presbyterian Church in Scotland; and (3) the Anglican churches of the British Isles. Significant Calvinist minorities had been scattered around Europe by the Huguenot diaspora of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (in Piedmont, Prussia, and especially Hungary), but few Anglicans were found on the Continent.
Small minorities of other Protestant churches existed in many countries. Baptist Churches (which also dated back to the Reformation), for example, reported in 1905 that they had 200 members in Spain, 1,400 in Italy, 2,300 in France, 9,800 in Austria-Hungary, 24,000 in Russia, 32,500 in Germany, and 427,000 in the United Kingdom. Methodist Churches (founded in Britain in the eighteenth century as an Arminian-Calvinist derivative of Anglicanism aimed at the poorer classes) reported similar numbers in 1908 (1,700 in France, 3,700 in Italy, 24,900 in Germany, and 521,000 in Britain). Even smaller populations of other Protestant churches had local strengths.
The existence of so many varieties of European Protestantism means that there was no single or simple Protestant theology, nor any universal ecclesiastic organization. Instead, many individual confessions (or professions) of the faith existed, and churches were often still identified by the name of their confession—such as the Augsburg Confession of Lutherans or the La Rochelle Confession of Calvinists. In general, however, Protestant churches stressed the centrality of the Bible (the doctrine of sola scriptura [by scripture alone]), which individuals were expected to read and study for themselves and in whose message they must have absolute faith. Faith was the basis of salvation (the doctrine of sola fide [by faith alone]), and this produced significant differences between Protestant and Catholic subcultures.
Protestant emphasis upon reading the Bible in order to be saved led to noteworthy differences between Protestant and Catholic communities. In order to read, Protestants typically placed greater stress upon universal education and literacy. In France, for example, there had long been a tradition of excellent schools run by the Catholic Church, and both the French Revolution and Napoleon had done much to systematize these schools. But this school system served only a minority
|Regions of Europe with Protestant minority populations|
of the population, and many Catholics opposed the creation of a public system of mandatory, universal education; consequently, the officials at the Ministry of Public Instruction who created the French school system under the Ferry laws of the 1879 and 1885 were predominantly Protestants. An important corollary to the Protestant insistence upon universal education was that Protestant communities were typically more insistent upon the education of girls, thereby contributing significantly (if unintentionally) to the rise of nineteenth-century feminism.
The Bible-based faith of Protestants produced other noteworthy differences. Many Protestants argued that Christian beliefs not found in the Bible were papal inventions with no true basis in the faith. Thus many Protestant churches rejected the cult of the saints that had evolved with Christianity, and many specifically rejected the centuries of Catholic Mariology (favoring a doctrine of solus Christus [Christ alone]). When Pope Pius IX promulgated, in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus of 1854, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (that Mary was, from the moment of her conception, without the stain of original sin) and insisted that this must be "steadfastly believed by all the faithful," many Protestants scorned the doctrine. While Anglicans concluded that the Immaculate Conception was "a legitimate development of early church teaching," Calvinists flatly rejected it.
In matters of ecclesiastic structure, most Protestants rejected the hierarchical structure of Catholicism, starting with the authority of the pope; the
|Lutheran populations of northern Germany compared with other religions|
|Note: The Prussian data for 1861 combined Lutherans and Calvinists into 11 million Protestants, although 27,000 "other Christians" (chiefly Mennonites) were noted. Prussia was slightly more than one-third Catholic, because of the annexation of Polish territories.|
|Hamburg (1910 census)|
|Hanover (1861 census)|
|Hesse-Cassel (1866 census)|
|Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1860 census)|
|Oldenburg (1861 census)|
|Saxony (1861 census)|
Protestant authority was the Bible, and it did not mention a pope. Protestants who most accepted hierarchical governance (such as Anglicans) adopted an episcopal system that recognized the authority of a bishop; more Protestants favored a presbyterian system governed by an elected church council (or consistory), in some cases supplemented by the periodic assembly of an elected synod; those Protestants least agreeable to hierarchical authority favored a congregational system, in which the members of a congregation essentially governed themselves.
The combination of Biblical authority and limited church authority created distinctive developments in nineteenth-century European Protestantism. Some Protestants concluded that individuals could find salvation through Bible study without the assistance a priesthood, such as the doctrine of libre examen held by many Continental Calvinists. Others, especially in Germany, turned this private study of the Bible into the scholarly field of Biblical criticism, producing some of the most controversial books of the century such as the French philosopher and historian Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus (1863). Protestants who were most resistant to ecclesiastic authority, such as the Calvinistic Methodists in England and Wales, put the control of the church pulpit in the hands of deacons, who engaged a preacher for a number of Sundays (often less than half of the year) and employed others on an individual basis. Some Methodists still preferred the itinerant preaching of the church's origins and hired no pastor.
The consequences of such distinctions between Protestantism and Catholicism have provoked a number of striking (and often controversial) interpretations of the historical impact of Protestantism. Scholars have linked Protestantism to the rise of European individualism, elective government, democracy, and feminism.
Two of the most debated arguments about Protestantism appeared in the early years of the twentieth century. Max Weber, a German sociologist, launched the "Weber thesis," asserting a strong correlation between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism, in a 1904 work titled Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist der Kapitalismus (The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism). Weber argued that the "intramundane asceticism" of Protestantism, which forbade luxury and material self-indulgence, plus a "Protestant ethic" that stressed the virtues of hard work, resulted in great accumulation of capital and hence the dawning of an age of capitalism, which Protestants in government and business encouraged by removing historic barriers to economic development.
Élie Halévy, a French political scientist, produced similar controversy with a 1906 essay, "La naissance du Méthodisme en Angleterre" (The birth of Methodism in England). Halévy argued that the evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant churches (especially the Methodist Church), which won significant popularity with the lower classes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, taught an ethic of the acceptance of the authority of the state and deference to the upper classes so effectively that it explains why Karl Marx's expectations of class warfare were not fulfilled by the British working class.
Analyses such as the Weber and Halévy theses underscore the continuing importance of Protestantism in European civilization in 1914. Nonetheless, Protestantism (and Christianity in general) became significantly less central to European society during the nineteenth century. This decline continued a trend that was already well-established in the eighteenth century and that accelerated dramatically during the twentieth century. Historians have used two terms (both controversial) to describe this trend: dechristianization and secularization. By any name, religion became less central in both private and public life during the nineteenth century. This trend was clear to religious leaders who spoke of a need to "rechristianize" Europe. Although the best illustration of this concern among Christian leaders came from a pope (Pope Pius X, in his 1907 decree condemning "modernism," Lamentabili Sane Exitu [On a deplorable outcome] lamenting that Europe "rejects the legacy of the human race"), there is no doubt that Protestant pastors shared this concern.
The dechristianization of a significant portion of the educated upper classes of Europe during the Enlightenment—many of whom adopted a "modern paganism," choosing deism, theism, and open religious skepticism or agnosticism—was the prelude to trends accelerated by the French Revolution and industrialization. The term dechristianization (more widely used in French than in English) has been adopted to analyze the "revolution against the church" during the 1790s, an experience that had profound effects on the Protestant communities of Languedoc, Alsace, and the Franche-Comté in France, but was also transported by French armies to the Protestant populations of Holland, western Germany, and Switzerland.
The vast social transformations that accompanied Europe's industrialization during the nineteenth century led to another form of dechristianization, in which a significant portion of the urban working class—uprooted from the bonds of traditional rural society and often living in demoralizing conditions of poverty—abandoned religious participation. These populations were most concentrated (as Weber observed) in predominantly Protestant societies such as Britain and Germany.
Those who abandoned Christian practice and church participation are often seen as lapsed, or nominal, Christians who retained some degree of belief within a secular life, and it is important to recall that Protestant theology generally understood salvation to be contingent upon faith and the Bible, not church attendance. Yet something startling was happening within Protestant communities in nineteenth-century Europe. Whereas church attendance had once been virtually mandatory in many societies, a majority of the population no longer attended (or contributed to) churches.
This startling fact received dramatic public proof in 1851 when the British conducted a survey of church attendance in England, Wales, and Scotland—all societies understood to be more than 90 percent Protestant. The data collected by the churches on Sunday, 31 March 1851, were controversial at the time, and remain so in scholarly debate in the early twenty-first century—only 24.2 percent of the population of England and Wales attended any religious service that morning. Total participating Protestants, from Quakers (14,016) and Unitarians (27,612) to the Church of England (2,371,732), represented just 22.9 percent of the population of England and Wales (not the 95.6 percent claimed). Even if one combined attendance at all church sittings during the day (many churches had three sittings), assuming that no one attended both morning and evening services, only 35 percent of the population participated (34 percent Protestant, 1 percent Catholic).
Church attendance in Scotland was higher (32.7 percent of the population), but still less than one-third of the population. The Scots repeated this survey across the remainder of the century with more alarming results: attendance at religious worship declined steadily, hitting 19.2 percent in 1891 (for all denominations combined); Protestant attendance represented 17.8 percent of the population. Although churches did not sort attendance data by gender, it was also becoming clear that the nonparticipation of large portions of the working
|Christian church attendance in Britain (1851) (Actual attendance in England and Wales on Sunday morning, 30 March 1851)|
|Church||Attendance||% of population|
|source: "Report on the 1851 Census of Religious Worship," Parliamentary Papers (1852–1853), vol. LXXXIX, Table A, pp. clxxvii–clxxix. Reprinted in Chris Cook and Brendan Keith, eds., British Historical Facts, 1830–1900 (London, 1975), p. 220.|
|Church of England (Anglican)||2,371,732||13.2%|
|Methodists (six sects)||679,122||3.8%|
|Presbyterians (two sects)||126,473||0.7%|
|Other dissenting Protestants||14,655||0.1%|
class was disproportionately nonparticipation by men. The churches, despite their notoriously patriarchal structure, leadership, and teachings, were steadily becoming feminized.
A third aspect of the nineteenth-century pattern of dechristianization was the gradual secularization of the rites of passage in life, from civil marriages to unbaptized children and then to civil burial. The entire culture of these life stages was changing, leading even to "the dechristianization of death" (in historian Thomas Kselman's provocative phrase). In 1844 only 2.6 percent of the marriages in England and Wales were civil ceremonies; but the popularity of civil marriage increased sharply in every decade of the century, and by 1901 there were four times as many civil marriages as Catholic marriages, with civil marriages accounting for 15.8 percent of all unions. As late as 1855, there were only nine civil marriages in Scotland during the year; by 1901, the number stood at 1,952 and was doubling every decade. At the other end of life, the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body long blocked the adoption of cremation of the deceased, but by the first years of the twentieth century there were active cremation societies in most of the nominally Protestant societies—Britain, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. (There were also important cremation societies in France and Italy.)
Discussions of this nineteenth-century pattern of the secularization and dechristianization of daily life often stress the decline of church-based sociability. The urban civilization emerging in Europe provided many competing centers of sociability (such as cafés and music halls); industrial society led many to choose occupational alternatives at the center of their lives, notably trade unions; an age of mass culture produced new enthusiasms in competition with churches for Sunday time, from spectator sports to weekend excursions; the age of representative governments replaced the historic alliance of throne and altar with a world of secular schools, secular daily newspapers, and passionate secular politics (in which the churches were often considered an opponent rather than an ally).
Signs of the secularization of society reveal only part of the past, however, and a balanced understanding must recognize contrary indications of Protestant vitality. Perhaps the most important sign of the vigor of Protestantism in nineteenth-century Europe was the phenomenon known as "the awakening" (le réveil in French-speaking lands and der Erweckung to Germans). There had been several "awakenings" in the eighteenth century (such as the Baptist "Great Awakening" in England, 1740–1743). The awakening of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, like its predecessors, was a period of earnest Evangelicalism, stressing personal piety, Bible study, campaigns for public morality, and dedicated internal missions to convince others of this program.
The foremost examples of the Protestant awakening were Pietism, which originated in Germany and spread to neighboring countries, and Methodism, which began in England and crossed the channel to western Europe. Pietism (c. 1770–1850) began as a reaction against Enlightenment rationalism (especially within the church, in opposition to university-trained enlightened theologians) and freethinking individualism; it gained further momentum in reaction to the dechristianization of the revolutionary age. The lay preachers who spread Pietism (and the similar Moravianism) did not seek to create new Protestant churches, but to create a new Lutheranism of Evangelical enthusiasm and Christian revival. By the 1850s, thousands of people (chiefly Protestants, but not exclusively) had converted to the faith of the awakening, reinvigorating churches across Germany and Scandinavia.
Similarly, Methodism began within the Anglican faith, among students at Oxford University led by John Wesley (1703–1791). Wesley, who remained closely attached to the doctrines of Anglicanism (although the churches were closed to his preaching), sought a revival of personal religion based on scripture. He spread this evangelistic faith through meetings in the open and traveling lay preachers. (As late as 1909, British Methodist churches employed 2,454 ministers while relying on 19,826 lay preachers.) Several varieties of the Methodist awakening emerged, some more Episcopal, others more deeply Calvinist, and others blending their Calvinist austerity with Arminianism (rejecting the Calvinist doctrine of predestination). In the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, Methodist missionaries spread the awakening to western Europe, especially among French and Swiss Protestants.
Missionary zeal became one of the hallmarks of the Protestant awakening. At the height of the French Revolution's campaign of dechristianization, Protestant missionary societies were being founded across western Europe. In Britain, the Methodist Missionary Society (founded 1786), the Baptist Missionary Society (1792), the London (Congregationalist) Missionary Society (1795), and the Anglican Church Missionary Society (1799) were all active during the first French Republic, as was the Netherlands Missionary Society (1797). The transformation of the Wesleyan awakening into the French réveil after the battle of Waterloo (1815) led to the creation of the Société Biblique at Paris (1818) and the Société des Missions Evangélique (1822), both authorized by King Louis XVIII.
