Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Are you really a Protestant?

A couple of months ago an open air preacher was approached by a group of men on Belfast's Shankill Road who objected to his preaching the gospel. In his defence he told them that he was preaching a Protestant message, surely thinking that no-one in one of Belfast's most historically Protestant roads could openly object to his preaching when it was couched in those terms. The response of the men however was that they were not Protestants, they were Loyalists. Such an incident is a sad indication of how Christianity has declined in Ulster in recent decades, a land once renowned for the preaching of the gospel has, even in one of its most staunchly 'protestant' areas, no time for the Word of God. There is however a great truth in the response of those men on the Shankill Road, for being Loyalist or Unionist does not necessarily mean being Protestant. There are many people who have grown up in Loyalist areas and when asked what religion they are, they would immediately give the answer that they were Protestant. In the majority of cases however, what they are simply saying is that they are not Roman Catholic, their answer it political and cultural more than religious. In the 2011 Northern Ireland Census over 875,000 people described themselves as Protestant. Yet there is no doubt that in many of these cases their Protestantism is simply a historical one; their parents or grandparents went to a Protestant church so they also consider themselves to be Protestant. Yet the true definition of a Protestant is not found in our cultural identity, nor is it not defined by the waving of Union Flag or the wearing of a t-shirt stating that we are 'Proud to be a Prod'. The true definition of a Protestant is rooted in a faith in the Word of God.

In 1529 a Diet of the Holy Roman Empire was held in the German city of Speyer. As a result of that Diet Archduke Ferdinand prohibited any further reform of the church and declared that Roman Catholicism was the only religion to be followed in the Roman Empire. His decision went against the declaration of the 1526 Diet, and would clearly result in the end to the reforming movement which was taking place all across Europe. The Lutheran members of the Diet realised this and so on 24th April made their protest against those decisions which they saw to be contrary to the Word of God and to their conscience. Their protest resulted in their being described as Protestants, the term enduring to this very day. This protest by the Lutheran princes was but the renewal and expansion of Luther's protest at the Diet of Worms, and indeed his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. The motto which the Lutheran princes took in making their protest was that of Elector John the Constant; 'the Word of God abideth forever'. This first protest, and the origin of Protestantism were centred on the Word of God and the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They cry of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria; by scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. The beginnings of Protestantism were Christian, centred on the Word of God. By definition, the only true Protestant is one who is a Christian.

Where then does this leave many of Ulster's 'Protestants'? Where does it leave you? There are many who would be aghast at the suggestion that they are not Protestants, yet the truth is that when it is looked at scripturally, they are not. One cannot truly be a Protestant without being a born again Christian, one who has had that experience of the new birth, of regeneration through the power of the Holy Spirit. So many today are Protestant in name only, the things of God being of no consequence to them, yet the true Protestant can say that 'In God have I put my trust'. Throughout history the word Protestant has been associated with men of God, men who preached the unsearchable riches of Christ, and those who have given their lives as martyrs for the faith. Protestantism has not been a definition of their political or cultural allegiances, but of their allegiance to God. To those men their Protestantism was nothing nominal, no mere ticking of a box on a census form, nor the draping of a flag around their shoulders, but it was something very real. It defined who they were and it dictated their lives. Put simply, Protestantism is a belief in and an adherence to the Word of God. Protestant means Christian. Loyalist or Unionist you may be, but are you really a Protestant?


  1. Sadly the Pope in Rome is probably closer to being a Protestant than many so called "loyalists" "Unionists" and "Prods" Here in Northern Ireland. The vast majority don't even know the meaning of the word Protestant.

  2. Great article, as it was the 12th I wrote a similar article on my own blog, I am from Glasgow originally (now live in the USA) and in Scotland we have the same trend, Protestants who are historical, cultural or sectarian Protestants and have no interest in a day to day relationship with Jesus Christ. Here is the link if you are interested