What Is Protestantism?

If, as some charge (and I don’t necessarily agree), United Church of God, an International Association (UCGia, or UCG for short) is becoming “Protestant”, then what does that mean?  Yesterday, we discussed how they are not going charismatic or Pentecostal.  That is a clear case of mislabeling.

Now, some will claim that because UCG’s current leadership emphasizes Jesus that makes them charismatic, but again that is only a small piece of it.  There are many Protestant organizations that will claim to put Christ at the center of everything, even to the point of stirring up an emotional frenzy with rock bands, singing “hallelujah”, etc., but they aren’t necessarily charismatic.

WCG under Joseph Tkach clearly was moving in a conscious way towards Protestantism.  Their relationship with Moody Bible Institute and others was a clear signal that they wished to be recognized as such.  I’d argue they succeeded, and I doubt the majority would disagree.  However, that still begs the question: What is Protestantism?  What does it mean?

Like any large group, there actually is quite a diversity within it.  The word “Protestant” comes from Martin Luther’s “protest” against Roman Catholicism and its practices.  In particular, Luther proclaimed “sole fide” which means one is justified by “faith alone”.  In addition, he proclaimed that authority comes from “sola scriptura” or from the “Scriptures alone”.  Obviously, Luther also rejected the notion of apostolic succession.  Beyond that, however, you find a wide range of beliefs.

Most Protestant thinking, though, has been shaped by various teachings since then.  For example, John Calvin shaped ideas of predestination.  While not all Protestants teach Calvinism, much Protestant thinking aligns well with most if not all of his ideas.

In general, there isn’t always agreement on what is Protestant and what is not.  For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called Mormons, reject the label of Protestantism.  Many Protestants would agree because of the Mormon rejection of the trinity.

Yet, if Protestants really looked into their Bibles and believed “sola scriptura”, then why all this baggage of doctrines that are not in the Bible?  This shows that while Protestants may have originally broke away from Rome, declared “sola scriptura” and rejected some of Roman doctrine, they did not go far enough.  Meeting on Sunday, the keeping of Christmas and Easter and the belief in the trinity are all doctrines instituted by the authority of the Catholic Church.

One thing that many ignore is that Luther’s hand was more or less forced on the issue of separation.  He tried in vain to work things out with Rome before splitting away.  The reason why there are so few differences between many of the beliefs of mainstream Catholics and mainstream Protestants today is because Martin Luther originally believed the Catholic Church was the one true church!  It is said by some that even afterward he hoped the Catholic Church would reform.

In spite of yelling “sola scriptura”, they held fast to many of the traditions of men and disregarded what the Bible taught.  According to RegionFacts, “Protestant Christianity” has “In common with Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Protestants adhere to the authority of the Bible and the doctrines of he early creeds.”  That includes the keeping of Easter, the trinity and other creeds.

That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are not considered Protestant.  If you look at what they believe and contrast them with mainstream Protestantism (there actually is a chart of “Jehovah’s Wintesses vs. Mainstream Christianity” on the ReligionFacts website), you can quickly glean that a Protestant:

  1. Believes in a trinitarian God.
  2. Believes the wicked are sent to Hell, while believers go to Heaven.
  3. Believes in Christmas, Easter and other “saint’s days”.

Similarly, Mormons are often not considered Christian because the first two of those beliefs differ greatly from what many Protestants teach.

In comparison, Seventh Day Adventists are a very diverse group of loosely allied churches.  Some keep Easter and Christmas, while others eschew these and keep the holy days.  For this reason, some are reluctant to call them Protestant.

However, officially the SDAs teach the trinity.  This caused some off and on conflict in their community over the years.  However, it is listed as “Protestant” on Wikipedia.  The lack of recognition of the trinity doctrine was the only thing that kept it out of this category in the past, but now that is changed, then it is no problem for many to recognize it as a Protestant denomination.

So, the bottom line question is: Is UCG becoming Protestant?  In the short term, I don’t see that happening.  It took WCG nine years to make a transition.  Is that their goal?  Hard to say, but that also seems strange seeing as the ministers being accused of wanting to go Protestant could have just stayed with WCG if that’s what they wanted all along.

Do they want to soften doctrine?  Again, that’s hard to say.  There have been and continue to be some troubling things coming out of Cincinnati these days, and one of the issues that drove a wedge between those who stayed and those who left was a couple of odd papers about the Sabbath and fasting.  Even after the withdrawal of the Sabbath paper, UCG supporters saw to it that they were vocal about supporting the COE even if the COE was to interpret the practical application of the Sabbath in a manner not previously taught.

However, in order to properly call UCG “Protestant”, that would require first that UCG accepts the doctrine of the trinity.  Could that happen?  Well, stranger things have happened.  Should we get worked up about it before it happens?  How does that jive with Jesus’ teachings?  Are we to accuse people of doing something before they do it?

Should we get all worked up over something that hasn’t happened yet?  May not even happen?  Isn’t the real test in how we deal with things when they really happen?

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.

~ Calvin Coolidge

There is also a passage that comes to mind over whether or not to worry about things that may or may not occur.

29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. (Luke 12:29, New King James Version)

Lastly, here’s a quote to consider:

If things go wrong, don’t go with them.

~Roger Babson

Israel was brought out of Egypt by many miracles.  Yet, three days after going through the Red Sea, they were already complaining.  They had expectations of how things should be done, how things should work out.  When those expectations weren’t met, they began worrying and then complaining.  Their imaginations leapt from lack of water to dying in the desert.

Perhaps the easiest thing to do is make up your own mind that you will do right no matter what others may or may not do.  Ask God to show you clearly what that looks like.


  1. The reason why there are so few differences between many of the beliefs of mainstream Catholics and mainstream Protestants today is because Martin Luther originally believed the Catholic Church was the one true church! It is said by some that even afterward he hoped the Catholic Church would reform.

    From what I understand of the history between the major denominations (RCC, E&O, Protestant, Luther included) and how they view each other. To describe this in CoG terms, they each believe there are the Philadelpians (the Christians who are capable of guiding all the church) while the others are Laodician (the Christians who have left and don’t fully understand true doctrine). It has less to do with the ‘one true church’ while the others are not and more to do with who should have primacy and authority over all the people.

  2. @Norbert: More specifically, Protestants view the various groups as “denominations”. One Protestant commentator actually said that Protestantism is not a branch of Christianity, but rather it is the trunk of the tree and all the denominations are branches off of it.

    Regardless, they are just variations on a theme. They are definitely not sola scriptura. The Protestants simply carried on the traditions of the Catholic Church, i.e., traditions of men. Had they instead realized that the Catholic Church is a false church, then maybe more progress would have been made towards true Christianity.