It is the 19th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1529
For the second day in a row, we are in the throws of the early Reformation in Germany. And today, we will come to an essential turning point in the history of the church and the world.
But first, I want you to think about planet earth. Picture it floating in space and then zoom out to see our solar system and then the galaxy. This is probably around 100,000 light-years (I hardly grasp how size is measured in time, but stick with me here). The observable universe is not 100,000 light-years big but about 90 billion light-years in length. And this is just the observable universe. Now find yourself, right now, on that big map. Ok, so perhaps you feel pretty small, and maybe you might proclaim with the Psalmist:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Keep this tension in mind today: of being a blessed particular and part of a whole so big, you could never imagine it.
And with that, the Diet of Speyer. The Diet of Speyer took place in 1529 as part of a series of Diets designed to bring unity back to a fractured church. This particular diet had many concerned princes who had decided to back the Reformation cause. When they complained about their lack of representation and continued to protest, they were given a nickname: the Protestants.
And so today, we ask, what's a Protestant?
First, it's a nickname. Ex-Roman Catholics in Europe were called Protestants (among other things). Protestant is the equivalent to the old Brooklyn baseball team going by the Superbas, the Bridesmaids, and the Trolley Dodgers. Nicknames suffice until official names are agreed upon, but even then, we don't wear our confession like a name badge.
And another note, this protesting and breaking off as "Protestants" was by no means the first big break in the church. A casual look at Church History reveals divisions from the days of the Apostles. But our question today, based on the events at the Diet of Speyer, is, what is a Protestant today? It is a Western Christian in that stream of dissent originating from Luther's challenging Papal authority in the 16th century.
A Protestant can be a Lutheran, a Calvinist, an Anglican, an Anabaptist, or whatever zombie confessions are made up of elements from those branches.
Lutherans originated in northern Germany and then spread into the Nordic countries.
Calvinism is a protestant tradition laying hold to the distinctive that separated John Calvin from Martin Luther. They spread from Switzerland through France and Scotland into the new world.
Anglicans are simply English Christians who became part of a new Protestant church when Henry VIII declared the English sovereign to be the head of a new English church. It tends to be Calvinistic in theology, but John Wesley would emphasize the human will, and these Anglicans became "Methodists."
The Anabaptists are not wholly related to modern "baptists" but represent the radical and more individualistic strains of Protestantism.
At this point, I could draw your attention to the number of Protestant denominations and churches that have developed since the 16th century. And this would undoubtedly make you feel small in your corner of the world. But I can make you feel even smaller. It's not as if Protestants were the first to splinter the church. After writing more than 700 consecutive episodes of this show, I can assure you that there has never been a time in church history not rent by division—Peter and Paul, Alexandria and Antioch, Chalcedonians and Miaphysites, and on and on.
And the more you see in Church history, the more you begin to see just how gigantic the field is. Trying to pin down your own specific beliefs, let alone a historic group like "the Protestants," might reveal how small and isolated you are. Church history can do that.
But then you may turn that feeling of being small and isolated back to Psalm 8. We find meaning in the knowledge that God recognizes and loves even us, 21st century Christians trying to figure out the vast maze of dissent, confusion, and factions in the church. And in finding your small voice in the big story, you might find some comfort in your dissent or protestations. And when you do so, you find yourself in the company of those first Protestants who were declared to be such at the Diet of Speyer on this the 19th of April in 1529.
The reading for today comes from the Protestant Richard Baxter. This is his "Lord It belongs not to my care."
Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God's kingdom comes
must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
thy blessed face to see;
for if thy work on earth be sweet,
what will thy glory be!
Then shall I end my sad complaints
and weary, sinful days,
and join with the triumphant saints
that sing my Saviour's praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but 'tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the man who put the "Pro" in Protestant, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by a very small speck of dust in relation to everything else, Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to