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In an attempt to define Protestantism one answer suggested the following criteria:

  • an acceptance of the old ecumenical creeds
  • a focus on the Bible
  • a rejection of salvation by works
  • a rejection of the supreme authority of the Catholic Church
  • a focus on personal response to the gospel

It strikes me that this excludes several important denominations that are considered Protestant in everyday parlance. Perhaps the most important is Methodism. The United Methodist Church defines itself as a "non-creedal" denomination.

Unlike some churches that require affirmation of a strict list of beliefs as a condition of membership, The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church... Church founder, John Wesley himself did not agree with a historic (Athanasian) creed, because he disliked its emphasis on condemning people to hell.

Methodists do use the Nicaean Creed in some of their liturgies, but ministers and members are not required to affirm this or any other of the old ecumenical creeds. Indeed, as the above statement states, Wesley himself did not even agree with the Athanasian Creed let alone affirmations of faith made by the Ecumenical Councils. Those authorities condemned as heretics those who disagreed with their doctrines, yet Wesley stated:

I have no authority from the word of God “to judge those that are without;” (1 Corinthians 5:12) nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to Him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.

Wesley and his followers have also been criticized by Calvinist writers of preaching "works righteousness," which would mean they fail to conform with another one of the criteria listed above. This criticism, however, is not accepted by Methodists themselves, while its decision not to require adherence to the historical creeds is clear.

That being the case, should Methodism be excluded from the category of Protestantism?

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    My whole point was that the borders are fuzzy, but the centres are clear! But even if Methodism has non-creedal membership, it still (on the whole) teaches the shared the theology of Nicea. That's what I meant by accepting the creeds - non-Trinitarians are outside Protestantism.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 8 at 22:40
  • You should add details in the Q or Answer about the encounter Wesley had in England during a Lutheran sermon where he converted into faith alonism, this was long after his missions. I need to know whether that sinful encounter influenced his churches or they condemned him for his change. There's a bench or monument made at that place where he sat in the sermon in England.
    – Michael16
    Feb 9 at 7:14
  • @Michael16 What in the world would be "sinful" about a sermon in a Lutheran church?!
    – Traildude
    Feb 26 at 19:24
  • Traildude, read Luther's letter to Jerome which constitutes his doctrine and fully reveals his heart.
    – Michael16
    Feb 27 at 3:39

2 Answers 2

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Methodism is firmly in the category of Protestantism by this definition, and by any reasonable definition.

Let's look at the criteria.

an acceptance of the old ecumenical creeds

Methodists accept the old ecumenical creeds, as shown by their use in liturgy. If they were not accepted they would not be used. The fact that they are not required does not change this, nor does Wesley's personal dislike. Many Protestant groups do not formally endorse the ancient creeds, although agreeing with most of the theological statements in them.

a focus on the Bible

Methodists are very Bible focused.

a rejection of salvation by works

Methodists do not accept salvation by works, and accusations by others does not make it so.

a rejection of the supreme authority of the Catholic Church

Methodists reject the supreme authority of the Catholic church

a focus on personal response to the gospel

This is a key part of Methodism.

It's also true that exact definition of Protestantism is not really viable, and the points listed are general indications rather than hard and fast rules. Many clearly Protestant denominations also consider themselves "non-credal" although most would also accept the points made in the ancient creeds, even were they not to accept the creeds themselves.

Methodism derived from Anglicanism, which also considers itself to be Protestant.

