Something that always bothers me which I witness to Catholics: the well-meaning ones tell me I am a Protestant and say that "we protested the Catholic Church". This isn't true, the Baptist Church was never a part of the "Protestant Reformation" movement, and we don't actively engage in protesting the Catholic Church because we have no roots in it.

Although our theology might sometimes be labelled as "reformed" we call ourselves "fundamentalists" and not "reformers" because unlike Luther there was nothing for us to "reform". Our teaching does not come from any tradition and we teach solely what comes from the Bible. We take the Bible literally and base our theology off of that and not any tradition. For example, we don't have the Nicene creed a tradition which Lutherans have which can be traced back to Roman Catholicism.

If you disagree please cite an accurate historical reference that says the Independent Baptist Fundamentalists were an active part of the "Protestant Reformation" and can thus be labelled Protestants or Protestant Reformers.

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    No roots in the Catholic Church? Seriously?
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 1, 2012 at 21:47
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    @PeterTurner Technically, yes... no roots in the Catholic Church, but that technicality is removed if you consider that early Baptists (John Smyth in particular) grew out of the Anglican Church, which was itself only one step from the Roman Church. So in reality, the claim that there were no Roots in Roman Catholicism is rather silly. I think the impetus is on the questioner to cite some form of Baptist theology that completely bypasses the Roman Hierarchy. And this is coming from a Baptist. Oct 1, 2012 at 21:54
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    I have a feeling that the Church of England (and thus the Anglican Communion in general) might have something to say about only Lutherans being Protestants. Oct 1, 2012 at 22:14
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    I should say this is a very typical paleo-Baptist idea. For many Baptists, we were descended from John the Baptist and avoided the "stain" of the pagan and syncretic Roman church. It's pretty thoroughly discredited, but it is definitely the default theology of many a dyed in the wool baptist. And again, remember I'm the Bible thumper here! Oct 1, 2012 at 23:55
  • 3
    As the question stands, it can be refuted on its merits, but I would argue it should remain open. As wrong as it is, it very accurately reflects embedded Baptist theology for many. Oct 1, 2012 at 23:59

8 Answers 8


My first answer wasn't very good; I want to take a different angle. I hope this approach helps make this issue more clear.


You don't have to stage a protest to be Protestant. It's a matter of heritage.

Of fallacies and analogies...

Your question commits some basic fallacies that can easily be addressed.

cite an accurate historical reference that says the Independent Baptist Fundamentalists were an active part of the "Protestant Reformation"

This step is quite unnecessary. Let's look a few analogous examples to understand why:

  • You didn't fight in the Revolutionary war, but you are an American citizen right? Even if you don't hold the same views as these who picked up muskets to fight for the colonies independence, your very existence has it's roots in that conflict.

  • By a similar token, I was born in America to third generation American parents. But my last name is Maclennan. Somewhere way back when, I had an ancestor named Lennan and -- whatever my opinion of Scotland may be -- I bear his name and and have my roots in that country.

Speaking of ancestry, let's think about your bloodlines for a minute. I'm a white boy. Nobody looking at me would take me for an Asian or an African. My blood comes from the Anglo-Saxon world. Never mind the fact that I now live in the Middle East, I have roots in a specific world and culture. I may not identify with its values, eat its food or speak its language1 but there is still a sense in which it is valid to identify me as a Westerner.

Now for Theology...

Much like a genealogy, the history of Christian religion may be drawn as a tree. We can start with the NT church2. I think its safe to say we both consider that a true church. For at least some very initial stages, there was not anything quite like what we know of as denominations3. As time went on, deviant theologies cropped up, were countered, and some people stuck with orthodox belief and others wandered. Some of these might be considered fundamentals of faith (such as the Gnostics) others might be considered less fundamental (eventual division between the major traditions we have today).

I covered a lot of similar ground on my answer to a question about what the purpose of the Creeds were. Your question mentions the Nicene Creed, but it is by no means unique to Lutheranism. In fact Catholics use it as well. As a matter of fact, so do many Independent Baptists. The statements of that creed are a very basic outline of some basic facts about our faith derived directly from Scripture. Whether you actively use it or not, your fundamentalist baptist beliefs are probably consistent with it as well.

Basically, the only way for your Baptist church to not be considered Protestant is for you to be a cult. The definition of a cult is pretty simple really. It is a group of people who claim affiliation with a larger established religion but, because their beliefs diverge significantly enough, are rejected as unorthodox by that larger body. This is not the case for most independent baptists4, fundamentalist or otherwise.

