Objective: Students should be able to list each of the major Protestant denominations, the historical and theological basis for each, the major founders of denominations, and the similarities and differences between their beliefs and the Orthodox position. What’s a cult?


Since this is one unit, there will be no weekly divisions. There are three weeks to overview the entire material, with frequent quizzes to ensure comprehension. This should be an interesting unit for the students; most will know at least one friend in each of the denominations mentioned. Ask in each presentation if anyone has attended a service; what was it like and compare and contrast with our own.

Orthodox don't need to study Protestantism??? Our teens will be meeting others of various faiths in school and college and need to be prepared.


The Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation:

            Nothing happens in a vacuum. Why was there felt to be a need for a Reformation in the West? Nothing similar happened in the East. There were several practices that developed in the 12th –15th centuries in the Roman Catholic Church that led many men to believe there was a need for serious reform. In each case, what safeguard do we have in the Orthodox Church that prevented such practices from even developing?:

  1. Temporal authority of the Pope: The Pope had acquired massive properties, conducted battles, and was involved in the feudal system as a sort of  “overlord”. To maintain his vast treasuries, he levied taxes from all the Christian provinces of the West – a practice opposed as early as the 1300s by an Englishman named John Wycliff. The Pope also claimed the right to approve the succession of the kings of the various lands – not to the liking of many kings or their offspring!
  2. The Bible: In the West, the Bible was available only in Latin and it was unthinkable for any but the clergy to read or study it. John Wycliff in the mid-1300s is best known for translating the Bible into English so the people could read it for themselves. No longer were the clergy the only ones with access to the Bible. And, later, in 1455, Gutenburg used the printing press to print the first Bibles in mass production.
  3. Black Death: 1347-1349 were the years of the Black Death in Europe, coming to the West on the rats of ships traveling from the East. Half of Europe’s population died; 80% of people infected died. With no known cause or treatment at the time, people turned to the church. But the church had little to offer, leading to a decline in the trust of the people for the church and its leadership. So many priests died that people were left without shepherds, without the sacraments, and without burial. The feudal system succumbed to loss of nobles in death and increased availability of unclaimed land for serfs. This instability on all fronts, in a setting of fear and death, left the culture ripe for new ways of thinking. Wycliffe, in particular, was heavily influenced by the Black Death.
  4. Indulgences: In the Early Church, when a “lapsi” (remember that term?) repented and wanted to rejoin the church, he was frequently assigned a “penance” – good works, prayers, etc. These penances demonstrated the sinner’s true repentance; they did not “pay for” his sin. Jesus paid for our sin with His blood on the cross fully and completely. With the advent of Scholasticism, the Western Church developed an entirely new and novel theology of Purgatory – where, after death, a soul would pay for sins committed. People could in this life buy “indulgences” to pay their way out of Purgatory sooner, the indulgences supporting the ever-hungry papal treasury.
  5. The Inquisition: The Church of Rome sent out “inquisitors” to examine the views and teachings of anyone thought to be heretical. These inquisitors, not a Church Council, had the power to mete out punishment. John Huss (Jan Hus) in 1415 was burned at the stake for opposing the sale of indulgences. His writings were a major influence a century later on Martin Luther. 
  6. Papal Infallibility: A natural consequence over the centuries of Papal Supremacy, but a dangerous one – that the Pope, when speaking on any matter of doctrine, could make no error. Thus were changes in doctrine easily made, for good or bad.


The reformers had some real issues. But, their method of reform by selecting which of the Church’s teachings to follow and which to reject has led to the division of Christ’s Church. In fact, when two German theologians sent a copy of the Augsburg Confession to Patriarch Jeremiah in 1575, he replied succinctly that Christians are not free to pick and choose what they will retain and what they will discard in the Church’s Tradition.


Major Protestant Doctrines:

            Don’t list these right away, but as each is presented, be sure the students understand the meaning of the term and how it fits with Orthodox Theology:

  •         Sola Scriptura: Holy Tradition helps us to interpret the Bible, preceded the Bible, and gave authority to the Bible! Who gave us the Canon of Scripture anyway? Review if necessary the lesson on Canon of Scripture. This doctrine alone, with the consequent individual pick and choose method of theology, has led to the myriad denominations we see today.
  • Justification by Faith Alone: What happened to the book of James, “Faith by itself, if it has no good works, is dead”?
  • Predestination: While salvation is God’s gift given to us through His grace, we must exercise our God-given gift of free-will to accept or reject His salvation.
  • Infallibility of Scripture: While all believe Scripture is fully inspired by God, a logical progression from Sola Scriptura commands the Bible to take central authority, with no interpretation allowed at all!
  • Apocrypha: The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches include these books in the canon, but not as having equal standing with the other Old Testament books. Thus, our Old Testament has 49 books and the Protestant one only 39.
  • Symbolic Eucharist: Jesus commanded us to celebrate the Eucharist and from earliest times the Church has believed that something real occurs and the bread and wine become His body and blood. This is a mystery. Of course, if it is only a symbol, the next step is to have communion infrequently, if at all.
  • Congregationalist: While the Pope may have abused his authority, the swing toward total independence of each congregation is a logical outcome of Sola Scriptura and a risky business.
  • Separation of Church and State: This is an American phenomenon and has significant repercussions in the Supreme Court on a regular basis. The decisions on abortion, prayer in schools, etc. have all hinged here.


Major Reformers:

  1. Martin Luther: Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, German in 1483. He became an Augustinian monk and by the age of 25 was already professor of philosophy at the University of Wittenberg, one of the youngest members of the faculty. He was regarded as an authority on the Scripture and had received and studied one of the few copies of the Bible in Greek printed in 1516 by Erasmus.

At the same time, Pope Leo X was looking for funds to build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. He sent out monks and bishops to sell indulgences. Whenever someone had an announcement to make in that day, he stuck it on the front door of the Cathedral. Martin Luther opposed the sale of indulgences on spiritual grounds and also opposed the support of Germany in building a church in Rome. He made a public announcement of his views by nailing a paper with 95 “theses” or points on it to the door of the cathedral, or church, of Wittenberg. Quickly, he was supported by the people and the king of Germany.

           But, the Pope was not happy with Martin Luther. He sent Cardinal Cajetan to debate with Luther in Augsburg, Germany – a tactical error of the Pope since the talk was on German soil, Luther’s “turf”. Luther not only refused to take back his 95 theses, he added his opposition to papal infallibility.  The Pope in 1520 issued a “Bull of Excommunication” (remember that term?) throwing Luther out of the Church! Martin Luther built a bonfire and burned the decree. Luther had meant only to talk the church into going back to the old teachings of the apostles, but now he had no church at all. The Pope asked King Charles of Spain to talk to Luther. King Charles ordered Luther to come to the city of Worms – funny name for a city, right? When Luther got there, King Charles ordered Martin Luther to stop talking about the things he believed. Martin Luther refused. Some of Charles’s nobles thought Luther should be burned at the stake, Charles let him go and his friends hid him from the angry nobles.

           Luther formed his own church, soon called the Lutheran church. German princes, happy to seize church lands and wealth and to stop paying taxes to Rome, joined the new movement; soon half of  Germany was Lutheran. But, Luther was not finished. He translated the Bible into German, the language of his people. Slowly, his theology moved in the direction of believing only what was directly written in Scripture – “sola Scriptura” – and rejecting any teaching or tradition held by the Church if not in the Bible. Thus he accepted baptism and communion, but dropped all the other sacraments! Martin Luther, in rejecting the authority of the Pope, also rejected the authority of any church teachings. Each believer should read the Bible for himself and decide what it means. Risky business! And, in opposing the sale of indulgences to buy one’s way into heaven, Luther came to believe that faith alone is the only necessary ingredient for salvation. Good works are unnecessary. He even changed in his translation Romans 1:17 by adding the word “alone” at the end of the passage, “man is saved by faith,” and proposed removing the book of James from the canon of Scripture. 

             The “Reformation” continued long after the death of Martin Luther in 1546. And the Protestants, those who “protest,” were here to stay. But, the original goal of Luther – to “reform” the Roman Church? At the Council of Trent in 1545 the Church responded with many of the changes proposed by Luther – too late. And, Luther’s “pick and choose” approach to Scripture and Church Tradition would set a precedent for future generations of Protestants.


  1. John Calvin: In other countries, other men were also protesting the teachings of the

Pope. John Calvin was born in Paris in 1509. He was never a priest. At the age of 26 he published what is probably the most influential book of the Protestant Reformation – “The Institutes of Christian Religion” – known popularly as “Calvin’s Institutes.” He attempts to set forth a clear and forthright catechism of the Christian faith as taught by the Reformers. On its basis, John Calvin formed the Reformed Church in Switzerland.

