Traditional church buildings were indistinguishable. They had common architecture featuring stained glasses, crosses, and murals depicting famous Bible stories like the last supper. More recently, some segments of the church have made a shift away from this tradition and have since adopted modern and futuristic designs that wouldn’t necessarily look like a church building at first glance. But it is not just the buildings that have changed – even the labels are changing pretty first.
Churches are now leaving out denominational labels in their names and this has also trickled down to the members who are less likely to use their denominational label. For instance, most of the Christians who would have described themselves as protestant have now dropped the label and are now simply referring to themselves as Christian. This may seem confusing because is there really any difference between protestant and Christian? Well, for the most part, protestant is a term for the churches that broke away from the catholic church. Christians are therefore loosely used to refer to Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
The Origins of Protestants and Christians
Christianity is the largest religion in the world with over 2.4 billion adherents on the globe. There are lots of denominations in Christianity but they can be classified into two broad categories: Catholics and protestants. While Protestantism is a subset of Christianity, the terms “Protestant” and “Christian” are often used interchangeably.
Christianity is based on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It originated in the 1st century CE. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity spread through the Roman Empire and other regions of the world. But as the church grew, some dissenting voices began to emerge in the 16th century. They were uncomfortable with the stand on the papacy alongside other doctrines of the church. This resulted in what is now referred to as the Reformation movement which gave birth to Protestantism.
The Reformation movement was a response to political and theological issues in the catholic church that were considered erroneous. The movement eventually broke away from the catholic church which resulted in the emergence of the protestant churches. Protestants generally emphasize the authority of Scripture, individual faith, and the priesthood of all believers. Some notable Protestant denominations include Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Calvinists, Lutherans, etc.
Core Beliefs and Doctrines
Protestants and Christians have several theological beliefs and practices that are different but they also have some common doctrines. The following are some of the important commonalities in doctrine between the two groups.
Both Protestants and Christians believe in the trinity which teaches that God is one but he exists as Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the trinity emerged during the first four centuries of the church in response to the accusations that the church was worshipping three Gods.
- Jesus as savior
Protestants and Christians agree that Jesus is the son of God who came to die for the remission of our sins. Jesus was born of a virgin (Mary), and he lived a sinless life on earth before he was crucified on the cross as a substitute for mankind. After three days, he rose again and ascended to heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Following the finished work o the cross, Christians and protestants believe they can now attain salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
- The Bible is God’s word
Protestants and Christians agree that the Bible is sacred and it is God’s word for mankind. Both the Old and New Testaments are considered inspired by God and are important in guiding doctrine and general Christian conduct. Christians and protestants are therefore encouraged to read it the Bible regularly in order to know what God wants them to do.
Important differences between protestants and Christians
Even though there are some similarities between Christians and protestants, there are still some significant differences that distinguish them. These include:
- The authority of scripture
Protestants believe in the authority of the Bible since it is God’s word. As such, the Bible is considered the highest authority on Christian doctrine and practice. While Catholic and Orthodox Christians recognize the Bible as God’s word, they also recognize the authority of the tradition of the church. For instance, the Catholics believe the Pope has the authority to pronounce doctrinal changes and that he cannot be in error because he is the divine leader of the church.
- The Doctrine of Justification
Both Christians and protestants believe in justification by faith. However, protestants emphasize that justification comes only through faith and that one cannot be justified because of the good deeds they do. Christians differ from protestants on this doctrine because they incorporate good deeds as a prerequisite for salvation. For instance, Catholics believe that the seven sacraments(Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing for the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination) are important good deeds that may contribute towards their salvation.
- Church Structure and Authority
For the most part, Protestants have congregational autonomy and allow for different ecclesiastical structures across their different denominations. This is quite different from Orthodox and Catholic Christians who use a hierarchical structure that recognizes the authority of Bishops and the Pope for Catholics. For protestants, lay people are allowed to participate in decision making but Christians allow the decisions to be made at a centralized level.
- Worship and Liturgy
Most protestants use a non-liturgical style of worship although some like Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists have a mix of liturgical and spontaneous worship. This is quite different from Catholic and Orthodox Christians who have a uniform liturgy that they use for worship. The central structure of leadership is also reflected in the liturgy because Christians do not have autonomy of congregations as is the case with the protestants.
The term Christian may refer to all the people that subscribe to the teachings of Christ but it can also be used to differentiate between Catholics and Orthodox Christians from protestants. These two groups have some distinct differences but they also have lots of similarities. For starters, they believe in the trinity and God’s plan for salvation that started with the virgin birth and culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This means that whether you identify as Christian or Protestant, we all have similar faiths albeit with different doctrines.