A CORRESPONDENT calls attention to the too prevalent idea that the term “Protestant” applies to “all who are not Roman Catholic,” and asks that the SENTINEL aid in correcting that idea. This the SENTINEL is doing and will continue to do. It is true, non-Catholics are not necessarily Protestants, but it is also true that many professed Protestants are not Protestants at all.
The word “Protestant” as applied to those who oppose the papacy, is derived from the word “protest,” which appeared in the famous document presented by the dissenting princes at the Diet of Spires, April 19, 1629.
The Diet of Spires, in 1526, decreed religious liberty, but in 1629 the Roman Catholic princes proposed to annul the decree of 1526 and declare instead that “the ministers shall preach the gospel, exclaiming it according to the writings accepted by the holy Christian [Roman Catholic] Church.”
Against this proposed decree the princes who espoused the Reformation protested in the following noble words:—
Moreover, the new edict declaring the ministers shall preach the gospel, explaining it according to the writings accepted by the holy Christian Church; we think that, for this regulation to have any value, we should first agree on what is meant by the true and holy Church. Now, seeing that there is great diversity of opinion in this respect; that there is no sure doctrine but such as is conformable to the Word of God; that the Lord forbids the teaching of any other doctrine; that each text of the Holy Scriptures ought to be explained by other and clearer texts; that this Holy Book is in all things necessary for the Christian, easy of understanding, and calculated to scatter the darkness; we are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure and exclusive preaching of his only Word, such as it is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments, without adding anything thereto that may be contrary to it. This Word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell, whilst all the human vanities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of God.
For these reasons, most dear lords, uncles, cousins, and friends, we earnestly entreat you to weigh carefully our grievances and our motives. If you do not yield to our request, we PROTEST by these presents, before God, our only Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and Saviour, and who will one day be our Judge, as well as before all men and all creatures, that we, for us and for our people neither consent nor adhere in any manner whatever to the proposed decree, in anything that is contrary to God, to his holy Word, to our right conscience, to the salvation of our souls, and to the last decree of Spires.
This was Protestantism in the 16th century, and it is true Protestantism in the closing years of the 19th century. True Protestantism says: “There is no sure doctrine but such as is conformable to the Word of God.” He who teaches or practices contrary to this is not a Protestant. True Protestantism says: “The Lord forbids the teaching of any other doctrine.” He who teaches any other doctrine is not a Protestant. True Protestantism pledges itself “to maintain the pure and exclusive preaching of his only Word, such as it is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments, without adding anything thereto that may be contrary to it.” Where true Protestantism is found to-day this pledge is maintained.
When the civil power attempts to prohibit the exercise of this great privilege and duty, either in precept or practice, true Protestantism arises in its Christian manhood and refuses either to “consent” or “adhere in any manner whatever,” and makes its protest in the face of kings, and princes, “lords, uncles, cousins and friends,” and “before all men and all creatures.” This is true Protestantism; but it is more, it is true Christianity, and none but a true Christian can be a true Protestant though he may be opposed to the Roman Catholic Church and belong to an anti-Roman Catholic society.
We recommend to our correspondent and to all others who wish to examine this matter further and do missionary work among their neighbors to secure copies of a little thirty-two page tract, entitled, “Protestantism, True and False,” published by the International Religious Liberty Association, and for sale at the SENTINEL office. A second edition of this tract has just been issued, which contains three appendixes of valuable new matter. Those who read the tract on its first publication ought to get a copy of the second edition, price 4 cents, $2.00 per hundred.