In 1789 Protestant churches in northern Europe were typically closely linked to the state as the established state religion. Although Britain adopted acts of toleration in 1689, 1778, and 1791, the law required that the monarch be Anglican, forbidden to marry outside the faith. By the Test Acts (reformed in 1829), Nonconformist Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and nonbelievers could not take a seat in parliament, attend Oxford or Cambridge University (until 1871), nor hold public office. Twenty-six Anglican bishoprics and archbishoprics bore ex officio membership in the House of Lords. The British extended the same principle to Ireland, establishing a Church of Ireland and thereby excluding Irish Catholics from most aspects of public life. The Roman Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (1869, with enforcement beginning in 1871) changed this intimate bond between church and state, but the Church of England remained the established church throughout the century.
In northern Germany and Scandinavia, the Lutheran Church similarly remained the established state church in 1789. Prussia adopted a program of religious toleration in the eighteenth century, but Lutheranism remained an established religion across the region. In one famous illustration of the importance of established religion, Karl Marx's father (the descendant of a rabbinical Jewish family) was obliged to convert to Lutheranism in order to be admitted to the practice of law. An especially strict Lutheran establishmentarianism was maintained in Denmark and Sweden until the disestablishments of 1848 and 1860.
Conversely, in countries where the Protestant population was a minority and faced similar discrimination (especially Spain and Italy), Protestants typically became leading proponents of the principle of separation of church and state. The Swiss Protestant theologian Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847) became the leading advocate of this principle. Many French Protestants, often influenced by Vinet, founded new churches (the églises libres, or "free churches") outside of the national system of churches linked to the state that Napoleon had founded. Pastors from the églises libres, such as Edmond de Pressensé (1824–1891), became champions of the separation of church and state; de Pressensé's son, Francis, subsequently became one of the principal authors of the 1905 law separating church and state in France.
Protestant concerns about the relationship between churches and the state intensified after the papal bull Pastor Aeternus (1870) proclaimed the doctrine of papal infallibility. Liberal and conservative Protestants alike worried that citizens of the state would have conflicting loyalties. William E. Gladstone, the British prime minister, published a critical pamphlet in 1874 titled The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, arguing that followers of a religion who must obey their spiritual leader rather than the government had put their loyalty in doubt. Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, carried the issue of a conflict between church and state much further. During the Kulturkampf of the 1870s, Bismarck won the adoption of three sets of May Laws (1873–1875), which put churches under strict state supervision.
It was in this climate of opinion that much of the secularization of the nineteenth century occurred. Governments took over historic church roles, creating state-run systems of public schools (often closing church schools) and beginning staterun welfare systems, from public hospitals to state-funded poor relief. Protestants were prominent leaders of these campaigns. In Britain, the Dissenters (non-Anglican Protestants) championed secular schools instead of schools run by the established church. In Germany, Bismarck pioneered the welfare state in the late 1880s. In both France and Germany, one of the most influential voices advocating a welfare system was the Alsatian pastor Johann Friedrich Oberlin (1740–1826).
Protestants, especially evangelical Protestants of the awakening, played noteworthy political roles in nineteenth-century Europe by providing a large portion of the leadership and membership of the morality campaigns in European politics. The antislavery, antiprostitution, and antialcohol movements each owed much to evangelical fervor. While noteworthy members of these campaigns certainly came from Catholic, Jewish, and freethinking Europe, a striking characteristic of each campaign was the role of Protestants.
The campaign against the European slave trade had no leader more ardent and influential than William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was drawn to Methodism in his youth and used his family wealth to help found an evangelical newspaper, the Church Missionary Society, and the Bible Society. His greatest effort, however, came as a founder of the antislavery movement and the member of Parliament (1780–1825) who led the struggle in the House of Commons to abolish the slave trade. Wilberforce's friendship with his Cambridge classmate, William Pitt the Younger, put the antislavery program on the government agenda, and Wilberforce's bill was adopted in 1807 by a vote of 283 to 16.
Similarly, the campaign against legal and regulated prostitution in nineteenth-century Europe had no more effective leader than Josephine Butler. Butler was raised in evangelicalism by her mother and subsequently married an Anglican clergyman. After several years of social work among prostitutes in Liverpool, Butler assumed the leadership of the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (the laws regulating prostitution) in 1869. Five years later, she toured continental Europe, forming the International Society Against State Regulated Vice to expand her campaign to all countries that legalized prostitution. Butler finally won repeal in Britain in 1886.
A third morality campaign to which many Protestants devoted themselves with exceptional fervor was that against alcohol, whether the campaign was called antialcoholism, temperance, or teetotalism. Many prominent Catholics supported this campaign, such as Cardinal Manning, but Protestants were drawn to the battle in dramatic numbers. Many churches (especially Methodists and Baptists) adopted temperance as church doctrine. And when the National Temperance League in Britain (founded 1842) organized to demand that Parliament act, 13,584 Protestant clergymen signed the petition to Parliament.
Protestants in other countries organized parallel campaigns. Protestants founded temperance societies in Norway in 1836 and in Sweden in 1837. The Swiss Croix bleue (Blue Cross) became a model for Protestant temperance movements in French-speaking Europe. By the eve of World War I, there were five temperance societies in Denmark, six each in Holland and Sweden, and twelve in Germany.
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Steven C. Hause
In the summer of 1820, an impressive group of Protestant clergymen, educators, and business professionals gathered in western Massachusetts to lay the cornerstone for the first building of Amherst College. As a trustee of the fledgling institution, the grandfather of Emily Dickinson was among those in the group, but pride of place fell to the great maker of dictionaries, Noah Webster (1758–1843), whose task that day was to dedicate the college to the glory of God and the pursuit of a grand Protestant cultural enterprise.
In his oration, Webster tied the founding of the college to the hastening of the kingdom of God. In educating young men "for the gospel ministry," Amherst would be seconding "the efforts of the apostles themselves, in extending and establishing the Redeemer's empire—the empire of truth." It would raise "the human race from ignorance and debasement" and "teach them the way to happiness and glory." In the end, nothing short of the perfection of the kingdom of God was to be expected from Amherst College, the American republic, and the Protestant enterprise they together promoted. If the college did its work well, it would "convert swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks" and even "dispeople the state prison and the penitentiary!" (pp. 7–8, 11).
Within the brief compass of his speech, Webster outlined what the historian Mark A. Noll has identified as the unique synthesis of evangelical faith, republican political ideology, and commonsense moral reasoning that dominated American life from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of the Civil War. The expansive power of evangelical Protestantism formed the central religious reality of America in that period, and, as Noll argues, no other era in the nation's history saw such a dramatic increase in religious affiliation or such a pervasive influence of religion on the national culture.
The Protestant vision grounded nineteenth-century American culture in its explicitly Christian past but at the same time opened up possibilities for the nation's secular future; it inspired many immigrants and settlers with an expansive vision of American possibilities while it consigned others, particularly Catholics, to second-class status; and it provided powerful underpinnings for the supporters of slavery even as it supplied slavery's opponents with telling arguments and stirring claims against the institution.
The story of Protestantism in nineteenth-century America begins with events that unfolded three centuries earlier. The first recorded use of the term "Protestant" in English dates to 1539, when it was applied specifically to those German princes and their subjects who protested the Roman Catholic Church's efforts to silence Martin Luther and bring an end to the Reformation.
Initially, the word "Protestant" applied only to Lutherans in Germany, whereas the Swiss and French followers of John Calvin called themselves "Reformed." By the early seventeenth century, however, the term had come to be applied to all Western Christians who repudiated papal authority and Catholic doctrine. For a complex set of reasons, it was to be Protestants who undertook the colonization of North America in earnest, as Dutch Calvinists settled along the Hudson River, Anglicans moved to the mid-Atlantic coast, and Puritans followed two decades later to Massachusetts Bay.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony would have an enduring significance out of all proportion to its initial size and stature. Many of the most dynamic Protestant influences in American life stemmed from the belief system and cultural practices of this group of several hundred settlers. Long after most Americans had let go of the bracing theology of the Puritans, they continued to embrace a form of the Puritan vision of American destiny.
The first governor of the Massachusetts colony, John Winthrop (1588–1649), famously outlined that vision in a sermon written before or during the 1630 voyage that brought his group to the New World. Winthrop titled his sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" and in it elaborated the covenantal understanding at the heart of Puritan theology. For these Calvinists, the covenant was a legal agreement between God and his chosen people: "We have entered into Covenant with Him for this Work, we have taken out a Commission, the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own Articles." If the Puritan colonists kept the terms of the covenant, God would make them "a praise and glory," and all other plantations in the New World would declare, "Make [us] like that of New England." This small band of emigrants at the edge of the known world would become "a City upon a Hill," with "the eyes of all people" upon them (p. 10). By settling in New England, these Protestants would not be pursuing their own destiny, but, as God's representatives, they would be carving out of the wilderness the kingdom of God.
Although it was only one among the many voices clamoring to be heard in the colonies, Puritanism would come to direct the cultural conversation of America in a number of surprising ways. Early on, for example, it developed an interpretive discipline that involved an exceptionally close reading of personal experience and natural phenomena, as these Protestants scoured their souls and searched their world for signs of God's coming kingdom. Even when Puritanism eventually fell out of favor, the interpretive habits it had inspired continued to thrive in new and different forms, whether in the prose of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) or the poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) and Robert Frost, in the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864), Herman Melville (1819–1891), and William Faulkner, or in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first-century essays of Barry Lopez and Wendell Berry. Over several centuries, the Puritan practice of closely reading nature and experience consistently demonstrated a remarkable tenacity. Like other elements of the Puritan vision, it was compelling enough in its content and flexible enough in its form to adapt to changing cultural tastes.
Later scholars, however, intensely debated the nature and extent of that Puritan cultural influence. Some argued that the claims made on behalf of Puritanism by Perry Miller, Sacvan Bercovitch, and others obscured the vital contributions of other religious traditions to American literature and culture. At the same time, other observers questioned the very notion of American exceptionalism that lies behind the argument of Protestant influence. Spanish Catholics were here long before the English arrived, this line of reasoning goes, and native peoples lived on the land for thousands of years before the first European settlers set foot on North American soil. Since Roman Catholics and Anabaptists, freethinkers and tribal worshippers all played crucial roles in American religious history, on what grounds do we single out the efforts of a small band of Protestants from northwestern Europe?
By the early nineteenth century, a surprising intellectual synthesis, distinctly different from the reigning intellectual constructs in comparable Western societies, had come to prevail throughout the United States. It was a surprise both because little in colonial history before the mid-eighteenth century anticipated its formation and because it came into being only as an indirect result of the American Revolution, the era's greatest intellectual as well as political event. The formation of this synthesis, in turn, explains much about what followed in the history of American thought from the early nineteenth century. Along with more distinctly religious factors, the plausibility, flexibility, and popularity of this synthesis at all social levels was a key to the remarkable Christianization that occurred in the United States, both North and South, during the period 1790–1865. . . .
The synthesis was a compound of evangelical Protestant religion, republican political ideology, and commonsense moral reasoning. Through the time of the Civil War, that synthesis defined the boundaries for a vast quantity of American thought, while also providing an ethical framework, a moral compass, and a vocabulary of suasion for much of the nation's public life. It set, quite naturally, the boundaries within which formal theological effort took place. Since the Civil War, the synthesis has declined in importance for both formal thought and public life, though not without leaving an enduring stamp upon the mental habits of some religious communities and episodic marks upon the public discourse.
Noll, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, p. 9.
In the end, such questions can be answered only by carefully charting influence in the many instances where it can be traced. As a case in point, seventeenth-century New England churches stressed individual experience in a manner that was to shape the larger culture profoundly. The Puritans conceived of the church as a gathering of freely consenting individuals. They made it a requirement that to become a member of the church, each man and woman had to undergo a harrowing conversion, which involved turning away from sin and breaking with the past. If you were a Puritan, in other words, you could not receive your faith from your parents but had to achieve it on your own. Whereas for centuries birth had determined membership in the Roman Catholic Church and many early Protestant denominations, in New England conversion and consent were required before a church could be called into being.
The Puritan practice of establishing "gathered churches" led to the creation of what the sociologist Robert Bellah, the philosopher Charles Taylor, and others have called an American cultural tradition of "leaving home." Like their Puritan ancestors struggling to establish their own distinct relationship with God, countless later Americans would take it as a given that they had to make their own way in the world, free of the determining influence of parents and past. Thus we find established in American culture a paradoxical tradition of leaving tradition behind, or, to put it another way, our social expectation is for individuals to grow and prosper without paying heed to social expectations. In America, Jews and Christians, Muslims and pagans all adopt this tradition of abandoning tradition, and had it not been for the seeds sown by the early Protestant settlers, it is hard to imagine that such a tradition would have taken root so deeply in the soil of American culture.
By the early decades of the nineteenth century, Puritanism had played itself out as an active force in American life, yet the Protestant cultural legacy remained a potent presence in the culture. That legacy adapted quickly to the vagaries of life in a religiously diverse republic and prospered following the removal of the last vestiges of state support, when Connecticut disestablished the Congregational Church in 1818 and Massachusetts followed suit in 1833. On the competitive field created by the constitutional freedom of religion, antebellum Protestantism consolidated its position as a dominant religious force, continuing to shape American culture, and with mixed results wrestling with growing religious diversity and the destructive reality of slavery.
Just months before Massachusetts brought an end to state-sanctioned religion, a drama of lasting importance in the history of Protestantism and American literature unfolded in a Boston church. The main player in this drama was Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), who was reluctantly voted out of office by the proprietors of the Second Church in late October 1832. They dismissed Emerson in response to a sermon he had preached several weeks earlier, in which he had explained why he would no longer administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
For his sermon on that sacrament, Emerson had preached from Romans 14:17: "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." He took this injunction literally, as a command from Jesus to forgo any outward signs of faith or practice. The Catholic Church had celebrated seven sacraments while most Protestant denominations had reduced that number to two, baptism and communion. Emerson saw no need for any because the form of the sacrament throttled freedom of the spirit. "Freedom is the essence of Christianity," he told his parishioners. "Its institutions should be as flexible as the wants of men. The form out of which the life and suitableness have departed should be as worthless in its eyes as the dead leaves that are falling around us" (Essays, p. 1139).
