Protestantism is a branch of Christianity that follows the theological tenets of the Protestant Reformation, a movement that began seeking to reform the Catholic Church from within in the 16th century against what its followers perceived to be errors, abuses, and discrepancies within it.
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Protestantism emphasizes the Christian believer's justification by God in faith alone (sola fide) rather than by a combination of faith with good works as in Catholicism; the teaching that salvation comes by divine grace or "unmerited favor" only (sola gratia); the priesthood of all faithful believers in the Church; and the sola scriptura ("scripture alone") that posits the Bible as the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice. Most Protestants, with the exception of Anglo-Papalism, reject the Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy, and have variant views on the number of sacraments, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and matters of ecclesiastical polity and apostolic succession. Other Protestant denominations and non denominational Protestants may be typically unconcerned about most of these theological issues and focus only on their perception of explicit Christian teachings in the Bible itself. The five solae of Lutheran and Reformed Christianity summarize basic theological differences in opposition to the Catholic Church. Today, it is the second-largest form of Christianity, with a total of 800 million to 1 billion adherents worldwide or about 37% of all Christians.
The Reformation began in Germany in 1517, when Martin Luther published his Ninety-five Theses as a reaction against abuses in the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church, which purported to offer the remission of the temporal punishment of sins to their purchasers. The term, however, derives from the letter of protestation from German Lutheran princes in 1529 against an edict of the Diet of Speyer condemning the teachings of Martin Luther as heretical. Although there were earlier breaks and attempts to reform the Catholic Church, notably by Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, only Luther succeeded in sparking a wider, lasting, and modern movement. In the 16th century, Lutheranism spread from Germany into Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Iceland. Calvinist churches spread in Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland and France by Protestant Reformers such as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and John Knox. The political separation of the Church of England from the Holy See under King Henry VIII began Anglicanism, bringing England and Wales into this broad Reformation movement, under the leadership of reformer Thomas Cranmer, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, whose work forged Anglican doctrine and identity.
Protestants have extensively developed a unique culture that has made major contributions in education, the humanities and sciences, the political and social order, the economy and the arts and many other fields. Protestantism is diverse, being divided into various denominations on the basis of theology and ecclesiology, not forming a single structure as with the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy or Oriental Orthodoxy. Protestants adhere to the concept of an invisible church, in contrast to the Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Ancient Church of the East, which all understand themselves as the one and only original church—the "one true church"—founded by Jesus Christ (though certain Protestant denominations, including historic Lutheranism, hold to this position). Some denominations do have a worldwide scope and distribution of church membership, while others are confined to a single country. A majority of Protestants are members of a handful of Protestant denominational families: Adventists, Anabaptists, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Baptists, Calvinist/Reformed, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, and Quakers. Nondenominational, charismatic and independent churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestantism.