Protestantism includes all those groups that, though not in organizational continuity with one of the 16th-century Reformation churches, were/are in substantive agreement with the core doctrines of the early Protestant movement. This broader definition brings into the Protestant camp a set of churches that actually predated the Reformation. These churches had proposed some of the basic ideas later championed by the Protestants, and eventually accepted all of the other core Protestant beliefs and practices. Most prominent among such groups are the MORAVIAN CHURCH, which grew in response to the work of John HUS (in what is now the Czech Republic), and the Waldensians of Italy. In like measure, people such as John Hus (c. 1373–1415), Peter Waldo (d. c. 1217) and British biblical scholar John Wycliffe (c. 1329–84) are seen as heralds of Protestantism.

Baptists emerged at the beginning of the 17th century, challenging the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican churches over many of the same issues raised by the earlier Anabaptists including believer’s baptism, a church made up of true believers (as much as can be known) and the refusal of any relationship between the church and the government. They claimed to be members of the true church through which the authority of Christ had been passed and which throughout the centuries had always dissented from the corrupt alignment with the secular state. They suggested that they derived from a lineage of Christians who had always practiced adult (or believers) baptism.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries other “Free Churches” multiplied, usually as the result of movements protesting the organization within the parent body or calling for doctrinal or other changes. They often aimed at reviving a spirituality that the more staid and proper older Protestant bodies had lost.

Among the Free Churches are such groups as the Plymouth Brethren, the Holiness churches and the churches of the Restorationist movement that developed on the American frontier in the 19th century and that continued under such names as the Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Taking the lead in exploring ways to revitalize the spiritual life of the churches was Lutheran pastor Philipp Jacob Spener (1635–1705). In 1694, Spener founded the University of Halle, which became the great dissemination point for his movement, popularly known as PIETISM.

The university, a training school for future Lutheran ministers, came to be dominated by August Hermann Francke (1663–1727), a man who by precept and practice exemplified the Pietist life of personal devotion and service. He was also one of the first Protestants to develop a vision for missionary work around the world.

Soon aligning themselves with the Pietists were the Moravians, whose movement was founded a century before the Lutheran Reformation. The Moravians fled Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) when Roman Catholicism reasserted hegemony there in the 1620’s. Hounded from place to place, in 1722 they finally found some protection and acceptance on the estate of Nicolas von ZINZENDORF (1700–60), a German nobleman. At the village of Herrnhut, which they created on Zinzendorf’s land, they reorganized and emerged as the Moravian Church. As the situation allowed, they soon opened other centers of activity in the Protestant countries of Europe.

In England, the kind of personal religion represented by the Pietists and the Moravians gave birth to Methodism. Challenged by Moravians like Bishop August Spangenberg (1704–92) and future missionary Peter Böhler (1712–75), Methodist founder John WESLEY (1703–91) explored a new depth of Christian experience that led him to launch an effort to revitalize religious life in the British Isles.

Among Wesley’s associates was a former classmate at Oxford, George WHITEFIELD (1714–70). Like Wesley, he became an Anglican minister, but while Wesley itinerated through England, Whitefield traveled to America. His preaching trips throughout the colonies beginning in 1739 led to a revival known as the Great Awakening. 

Following the Moravian and Methodist lead, William CAREY and Andrew FULLER began to mobilize the Baptists. In 1792 Carey issued his booklet, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, while Fuller took the lead in founding the Baptist Foreign Missionary Society as the organizational vehicle to develop a global evangelizing outreach. Carey led the first Baptist missionary team to India in 1783.


1517, October 31, Martin Luther launches the Protestant Reformation by nailing the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Church at Wittenberg, Germany.

1521, April 17–18, Luther defends his view before the emperor and the leaders of the Holy Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms.

1523, Zwingli leads the Reformation of the church in Switzerland with the publication of the Sixty-seven Articles.

1525, William Tyndale publishes his translation of the New Testament in English.

1535, Miles Coverdale publishes Old Testament in English.

1611, Publication of the King James Version of the Bible.

1678, John Bunyan publishes the Protestant classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

1739, George Whitefield’s preaching throughout the American colonies becomes a catalyst for the initiation of the First Great Awakening.

1793, London Missionary Society is established and William Carey arrives in India as the first missionary of the Baptist Missionary Society (England).

1799, Church Missionary Society is founded to supplement the effort of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

1804, British and Foreign Bible Society founded.

1807, Robert Morrison becomes the first Protestant missionary to China sent by the London Missionary Society.

1810, Founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

1813, Adoniram Judson, the first missionary supported by American Baptists, arrives in Burma(Myanmar).

1816, American Bible Society founded.

1844, Founding of the Young Men’s Christian Association in London. John Ludwig Krapf, arrives in Kenya as the first Protestant missionary to East Africa sent by the Church Missionary Society.

1855, David Livingstone becomes the first European to find Victoria Falls.

1865, Hudson Taylor founds the China Inland Mission, later to become the largest Protestant missionary agency working in China.

1890, William Booth’s, In Darkest England and the Way Out, becomes the manifesto of the newly formed Salvation Army.

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