Who Were the Protestants?
The Protestants were critics of the Catholic Church’s practices joined together throughout Europe and heavily inspired by Martin Luther. These reformers spoke out against the sale of indulgences and the following of arbitrary rules as the only path to heaven. They ended up splitting into different groups based on their doctrinal beliefs, which resulted in the formation of different and rival Protestant Churches. One of the largest sects of Protestants were the Calvinists, named after their founder John Calvin. All of these reformers sped up the process of the Counter-Reformation by the Catholic Church.
The Reformation – The Protestants
Inspired by Martin Luther, many other critics of the Catholic Church’s practices joined together throughout Europe. These groups were known collectively as the Protestants. Martin Luther kind of kicked off the Reformation, where the Protestants split off from the Roman Catholic Church. Many other critics of the Catholic Church came forward and followed in his footsteps. All of the groups that criticized and were against the Catholic Church’s practices became known collectively as the Protestants.
Whether they were against the Roman Catholic Church’s practices for different reasons, they were still going to be referred to as Protestants. There came to be many different denominations within the Protestant church. These reformers spoke out against the sale of indulgences, which was when the church would say, “Okay, if you pay us this much money, we can knock this much time off of your time in Purgatory, or if you pay this much money you can go straight to heaven without any time in purgatory.”
They were basically selling a way into heaven, which most- well not most, but a lot of people disagreed with, and they started speaking out against that. They didn’t think it was right for the church to try to make money off of religion that way, and they also didn’t believe that that was a possibility, that you could pay your way to heaven. They also spoke out against the following of arbitrary rules as the only path to heaven.
The church had its certain rules on how you are supposed to approach God and how you were supposed to behave and the good works you were supposed to do. These reformers had different ideas. For instance, Martin Luther believed that the path to heaven was through faith, having faith in God and repenting of your sins, and reforming yourself was going to be your way into heaven, not paying your way there.
There are other denominations we’ll discuss, and they believed something a little bit different about the path to getting into heaven. Following the arbitrary rules and participating in the sale of indulgences, or the sale of high-ranking church positions, were all practices that the Protestants disagreed with and were very critical of toward the Roman Catholic Church. The many reformers quickly began to disagree amongst themselves.
Remember, I said there were different paths to heaven that different denominations believed in. Once they said, “We all don’t agree with the Catholic Church. We all think they’re doing it wrong.” Within the Protestant church and within this group of people that said, “We think the Catholic Church is doing it wrong,” there were lots of different ideas about how it was to do it right.
They began to disagree among themselves and they divided up into different groups based on their doctrinal beliefs, based on what they believed Scripture to be saying based on how they believe people got to heaven, based on how they believe people should worship God. This resulted in the formation of different and rival Protestant churches. If people believed one thing, they might believe- that might mean they couldn’t believe something that another group believes.
They would have to form their own group. If they believed, as everyone else did, that the indulgences were wrong but they still believe that you should have someone else to talk to God for you, like the clergy did in the Catholic Church, they may go to a different group. If they believed that you could get to heaven through faith, you might go in a different group. If you believed you can go to heaven through predestination, you would go to a different group.
There were lots of different beliefs that could come up, and everyone had to split into different denominations, different groups, within the Protestant church, so they could practice what they believed. Denominations, such as the Lutherans (those who believe that what Martin Luther had to say and followed him), the Reformed (which were also known as the Calvinists), the Puritans, and the Presbyterians came into being.
There were more, but these are some of the more prominent denominations that came into being around this time based on different disputes they had among the religious doctrines that each different group held. One of the largest sects of Protestants were the Calvinists, those that are also known as the Reformed. They were named after their founder, John Calvin. This group, the Calvinists, believed in predestination.
This would mean that faith alone wasn’t going to get you into heaven. Doing good works alone wasn’t going to get you into heaven. Buying indulgences wasn’t going to get you into heaven. They believed that God has already decided each person’s eternal destiny. God already knows which people will be going to heaven, and God already knows which people will be going to hell. That is one of the primary beliefs in Calvinism. The Calvinists also believed that only the elect would join Him (God) in heaven.
The elect were the group who was chosen to go to heaven. Everyone else would be not the elect and they would be going to hell. At this time, most of the Calvinist who joined and said, “Okay, I want to be a Calvinist. I believe in this,” thought of themselves as a group as part of the elect. They didn’t join the religion thinking, “Oh, I’m definitely predestined to go to hell.” They said, “Oh, I’m sure I’m part of the elect. I need to be in the Calvinist group. I need to go on doing that denomination.”
Primarily, the people who were joining the Calvinist group at this time were people who believed that they were in the elect, that they would be going to heaven. Most people aren’t going to join a religion thinking that if they join this religion, if they believe this set of beliefs, they’re going to go to hell. Most people are joining believing they’re going to go to heaven if they follow that path. Anglicanism rose in England with the English Reformation.
The reason that England kind of branched off from the Catholic Church was a little different, but it happened when King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church after his request for a marriage annulment from Catherine of Aragon was denied by the pope. King Henry’s married. He says, “I don’t want to be married to this person anymore. I’m going to take a different wife,” and he requested that his marriage be annulled, so he could marry a different woman.
The pope said, “No, you can’t do that. You have to stay married to Catherine of Aragon.” King Henry said, “Nope. Not happening.” He established the Church of England with himself as leader. Then he was able to have as many annulments as he would like. He had five more wives before his death. His reason wasn’t as pure, it wasn’t a path-to-heaven-type reason. He left because he disagreed with the Catholic Church, but it wasn’t over something doctrinal.
It was more over something that was of particular interest to him, something that affected his life. That was his reason for starting the Church of England, so that he could be separate from the Catholic Church and could have what he wanted. All of these reformers together sped up the process of the Counter Reformation by the Catholic Church. The Protestants were the group as a whole, the “group of groups” if you will, that were opposed to the Catholic Church’s practices at this time.
Together, all these different people grouping together saying, “We don’t like what the Catholic Church is doing,” spurred the Counter Reformation by the Catholic Church, which is where they would try to change some things to get more people coming back to the Catholic faith instead of moving into one of these Protestant denominations.