I find the word "Protestant" to be a word which, while still used to describe some Christians, leaves much to be desired where accuracy is concerned.
OK, first of all if we define "Protestant" in the usual manner as referring to "any Christian individual, church, or movement that is neither Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or classical Anglican", we have an idea who we're talking about.
However, this a rather large, and somewhat cumbersome, grouping. It has three main components (each of which, to make matters even more confusing, can be found in each of the "Protestant" denominations):
- There are evangelical "Protestants", who emphasise the authority (and often the literal authority) of the scriptures, who mostly believe that the crucifixion was a substitutionary blood sacrifice, and who (in some cases) believe that God will send people to be fuel for an eternal BBQ merely for getting their theology wrong. Many evangelicals have very conservative views on matters of gender, sex, and bioethics; and some are closely aligned - in an almost Faustian relationship - with the extreme political right wing in many countries.
- There are liberal or progressive "Protestants" for whom none of these beliefs apply, and who find these beliefs appalling. For this group, the individual conscience is supreme, and many have rejected many of the classical beliefs of Christianity in addition to the appalling things the evangelicals believe.
- Then there are mainline, mainstream, or ecumenical "Protestants". (This is the group I'm part of.) We also reject the appalling things that the evangelicals believe but we believe a lot more of what classical Christianity believes than the liberals / progressives believe. Actually our beliefs in many ways are closer to the Catholics, Orthodox, and classical Anglicans than the other two "Protestant" groups, except that (along with both the evangelicals and the liberals / progressives) we're (a) committed to an "open table" at the Eucharist and (b) to clergy who have the choice whether or not to be married; and (along with the liberals / progressives) we're also committed (c) to clergy of either gender. Many of us are also open to (d) clergy in same-gender relationships.
(Note, this post is closely related to two later posts in my blog, A Catholic heart and a "Protestant mind, and A post-"Protestant' future for the church. Together, these three articles raise what I see as important issues for the future for the churches whose heritage is grounded in the Reformation.)