Baptists are Protestants. By that, we mean that their beliefs fall under the general umbrella of non-Catholic, non-Orthodox and non-Cult Christian tradition. Your individual denomination may trace it's origin to some recent event, but whatever it split off from, it also inherits many of the attributes of its linage. All the other answers have covered the history of Catholic to Anglican to Anabaptist to Baptist history.

All clear now?

You don't have to actively stage a protest to be one of us. After all you aren't Catholic are you? You aren't Orthodox. Cult?

Welcome to Protestantism, my friend :)

1 Except when it comes to StackExchange, English is not my "daily driver".

2 I have started with the NT church only for purposes of keeping this simple, although I would argue we could draw the tree going back to Adam.

3 This isn't to say there weren't divisions / factions / sub-groups. There were.

4 There are a few possible exceptions here, but you would probably agree on those as well.

  • With this definition of a cult "It is a group of people who claim affiliation with a larger established religion but, because their beliefs diverge significantly enough, are rejected as unorthodox by that larger body." Why are protestants, protestants and not cults? or should I ask this as a question? Oct 2, 2012 at 18:18
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    @MaskedPlant: That would be very difficult to ask as a constructive question here, you would have to scope it carefully. But the answer is relatively simple. Neither Catholics nor Protestants nor Orthodox reject each other as being not part of some core markers that identify them Christian. They might reject that they are "true" Christians and might say they got Christianity all wrong, but they still recognize that some of the starting principles are the same.
    – Caleb
    Oct 2, 2012 at 19:04
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    The word "cult" is essentially a pejorative today. If you respect a group, you call it a "church" or a "denomination". If you don't, you call it a "cult". I've heard Catholics call Protestantism a cult. I wouldn't be surprised if Jews called Christianity a cult, though I can't say I've ever heard it.
    – Jay
    Oct 3, 2012 at 3:58
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    There is also one other distinct tradition of Christianity. The Latter-Day Saint tradition agrees with Protestants that Catholicism lost its way, but also believes that in doing so, they lost the authority given by the Lord to the Apostles, and that said authority is essential in order for a true, valid church to exist. (Agreeing with the Catholics on that last point.) And as a dead tree can't bear live fruit, the LDS hold that the authority can't be obtained by a reformation, but only by being restored, given again from God as it was the first time. This is very distinct from Protestantism.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Oct 3, 2012 at 4:20
  • The LDS approach isn't uncommon in Restorationist denominations either. Oct 19, 2012 at 13:04

The idea behind the term "protestant" may have originated in those who literally protested the Catholic Church, but today it has a somewhat broader meaning. It has come to mean that a church believes that the Catholic Church lost its way, and that it is necessary to teach correct doctrine as described in the Bible, instead of Biblical doctrines mingled with Catholic tradition and philosophy. This attitude certainly fits the Fundamentalist position, as described in the question.

Also, as San Jacinto pointed out in a comment, the Baptist tradition derives from the Anglican tradition, who were Protestants in the original sense, so it doesn't make too much sense to state that Baptists have no roots in Protestantism.

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    @dongle26: And yet there are plenty of other groups who make the same claim, but somehow manage to arrive at very different positions on many doctrines than Fundamentalist Baptists do. Where does the difference come from?
    – Mason Wheeler
    Oct 2, 2012 at 0:08
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    @dongle26, that sounds like "I don't have an accent, I just speak English".
    – James T
    Oct 2, 2012 at 0:10
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    @dongle26 "We believe it was heretical from the beginning of its foundation" sounds very much like a protesting statement to me. It's also in grave danger of being wrong, depending on your point of view [about when and how the Catholic Church was founded]. Oct 2, 2012 at 6:42
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    @JamesT I'm reminded of a conversation I once had with a Chinese woman who was having difficulty learning English grammar. I asked her about Chinese grammar and she said, "We don't have grammar in Chinese. You just say what you want to say." I don't know Chinese, but I'm pretty sure that statement wasn't true. She was just so used to speaking Chinese, it just came naturally to her, and she didn't realize all the rules she was following.
    – Jay
    Oct 3, 2012 at 4:02
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    @MasonWheeler I probably should have left well enough alone, as this is an old Q &A. However, I liked a number of the answers well enough to up vote, to include yours. Dec 20, 2016 at 16:45

There is a teaching that is very common in Baptist Churches that the Baptist Church has its origins in the New Testament Church, long before the Reformation. A fair representation of the teaching is found at Providence Baptist Ministries.