In spurning both the authority of the scriptures and the sanction of the sacraments, Emerson was seeking to sustain the Protestant cultural project without the support of the theology that had given birth to it. In doing so, he was in turn appropriating for American culture an effort that had been under way for several decades in the Protestant cultures of Germany and England. There, a series of Romantic philosophers, poets, and critics had sought, in the words of M. H. Abrams, "to save traditional concepts, schemes, and values which had been based on the relation of the Creator to his creature and creation" by recasting them within a secular framework of "the human mind or consciousness and its transactions with nature" (p. 13).
In recasting the Protestant creeds within a secular framework, Emerson sought to adapt to his own purposes key elements of the Protestant vision, including the millennial fervor of his Puritan ancestors, as well as their emphasis on free consent and the virtue of "leaving home." In all the major writers who had roots in New England between 1820 and 1870, the tension between the Christian past and the secular Protestant present was palpable. It manifested itself in the powerful psychology of Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) and "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853); it pervaded the tortured examination of the human soul in many of Hawthorne's short stories and in The Scarlet Letter (1850); it provided the pith and substance of Dickinson's poetic explorations of belief, suffering, and the silence of God; and it animated Thoreau's vision of a spiritually vital individualism.
At the same time, this cultural Protestantism had darker consequences in the nineteenth century because it fueled a strong anti-Catholic nativism. From the beginning of the American experiment, genuine religion had meant the Protestant faith. Roman Catholicism could be tolerated at the edges of the culture, but few in the colonial era or in the early decades of the Republic considered it a dynamic system of belief destined to play an ever larger role in American life. In 1790 there were but sixty-five Catholic churches in the United States, out of a total of almost five thousand Christian churches, and Catholicism had little impact on cultural or political affairs.
In the following decades, the situation changed dramatically, as immigration swelled the ranks of the Catholic Church in America. Even as evangelical Protestantism consolidated its hold on antebellum culture, the number of Roman Catholic churches grew at a markedly faster rate than that of Protestant ones in those years. On the eve of the war, there were 2,550 Catholic churches in the United States, and Catholicism was becoming at last a player on the cultural stage.
As the influence of the Catholic Church grew, so did the Protestant animus against it. Prejudice against Catholicism was to be found at every level of the culture, as is evidenced by an exchange of letters between Emerson, the American educator Charles Eliot Norton (1827–1908), and the English poet Arthur Hugh Clough (1819–1861). They wrote to one another about the conversion to Catholicism in 1858 of Anna Barker Ward, the wife of one of Emerson's literary associates, Samuel Ward. These three fretted over the prospect of her "Babylonish Captivity" and "grieved" that she had allied herself with a faith that "makes such carnage of social relations." The problem with this "perversion," Clough wrote, was that it seemed "so irrevocable a change" (p. 556). For the disease of this dogmatic faith, Emerson prescribed the "electuary"—the sweet, healing paste—of "house, children, & husband" (Letters 5:169). He told Samuel Ward, who had not joined his wife in the move to the Catholic Church, that Anna would eventually be cured of her spiritual disease, construing her conversion, and the whole of the Catholic Church, as a lamentable sickness from which one could only hope to recover.
Emerson's use of the metaphor of illness is in keeping with many antebellum Romantic characterizations of Catholicism. Fueled by Protestant millennialism in general and by the New World covenantal vision of the Puritans in particular, the romantics saw Catholicism as a remnant of the precritical history of humanity. Like an embarrassing adolescence, it was something to be blushed at and outgrown. Thoreau neatly captured this Romantic perception of Catholic belief in his depiction of Alek Therien, a French Canadian neighbor at Walden Pond. The intellectual and spiritual elements in Therien "were slumbering as in an infant." He had been taught in that "innocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines." When those priests train a student, "the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a child" (p. 439). To be Catholic was to be like nature—dumb and in desperate need of the poet's consciousness and speech. "Nature is hard to be overcome, but she must be overcome" (p. 498), Thoreau concluded in Walden (1854). That was also the case for Roman Catholicism according to many cultural Protestants in the nineteenth century.
The attitudes of Emerson, Thoreau, and others need to be set within the broader context of nineteenth-century cultural history. The literary historian Jenny Franchot has argued that the anti-Catholicism of Protestant liberals of that time can be traced to the Puritan narrative of providential history, in which two monumental events, the Reformation and the Puritan settling of America, had unfolded just centuries earlier. According to Franchot, for the writers of the ante-bellum era Protestant America was allied with divine history, and reform was a matter of destiny. In such a context, a Catholic resurgence could only represent a reversal of history, a return to bondage, and a loss of the freedom of Protestant individualism.
While the growth of Catholicism struck fear in the hearts of the cultural elites, it also generated powerful responses at the popular level. From 1830 to 1860, what had been a trickle of anti-Catholic literature swelled into a torrent, as diatribes came cascading down from Protestant pulpits and flowed from the pages of popular tracts and novels. Especially popular were the fictional "memoirs" of people who had escaped the clutches of Catholicism. Where the seventeenth-century Puritans had written accounts of their captivity at the hands of Native Americans, antebellum Protestant writers wrote racy stories about captive abuse within the walls of the Catholic Church.
The most famous of these narratives, Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, appeared in 1836. This fiction parading as fact told of a prostitute who sought sanctuary in a convent, only to discover within its walls terror and sadism worse than anything she had known on the streets. The pages of Monk's "memoir" were filled with stories of brutal nuns and rapacious priests in the convent-turned-brothel, where ostensibly celibate men of God had their way with defenseless young nuns and murdered the children unfortunate enough to be born of the violent unions.
We can see the intensity of Protestant fear in the fact that Monk's narrative sold three hundred thousand copies in the twenty-five years between its publication and the outbreak of the Civil War. Aside from the Bible, it was outsold by only one book in that period, Harriet Beecher Stowe's fictional polemic against slavery, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).
SCRIPTURE, SLAVERY, AND THE PROTESTANT SYNTHESIS
The fact that Monk's captivity narrative and Stowe's abolitionist novel were the two best-selling books in the mid-nineteenth century shows that the Protestant influence was as divided as it was dynamic. For as powerfully as Monk's book reinforced stereotypes meant to keep Roman Catholicism at the cultural margins, with even greater force did Uncle Tom's Cabin crystallize religious and moral opposition to slavery in the decade leading up to the war. When Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was grappling with the question of emancipation in 1862, he borrowed from the Library of Congress Stowe's A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), which documented the abuses she had exposed in her novel. When he greeted her later that year at the White House, Lincoln is reported to have said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."
Through his use of hyperbole and humor, Lincoln was in fact making a serious point. It had taken a work of fiction to galvanize the nation to settle by force a conflict it had been unable to resolve through the play of ideas or the art of political compromise.
Leading up to the war, Protestant beliefs and practices played a crucial role on both sides of the battle over slavery. Many claimed scriptural support for slavery. They took encouragement from the Bible's ethical silence about the practice in the ancient world and strenuously defended it on the principle of obedience and submission to authority. Some sincerely believed in a biblical sanction for slavery, whereas others cynically employed the scriptures to support the practice even as they denied the Bible's authority over every other facet of their lives.
Although the Bible was often used to justify slavery, in many other cases a Protestant interpretation of the scriptures drove men and women to oppose it with action or to endure it with hope. With difficulty, many antebellum Protestants sought to combine their commitment to scriptural authority and their intuitive sense that slavery was either an injustice to be tempered or an abomination to be destroyed. Their struggle was complicated by the considerable skill with which the defenders of slavery linked a literal reading of the Bible—which acknowledged the scriptures' tacit acceptance of slavery—to the idea of biblical authority itself.
Other Protestants sought to avoid this impasse by stressing the difference between the letter of the Bible and its spirit. Even if the Old and the New Testaments had condoned the practice in their day, this line of reasoning held, the spiritual intentions of the scriptures were unmistakably opposed to its continuance. In the conclusion to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe gave powerful voice to this feeling-based interpretation of the spirit of the Bible. Nothing could be written or conceived, she said, "that equals the frightful reality of scenes daily and hourly acting on our shores, beneath the shadow of American law, and the shadow of the cross of Christ" (p. 514). The only important question for the Protestant believer is not interpretive consistency or theological rigor but one's own sympathies: "Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?" (p. 515). Only if their sympathies are aright and they act upon them boldly may the people of the North and South together forsake their "injustice and cruelty" and thus mercifully avoid "the wrath of Almighty God" (p. 519).
Others in the Protestant tradition went beyond Stowe's sympathetic evangelical piety and embraced more radical positions, both in their attitude toward the Christian tradition and in their willingness to use violence to bring slavery to an end. This group included such well-known figures as Thoreau, Emerson, and John Brown, as well as a number of largely forgotten individuals, such as James McCune Smith and Gerrit Smith. According to the literary historian John Stauffer, these Protestants had an understanding of God that could not be separated from their understanding of themselves as moral warriors, from the vision they shared of America's millennial future, or from their passionate desire to eliminate social and racial barriers. They did not necessarily need the Bible to validate what their God-given moral sense had already convinced them to believe and to do.
For these Protestants, moral consistency on the issue of slavery often overrode any concerns about theological orthodoxy or biblical fidelity. On the eve of the Civil War, Gerrit Smith (1797–1874) gave voice to this passion for ethical rigor, as he explained why the Congregational minister George Cheever, like many other evangelical Protestants, was mistaken in his efforts to prove that the Bible condemned slavery: "Dr. Cheever sees no hope for freedom, if the Bible shall be given to the side of slavery. But I see no hope for the Bible if it shall be proved to be for slavery." Human nature provides the charter for human rights, "and [man's] rights are the rights of his nature—no more nor less—every book to the contrary notwithstanding" (quoted in Noll, pp. 387–388).
Fighting was to break out at Fort Sumter only months after this exchange between Cheever and Smith, and by the end of the war the era of Protestant hegemony had effectively come to a close. When Noah Webster dedicated the cornerstone at Amherst College in 1820, as a Protestant man, he stood in all his singularity as a representative of the larger nation and its ideals. By 1865 Webster would have become but one voice within a cacophonous conversation among Protestants of many different persuasions; and those Protestants in turn would now be jostling for space alongside newly emerging groups with decidedly different religious, intellectual, and political convictions. Although Protestantism would continue to exert a powerful influence on American culture, it has never since occupied the dominant position that belonged to it in the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century.
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Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and Lectures. Edited by Joel Porte. New York: Library of America, 1983.
Monk, Maria. Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal. New York: Hoisington & Trow, 1836.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Three Novels: Uncle Tom's Cabin,The Minister's Wooing, Oldtown Folks. New York: Library of America, 1982.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; or, Life in the Woods. 1854. In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; Walden; or, Life in the Woods; The Maine Woods; Cape Cod. Edited by Robert F. Sayre. New York: Library of America, 1985.
Webster, Noah. A Plea for a Miserable World. Boston: Ezra Lincoln, 1820.
Winthrop, John. The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630–1649. Edited by Richard S. Dunn and Laetitia Yeandle. Abridged ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.
Abrams, M. H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition andRevolution in Romantic Literature. New York: Norton, 1971.
Bellah, Robert, et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism andCommitment in American Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum ProtestantEncounter with Catholicism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Miller, Perry. Nature's Nation. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.
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Noll, Mark A. America's God: From Jonathan Edwards toAbraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Stauffer, John. The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of the ModernIdentity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.
Protestantism is generally thought of as being one of the three major branches of the Christian faith (the other two being Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy). Protestantism is a broad category. It includes, for example, Anglicans, Baptists, Campbellites, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Methodists, Mennonites, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Unitarians. Texts that are generally taken to embody the spirit of Protestantism include Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into the German language, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Isaac Watts’s Hymns and Spiritual Songs, John Woolman’s Journal, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death, the Barmen Declaration, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Protestantism arose in Western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It came into being as the result of the efforts of men such as John Calvin, John Knox, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, and Huldrych Zwingli to “reform” what they saw as the “errors” of the Roman Catholic Church. The drive to “correct” these “mistakes” ended up profoundly transforming the political, as well as the religious, institutions of Western Europe. Indeed, scholars have claimed that the Protestant Reformation played a crucial role in creating the religious, political, social, economic, and cultural formations that came to embody “modernity.”
There is no scholarly consensus on the number of Protestants in the world. If one adopts a quite broad definition and counts people who are only nominally Christian as well as those who are quite devout, then one might argue that the total is over 800 million. Although Protestantism was created in Western Europe, it has spread throughout much of the world. Protestant beliefs and practices are quite common, of course, in Australia and North America, and have a strong foothold in some Asian countries—South Korea and the Philippines, for instance. Protestants make up sizable minorities in Latin American nations such as Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In a number of African countries (Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland, for instance), Protestants constitute a large proportion of the citizens. Indeed, some scholars have argued that Protestantism’s future may lie in Africa and Latin America rather than in Europe or North America. Certainly, it now seems to be far more vital in Africa and Latin America than in some of the nations of Western Europe.
From the sixteenth century to the present, Protestants have consistently claimed to be highly suspicious of “empty ritualism.” Such suspicions notwithstanding, over the centuries Protestants have developed a set of powerful religious practices that vivify the doctrines and symbols of the Christian faith. Some Protestants (Lutherans and Anglicans especially) have maintained carefully crafted formal liturgies. The roots of those liturgies stretch back to—indeed reach back beyond—the sixteenth century, and have much in common with Catholic and Orthodox liturgies. Other Protestants, often referred to as Evangelicals, have created revival services intended to convert nonbelievers into devout Christians. And since the beginning of the twentieth century, a group of Protestants who are often labeled Pentecostals or Charismatics have held services that focus on the “gift of tongues.” This gift—which often results in a kind of ecstatic speech that is not intelligible to hearers—is thought of as a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit.
