By. Edward Malcolm
Are you a Protestant? I do not mean do you side with the Unionists or with the Separatists in Northern Ireland? I do not mean, do you enjoy open confrontation with Roman Catholics as they go about their blasphemous and superstitious devotions at Walsingham, Knock and elsewhere? I mean, are you a Protestant in the way in which the Reformers were Protestant?
What is a Protestant, you may be wondering? The political and confrontational pictures of Protestantism are well-known, but they have detracted from and distorted the true meaning of the word. The result has been that many professing Christians, even those of a Reformed persuasion, are now embarrassed to bear the name Protestant. I want to show you what a true Protestant is, and encourage you to take up the name with pride.
The word ‘protestant’ comes from the Latin protestari, to bear witness. We may ask, to what do we bear witness? The first Protestant was Martin Luther, who took a public stand for the truth against the errors of the Church of Rome, once he had come to realize that the bishops and cardinals were not prepared to engage in serious examination of Scripture but insisted on maintaining the Church’s position. He bore witness to the truths he had learned in his search for peace with God. So we can make the following observations.
A Protestant is someone who bears witness to Scripture.
There is no written source of divine revelation other than the Bible. This is the Word of God. He has given it to us as his lively oracles. ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation’, declares the Reformed Confessions. Therefore the reading, learning and study of Holy Scripture is vital for a right understanding of everything we profess to believe and hope for. Of course, our Reformed Confessions and Creeds, although agreeable with Scripture, are not the sole rule of faith and practice: we must ever look to the Bible alone. What does the Bible tell us about itself?
‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God’ (2 Tim. 3:16). That is, all Scripture is God-breathed, it comes from him, he has exhaled or expired it. It is therefore in the truest sense God’s Word. Why has he given us his Word? It is ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,’ says the rest of the verse. ‘Profitable’ means beneficial or advantageous; there is a good reason for receiving the Scriptures as the Word of God. The benefits are listed by the apostle.
First, for doctrine or teaching: ‘from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (verse 15). God’s Word is given to us as a means of instruction.
Secondly, for reproof, the setting forth of evidence of the truth in order to convict those who believe and practise something else in order to turn them from error to truth. This is being made ‘wise unto salvation’.
Thirdly, for correction. The word originally applied to the restoration of a damaged city, and means the making good of what has fallen into ruin. The Word of God is able to remake us after the pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, for instruction in righteousness. Israel was instructed in the ways of the Lord by the law. We are instructed in such ways by the whole of Scripture. This instruction is the life-training without which we will never manifest the graces and gifts of the Spirit.
We find this in God’s Word. The effect of this is that we are ‘perfect’ or righteous, ‘throughly furnished unto all good works’ and provided with all things necessary that we may live godly lives. Without a right view of Scripture, then, we cannot progress as Christians. Submission to God’s Word is vital. We stand before it and say ‘Be it according to thy word’. We do not hear the Word and reply, ‘Yes, but…’ as if we would debate with God. It is his Word, and he is Almighty God. Let all the earth keep silence before him.
A Protestant is someone who bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Article II of the Thirty-nine declares, ‘The Son truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men’. Therefore any view of Jesus which denies any aspect of this statement falls short of being a Protestant view. It fails to be a biblical view, for the Reformed Confessions and Creeds are ‘agreeable to God’s Word’. The Reformed Confessions and Creeds set before us the true Trinitarian doctrine, which teaches that Christ is of the Godhead without making him the Father. The Athanasian Creed, in particular, teaches that Christ has two natures, divine and human, in such a wonderful manner that he is at the same time both God and man. Thus he alone, of all the descendants of Eve, was fitted to be the Saviour of mankind. God sent him forth in the fulness of time to redeem sinners, which redemption he accomplished by his precious blood-shedding, and which is confirmed to us by his glorious resurrection from the dead. We are to receive Christ as he is set forth in Scripture, to believe on him and to trust in him for our salvation. After he ascended into heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to bear witness to himself, and to bring men and women to the saving knowledge of the truth. All who believe have the Spirit. We are therefore also to live according to his Word and example.
A Protestant is someone who bears witness to the doctrine of salvation.
This is a necessary consequence of both the former points. Scripture teaches both the necessity of salvation and the way of salvation. Jesus Christ is the Saviour in whom alone we have forgiveness and hope. The promises of forgiveness and salvation are declared in Jesus Christ. He is the manifestation of the promises and the ground of them. But how do we understand ourselves to be partakers of the promises? The doctrine taught in Scripture, though anathematized (cursed) by the Church of Rome, is that we are justified by faith. That is, we believe the promise of God in Christ Jesus and God accounts our believing as righteousness. Yet we are not to make faith a work as if we moved ourselves to believe, for we are told that faith ‘is the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8) coming as it does by the grace of God. This doctrine is much misunderstood.
Rome condemned it at the Reformation as being the door to lawlessness, which is why she anathematized it at Trent. It is the most Protestant doctrine for it overthrows the whole of the Roman system at a stroke rendering the Pope and his priests irrelevant to salvation; indeed they become obstacles to salvation and not aids or conduits to it. Those who adhere to what is called Arminianism, that man in some way contributes to his salvation by making the right response to God’s overtures to him in the gospel, also misunderstand this doctrine. Such are generally unwilling to allow that the whole of salvation is a work of grace, and that they play no part in it. Christ died for sins, to redeem a people, and that people was redeemed by his death. We know that we are part of that people at a moment in time when the light of the gospel dawns on us. Yet we did not choose Christ any more than Israel chose to be the people of God. We were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. This is of course the doctrine of election which is so closely bound up with the doctrine of justification by faith.
A Protestant is someone who lives a holy life.
Not, admittedly, such a holy life that he is without sin; far from it. Rather, his desire, his passion, is to live a life honouring to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit — a life which confesses God’s sovereignty, Christ’s grace, and the gifts and fruits of the Spirit. This is what we are called to, and this is the life we find set out in Scripture.
Are you a Protestant?