Thursday, 9 January 2014

Protestant - not a name to be ashamed of

There is a tendency among some believers today to avoid the use of the name of Protestant when describing themselves. The will call themselves Christian, and rightly so for we are followers of Christ before we are anything else. They will describe themselves by their denominational affiliation, be that Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or something else. Yet when it comes to the name 'Protestant' there sometimes seems to be an aversion to using the name, as if it is something they should be ashamed of. This should not be the case, but every believer should be proud of their Protestant heritage. There are doubtless some who avoid emphasising their Protestantism because of an ecumenical spirit. They do not want to risk ruining their relationship with the local priest by proclaiming too loudly that they are Protestant. By avoiding the use of that name they can more easily blur the lines between their respective churches. Yet there are others, who have no desire for communion with Rome, but who also avoid using the name Protestant. They are not ashamed to be called Christian, yet they will not use the distinctive name of Protestant. In Northern Ireland the association of Protestantism with unionism and loyalism has caused them to be treated as one and the same, and perhaps for some this is the reason some have rejected the name Protestant. Yet they are not the same, for Protestantism is a matter of religion, not politics.

The name Protestant has its origin in the Diet of Speyer in 1529. At that Diet, convened by the Holy Roman Emperor, decrees were passed which prohibited the further spread of the Reformation in the Empire and upheld the edict of Worms which had banned Martin Luther from the Holy Roman Empire. It was decreed that whilst Roman Catholics were to be tolerated in Lutheran lands, the same freedom was not to be granted to Lutherans living in Roman Catholic lands. The Lutheran delegates who attended the Diet were outraged at this declaration, and so published a document objecting to the decrees, called the Protestation. It was signed by the six princes and 14 imperial cities which were represented at the Diet, including Phillip Melanchthon, the companion of Martin Luther. Although the Protestation was not accepted by Ferdinand, who was the representative (and brother) of the Emperor Charles, the document was printed and made public. Ever since then those who have opposed the errors of the Church of Rome have been known as Protestants.

The name Protestant should never be considered to be a negative term, as that of simply being a protest against Rome (and even that is not negative!). Whilst the name most certainly does speak of our opposition to idolatrous Roman system, the word originally had the meaning of declaring, or setting forth a position. Not only do we protest against Roman Catholic error, but we protest, or set forth the gospel. The true Protestant is a Christian, and one who will faithfully declare God's revelation to man. While there is a gospel, there will be a need to declare it, and so there will be a need to protest. The great baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon once said 'After all, there is a Protestantism still worth contending for, there is a Calvinism still worth proclaiming, and a gospel well worth dying for.' Do not decry the name of Protestant for it is name which the heroes of the faith have been proud to declare down through the ages. May God help us to follow in their footsteps, to continue to protest against error and to set forth the gospel of God.

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