As a general rule, Protestants tend to display a strong love for singing hymns and gospel songs. Accordingly, a good portion of many Protestant worship services is devoted to choral and congregational singing. Protestant worship services also tend to devote a good deal of time to listening to homilies and sermons. These sermons, which are sometimes filled with emotion and sometimes quite erudite, are intended to help the people who hear them comprehend the truths of the Christian faith as those truths are set forth in the Christian scriptures.
Indeed, the importance of the Christian scriptures in shaping Protestant practice and belief is difficult to exaggerate. Reading the scriptures aloud is one of the high points of many Protestant worship services, and the hymns Protestants sing are often based on passages from the Bible. (Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is, for example, based on Psalm 46.) The scriptures also play a large role in the private devotional practices of most Protestants. And Protestants greatly value Bible study groups and Sunday School classes in which small groups meet together to ascertain the meaning of passages from the Bible.
It is no accident that many Protestant devotional practices focus on the Christian scriptures, for Protestants have tended to see the Bible—rather than the traditions of the church—as the surest guide to understanding the nature of reality and of God. Protestants have often expressed a certain distrust of human reason or of observations of nature as a way to grasp the truth. If given a choice between relying on observations of nature, reason, tradition, or the Bible as a way to understand the nature of God and the universe, many Protestants would say, without hesitation, that their choice would be the Bible.
In part because they tend to put great confidence in the power of the Christian scriptures, correctly comprehended, to disclose the nature of ultimate reality, Protestants sometimes have acted in ways that have seemed to smack of hubris. In its most extreme form, this apparent hubris has resulted in some Protestant leaders coming close to asserting that the Bible is infallible and that they themselves have fully and correctly comprehended the truths that are taught therein. Critics have sometimes argued that this self-confident scripturalism is one of the hallmarks of Protestantism and that its predilection for that kind of scripturalism makes Protestantism a particularly dangerous form of religion. Such arguments are not without merit.
It should also be noted, however, that Protestants (like many other religious human beings) have sometimes been keenly aware of human finitude. This has sometimes led Protestants to fiercely critique all human attempts to speak for God and all human claims to have fully understood God’s nature and desires. Some Protestants have gone so far as to say that all human ideas and beliefs— including all Protestant ideas and beliefs—are very far from the mind of God. Under some conditions, the Protestant view of the world can, therefore, inculcate a good deal of humility within the people who adhere to it.
The Protestant tendency to see all human institutions as imperfect has sometimes been connected with a wide-ranging set of emancipatory impulses. Protestant beliefs and practices played an important role, for instance, in the abolitionist movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Those beliefs and practices have sometimes been linked, too, with anticolonial and feminist movements. Many Protestants have, on occasion, fiercely critiqued the behavior of the nation-states in whose borders they resided. Created in part in reaction to what sixteenth-and seventeenth-century reformers saw as an overly rigid and overly powerful set of ecclesiastical institutions, Protestantism has sometimes tended to value “freedom” over “tradition” and “conscience” over the “laws of men.”
Protestantism has also, many scholars would assert, served to naturalize a wide range of inegalitarian social relationships. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, Protestants wrote and preached countless defenses of the institution of chattel slavery. In the twentieth century, many white Protestants living in the United States (especially those living in the former slave states) advanced theological defenses of white supremacy. Indeed, pious Protestants often played crucial roles in Southern campaigns to defeat the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
Patriarchal social relations have also often been naturalized by Protestant beliefs and practices. Protestants have generally thought of God as masculine and referred to God with masculine pronouns. Protestant churches have generally believed that to obtain salvation a woman must submit herself to the authority of this masculine Lord. Historically, women have been taught that it was “natural” for them to defer to men. Protestant churches have also tended to see persons who have sex with someone to whom they are not married as rebelling against God’s laws. Protestant churches have taught that women who have sex with other women and (especially) men who have sex with other men are violating God’s fundamental laws, and these sorts of violations have been regarded as particularly unnatural and repugnant. In general, Protestant churches have tended to be organizations in which heterosexual norms have been enforced quite strictly.
Scholars do not agree on the precise nature of the relationship between Protestantism and capitalism. Some scholarly analyses of that relationship (Max Weber’s, for instance) emphasize Protestantism’s role in creating circumstances in which modern capitalism could arise and flourish; other scholarly analyses (R. H. Tawney’s, for example) focus on ways in which the rise of capitalism decisively influenced Protestants’ assumptions and habits. Most scholars would, however, assert that Protestant churches have tended to naturalize the authority of capitalist institutions. Protestant churches have often seen commercial success as a sign of Godly favor and they have often acted as though it was natural for businessmen to play a large role in running church affairs. Protestant churches have eagerly adopted techniques and methods developed by businessmen. Indeed, many have been run in ways strikingly similar to those of for-profit corporations.
The “peace churches” (Mennonites, for example) have sometimes raised pointed questions about whether the violence employed by nation-states can be reconciled with the life and teachings of Jesus. But for the most part, however, Protestants have tended to see nation-states and nationalism as natural, even as ordained by God. They have been reluctant to challenge state authority even when it conflicts with Christian beliefs.
SEE ALSO Fundamentalism, Christian; Protestant Ethic; Weber, Max
Dillenberger, John, and Claude Welch. 1954. Protestant Christianity Interpreted through Its Development. New York: Scribner.
Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim, ed. 2004. The Encyclopedia of Protestantism. New York: Routledge.
McGrath, Alister E., and Darren C. Marks, eds. 2004. The Blackwell Companion to Protestantism. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Melton, J. Gordon. 2005. Encyclopedia of Protestantism. New York: Facts on File.
Tawney, R. H. 1926. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. London: John Murray.
Watt, David Harrington. 2002. Bible-Carrying Christians: Conservative Protestants and Social Power. New York: Oxford University Press.
Weber, Max. 1905. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. and ed. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. New York: Penguin, 2002.
David Harrington Watt
See also 80. CHRISTIANITY ; 151. FAITH ; 349. RELIGION ; 392. THEOLOGY .
- a tolerance of conduct or beliefs not specifically forbidden in the Scriptures. Cf. Flacianism, Philippism . —adiaphorist, n. —adiaphoristic, adj.
- the principles and practices of certain Christian denominations that maintain that the Second Advent of Christ is imminent. Also called Second Adventist . —Adventist, n., adj.
- the doctrines and practices of a liberal form of Calvinism established in France in the 17th century, especially its doctrines of universal atonement and salvation for all.
- the adherence to the tenets and faith of the Anglican church.
- the doctrines and teaching of Jacobus Arminius, 17th-century Dutch theologian, who opposed the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination and maintained the possibility of universal salvation. Cf. Calvinism. —Arminian, n., adj.
- the views and doctrines of Robert Browne, the first formulator of the principles of Congregationalism. —Brownist, n. —Brownistic, adj.
- 1. the principles of the international movement called Moral Re-Armament or the Oxford Group.
- 2. the belief in or adherence to these principles. —Buchmanite, n., adj.
- an Utraquist. See Utraquism .
- 1. the doctrines of John Calvin or his followers, especially emphasis upon predestination and limited atonement, the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures and the irresistibility of grace.
- 2. adherence to these doctrines. Also called Genevanism. Cf. Arminianism. —Calvinist, n., adj. —Calvinistic, Calvinistical, adj.
- the doctrines of a premillennial sect founded in the U.S. in the mid-19th-century, especially its denial of Trinitarianism and its acceptance of Unitarian and Adventist doctrines. —Christadelphian, n., adj.
- the history and study of Methodist circuit plans.
- the list of divine threats against sinners, read in the Anglican Church on Ash Wednesday. See also 96. CONFLICT .
- 1. the doctrine and governmental practices of Congregational churches.
- 2. a form of church government in which each congregation is autonomous. —Congregationalist, n., adj.
- the theory or practice of associations or confederations of religious societies, usually for purposes of fellowship. —consociational, adj.
- the doctrines and practices of the Plymouth Brethren. —Darbyite, n.
- 1. the policy or spirit of denominations or sects.
- 2. the tendency to divide into denominations or sects. —denominationalist, n.
- nonconformism, def. 2.
- the doctrines and practices of the ecumenical movement, especially among Protestant groups since the 1800s, aimed at developing worldwide Christian unity and church union. Also ecumenicalism, ecumenicism .
- 1. the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Anglican communion.
- 2. adherence to the policy and practice of the Episcopal Church. —Episcopalian, n., adj. —Episcopal, adj.
- a theory of church polity asserting that supreme ecclesiastical authority belongs to all bishops collectively and not to an individual except by delegation.
- the Lutheran doctrines and treatises of Matthias Flacius Illyricus, especially his attacks upon Melanchthon and others for distorting Luther’s teachings and emphasizing adiaphorism. Cf. Philippism. —Flacian, n.
- the principles of the Free Church, which split off from the Presbyterian Church in 1843. —Freechurchman, n.
- 1. a conservative movement in 20th-century American Protestantism in reaction to modernism, asserting especially the inerrancy of the Scriptures as a historical record and as a guide to faith and morals, and emphasizing, as matters of true faith, belief in the virgin birth, the sacrifice and death of Christ upon the cross, physical resurrection, and the Second Coming.
- 2. an adherence to the doctrines and practices of this movement. —fundamentalist, n., adj.
- a member of a Protestant sect from Württemberg, Germany that settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1803, and believed in common ownership of property.
- the doctrines of Dr. Samuel Hopkins, similar to those of Calvin except that Hopkins rejected the concept of original sin. —Hopkinsonian, n., adj.
- the doctrines and practices of the Calvinistic communion in France in the 16th and 17th centuries. —Huguenot, n. —Huguenotic, adj.
- the doctrines of a reformist and nationalistic movement initiated by John Huss in Bohemia about 1402, especially its reflection of Wycliffite emphases upon clerical purity, communion in both bread and wine for the laity, and the supreme authority of the Scriptures. Also Hussism . —Hussite, n., adj.
- a member of the religious group founded by Edward Irving, a Scots minister who advocated strict observance of ritualistic practices.
- the doctrines and beliefs of an American communal religious society founded in 1886, especially its goal of reforming both church and state and their mutual relationship to God. —Koreshan, adj.
- an adherent of Jean de Labadie, a French mystic.
- the policies and practices of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and opponent of Puritanism, especially his assertion that the Church of England preserves more fully than the Roman communion the orthodoxy of the early Christian church, his support of the divine right of kings and bishops, and his infiuence upon an architecture blending Gothic and Renaissance motifs. —Laudian, n., adj.
- a movement in modern Protestantism that emphasizes freedom from tradition and authority, the adjustment of religious beliefs to scientific conceptions, and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity. —liberalist, n., adj. —liberalistic, adj.
- 1. the religious teachings of John Wycliffe, 14th-century English theologian, religious reformer, and Bible translator.
- 2. adherence to these teachings, especially in England and Scotland in the 14th and 15th centuries. Also called Lollardry, Lollardy, Wycliffism . —Lollard, n., adj.
- 1. the religious doctrines and church polity of Martin Luther, 16th-century German theologian, author, and leader of the Protestant Reformation.
- 2. adherence to these doctrines or membership in the Lutheran Church. —Lutheran, n., adj.
- 1. the religious teachings and church polity of John Wesley, 18th-century English theologian and evangelist, or those of his followers.
- 2. the doctrines, polity, beliefs, and rituals of the Methodist Church, founded by Wesley, especially its emphasis on personal and social morality. Also called Wesleyanism . —Methodist, n., adj.
- 1. the doctrines and polity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded in the U.S. in 1830 by Joseph Smith, especially its adoption of the Book of Mormon as an adjunct to the Bible.
- 2. adherence to these doctrines or membership in the Mormon Church. Also Mormondom . —Mormon, n., adj.
- a modern theological movement within the Protestant church, reaffirming some of the doctrines of the Reformation in reaction against recent liberal theology and practice. —neoorthodox, adj.
- 1. the state or practice of nonadherence to an established church or its doctrine, discipline, or polity.
- 2. (cap.) the condition of a Protestant in England who is not a member of the Church of England; dissenterism. —nonconformist, n., adj.
- 1. the practice of refusing to take a required oath, as of allegiance.
- 2. (cap.) the action of Church of England clergymen who refused, in 1689, to swear allegiance to William and Mary. —nonjuror, n.
- the principles of the Orangemen, members of a secret 17th-century Irish society that defended the reigning British monarch and supported the Anglican church.
- a theological doctrine proposed by the 17th-century French theologian Claude Pajon, especially its emphasis upon the indirect rather than direct influence of the Holy Spirit upon an individual.
- the domination of a social group, especially a small rural community, by the parson.
- the beliefs and practices of certain Christian groups, often fundamentalist, that emphasize the activity of the Holy Spirit, stress a strict morality, and seek emotional spiritual experiences in worship rituals. —Pentecostal, n., adj.
- Rare. the doctrines of Philip Melanchthon, 16th-century German Protestant reformer, especially his rebuttals to the allegations of the Flacians that his attitude toward certain teachings of Martin Luther was adiaphoristic. —Philippist, n. —Philippistic, adj.
- 1. a movement, begun in the 17th-century German Lutheran Church, exalting the practice of personal piety over religious orthodoxy and ritual.
- 2. the principles and practices of the Pietists. Also called Spenerism. —Piëtist, n. —Pietistic, Pietistical, adj.
- 1. the doctrines, polity, and practices of Presbyterian churches, especially a Calvinist theology and a representative system of church government.
- 2. a system of church government in which ministers and congregationally elected elders participate in a graded series of legislative bodies and administrative courts. —Presbyterian, n., adj.