A summary of the teaching consists of the following points:

  • There have always, since the time of the New Testament Church, been believers that believed in the Baptist/Fundamentalist distinctives including, but not limited to:
    • Local congregational authority
    • the belief that baptism is not meant for children. It was always a sign of obedience to God after salvation.
  • The formal organization of Churches such as the Orthodox and Catholic Church is not found in Scripture. Scripture only teaches about two positions: presbyters (pastors) and deacons
  • Throughout history, there have always been believers that held to these beliefs, but they have gone under different names
  • Post-reformation, this group, which has existed since the beginning of Christianity, was given a name - Anabaptists, because they re-baptized believers in adulthood because of the rejection of infant baptism. (This is where the Wikipedia version, (and admittedly, commonly accepted version) of history meets the Baptist version of history)
  • Later, as is commonly agreed, anabaptists gave rise to the modern "Baptist" denomination and the myriad variants that exist within the "Baptist" moniker.

So @dongle26 isn't simply making things up. This is a very common Baptist teaching. As to the accuracy and veracity, it's debated. While I tend to believe that the individual points are probably accurate, I think most people, when presented with this view, would balk.

It reminds me of what a wise Jedi once said to a young one who had just discovered that some of the things he thought were true weren't necessarily as he thought "You will find that a lot of the truths we cling to depend greatly on your own point of view." Yes, I know Star Wars isn't Christianity, but the saying is applicable regardless.

These points, if true, clearly say that the Baptist distinctive beliefs have existed since long before the Reformation, and that the Baptist name simply was applied to the existing believers later. This could be extended to say that, since the Baptist Church isn't an organized Church with a central authority, in the sense that some other denominations are, the Baptist Church is identified by adherence to certain distinctives. Since these distinctives pre-date the Reformation and stretch back to the original Apostolistic New Testament Church, in a sense, the Baptist Church extends back to it as well.

Of course, as usual, not all Baptists agree on interpreting history this way. The Baptist History and Heritage Society, for example, flat out refutes the teaching. Not all people look at it with the same point of view. Some would call it revisionist history, and some would call it a deliberate misinterpretation of history, or a flawed interpretation of the historical facts. (Which is ironic, considering how strongly the concept of "correct interpretation" is to those of us who self-identify as Baptists and Fundamentalists.)

In general, the "rest of Christianity and the rest of the world" may agree with all of the points, but still say that the "Baptist Church" "originated" at the time the name was applied. Which, also, is true, from a certain point of view. (And in my head, all I can hear is Luke asking incredulously, "a certain point of view?")

So, in summary, this isn't something that is going to be universally agreed on. The best you can hope for is that people say "Yeah, I can see how you came up with that, but..." regardless of which side of this issue you stand on.

Considering that the vast majority of those who call themselves "Christians" is not Baptist, and not even all Baptists agree with either version of history, the majority of "Christians" agree with the "Baptists are Protestants" or "Baptists are products of the Reformation" view. And even though being in the majority doesn't make you right (or wrong), it does affect how the issue is perceived.

As such, the only objective answer to the question of why Baptists are called Protestants is that most of the world sees it that way, right or wrong.

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    If you actually study church history though, you will find that the teaching you outline is in serious error on several points. For starters, the Bible documents people called episcopos (bishops) in addition to presbyters (priests) and deacons. A historian would also be hard pressed to find any objection to infant baptism before anabaptist movement. There is not as much continuity between the early church and modern Baptist theology as even The Baptist History and Heritage Society would have you believe.
    – King David
    Mar 16, 2015 at 10:33
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    @KingDavid - That may be so, but don't forget that this site is not about who's right or wrong, it's about what various group teach. Arguing over who's right is strictly forbidden by site guidelines. I simply stated what those groups teach. Mar 16, 2015 at 10:54
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    Rather late additional comment but @KingDavid the Bible doesn't distinguish between episkopos and presbuteros; the terms are used interchangeably so the idea of local congregational authority is not erroneous.
    – Birdie
    Dec 20, 2016 at 23:04

Hmm, I think Ignatius Theophorus has the most historically accurate answer, and yet as of my visit here he has the fewest votes. :-) Let me build on Ignatius.

