What is a Protestant?

Pierr Bruneau

(1689 London Baptist)

There are many people out there who think that the word Protestant is only negative word of opposition, and Roman Catholics often criticize the Reformation as being only a negative movement of protest based on this one word. This, however, ignores both the historical reality of what happened when Protestants were first called Protestants and the meaning of the word itself.
The historical reality is that the Second Diet of Speyer in Germany sought to forbid any further reforms in what was called the Holy Roman Empire. As a result the princes of the Lutheran states, known as the Protestant princes, opposed this and wrote the Letter of Protestation. But this was not just a protest; it was an affirmation of their right and duty to proclaim the gospel and to stand on the word of God when it was contradicted by the words of men. They believed firmly that when the law of God and the laws of men contradicted each-other “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Therefore, the protest resulted because they saw that the liberty to proclaim what they affirmed was endangered, and not the other way around. The Second Diet of Speyer in 1529 sought to repeal the Edict of Toleration from the previous Diet of Speyer in 1526 which allowed the free exercise of religion until a General Council was held. The Protestant princes saw that this repeal would mean the death of many Protestants throughout the empire. Their protest was actually a stand on the word of God for religious freedom, and the freedom to obey one’s conscience rather than the tyrannical laws of men.
When it comes to the word Protestant, it is important to note that the meanings of words often change or shift over time. This is what happened with the word protest which has led to some confusion as to what a Protestant actually is. The word Protestant comes from two words: Pro-testari. The word testari meant to testify, and the word pro meant forth, and thus a Protestant was one who testifies forth. The Online Etymology Dictionary shows us how this word has changed over time. It says, ” protest (n.) c. 1400, “avowal, pledge, solemn declaration,” from Old French protest (Modern French prĂ´tet), from preotester, and directly from Latin protestari “declare publicly, testify, protest,” from pro- “forth, before” (from PIE root *per- (1) “forward,” hence “in front of, before”) + testari “testify,” from testis “witness” (see testament). Meaning “statement of disapproval” first recorded 1751; adjectival sense of “expressing of dissent from, or rejection of, prevailing mores” is from 1953, in reference to U.S. civil rights movement. First record of protest march is from 1959.” When it comes to the verb protest it says the following: “protest (v.) mid-15c., “to declare or state formally or solemnly,” from Old French protester, from Latin protestari “declare publicly, testify, protest” (see protest (n.)). Original sense preserved in to protest one’s innocence”

(Protest Etymology).

Therefore, even by the meaning of the word itself, a Protestant is one who testifies forth, and yes there are times when protest is necessary, but it it necessary because of what we affirm and testify forth, not the other way around. A protestant is one who testifies forth the truth of the gospel based on God’s Word. Anyone who does not do this is not a Protestant no matter how much he may be opposed to Rome’s papal claims. As Protestants, it is vital for us to keep our eyes on what we are for, and that is Jesus Christ, otherwise we run the risk of forgetting our “first love” (Revelation 2:4). Instead, may our “love and faith and service and perseverance” and “deeds” grow “greater than at first” (Revelation 2:19) as we fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Soli Deo Gloria!