- Primitive Methodism
- the practices of the Primitive Methodist Church whose doctrines emphasize Wesleyanism and greater congregational participation in its government. —Primitive Methodist, n.
- 1. the principles and practices of a movement within 16th-century Anglicanism, demanding reforms in doctrine, polity, and worship, and greater strictness in religious discipline, chiefly in terms of Calvinist principles.
- 2. a political party developed from the religious movement in the 17th century that successfully gained control of England through revolution and briefly attempted to put Puritan principles to work on all levels of English life and government.
- 3. U.S. History. the principles and practices of the Congregationalist members of the religious movement who, having migrated to America in 1620, attempted to set up a theocratic state in which clergy had authority over both religious and civil life. —Puritan, n., adj.
- Tractarianism, after Rev. E. B. Pusey, English clergyman. —Puseyite, n. —Puseyistic, Puseyistical adj.
- the principles and beliefs of the Society of Friends, a creedless sect founded in England about 1650 by George Fox, especially its emphasis upon the Inward Light of each believer, its rejection of oaths, and its opposition to all wars. Also Quakerdom, Quakery . (Terms made from quake are never used to or between members of the Society, who prefer Friend or thee.) —Quaker, n., adj.
- the 16th-century religious movement in Europe that resulted in the formation of Protestantism. —Reformational, adj.
- the belief in a temporary future punishment and a final restoration of all sinners to the favor of God. Also called restitutionism. —restorationist, n.
- advocacy of the reunion of the Anglican and Catholic churches. —reunionist, n. —reunionistic, adj.
- that form of religious activity that manifests itself in evangelistic services for the purpose of effecting a religious awakening. —revivalist, n. —revivalistic, adj.
- the former name of the sect called Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- 1. any religious teachings in which are emphasized doctrines concerning the saving of the soul.
- 2. the doctrines of the saving of the soul.
- 3. evangelism, especially that calling for individuals to make open and public conversions. —salvationist, n. —salvational, adj.
- Second Adventist
- the spirit or tendencies of sectarians, especially adherence or excessive devotion to a particular sect, especially in religion. —sectarian, n., adj.
- the principles, beliefs, and practices of a millennial sect called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming, originating in England in the Shaking Quakers sect and brought to the U.S. in 1774 by Mother Ann Lee, especially an emphasis on communal and celibate living, on the dual nature of Christ as male and female, on their dances and songs as part of worship, and their honest, functional craftsmanship. —Shaker, n., adj.
- Pietism, after Philipp Jakob Spener, German theologian.
- the doctrines and practices of a Russian Protestant denomination founded about 1860, especially their emphasis upon evangelism, piety, and communal Bible study and prayer. —Stundist, n.
- Swedenborgianism, Swedenborgism
- the doctrines, beliefs, and practices of the Church of the New Jerusalem, founded by the followers of Emmanuel Swedenborg in the late 18th century, especially its assertion that Christ is God Himself and not the Son of God, and its reliance upon accounts of mystical appearances of Christ to Swedenborg. —Swedenborgian, n., adj.
- the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, parties, or denominations, as in the late 19th- and 20th-century discussions between Anglo-Catholics and Roman authorities. —syncretic, syncretical, syncretistic, syncretistical, adj.
- the religious opinions and principles of the Oxford movement within Anglicanism, especially in its Tractsfor the Times, a series of ninety treatises published between 1833 and 1841. Also called Puseyism. —Tractarian, n., adj.
- the doctrine that the body of Christ is present everywhere, held by some Lutherans and others. —Ubiquitarian, Ubiquarian, Ubiquitary, Ubiquist, Ubiquitist, n., adj.
- the beliefs, principles, and practices of the Unitarian denomination, especially its doctrine that God is one being, and its emphasis upon autonomous congregational government. —Unitarian, n., adj.
- 1. the theological doctrine that all men will finally be saved or brought back to holiness and God.
- 2. the doctrines and practices of the Universalist denomination. —Universalist, n., adj. —Universalistic, adj.
- the doctrines and practices of the Calixtins, a Hussite group demanding communion in both wafer and wine. —Utraquist, n. —Utraquistic, adj.
- Wesleyanism, Wesleyism
- Methodism. —Wesleyan, n., adj.
- the principles, teachings, practices, and techniques of George Whitefield, English Methodist revivalist, who, after a request from Wesley that he visit America, made seven visits after 1738 and gained a reputation as an eloquent and fiery preacher, becoming a model for future American revivalists.
PROTESTANTISM. Martin Luther never set foot in North America, but the movement he unleashed in the sixteenth century profoundly shaped society and culture in America, informing everything from social policy and architecture to literature and health care. Protestantism has been, by far, the dominant religious tradition in America, although the denominational diversity of Protestantism has rendered its influence more diffuse.
While Christianity remained fairly unified during its first millennium, cultural differences prompted a split between the Western church, based in Rome, and Eastern Christianity (Constantinople) in 1054. The Roman Catholic Church enjoyed both religious hegemony and considerable political influence in the West throughout the Middle Ages, but by the fifteenth century various reformers began to agitate for change. Some, like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, wanted the Bible made available in the vernacular, while others called attention to ecclesiastical abuses, including simony (the buying and selling of church offices), nepotism, and general corruption among the clergy and the hierarchy.
Luther himself had been a loyal son of the church and an Augustinian friar. The combination of a visit to Rome, a spiritual crisis, and an itinerant emissary of the Vatican, however, dimmed his affection for the Roman Catholic Church. Luther returned from his sojourn to Rome in 1511 disillusioned with both the splendor of the church and the squalor of the city. A spiritual crisis over the salvation of his soul drove him to an intensive study of the New Testament, especially Paul's epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, which convinced the restless monk that salvation was available by grace, through faith, not through the agency of priests or the church. Finally, the peregrinations of Johannes Tetzel, raising money for the completion of St. Peter's Church in Rome by selling indulgences (forgiveness of sins), convinced Luther that the Roman Catholic Church was sorely in need of reform.
On 31 October 1517 Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses to the castle church door at Wittenberg, inviting a debate with anyone who wished to engage him on the selling of indulgences. Word of Luther's defiance spread quickly throughout the Europe and led eventually to his excommunication from the Roman Church in 1521. In the meantime, while hiding from papal authorities, Luther translated the New Testament into German, drafted catechisms for teaching the rudiments of theology to the masses, and eventually set about solidifying a church free from papal control.
Luther believed, as do most Protestants today, in the priesthood of all believers; everyone is accountable for himself or herself before God, thereby obviating the necessity of priests as dispensers of grace. Whereas Rome taught the twin bases for authority—scripture and tradition (as interpreted by the church)—Luther insisted on sola scriptura, the Bible alone was the only authority on faith and practice. In worship, Luther emphasized the centrality of the sermon as a means of proclaiming the gospel and educating the laity. By implication, he rearticulated the importance of the Eucharist or Holy Communion; Catholics believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus in the saying of the mass, while Luther believed that the real presence of Christ was in the bread and wine, assuring believers of God's grace.
Luther's spirited defense of sola scriptura, the vernacular Bible, and the priesthood of believers virtually ensured that the Protestant Reformation would become diverse and unwieldy. Within Luther's own lifetime various sects arose, each claiming the infallibility of its own interpretation of the Bible, some insisting, for instance, solely on adult baptism or on nonviolence.
Protestantism in America
All of these divergent Protestant groups found their way to North America. Anglicans, members of the Church of England, which had broken with Rome in 1534, settled in Virginia. The Pilgrims, who had separated from the Church of England, founded Plymouth Colony in 1620, the Dutch Reformed organized their first congregation in New Netherland (New York) in 1628, and Puritans began migration to Massachusetts Bay around 1630, followed by the Quakers. Swedish Lutherans settled along the Delaware River. A dissident Puritan, Roger Williams, adopted the belief in adult baptism in 1638, thereby initiating the Baptist tradition in America. The arrival of Scots-Irish in the 1680s brought Presbyterianism to North America, and the immigration of various Germanic groups planted Pietism and the Anabaptist tradition in the middle colonies.
All of these groups functioned with relative autonomy until the mid-eighteenth century when a colonieswide revival, known to historians as the Great Awakening, reconfigured Protestant life in America by eroding ethnic barriers and creating a new vocabulary of faith, known as the "new birth," or evangelicalism. Although evangelical refers to the first four books of the New Testament and also to Luther's "rediscovery of the gospel" in the sixteenth century, the term took on a special valence in America, combining the remnants of New England Puritanism with Scots-Irish Presbyterianism and Continental (especially Dutch) Pietism to form a dynamic, popular movement. Itinerant preachers during the Great Awakening summoned their listeners to obey the call of God and be "born again." Converts as well as those favorably disposed to the revival became known as New Lights, whereas those who looked askance at the revival enthusiasm, included many of the settled clergy, earned the sobriquet Old Lights.
In the decades surrounding the turn of the nineteenth century another revival convulsed three theaters of the new nation: New England, the Cumberland Valley of Kentucky, and western New York, an area newly opened to settlement by the Erie Canal. The Second Great Awakening in the late 1820s and 1830s brought evangelical Protestantism to the frontiers, and in so doing it reshaped American society. In the South, camp meetings combined opportunities for socialization with fiery preaching, and many came away converted—even though some detractors noted that as many souls were conceived as converted. Methodist circuit riders organized congregations in the wake of the camp meetings, while Baptist congregations tended simply to ordain one of their own as their pastor.
The Second Awakening unleashed a flurry of reforming zeal in the new nation. Protestants believed that they could, by dint of their own efforts, bring about the kingdom of God here on Earth. Many believed that such efforts would usher in the millennium, the one thousand years of righteousness predicted in Revelation 20. This conviction animated sundry social reform initiatives during the antebellum period: the temperance movement, prison reform, women's rights, the female seminary movement, and (in the North) the crusade against slavery.
The carnage of the Civil War, however, began to dim hopes of a millennial kingdom, and the arrival of non-Protestant immigrants, most of whom did not share evangelical scruples about alcohol, convinced many Protestants to rethink their understanding of the millennium. Latching onto a mode of biblical interpretation called dispensationalism, imported from Great Britain, conservative Protestants decided that the teeming, squalid tenements no longer resembled the precincts of Zion. Jesus would not return after Protestants had constructed the millennial kingdom; he would return before the millennium, which meant that his return was imminent. This shift in theology effectively absolved conservatives from social engagement. If the world was on the verge of collapse, why bother with social and moral reform? The popularity of dispensational premillennialism signaled a turn on the part of conservative Protestants from the amelioration of society to the redemption of individuals. "I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel," the Chicago evangelist Dwight L. Moody famously declared. "God has given me a lifeboat and said, 'Moody, save all you can.'"
Liberal and Conservative
Adoption of this new formula of biblical interpretation also marked the deepening of a split in Protestantism between conservative and liberal. Whereas the liberal strain had been present since the eighteenth century and had manifested itself in such movements as Unitarianism and Transcendentalism in the mid-nineteenth century, Protestant liberals at the end of the nineteenth century distinguished themselves by their insistence that Christianity redeemed not only sinful individuals but sinful social institutions as well. Marching side by side with other reformers during the Progressive Era, liberal Protestants engaged in what became known as the social gospel, working for the abolition of child labor, the eradication of poverty and political machines, and advocating the rights of workers to organize.
Liberal Protestants had also shown greater receptivity to new intellectual currents in the latter half of the nineteenth century, including Darwin's theory of evolution and an approach to the Bible called higher criticism, which cast doubts on the authorship of several books of the Bible. Conservatives, who tended to read the Bible literally, feared that these developments would undermine confidence in the Scriptures.
Fearing a slippery slope toward liberalism, conservatives countered with a series of pamphlets called The Fundamentals, published between 1910 and 1915. Financed by Lyman and Milton Stewart of Union Oil Company, The Fundamentals contained highly conservative affirmations of such traditional doctrines as the virgin birth of Jesus, the authenticity of miracles, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the premillennial return of Christ. Those who subscribed to the doctrines articulated in the pamphlets came to be known as fundamentalists. Liberals, also known as modernists, joined the battle in the 1920s in what became known as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, a fight over control of many Protestant denominations.
Modernists, by and large, prevailed, and many conservatives, fearing contamination by association with what they regarded as heresy, separated and formed their own churches, denominations, Bible institutes, seminaries, publishing houses, and mission societies. Taken together, this vast network of institutions, largely invisible to the larger society, formed the evangelical subculture in America, and it served as the foundation for their reemergence later in the twentieth century.
Protestant liberalism became more or less synonymous with "mainline" Protestantism, the movement that dominated American religious life during the middle decades of the twentieth century. During a gathering in Cleveland in November 1949 mainline Protestants formed the National Council of Churches, an organization intended to underscore Protestant unity and avoid the duplication of efforts. Less than a decade later, on 12 October 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone for the monolithic Interchurch Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, thereby symbolizing the fusion of mainline Protestantism with white, middle-class values.
Challenges to Mainline Protestant Hegemony
While mainline Protestants celebrated their unity and their cultural ascendance, other forces conspired to diminish their influence. A young, charismatic preacher named Billy Graham, who hailed from North Carolina, caught the eye of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who instructed his papers to "puff Graham." The evangelist's anticommunist rhetoric fit the temper of the McCarthy-era 1950s. Soon he was preaching to huge audiences throughout North America and the world, inviting them simply to "make a decision for Christ," to accept Jesus into their hearts and become "born again," a term taken from John 3, when Nicodemus visits Jesus by night and asks how to enter the kingdom of heaven. Graham consciously tempered some of the incendiary rhetoric of the fundamentalists; he preferred the moniker evangelical, and he sought to cooperate with all Protestants, conservative and liberal. Graham's knack for self-promotion and his adroit use of emerging media technologies earned him a large public following as well as recognition from major political figures. His popularity, moreover, prefigured the return of evangelicals to the political arena in the 1970s.