The important doctrines stressed by Calvin can be remembered by the mnemonic TULIP:

  • T: Total Depravity – man is born enslaved to sin and unable by his own efforts to choose God
  • U: “Unconditional Election” or Predestination: Man, after the fall in the Garden of Eden was capable only of sin; therefore only God could “elect” those who would besaved and those who would be damned. This stems logically from the doctrine of original sin developed by the Roman Catholics, since, if man is guilty from birth, he cannot choose good and only God can choose him.
  • L: Limited Atonement – Jesus’ death on the cross atoned only for the sins of the elect
  • I: Irresistible Grace: Those who were chosen by God had no free will in the matter to accept or reject the “election”
  • P: Perseverance of the Saints: Once chosen, the saints cannot fall away; God’s election is permanent

Calvin set up for his followers a moral code of life based on the Scriptures as he read them. For example, Calvin got rid of all monks, bishops, and priests. Soon his followers, known as Calvinists, had stripped their churches of all pictures, stained glass, candles, and robes; they would not dance or play games or go to the thea­ter. The only songs allowed were psalms. Baptism and the Eucharist were the only sacraments, and the Eucharist was only a symbolic memorial, which came to be celebrated only occasionally. In opposing the authority of the Pope, Calvin developed a system of government for his churches with no bishops; he kept only the “presbyters” (or priests), who were held accountable by a council of church members called a “presbytery.”  And, even though at first Calvin had been attacked by the Pope, soon the Calvinists were punishing those who disagreed with their beliefs in Switzerland. John Calvin ruled his church from the city of Geneva from 1541 until his death in 1564. The Presbyterian Church today is the descendant of these Calvinists.

             3. King Henry VIII:

In the land of England, the church of Rome was also losing power; but for a different reason. King Henry the Eighth wanted to get rid of his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry his new girlfriend, Anne Boleyn, and Pope Clement VII wouldn’t let him. So, in 1533, Henry declared himself head of the new Church of England, or Anglican Church, and took from the bishops and monks all the lands and churches of the Pope. He issued the Book of Common Prayer in English and replaced Latin with English in worship. The Archbishop of Canterbury, bishop of the new Church of England, annulled his marriage to Katherine and allowed him to marry Anne. But, all did not go smoothly with the death of Henry in 1547.

Henry was succeeded by Edward VI, 10 years old at the time, son of Henry’s 3rd wife, Jane Seymour (He’d had Anne beheaded after he got tired of her!). Edward was young and was his guardian, Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury, was a secret Calvinist. Soon Calvinism was introduced in the Church of England – robes, statues, and altars were removed and the Book of Common Prayer was changed. But, Edward soon died and was succeeded by Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and a staunch Roman Catholic. Archbishop Cranmer was executed, Protestant practices were forbidden. “Bloody Mary” tried to destroy Protestantism in England, but unsuccessfully. She died after only 5 years of reign.

Now, Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, came to the throne. She ruled from 1558-1602 and cemented the power her father had had. She was a Protestant, but not a staunch Calvinist, and tried to pacify both sides with a series of compromises. But she took 3 actions that were to permanently affect the Church of England:

  1. Supremacy Act: restoring her position as the head of the church
  2. Uniformity Act: insisting on the 2nd Book of Common Prayer in all churches
  3. The 39 Articles, the most important of which state:

           The Apocrypha is not a part of the Holy Scripture.

           Papal authority is rejected.

           Purgatory is rejected.

           Baptism and the Eucharist are the only Sacraments, and the Eucharist is

                       only symbolic, as believed by the Calvinists

           Veneration of icons or statues is rejected.

           Predestination is rejected.

           Justification by faith alone is accepted.

           Bishops are the only order of clergy; priests are just ministers or preachers

           Symbols of Church ritual such as robes, altars, crosses, can stay.

When people from the Church of England came to the new land of America, they became known as the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. Episkopos is the Greek word for bishop, hence the name, Episcopalians. As the decades passed, the Episcopal Church here in America divided itself loosely into two forms of worship, both found today: High Church with much ritual and Low Church with relatively little ritual.


4. Robert Browne: Anyone in the Church of England who would not accept the Uniformity Act and the 39 Articles were called Non-Conformists. They wanted each local church to be independent. Since Jesus Christ was the head of the Church, we needed no priests, bishops, etc. Each local congregation would interpret the Scriptures as it pleased. Robert Browne organized these Non-Conformists into the Congregational Church.

The Congregationalists were persecuted in England, and fled to Holland. They arrived on the Mayflower in America in 1620, the Pilgrims! These Pilgrims and Puritans played a major role in the Revolutionary War.

Two decades ago the Congregational Church and the Disciples of Christ Church merged, forming the United Church of Christ.