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  • +1 Thanks for this contribution. A key point here may be what "accepts" means (regarding the creeds). Their web sites that United Methodist hymnal publishes -'Only two of these (Nicene and Apostles')." So only two of the "old ecumenical creeds" are actively affirmed, and the website declares that members do not need to actually believe in even these. [I do not say this to impugn Methodism, but to challenge this criterion for Protestantism.] Let me know if I got something wrong. Feb 9 at 2:43
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    @DanFefferman Even for most denominations which use the Athanasian Creed, it's not at the same level as the Nicene Creed, which is really The Creed of Trinitarian Christianity. Lots of people reject the first and last lines. If you chop them off then it would have broader acceptance. And there's also a difference between a creed or confession which defines the teachings of a denomination, and what is required or expected of members.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 9 at 3:32
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    For example, lots of denominations officially teach infant baptism, but accept credobaptists as members. A church may not require members to affirm all of the Nicene Creed because they prefer honesty and want people to feel they can say they don't understand or accept it all without judgement, but might still treat very seriously someone saying something explicitly rejected in the Creed (such as someone denying the divinity of Jesus.) There's a big pastoral difference between supporting someone on their journey of faith and learning, and how you react to overt and deliberate heresy.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 9 at 3:37
  • @curiousdannii thanks for you contributions. I'd add the the whole idea of "supporting someone on their journey" represents a very different attitude than the Reformation itself originally exemplified. For Puritans, Baptists where heretics who should be driven out of the colony or worse. Quakers we even executed, and it wasn't any better in England. This shows, I think, that the definition of "Protestant" is far more broad today than in former times. Feb 9 at 23:10
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    The Reformers felt the need to embrace protestant sacralism to defend them from the Roman Catholic superpower, also sacralist. It took several centuries after the Reformation to abandon this sacralism. The English Civil War leading up to the Glorious Revolution 1688, Roger Williams, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution all played a part in the demise of sacralism. It is this view of the church which was paramount in the persecution of non-conformists. Eg, see:- christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/80625/… Feb 13 at 13:47
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A problem with this question is there there is no universally accepted definition of the word 'Protestant'. It has morphed from its origins and, as more and more Protestant denominations have come into being, today's religious public has little idea as to how far removed many of them have become from their non-Catholic forebears.

It's the same with the word 'Christian.' The New Testament is crystal clear as to what constitutes a Christian, but today the waters have become so muddied that anybody claiming to be a Christian is accepted without question as being a Christian. Now, if I said I believed myself to be a cat, does that mean everybody should view, and treat me, as a cat? That's the state semantics has got us into nowadays. Games are being played with words, meanings have been 'adjusted', and so anybody can call themselves anything they like and woe betide a person who might offer objections to a belief they have reason to think is unreasonable.

Now, should we not be asking ourselves why any denomination be anxious to be included in the umbrella term 'Protestants'? If they know themselves to be Christians, they should desire no other defining adjective than 'Christian'.

That aside, I suggest an answer to the question is to go right back to one, unifying belief that both Catholics and Protestants have never deviated from. It is that of the Nicene Creed, with its one particular belief in what has come to be known as the Trinity doctrine. There is no other doctrine like it that sets the bar to be cleared for any group wishing to be viewed as Christian. Then we don't need to get into arguments about whether Methodists, or Latter Day Saints, or Pentecostals, or Christadelphians etc are Protestants, or not. A couple of those would say they are not, but still claim to be Christians.

My suggested answer cuts right to the bone instead of just trimming a few fatty pieces off. In one stroke it identifies one doctrine that there can be no getting away from if a denomination is to be considered 'Christian', for both Protestants and Catholics are agreed on this as non-negotiable. From there on, other beliefs could be examined, but for starters, this has to be the foundation upon which further examination could be made.

More details on this argument of mine can be found in my recent answer to What is the Standard Definition of a Protestant Church?

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  • This doesn't help much with the Methodists, which calls itself a "non-creedal" church even though they sometimes recited the Apostles creed. It also excludes the Quakers. BTW my question isn't particularly concerned with the anxiety produced for a denomination if it is excluded: it's more about identifying a scholar consensus. I agree with you that there isn't one. Feb 9 at 23:03
  • If calling yourself non-creedal makes you not Protestant, that's a problem, as huge swaths of Protestantism including Baptist and Pentecostal don't do creeds. However, they do believe what's in them; they just don't require them. So I think we have to ditch that from the definition. (And I grew up Methodist; we did the Apostle's Creed every Sunday.)
    – Maverick
    Feb 14 at 16:18
  • @Maverick My answer shows that agreement with the Trinity doctrine (as stated from the early days of the Christian Church as in its Nicene Creed) should be a touch-stone for all Protestants. (Indeed, for anyone claiming to be a Christian, including non-Protestants.) A non-credal group could thus fit the definition if they agree with the Trinity, but we find today that refusal to agree with the Nicene Creed often goes hand-in-glove with a non-Protestant doctrine about the Divine Nature of God. I'm cutting to the chase.
    – Anne
    Feb 15 at 11:12
  • Indeed if you want to be historically accurate, the only actual Protestants are the Lutherans, since it was only the adherents of the Wittenburg Reformers who filed the official Protest after the Second Diet of Speyers. "Protestant" means "one who has protested" and was a legal description, not a theological one. What was protested was the arbitrary reversal of the then-existing limited freedom of religion in the Holy Roman Empire; the religion that the protestors held was what came to be called Lutheran. When used theologically, the term is meaningless.
    – Traildude
    Feb 26 at 19:31

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