In Montgomery, Alabama, another expression of Protestantism rose to public consciousness in December 1955 after a diminutive seamstress, Rosa Parks, refused to surrender her seat to a white man and move to the "colored" section of the bus. African American preachers in the town quickly organized a boycott to protest the entrenched practice of segregation in the South, and they chose the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr., as their leader and spokesman. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, King cloaked the teachings of nonviolence and social justice in the cadences of the King James Version of the Bible to shame a nation into living up to its own ideals. In so doing, King drew upon the long history of black Protestant activism; since the days of slavery the ministry was the only real avenue for the expression of leadership within the African American community, so the pastor served not only as the spiritual shepherd to his flock but also as guardian of their temporal interests.
The movement for civil rights stirred the nation's conscience, although the opposition of some Protestants occasionally turned violent, as when a bomb ripped through the basement of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on 15 September 1963, killing four little girls, or when three civil-rights workers were murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in June of 1964. Such events stiffened the resolve of King and a growing number of religious leaders. When King found himself incarcerated in Birmingham for civil disobedience in 1963, he responded to the criticism that a group of Protestant ministers had leveled against him for his leadership of the civil rights movement. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" remains a masterpiece of religious and political rhetoric, arguing that the biblical mandates for justice impelled him to work for desegregation and civil rights.
The Evangelical Resurgence
King's assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on 4 April 1968 deprived American Protestantism of one of its luminaries. By that time the United States was mired in the unpopular Vietnam War (which King had opposed shortly before his death), and the younger generation was rapidly becoming disillusioned with what Eisenhower had dubbed the "military-industrial complex" and with what the counterculture called "the establishment," including religious institutions. Attendance, membership, and giving in mainline Protestant denominations began a steady decline in the mid-1960s, a drop that would show no signs of leveling off until the end of the century.
At the same time, changes in the ways the Federal Communications Commission apportioned airtime for religious programming allowed evangelical preachers to purchase access to the airwaves. Enterprising evangelists, who became known as televangelists, used this opening to catapult them from obscurity to national prominence and, in the process, they pulled in millions of dollars in contributions. The televangelists' simple message and their uncompromising morality appealed to a nation still reeling from the counterculture, the ignominy of Vietnam, and Richard Nixon's endless prevarications.
In this context a Southern Baptist Sunday-school teacher, Jimmy Carter, emerged as a credible candidate for president. The former governor of Georgia declared that he was a "born again" Christian and that he would never knowingly lie to the American people. He captured the Democratic nomination and went on to win the 1976 election with the help of many newly enfranchised evangelicals. Within four years, however, many of these same evangelicals turned against him, led by the televangelists who became leaders of a loose coalition of politically conservative evangelicals known as the Religious Right. Jerry Falwell, pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, formed Moral Majority in 1979, and he, together with other televangelists, anointed Ronald Reagan as their candidate in 1980. Throughout the 1980s the Religious Right enjoyed access to the corridors of power in Washington, and the success of the Religious Right emboldened another televangelist, Pat Robertson, to mount his own (unsuccessful) campaign for the presidency in 1988.
Protestantism in a New Millennium
At the close of the twentieth century American Protestants remained profoundly divided between liberal and conservative, mainline and evangelical. Liberal Protestants, although declining in numbers, continued their pursuit of ecumenism, elevating the standard of inclusivity to the status of orthodoxy. The leadership of mainline Protestant denominations supported racial desegregation, ordained women to the ministry, and endorsed the civil rights of gays and lesbians. The prospect of ordaining homosexuals or blessing same-sex unions, however, was more fraught and divisive, although denominational leaders pushed vigorously for such reforms.
Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, generally hewed to more conservative stances on doctrine, social issues, and domestic arrangements. While mainline Protestants were debating gay ordination and same-sex unions, for example, evangelicals rallied behind an expression of muscular Christianity called Promise Keepers, which enjoined men to be good and faithful husbands, fathers, and churchgoers. Promise Keepers, founded in the early 1990s by Bill McCartney, a successful football coach at the University of Colorado, also demanded that men take control of their households. Feminists were aghast, but the movement proved enormously popular, drawing several million men to stadium gatherings across the country and to a massive "Standing in the Gap" rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C. As with all revivals in American history, the movement faltered soon thereafter, but its popularity underscored the continuing appeal of conservative values.
Protestantism and American Life
The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 illustrated the importance of Protestantism in American life. Almost immediately, convoys of relief workers arrived at the scene of both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Victims were rushed to hospitals, many of which had been founded by Protestant denominations decades earlier. Protestant congregations across the country collected money for the victims and their families, organized food and blood drives, and gathered for prayer. But the tragedy also demonstrated that Protestantism no longer enjoyed hegemonic status in American religious life. Members of other religious groups—Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, and many others, including those who professed no religious convictions whatsoever—were amply represented among both the victims and the rescuers.
Protestantism, nevertheless, has cast a long shadow over American history and culture. A poll conducted in 2001 found that 52 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestants. Although the internal diversity of the movement has attenuated somewhat its influence, it remains the dominant religious tradition in the United States.
Balmer, Randall. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Balmer, Randall, and Lauren F. Winner. Protestantism in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Marty, Martin E. Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America. New York: Dial Press, 1970.
Warner, R. Stephen. New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
Wuthnow, Robert. The Restructuring of American Religion. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Protestantism derives from the Reformation, which began as a Catholic reform movement in western continental Europe in the sixteenth century and eventually led to the separation of Lutheran and Calvinist denominational churches from the Catholic Church. In addition numerous independent Protestant movements, such as the Anabaptists and the Hutterites at the time of the Reformation, and the Herrnhutters of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760) and the Methodists of John Wesley (1703–1791) in the eighteenth century, have grown up outside the original (and continuing) Lutheran and Calvinist denominations of Protestant orthodoxy. From the eighteenth century on there were repeated evangelical revivals, some of which faded away and others eventually leading to the formation of new denominations, most notably the Wesleyan Methodists.
OVERVIEW OF GENDER ISSUES IN PROTESTANT HISTORY
The Reformation was male-led and focused on issues of church order; reformers did not set out to address gender issues. The Protestant leadership and the ministry of mainstream Protestant denominations remained in the hands of men. The Reformation, however, led to a Protestant reordering of aspects of gender relations within pre-Reformation Catholic institutions. Before his break with the Catholic Church, Martin Luther (1483–1546) was an Augustinian monk, ordained as a priest, and therefore living a celibate life. The reformers advocated that ministers be married and favored the abolition of religious orders. Luther himself married a former nun. The alternative to marriage offered by entry to a religious order was henceforth denied to Protestant women. Although the role of the married woman was considered worthy of respect, the Protestant woman was expected to be subordinate to the headship of her husband. The Protestant emphasis on the authority of the Bible led to male headship being underwritten by scriptural warrant arising from dominant readings of key texts, notably the accounts of the Creation and Fall in the (Old Testament) book of Genesis and of the household codes in the (New Testament) letter of Timothy.
There is some evidence of a greater scope for women in movements such as the Anabaptists of the radical Reformation, and in some subsequent evangelical revivals. Women preachers played a significant role in seventeenth-century English radicalism, but subsequently, in eighteenth-century conservative minds, became a symbol of upheaval and social instability. Women played an active and visible part in the early stages of the Methodist revival, but this was discouraged by the male leadership in the early nineteenth century as Methodism became institutionalized as a denominational church: Respectable opinion was thus appeased.
By the nineteenth century leading evangelical women, such as the English religious writer Hannah More (1745–1833), simultaneously promoted women's spiritual equality with men and their social and sexual subordination. On this basis evangelical women street preachers were active in revivals throughout the nineteenth century, and this role was given its most formal expression in the women preachers of the Salvation Army and later the (Anglican) Church Army.
Middle-class evangelical women played a major part in nineteenth-century philanthropy—social reform and poor relief. Through this female civilizing mission in the predominately Protestant countries of northern Europe and North America, women took up leading roles and were active in a variety of causes and campaigns. The evangelical social project at Kaiserwerth, Germany, provided a model that inspired similar activity elsewhere, including Florence Nightingale's (1820–1910) establishment of the profession of nursing in the United Kingdom and the founding of the Mildmay Mission in London. The Dutch Réveil movement was also significant. In the United Kingdom organizations such as the Raynard Bible women and nurses, Caroline Talbot's parochial missions, reestablished Anglican Deaconess orders, and the revived Anglican religious sisterhoods all provided opportunities for women's involvement. Nevertheless, women's autonomy was generally curtailed by control remaining in the hands of male clergy.
The early twentieth century saw the rise of church feminism—a term coined by church historian Brian Heeney (1988)—in the Church of England manifest in reform movements for both women's suffrage and church reform. Maude Royden (1876–1956) was a leading figure in both. The Church League for Women's Suffrage was founded in 1909, with Free Church and Friends (Quaker) leagues being founded in the following year. The League of the Church Militant, founded in 1919—superseded in 1930 by the Society for the Ministry of Women in the Church and the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women—was the first movement to campaign for the ordination of women in the Anglican Church. But the Church of England was deeply divided on the issue. By 1922 this question was also on the agenda of the Methodist Church.
In the Protestant Free Churches, women's ministries had developed by the early years of the twentieth century. Gertrude von Petzold (1876–1952) was a Unitarian minister in the years preceding World War I (1914–1919), Hatty Baker was a notable Congregationalist de facto minister, and in 1917 Constance Todd Coltman (1889–1969) became the first woman to be ordained into the Congregationalist ministry. The Methodist Church approved the ordination of women in 1966, largely because of the initiative of Pauline Webb in reopening the question. In the Anglican Communion moves toward women's ordination took place in a number of provinces—notably in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand—but, in the United Kingdom, the Christian Parity Group, and later the Movement for the Ordination of Women, campaigned for more than two decades against vocal opposition before women's ordination was finally granted assent in 1992.
In sum, nineteenth-century women made some progress by articulating and embodying a female civilizing mission in which women were perceived as bearers of superior spiritual values. This perception of women's specific qualities provided the rationale for women to be active beyond the confines of domesticity. Liberal twentieth-century movements challenged this view, claiming a place for women's agency that no longer relied on claims of women's distinct spiritual qualities. But conservative Protestant movements continue to advocate women's subordination to the headship of men, grounded in an assertion of God-made irreducible gender distinctions between men and women, as bearers of assumed inherent masculine and feminine traits.
Sexual practices and beliefs concerning sexuality are key within these contested views of gender. The nineteenth-century English reformer Josephine Butler (1828–1906), who campaigned against the state regulation of prostitution, criticized the double sexual standard that expected women to be chaste but allowed men the routine use of prostitutes. Her remedy for the plight of, in her view, the women victims of prostitution was to demand the same standards of chastity from men. By the mid-twentieth century, through the influence of sexology and psychoanalysis, an ethos of women as sexual partners within heterosexual relationships had been established, in contrast to the assumed asexuality of nineteenth-century constructions of womanhood. The articulation of homosexual gay and lesbian identity over the same period found expression in the formation of the Gay Christian Movement, with joint Protestant and Catholic membership, during a Student Christian Movement conference in 1976—in 1986 becoming the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Thus, the assertions of an active female heterosexuality and of lesbian and gay identities emerged simultaneously. Conservative Protestant congregations and sects resist both developments, advocating the continuing control of female sexuality within patriarchal marriage alone.
MISSIONS AND MISSIONARIES
Starting in the seventeenth century Protestant Christianity spread to North America through European migration, and in the nineteenth century it began moving into Africa and Asia through missionary activity from European and North American churches. Home churches raised funds to support foreign missions, with women playing a significant role in this fund-raising activity. Women also served as missionaries alongside men. Whereas married women tended to work under the authority of their husbands, the geographical remoteness of many mission stations meant that single women frequently had a greater scope for initiative and self-reliance than women of similar backgrounds who remained at home. Among returning missionaries were those who brought these qualities to early twentieth-century church feminism. Figures cited by Sean Gill (1994) show that in 1909, 824 out of 1,390 Church Missionary Society (evangelical) missionaries were women, 438 of these being single, whereas the (liberal) Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1900 had only 186 women missionaries. Despite this contrast the missionary societies portrayed women's work in foreign missions as a call to submissive service, as an antidote, rather than a response, to the growing first-wave women's movement, and thus as an expression of traditional gender roles.
Given the assumed superiority of European and North American culture, missionaries sought to impose nineteenth-century gender roles from European or North American societies on indigenous contact cultures. Thus, writing of American missions to the Zulus, Amanda Porterfield (1997) argues that "issues concerning women were central to encounters between missionaries and traditionalists" and that "[t]he Americans regarded the treatment of women in Zulu society as the epitome of heathenism, and held up missionary women, marriage, and family life as the epitome of Christianity" (p. 71). This judgment showed a woeful failure in understanding Zulu culture, which ignored the importance of women in Zulu society and eventually undermined traditionally sanctioned opportunities for their protection, wealth, and status.
This pattern of disruption to traditional patterns of gender relations was widespread in the mission field, with Christian schooling creating gender dichotomies based on a European and North American model. Thus, Misty L. Bastian (2000) cites a Church Missionary Society missionary to Nigeria, the Reverend J. C. R Wilson, writing in 1909, who shows a readiness to judge an African culture by European and North American standards:
When African children of both sexes roam about at will indoors and out-of-doors without clothing of any kind, until in some cases 18 years of age, & when Christian mothers allow the same unclothed condition to prevail among their own young ones, the innocence of infancy is lost at birth, & how is it possible for the young people to be either pure in thought or chaste in deed? When the older girls and women are unclothed to the waist,& when even among Christian mothers an upper covering is considered a "fad," rather than an act of decency, is it to be wondered at that the young men fall an easy prey to the enticements of the girls? The African Christian woman has yet to learn her responsibility in this direction, & we trust that the Missions to Women held during the year in this District and elsewhere … may lead women to see their duty in this matter of Social Purity
(Bastian 2000, p. 145).
