Doctrines and Philosophy
Some Protestant churches, such as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Reformed, have creeds (formal statements of belief) that act as a guide to the church’s official interpretation of scripture. Meanwhile, other denominations considered themselves to be ‘non-creedal’, which is the rejection of a formal creed. These traditions include Baptist and many non-denominational churches from the Pentecostal movement.
- Bible: The Bible is the sole sacred text in most Protestant traditions. It is often referred to as the ‘Sacred Scripture’, which reflects the belief that the text is divinely inspired and revealed by God. The Bible is a collection of different genres including historical chronicles and myths, , prophecy, laws, ethics, songs and poetry. The text is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Protestant traditions follow the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, thereby accepting 39 books (unlike the Catholic tradition, which follows the Greek canon, thereby accepting 46 books).
- The Gospels: A major part of the New Testament are the four Gospels, each believed to be passed down by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels are considered to be especially important as the books detail the life story of Jesus during his time on earth.
Given the wide diversity of Protestant traditions, there is a variety of accepted beliefs and doctrines across and within the different Protestant denominations (see ‘Protestant Denominations’ under Social Structures and Institutions for more information). The following describe some of the major beliefs across most traditions.
God and the Holy Trinity
Protestant traditions are , believing in the existence of one and only one God. Generally, God is understood as infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable and constantly present. Most Protestants accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This doctrine states that God is triune; one God manifest in three forms. The Holy Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit (the presence of God). These are three manifestations of God, not three distinct gods.
Authority of the Bible
One of the distinguishing features of Protestant traditions is the doctrine of ‘sola Scriptura’ (‘by Scripture alone’). This doctrine states that the Bible is the sole source of religious authority. Thus, institutional authority (such as tradition or clergy) does not hold ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. Much of the diversity among Protestant traditions stems from the differing interpretations or applications of this doctrine and the Bible.
The doctrine of ‘sola fide’ (‘by faith alone’) is common across most Protestant traditions. This doctrine asserts that God’s forgiveness for sins is granted and received through faith alone. Faith in God is considered to be necessary for salvation. Meanwhile, human efforts such as living morally or practising specific rituals are insufficient in gaining God’s forgiveness and salvation.
In Christian theology, ‘grace’ is the free, unmerited gift from God that is necessary for the salvation of the soul (Ephesians 2:8). God’s grace is available in both everyday ordinary life as well as during sacred rituals (such as the Sacraments). As a gift, grace can be accepted or rejected. Regardless of one’s choice, Protestant traditions generally assert that grace enables one to enter heaven. Grace is first given at baptism, which brings the Holy Trinity into the soul of the individual.
Most Protestant traditions uphold the principle of the universal priesthood of all believers. The salvation of an individual is believed to be reached by faith alone and not through personal actions. Therefore, human intermediaries (such as priests) are not considered necessary. Most Protestants believe that each person has a relationship with God. This principle is most evident in Protestant organisational structures, whereby leaders are usually referred to as ‘ministers’ or ‘pastors’ (rather than priests or bishops). They also are typically understood as not having a special status or relationship with God, and generally do not hold ultimate authority over the whole congregation.
The term ‘evangelical’ is an umbrella term that generally refers to church congregations or individuals that believe in the experience of being ‘born again’, a literal interpretation of the Bible, and the active preaching and spreading of Christianity (also known as ‘evangelising’). Though evangelical churches can be found among any denomination or tradition of Christianity, evangelical churches or individuals are most common to Protestant denominations, especially among many Pentecostal churches.
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