The term "Protestant" was coined when the Lutheran delegates to the Diet of Speyer protested against the pro-Catholic, anti-Lutheran decisions of that council. But from there the word "Protestant" came to be applied, not just to dissenters at Speyer or even to all Lutherans, but to all Christians who rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and the pope, not including those who were already under the auspices of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

This all happened almost 500 years ago. The specific debate of the Diet of Speyers is long dead. Few Protestants today are engaged in any sort of active protest against the Catholic Church. The split is long past. Catholics and Protestants today often work together. The fact that you are not protesting doesn't mean you are not a Protestant. For that matter, there are many people who protest many things but who are not "Protestants". It's just a name now. I have never been to the Caucasus Mountains, but that does not mean that I am not a Causcasian.

I'm a Baptist myself, and I've heard this argument that Baptists are not "Protestants" because we don't trace our heritage to Martin Luther, and I simply find it ... weak. Can Baptists trace their heritage in continuous succession back to the Early Church? What do you mean by that? If you mean, have their been Christians since the time of Christ who held to the beliefs that we consider central -- authority of scripture, salvation by grace, etc -- the answer is surely yes. Did the Catholic Church corrupt the Gospel? I think even most Catholics would admit that their church had some bad periods. Did Martin Luther and other reformers revolt against the Catholic Church and re-establish these ideas? Again, obviously yes. Did Luther get his ideas purely by reading the Bible, without any influence from other people? Obviously no: he himself said that he got inspiration from John Hus and the Anabaptists and probably others if I read more of his stuff.

So what are we really debating here? Whether a modern Baptist church get its teaching in a long, unbroken line of succession back to Christ and the disciples, or does it get them from Luther, Calvin et al who got them from a long, unbroken line of succession back to Christ and the disciples. Is the question, then, just whether our heritage goes through Luther and Calvin or through some other line? Given that we are not talking about genetic descent but of ideas, and given that Luther's and Calvin's ideas were widespread, it's hard to imagine how modern Baptists could NOT be influenced by Luther et al.

RE "we don't have any tradition": Of course we do. We have a tradition going back to Christ and the disciples, and from there back to Moses. Or if by "tradition" you mean a body of human teaching distinct from the Bible, as a fellow Baptist I must just disagree. Well it is the goal of Baptists that all of our teachings should be consistent with scripture, there are surely many ideas and theories that Baptists discuss that do not come word-for-word from the Bible. The simple proof of this is to go to a Baptist bookstore. Are there books there besides Bibles? Yes. Do these other books consist solely of Bible quotes? No. Thus, Baptists try to expand on the teachings of the Bible, apply it to our own time and place, bring in knowledge from science and history and whatever to deepen our understanding, etc etc.

Of course, as a Baptist I think the Baptist tradition is more in line with scripture than the Catholic tradition or the Anglican tradition, etc. (By definition: If I thought Catholics were closer to the truth, then I would be a Catholic. It would make no sense to say, I think Catholic teachings are mostly right and Baptist teachings mostly wrong, and therefore I am a Baptist. That would just be illogical.) But that doesn't mean we "just have scripture and don't have any traditions".

  • Great answer and as an insider so to speak, seems more useful than mine in that you speak directly to the issue. Because the topic has been coming up in chat and questions, I'm curious whether you would choose to identify yourself as a "fundamentslist". Why or why not? Catch me in Christianity Chat?
    – Caleb
    Oct 3, 2012 at 7:44
  • Ok. I haven't used the chat before so I'm trying to figure it out. But I created a chat room called "Fundamentalism". I was trying to figure out how to invite someone into chat room or send a link but I don't see how to do that.
    – Jay
    Oct 11, 2012 at 7:21
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    As an American Baptist, I once studied the history of the Baptist churches and found that they have no one single teacher or group that founded them. They sprang up in several countries and drew on religious cross-currents from many sources. It is truly a hybrid, eclectic religion. Nov 11, 2016 at 16:42

I believe you're confusing etymology with history. "Protestant" while it may have originally referred to a limited subset of non-Catholic Westerners (specifically, a very small group of Lutherans around the Diet of Speyer in 1529), now (generally) means "non-Catholic Christian" (Rome is not necessarily the definitive standard, however: "Protestant" or may not include Anglican Catholics, Old Catholics, and other, similar groups).

This is not a matter of opinion, and the historical claims of any given group are frankly irrelevant. It is what the word means and there is little room for debate on the matter.


The modern Baptist denominations and adherents descend from the Anabaptist movement which was part of the 16th century Reformation.