A gendered separatist schooling scheme aimed to prepare male converts for work in the mission field, whereas, as Bastian puts it, "girls were trained in the doctrines of the Christian faith, to become 'helpmeets' for their Christian male contemporaries and proper mothers of the next Christian … generation" (Bastian 2000, p. 145). This Christianized domesticity mirrored that of European and North American middle-class women of the time, and thus created a gulf between the monogamous model Christian home of the missionized and the traditional gender roles of the unconverted. The staffing of girls' schools by women missionaries and the need for married missionaries to model the gender relations of the required Christian home generated the demand for women to serve in the mission field alongside men. Further, boys educated at mission schools were regularly recruited as the next generation of teachers, whereas girls left school to be married; thus women missionaries continued to be needed to staff the girls' schools. Kathleen Sheldon (1998) offers an analysis of minority Swiss Presbyterian and American United Methodist Church missions alongside Catholic missions in Portuguese colonial Mozambique. She describes identical patterns of subsequent generations of women missionaries in mission schools training girls for their domestic role as Christian wives in this contrasting cultural and mission context.
The International Missionary Council played a major role in the creation of the ecumenical movement, which was institutionalized in the founding of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948. As the mission churches moved toward indigenous leadership, the WCC provided a forum for global theological debate and cooperation.
With the advent of the second-wave women's movement in North America, feminist theology emerged. Although the first feminist theologians were mainly Catholic—notably Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza—the questions they raised pertained to the patriarchal nature of Christianity as a whole, and Protestants, such as Letty M. Russell and Carter Heyward, were quick to respond; Heyward is among those who raise lesbian voices within feminist theology. Simultaneously, the WCC provided a forum for women in the European and North American churches and for Latin American, African, and Asian Christian women to articulate their concerns. The Community of Women and Men in the Church consultation (1977–1981) and the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988–1998) provided a focus on gender issues.
Feminist theology quickly became, Kwok Pui-Lan stated in a 2002 work, an intercultural discourse. In the light of feminist theology, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, the leading African theologian, suggests that women's approach to mission is characterized by mutuality, partnership, interdependence, and solidarity. A challenge to the gender roles imparted by the missionary societies is underway. In addition, women theologians have become active in the Women's Association of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT), originally founded in 1976 by male theologians mostly from the global south. Writings emerging from EATWOT conferences have been collected in the texts With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology (1988), edited by Virginia Fabella and Oduyoye, and Through Her Eyes: Women's Theology from Latin America (1989), edited by Elsa Tamez. The Women's Desk of the Christian Conference of Asia also provides a significant forum for Asian Christian women.
Feminist theology from Latin America, Africa, and Asia shares with European and North American feminist theologians a commitment to the struggle for gender justice. Distinct contextual concerns with class struggle (Latin America), indigenization (Africa), and religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue (Asia) are also evident. Oduyoye founded the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in 1989, which by 2007 had 600 members across the continent and had done much to raise the profile of women within African Christianity. The Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung caused a stir at the 1991 WCC Assembly in Canberra, Australia, with a performative plenary address that interpreted the Holy Spirit in terms of Kwan Yin, an East Asian goddess of wisdom and compassion.
Protestant congregations are spread on a wide spectrum. At one end are those inclusive congregations that welcome the ministry of women and a partnership between women and men in the leadership and life of the church; have embraced inclusive liturgical language; are open to all, irrespective of sexual orientation or practice; and are informed by feminist and queer perspectives in the preaching of the Word. At the other end of the spectrum are those who maintain fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible and seek to retain male headship and the subordination of women within traditional gender roles, rejecting homosexual practice as perverse and sinful. This division exists across the globe: Both elements are to be found among congregations in the global north and those in the south. In the early twenty-first century the Anglican Communion was on the verge of schism over sexuality and gender: The burning questions were whether heterosexuality is compulsory in the church and whether women may be ordained as bishops.
Bastian, Misty L. 2000. "Young Converts: Christian Missions, Gender, and Youth in Onitsha, Nigeria, 1880–1929." Anthropological Quarterly 73(3): 145-158.
Chung Hyun Kyun. 1990. Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women's Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Daggers, Jenny. 2001. "The Victorian Female Civilising Mission and Women's Aspirations towards Priesthood in the Church of England." Women's History Review 10(4): 651-670.
Daggers, Jenny. 2002. The British Christian Women's Movement: A Rehabilitation of Eve. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Daggers, Jenny, and Diana Neal, eds. 2006. Sex, Gender, and Religion: Josephine Butler Revisited. New York: Peter Lang.
Daly, Mary. 1973. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.
Drenth, Annemieke van, and Francisca de Haan. 1999. The Rise of Caring Power: Elizabeth Fry and Josephine Butler in Britain and the Netherlands. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Fabella, Virginia, and Mercy Amba Oduyoye, eds. 1988. With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Field-Bibb, Jacqueline. 1991. Women towards Priesthood: Ministerial Politics and Feminist Praxis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Gill, Sean. 1994. Women and the Church of England: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present. London: SPCK.
Gilley, Keith. 1985. "Women and the Unitarian Ministry." In Growing Together: The Report of the Unitarian Working Party on Feminist Theology. London: Unitarian General Assembly.
Heeney, Brian The Women's Movement in the Church of England, 1850–1930. Oxford: Clarendon.
Heyward, Carter. 1989. Speaking of Christ: A Lesbian Feminist Voice, ed. Ellen F. Davis. New York: Pilgrim Press.
Kalu, Ogbu U. 2003. The Embattled Gods: Christianization of Igboland, 1841–1991. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. [Orig. pub. 1996.]
King, Ursula, ed. 1994. Feminist Theology from the Third World: A Reader. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Kwok Pui-Lan. 2002. "Feminist Theology as Intercultural Discourse." In The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology, ed. Susan Frank Parsons. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Parvey, Constance F., ed. 1983. The Community of Women and Men in the Church: The Sheffield Report. Geneva: World Council of Churches.
Porterfield, Amanda. 1997. "The Impact of Early New England Missionaries on Women's Roles in Zulu Culture." Church History 66(1): 67-80.
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1992. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Rev. edition. Boston: Beacon Press.
Russell, Letty M., ed. 1985. Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Oxford: Blackwell.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. 1983. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad.
Sheldon, Kathleen. 1998. "'I Studied with the Nuns, Learning to Make Blouses': Gender Ideology and Colonial Education in Mozambique." International Journal of African Historical Studies 31(3): 595-625.
Smith, Edwin W. 1926. The Christian Mission in Africa: A Study Based on the Work of the International Conference at Le Zoute, Belgium, September 14th to 21st, 1926. London: International Mission Council.
Stuart, Elizabeth, with Andy Braunston, Malcolm Edwards, John McMahon, and Tim Morrison. 1997. Religion Is a Queer Thing: A Guide to the Christian Faith for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People. London: Cassell.
Tamez, Elsa, ed. 1989. Through Her Eyes: Women's Theology from Latin America. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation was a watershed in the history of the Western theology and law of marriage—a moment and movement that gathered several streams of classical and Catholic legal ideas and institutions, remixed them and revised them in accordance with the new Protestant norms and forms of the day, and then redirected them in the governance and service of the Christian West.
Medieval Catholic Background
Prior to the sixteenth century, marriage was principally subject to the theology and law of the Roman Catholic Church. The medieval Church treated marriage and the family in a threefold manner—at once as a natural, contractual, and sacramental unit. First, marriage was a natural association, created by God to enable man and woman to "be fruitful and multiply" and to raise children in the service and love of God. Since the fall into sin, marriage had also become a remedy for lust, a channel to direct one's natural passion to the service of the community and the church. Second, marriage was a contractual unit, formed in its essence by the mutual consent of the parties. This contract prescribed for couples a life-long relation of love, service, and devotion to each other and proscribed unwarranted breach or relaxation of their connubial and parental duties. Third, marriage, when properly contracted and consummated between Christians, rose to the dignity of a sacrament. The temporal union of body, soul, and mind within the marital estate symbolized the eternal union between Christ and His Church, and brought sanctifying grace to the couple, their children, and the church. This sacramental perspective helped to integrate the natural and the contractual dimensions of marriage and to render marriage a central concern of the church.
Although a sacrament and a sound way of Christian living, however, marriage was not considered to be particularly spiritually edifying. Marriage was a remedy for sin, not a recipe for righteousness. Marital life was considered less commendable than celibate life, propagation less virtuous than contemplation. Clerics, monastics, and other servants of the church were thus to forgo marriage as a condition for ecclesiastical service. Those who could not do so were not worthy of the church's holy orders and offices. Celibacy was something of a litmus test of spiritual discipline and social superiority.
From the twelfth century forward, the Catholic Church built upon this conceptual foundation a comprehensive canon law of marriage that was enforced by church courts throughout much of Western Christendom. Until the sixteenth century, the canon law of marriage was the law of the West. A civil law or a common law of marriage, where it existed at all, was generally considered supplemental and subordinate. Consistent with the naturalist perspective on marriage, the church's canon law punished contraception and abortion as violations of the created marital functions of propagation and childrearing. It proscribed unnatural relations, such as incest and polygamy, and unnatural acts such as bestiality, buggery, and sodomy. Consistent with the contractual perspective, the canon law ensured voluntary unions by dissolving marriages formed through mistake, duress, fraud, or coercion, and granting husband and wife alike equal rights to enforce conjugal debts that had been voluntarily assumed. Consistent with the sacramental perspective, the church protected the sanctity and sanctifying purpose of marriage by declaring valid marital bonds to be indissoluble, and by dissolving invalid unions between Christians and non-Christians or between parties related by various legal, spiritual, blood, or familial ties. This canon law of marriage, grounded in a rich sacramental theology and ecclesiastical jurisprudence, was formalized and systematized by the Council of Trent in 1563.
The Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican branches of the Reformation gave birth to three Protestant models of marriage. Like Catholics, Protestants retained the naturalist perspective of marriage as an association created for procreation and mutual protection. They also retained the contractual perspective of marriage as a voluntary association formed by the mutual consent of the couple. Unlike Catholics, however, Protestants rejected the subordination of marriage to celibacy and the celebration of marriage as a sacrament. According to common Protestant lore, the person was too tempted by sinful passion to forgo God's remedy of marriage. The celibate life had no superior virtue and was no prerequisite for ecclesiastical service. It led too easily to concubinage and homosexuality and impeded too often the access and activities of the clerical office. Moreover, marriage was not a sacrament. It was instead an independent social institution ordained by God and equal in dignity and social responsibility with the church, state, and other estates of society. Participation in marriage required no prerequisite faith or purity and conferred no sanctifying grace, as did true sacraments.
From this common critique, the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican traditions constructed their own models of marriage. Each Protestant tradition provided a different theological formula for integrating the inherited contractual, natural, and religious perspectives on marriage. Lutherans emphasized the social dimensions of marriage; Calvinists, the covenantal dimensions; and Anglicans, the commonwealth dimensions. Each Protestant tradition also assigned principal legal responsibility for marriage quite differently. Lutherans consigned legal authority mostly to the state, Calvinists to both state and church, and Anglicans mostly to the church. These differences in emphasis and authority among early Protestants were based, in part, on differences among their theological models of marriage.
The Lutheran tradition, from 1517 forward, developed a social model of marriage, grounded in Martin Luther's doctrine of the heavenly and earthly kingdoms. Marriage, Luther and his colleagues taught, was a social estate of the earthly kingdom of creation, not a sacred estate of the heavenly kingdom of redemption. Though divinely ordained, marriage was directed primarily to human ends, to the fulfilling of civil and spiritual uses in the lives of the individual and of society. Marriage revealed to persons their sin and their need for God's marital gift. It restricted prostitution, promiscuity, and other public sexual sins. It taught love, restraint, and other public virtues. Any fit man and woman were free to enter such unions, clerical and lay alike. Indeed, all persons were encouraged to marry when they came of age, unless they had the rare gift of continence. This was especially imperative for Christian clergy, for a pastor's experience of marriage would enhance his pastoral ministry to the married, and his marital parsonage would serve a model for proper Christian living in the community.
As part of the earthly kingdom, Lutheran reformers argued, marriage was subject to the civil law of the state, not to the canon law of the church. To be sure, marriage was still subject to God's law, but this law was now to be administered by Christian magistrates who were God's vice-regents in the earthly kingdom. Church officials were required to counsel the magistrate about God's law and to cooperate with him in publicizing and disciplining marriage. All church members, as part of the priesthood of believers, were required to counsel those who contemplated marriage, to admonish those who sought annulment or divorce, and to aid in the rearing of all children as their collective baptismal vows prescribed. But principal legal authority over marriage and family life lay with the state, not with the church.
This new social model of marriage was reflected in the transformation of marriage law in Germany and other Lutheran polities of Western Europe. Civil marriage courts replaced church courts. New civil marriage statutes replaced traditional canon law rules. Lutheran jurists published scores of treatises on marriage law, affirming and embellishing the new Lutheran theology of marriage. The new Lutheran marriage law, like the new Lutheran marriage theology, remained indebted to the Catholic canon law tradition. Traditional marriage laws, like prohibitions against unnatural sexual relations and against infringement of marital functions, remained in effect. Impediments that protected free consent, that implemented biblical prohibitions against marriage of relatives, and that governed the couple's physical relations were largely retained. Such laws were as consistent with the Catholic sacramental model as with the Lutheran social model of marriage.