5. John Smyth: In Germany, there were in the days of Calvin, a group of people who believed that rejected infant baptism; they were called “Anabaptists” meaning “to be baptized again”. The Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterian churches scattered through America are German descendants of these early Anabaptists.

But, in England, a group of Anabaptists emerged out of the Church of England in 1606 under the leadership of John Smyth. They believed in baptizing only adults (who are capable of belief).  Roger Williams brought the first Baptist Church to America in 1631 in Rhode Island. He had already been run out of Massachusetts by angry Puritans. Since those days, the Baptists, have split into countless different groups, all sharing the same major doctrines:

  1. Calvinist Predestination
  2. Sola Scriptura with infallibility of Scripture
  3. Justification by faith alone
  4. Symbolic Eucharist
  5. Universality of the priesthood – each person is a priest unto himself, therefore there is no need for an hierarchy or priesthood
  6. Baptism of adults only by immersion

6. John Wesley: In 1729, two brothers were attending Oxford University in England, John and Charles Wesley. They and their friends pursued a strict way of life with prayer, Bible-reading, and meditation methodically planned to help them become more godly. The other students, in making fun of them, called them Methodists – and the name has stuck to this day.

In 1740, John and Charles organized the first Methodist Church in England. By 1766 there were Methodists in America. Francis Asbury, missionary and first bishop, held the church together during the Revolutionary War, and, after the war, the American Methodist Church (now the United Methodist Church) officially separated itself from its British roots. Asbury’s church, Lovely Lane, is here in Baltimore! It has a museum of Methodist memorabilia. Essential beliefs of the Methodist Church include:

  1. Justification by Faith alone
  2. Symbolic Eucharist
  3. Infallibility of Scripture
  4. Free Will – not Predestination


7. William Miller: In Europe, Christians with a strong belief in the Second Coming of the Lord first emerged in the early 1800s. Its beliefs traveled with Protestants of many different denominations – Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist – to America, where it was brought together under the leadership of William Miller. When the date they had chosen for the Second Coming, October 22, 1844, came and went, those who remained together formed the Seventh Day Adventist Church, because they worshipped on Saturday instead of Sunday. This is a fairly strict Church with some interesting beliefs:

  1. Sabbath on Saturday, hence the name
  2. Sola Scriptura
  3. Baptism for adults only by immersion
  4. No alcohol or tobacco
  5. Little if any Eucharist
  6. Complete separation of Church and State
  7. Jesus will live with the righteous in bodily form for 1000 years after He comes again



Use this table to help you in the memory work for this unit:





 Formational Beliefs

Roman Catholic

Pope Leo IX


1054 AD

Pope as head


Martin Luther



No pope

Justification by faith

Sola Scriptura


John Calvin




Democratic decisions

Communion a symbol

Episcopal/ Church of England

Henry VIII



Divorce his wife





Local Congregation



John Wesley



Regular Bible study

Communion a symbol


John Smyth



Adult baptism

Communion a symbol

Justification by faith

No priests

Seventh Day


William Miller

New York



Saturday worship

No Communion

Adult baptism


Summary of Beliefs: With the students’ presentations, use your wall chart or blackboard to summarize the beliefs of each of the denominations as presented. When looking at the churches listed as having “no ritual”, see if the students have visited one of these churches; what “ritual” or “order of worship” have they seen.You might do a chart similar to the one below, with the students filling in the spaces with checks and Xs:



















Roman Cath.































































7th Day Adventist











Play a learning game: Concentration. Take a piece of poster board or blackboard. Divide into a grid of 16 squares, 4 squares by 4 squares. Write each Western denomination in two scattered squares: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist. Cover each square with a post-it note. Number from 1-16. Students in order choose two numbers; if the same church, they get to keep the post-its and try again. If not the same church, the turn passes to the next player. Winner has the most churches in the end.




Heresy: These denominational Protestants at least accept the Creed and are regarded as Christians, while they may not have the fullness of faith. But, the students will meet as they go to college and on in life true heretics, as unpopular as that word is today. Another word for these groups is “cults”. Have the students already run into one or more of these? While there are too many to even enumerate, and they come and go with different names and leaders, a few seem to be here to stay, some even calling themselves Christian in hopes of trapping an unwary orthodox believer. Use the Creed as your “litmus test”:

           Christian Scientists, following the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, do not believe that Jesus was truly God nor in the Trinity.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in only God the Father – Jesus was a “superman”.

Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith) do not believe in the Trinity.


Primstav: Important people to learn about, since there are many, many Protestant denominations in this day, but no saints among them. Look back at your monastic saints, however. Were any alive during this time period?


Close with Prayer. Recite the Nicene Creed!