Several Baptist churches hold to similar creeds to the Nicene (or, more commonly in my experience, confessions of faith or faith statements).

There are also hundreds of Baptist churches which call themselves "Reformed" (I grew up in one, and know many believers in them all over the world).

Therefore, Baptists are Protestants because they DO 'protest' aspects of the Roman Catholic Church.

In some parts of the country and world, the dominant membership of Baptist churches are those who have converted/reformed out of the Catholic faith into the Protestant faith, and who embrace the freedoms associated with the new home of worship.

Other courses of Baptist History:

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    I can source this both from my torbetts General history of baptists, and from my Baptist history class for my m. Div. I can also tell you that Sam Helwys (and Smyth too, I believe) died Mennonites, not baptists. Oct 1, 2012 at 23:50
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    So, fundamentalism dates to "The Gundamentals," a set of books by ff Bruce (great guy!) bb warfield, scoffield, rylie, et. Al. From the early 1900s. Trust me, each of these men knew that they were part of a wider church, even in rejecting the liberal theologies of Schweitzer schleiermachet etc. the point is that fundamentalists only go back 100 years. If you can explain where they got their theology (and they were indeed rejecting the Catjolic church as much as the liberals of their day) then I am happy to source it. Oct 2, 2012 at 0:04
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    But as it stands, your fundamental thesis is wrong. Fundamentalists are inherently Protestant! Oct 2, 2012 at 0:04
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    Yes, you do have a tradition. All baptists have a tradition. Oct 2, 2012 at 0:15
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    @dongle26: If nothing else, you have a tradition of claiming you don't have a tradition. Even if you were a cult who's beliefs were a radical departure from any previous version Christian faith (they are not), you still ARE and HAVE a tradition. That tradition also has heritage. It came from somewhere, maybe through many iterations, but you bring that heritage with you.
    – Caleb
    Oct 2, 2012 at 9:31

There's a belief among Baptists known as the "Trail of Blood," which traces Baptist beliefs back through the Anabaptists, Waldensians and various other groups all the way back to the pre-Nicene church. Take a look at "The Pilgrim Church" by E.H. Broadbent for more info on that.

As far as I understand the claim, there's really no way to authenticate it one way or the other. Most of the pre-Reformation groups that are labeled Baptist are long gone now, and their writings have vanished with them. Many were violently repressed as heretics by the Catholic Church, but there is no way of knowing just what those "heresies" were. It is a real stretch, though, to find in them an unbroken Baptist heritage.

Personally, as an Anabaptist (Mennonite), I consider myself to be neither Catholic nor Protestant. We call our church the Third Way, because this is how our ancestors saw it. I guess it all depends on how you define "Protestant." If a Protestant is anyone who objects to Catholic theology and tradition, then you could include Mennonites and Baptists in that group. But if Protestants are churches descended from Martin Luther's line, I believe we have a good case for being separate from that. Back in the Reformation era, Martin Luther was busy trying to kill us!

So I think the Protestant issue is more a question of semantics than anything. The Trail of Blood theory might have some validity in that "Baptist-like" groups may have existed pre-Reformation, but it's highly questionable when taken to its furthest extent. However that doesn't mean that everyone must be Protestant. Given only two options I'd rather call myself Protestant than Catholic, but neither label really fits.


The complete answer to this question is here.

From my Catholic perspective, if you use the Bible, which is a document created by the Catholic Church for use in its worship and as a teaching aid, yet you theologically disagree with Catholicism to the extent that you are not in communion with the bishop of Rome, and you have no independent source of apostolicity such as the Eastern Orthodox have, then you are by definition Protestant. You are protesting by your nonacceptance of full Catholic teaching, and you are obviously not independent because you derive your authority from Catholicism. There is no question that Baptists of all flavors fit into that definition, and it doesn't matter how they got there.

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    But that would mean that restorationist churches are protestant, which they definitely aren't.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 16, 2015 at 12:28
  • @curiousdanni seem my comment to dongle26 under Mason Wheeler's answer. Baptism did not arise ex nihilo ... FWIW I met and visited with Mr Ray, author of that article, about 8 years ago at a conference. It would be fair to say that "there's not zealot like a convert." :-) Dec 20, 2016 at 16:35
  • @Korvin Sorry, I don't understand the relevance of your comment to my comment.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 21, 2016 at 2:42
  • @curiousdannii Perhaps we can discuss this in chat one day. Not gonna pollute the comments further. Dec 21, 2016 at 2:58

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