But changes in marriage theology also yielded changes in marriage law. Because the Lutheran reformers rejected the subordination of marriage to celibacy, they rejected laws that forbade clerical and monastic marriage, that denied remarriage to those who had married a cleric or monastic, and that permitted vows of chastity to annul promises of marriage. Because they rejected the sacramental nature of marriage, the reformers rejected impediments of crime and heresy and prohibitions against divorce in the modern sense. Marriage was for them the community of the couple in the present, not their sacramental union in the life to come. Where that community was broken, for one of a number of specific reasons (such as adultery or desertion), the couple could sue for divorce and the right to remarry. Because persons by their lustful nature were in need of God's remedy of marriage, the reformers removed numerous impediments to marriage not countenanced by Scripture. Because of their emphasis on the Godly responsibility of the prince, the pedagogical role of the church and the family, and the priestly calling of all believers, the reformers insisted that both marriage and divorce be public. The validity of marriage promises depended upon parental consent, witnesses, church consecration and registration, and priestly instruction. Couples who wished to divorce had to announce their intentions in the church and community and to petition a civil judge to dissolve the bond.
The Calvinist tradition, established in mid-sixteenth century Geneva, set out a covenantal model of marriage. This model confirmed many of the Lutheran theological and legal reforms, but cast them in a new ensemble. Marriage, John Calvin and his followers taught, was not a sacramental institution of the church, but a covenantal association of the entire community. A variety of parties participated in the formation of this covenant. The marital parties themselves swore their betrothals and espousals before each other and God—rendering all marriages triparty agreements, with God as third party witness, participant, and judge. The couple's parents, as God's lieutenants for children, gave their consent to the union. Two witnesses, as God's priests to their peers, served as witnesses to the marriage. The minister, holding God's spiritual power of the Word, blessed the couple and admonished them in their spiritual duties. The magistrate, holding God's temporal power of the sword, registered the couple and protected them in their person and property. Each of these parties was considered essential to the legitimacy of the marriage, for they each represented a different dimension of God's involvement in the covenant. To omit any such party was, in effect, to omit God from the marriage covenant.
The covenant of marriage was grounded in the order of creation and governed by the law of God. At creation, God ordained the structure of marriage to be a lifelong union between a fit man and a fit woman of the age of consent. God assigned to this marriage the interlocking purposes of mutual love and support of husband and wife, mutual procreation and nurture of children, and mutual protection of both parties from sexual sin. Thereafter, God set forth, in reason, conscience, and the Bible, a whole series of commandments and counsels for proper adherence to this ideal created structure and purpose of marriage.
God's moral law for the covenant of marriage set out two tracks of marital norms—civil norms, which are common to all persons, and spiritual norms, which are distinctly Christian. This moral law, in turn, gave rise to two tracks of marital morality—a simple morality of duty demanded of all persons regardless of their faith, and a higher morality of aspiration demanded of believers in order to reflect their faith. It was the church's responsibility to teach aspirational spiritual norms for marriage and family life. It was the state's responsibility to enforce mandatory civil norms. This division of responsibility was reflected in sixteenth-century Geneva in the procedural divisions between the church consistory and the city council. In marriage cases, the consistory was the court of first instance, and would call parties to their higher spiritual duties, backing their recommendations with threats of spiritual discipline. If such spiritual counsel and discipline failed, the parties were referred to the city council to compel them, using civil and criminal sanctions, to honor at least their basic civil duties for marriage.
This Calvinist covenantal model mediated both sacramental and contractual understandings of marriage. On the one hand, this covenant model confirmed the sacred and sanctifying qualities of marriage—without ascribing to it sacramental functions. Marriage was regarded as a holy and loving fellowship, a compelling image of the bond between Yahweh and His elect, Christ and His church. But marriage was no sacrament, for it confirmed no divine promise. On the other hand, this covenant model confirmed the contractual and consensual qualities of marriage—without subjecting it to the personal preferences of the parties. Marriage depended for its validity and utility on the voluntary consent of the parties. But marriage was more than a mere contract, for God was a third party to every marriage covenant, and He set its basic terms in the order and law of creation. Freedom of contract in marriage was thus effectively limited to choosing maturely which party to marry—with no real choice about the form, forum, or function of marriage once a fit spouse was chosen.
The Anglican tradition, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, brought forth a commonwealth model of marriage. This model embraced the sacramental, social, and covenantal models inherited from the Continent but went beyond them. Marriage was at once a gracious symbol of the divine, a social unit of the earthly kingdom, and a solemn covenant with one's spouse. But the essential cause, condition, and calling of the family was that it served and symbolized the common good of the couple, the children, the church, and the state all at once. Marriage was appointed by God as "a little commonwealth" to foster the mutual love, service, and security of husband and wife, parent and child. It was likewise appointed by God as a "seedbed and seminary" of the broader commonwealth to teach church, state, and society essential Christian and political norms and habits.
At first, this commonwealth model served to rationalize the traditional hierarchies of husband over wife, parent over child, church over household, state over church. After decades of experimentation, England in the mid-sixteenth century had formally rejected most Protestant legal reforms of marriage introduced on the Continent. It returned to much of the medieval canon law of marriage administered by the church, but now under the supreme headship of the English crown. To call the marital household "a little commonwealth" was to signal its subordinate place within the new hierarchy of social institutions of which "the great commonwealth" of England was composed. It was also to call the household to an internal hierarchy of offices that matched the royal and episcopal offices of the great commonwealth. The commonwealth model was thus used to integrate a whole network of parallel domestic and political duties rooted in the Bible and English tradition. Anglican divines and moralists expounded at great length the reciprocal duties of husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant, that would produce a well-ordered little commonwealth. In keeping with the tradition of stability of the great political commonwealth of England, these same Anglican writers prohibited the dissolution of this little domestic commonwealth of the family by divorce.
As the political concept of the English commonwealth was revolutionized and democratized in the seventeenth century, however, so was the English commonwealth model of marriage. The traditional hierarchies of husband over wife, parent over child, and church over family were challenged with a revolutionary new principle of equality. The biblical duties of husband and wife and of parent and child were recast as the natural rights of each household member against the other. The traditional idea of a created natural order of marriage, society, and state met with a new idea of marriage, society, and state formed voluntarily by contracts by individuals in the state of nature. Just as the English commonwealth could be rent asunder by force of arms when it abused the people's natural rights, so the family commonwealth could be put asunder by suits at law when it abused the couple's marital rights. Just as the king could be beheaded for abuses in the commonwealth, so the paterfamilias could be removed from the head of the little commonwealth for abuses in the household. This revolutionary construction of the commonwealth model provided the rationale for the incremental liberalization of English marriage law in the course of the next two centuries. It also provided a stepping stone for the development of a more overtly contractarian model of marriage slowly developed by Enlightenment reformers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
From the later sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, these Catholic and Protestant models lay at the heart of Western marriage and family life, lore, and law. The medieval Catholic model, confirmed and elaborated by the Council of Trent in 1563, flourished in southern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and France, and their many colonies in Latin and Central America, in the U.S. south and southwest, in Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes, and, eventually, in parts of East and West Africa. A Protestant social model rooted in the Lutheran two-kingdoms theory dominated portions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Scandinavia together with their North American and, later, African colonies. A Protestant social model rooted in Calvinist covenant theology came to strong expression in Geneva, and in portions of Huguenot France, the Pietist Netherlands, Presbyterian Scotland, Puritan New England, and South Africa. A Protestant social model that treated marriage as a little commonwealth at the core of broader ecclesiastical and political commonwealths prevailed in Anglican England and its many colonies in North America and eventually in Africa and the Indian subcontinent as well.
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john witte jr.
For much of its history, Protestantism, long associated with the people and society of North America and northern Europe, has been a foreign religion in Latin America. In colonial times, Protestants (called evangélicos or "evangelicals," regardless of denomination) in Spanish America were subject to prosecution by the Spanish Inquisition. Long after the Inquisition was abolished, Latin Americans continued to think of Protestantism as alien and hostile to their own faith and culture. It is only in recent decades that this perception has ceased to be a factor in Protestant church growth in the region.
After most of Latin America gained its independence in the 1820s, the liberal leadership of the new nations legalized religious pluralism, but most nations retained Roman Catholicism as the state religion. In the early years of the nineteenth century, Protestantism in Latin America remained confined to the foreign population. The Anglican church established a stronghold along the Atlantic ("Mosquito") coast of Central America, from what was then British Honduras to Costa Rica. With its diocesan seat in Jamaica, the Anglican church served British Protestants who lived and worked in the Mosquito area and in Belize, which were both claimed by Britain at that time. The Anglican church was also established in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil during this period for British subjects who were engaged in commercial and consular activities in these countries. Likewise, the Prussian Evangelical church was established in Brazil and Chile for German immigrants to those nations. Neither the Anglican church nor the German churches proselytized the native Roman Catholics, and their influence was little felt outside the foreign communities.
Spurred by the growth of the Methodist movement, a new spirit of evangelism spread through Britain and the United States in the last years of the eighteenth century. By the early 1800s, this enthusiasm had translated into mission work. The British and Foreign Bible Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, two English agencies, first sent Bible sellers, known as colporteurs, to Latin America to evangelize actively in the 1820s. The first agent was a Scot named James Thompson, who in 1821 went to Argentina, where he established a school. Thompson was invited to Chile by Bernardo O'Higgins, and he eventually also worked in Peru. Thompson was succeeded by another agent of the society, Allan Gardiner, who attempted without success to convert the Indians living in Argentina's Patagonia.
In northern Latin America, Francisco Penzotti, an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, sold Bibles throughout the Central American isthmus from 1839 until the mid-1840s. Another of the society's agents, Frederick Crowe, was active in British Honduras and Guatemala until his efforts attracted the attention of the pro-Catholic Conservative leader of Guatemala, Rafael Carrera, who expelled Crowe from the country in 1846. Due to private and public opposition to their work, the impact of these early colporteurs was minimal.
It was not until the last decades of the nineteenth century that foreign missionaries came to Latin America on a permanent basis. Some of the earliest missionaries to the region were members of the German Pietist sect, the Church of the United Brethren (Moravians), who came to the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua in 1849 to evangelize the non-Christian Miskito Indians. Elsewhere, traditional denominations in the United States such as the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists sent missionaries to work among Spanish-speaking Catholics and, less commonly, among non-Spanish-speaking indigenous groups. They were later joined by non-denominational mission agencies such as the Central American Mission, which was active primarily in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and the Christian Missionary Alliance, which worked in the Southern Cone. In addition to founding churches, the missionaries established schools, hospitals, vocational training institutes, and translation projects. The impact of these efforts was most apparent in those countries where the missionaries worked with the tacit approval of the nation's government, such as in Guatemala, Chile, and Brazil.
In many countries, the liberal governments that came to power in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s generally endorsed Protestant work. Liberal leaders such as Guatemala's Justo Rufino Barrios encouraged Presbyterian missions in that country in the hope that they would engender a work ethic in the nation's people, inspire economic development, and act as a political counterweight to the Catholic majority, which generally opposed liberal reforms. Nowhere was the political link between Protestantism and liberalism so apparent as in Mexico, where Benito Juárez endorsed the creation of a Mexican innovation known as the Church of Jesus. This was a "reformed" Catholic Church, where supporters of Juárez's Reforma could seek a spiritual home outside of the conservative Roman Catholic Church.
Despite the government support that Protestant work received in some countries of Latin America, Protestantism remained on the fringe of Latin American society and attracted relatively few native converts until the 1960s. As recently as 1970, the Latin American nation with the largest Protestant population was Uruguay, which then claimed an evangelical population of slightly less than 6 percent.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Latin perceptions of Protestantism changed, and the conversion rate in the region increased dramatically. This stemmed in part from the emergence of "national" denominations, which had no ties to the old mission system. Protestant churches also benefited from changes within the Catholic Church resulting from the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), which precipitated the exodus of many Latin Americans from the Church. Scholars suggest that social and economic factors, including urban migration, civil strife, unemployment, the decline of the traditional peasant community, and the breakdown of customary kinship networks in Latin America have all been influential in turning Latin Americans toward Protestant churches.
By far, the greatest trend in Protestant growth has been the rise of Pentecostal denominations, which emphasize the manifestations of the "gifts of the Holy Spirit," such as faith healing and speaking in tongues. In virtually all countries with a sizable Protestant population (including Guatemala, where Protestants count for an estimated one-third of the national population), the vast majority of churches are Pentecostal. Between 1960 and 1990, Protestant membership doubled in Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Panama, and Haiti. In the same time period, the evangelical population tripled in Argentina, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and quadrupled in Brazil and Puerto Rico. The most significant growth has been in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru, and Bolivia, where the percentage of Protestants has quintupled since 1960, and in Ecuador, Colombia, and Honduras, where the converted population in 1990 was six times what it was in 1960.
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David Stoll, Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America (1982).
Jean-Pierre Bastian, Breve historia del protestantismo en América Latina (1986).
Sheldon Annis, God and Production in a Guatemalan Town (1987).
Deborah J. Baldwin, Protestants and the Mexican Revolution (1990).
David Martin, Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (1990).
David Stoll, Is Latin America Turning Protestant? (1990).
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Bowen, Kurt. Evangelism and Apostasy: The Evolution and Impact of Evangelicals in Modern Mexico. Montréal; Buffalo, NY: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996.
Brusco, Elizabeth. The Reformation of Machismo: Evangelical Conversion and Gender in Colombia. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Chesnut, R. Andrew. Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.
Garrard-Burnett, Virginia. Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.
Garrard-Burnett, Virginia. On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Religion in Modern Latin America. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2000.
Martínez-Fernández, Luis. Protestantism and Political Conflict in the Nineteenth-century Hispanic Caribbean. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
Mondragón, Carlos. Leudar la masa: El pensamiento social de los protestantes en América Latina, 1920–1950. Buenos Aires: Kairos Editiones, 2005.
Rivera, Paulo Barrera. Tradição, transmissão e emoção religiosa: Sociologia do protestantismo contemporâneo na América Latina. São Paulo: Olho d'Água, 2001.
Steigenga, Timothy J. The Politics of the Spirit: The Political Implications of Pentecostalized Religion in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001.
Yaremko, Jason M. U.S. Protestant Missions in Cuba: From Independence to Castro. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2000.