What Do Protestants Believe About the Early Church?

Hi all,

I was curious about something I read here on CAF. The main idea was that Jesus said that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against his church. They went on to ask the question, do protestants believe that the gates of the netherworld prevailed for 1500 years until Martin Luther showed up?

What do you believe happened to all of those Christians who died before Luther (Or Zwingli, Calvin, Wesley, etc) was able to reform Christianity?

I guess I’m just trying to figure out where protestants think it all went wrong and what happened to those who were not alive to see the time of Luther?

I guess the Protestant’s concept of salvation is not dependent on the Church someone belongs to.

SOLA FIDE and SOLA SCRIPTURA adherents holds on to the concept of salvation through faith alone. Thus, for them, anyone who believed in Jesus were and are already saved.

I may be wrong on this though.

These are very good questions! They were some of the questions I pondered prior to becoming Catholic from within the Protestant Tradition.

Not every Protestant believes in the doctrine of Sola Fide. The denomination I spent the majority of my faith during my informative years was in a Pentecostal church. It is very much so faith alone but the caveat that with “faith that produces good fruit”… so faith alone yes but it is only faith that can lead to good fruit. So if one does not produce good fruit it is because of lack of faith or an immature faith.

When you mention some of these “Great Reformers” and what Protestants believe concerning the Church from the time The Church was birthed and until Martin Luther… to be honest, I don’t think many folks within the Protestant Tradition know a whole lot about The Early Church. Their only understanding is the Bible they read and of course teachings from their own trusted sources… I mean, the idea to actually start reading The Early Church Father’s seems to some a pointless thing to do. So they may think. All this to say is that there’s a wide range and diverse view points that many within the Protestant Tradition have pending on whether or not they have come to believe the debunked anti-Catholic propaganda. Many falsely believe anti-Catholic propaganda so for some it is believed that The Early Church began to fall away from absolute truth and start worshipping Mary and The Saints and practice other forms of idolatry shortly after the original 12 disciples. It is believed that throughout time God kept for Himself a remnant few who stood faithfully to the truth despite the increasing corrupt church Jesus originally founded. Of course, this is what some Protestant’s believe but not all. So, when they come across Early Teaching that seems to be compatible with what the currently believe in their own translation of Sacred Scripture then they’ll elevate such teachings gladly. It is my observation however, when Protestants find such golden nuggets of historical teachings it’s stir something within their own hearts to dig deeper. However, if they choose not to dig deeper then they’ll just in some way or other try to deflect away from the obvious contradictory and will hyper focus on what they believe is idol worship and/or praying to Mary and Saints which many within the Protestant tradition view as idol worship. They’ll hyper focus on what they believe to be error in teaching before they’ll look into what would actually debunk their mislead beliefs of the Catholic Church.

It is my opinion however, if we wish to reveal the greater truths found within the Catholic Church it is far better to find areas we share in common first. I mean, Protestant’s for the most part have a partial truth. When you find commonality in the beliefs we share and respect their faith and relationship with Jesus building a bridge that may create opportunity to correct some of their mislead beliefs about the Catholic Church becomes possible. My journey into the Catholic Church was a 25 year journey. You just never really know the impact you’ll have when fellowshipping and engaging in dialogue with Protestant believers.

Learn more about the basics of what Protestant believers have difficulty with…


  1. Mary and the Saints
  2. Praying the Rosary - why and what is it?
  3. Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura
  4. Sacred Tradition along with Sacred Scripture

When you can cause a Protestant believe to honestly question their belief in the authority of Sacred Scripture alone and effectively communicate how Sacred Tradition is just as authoritative then you enable the Protestant believer to start honestly thinking about what they believe and why they believe what they believe. It took me many years to realize that when I spoke of the authority of Scripture what I was really talking about was my own fallible interpretation of Sacred Scripture. It’s quite earth shattering, it turns your world around when you even just think about the fact that our private interpretation of Sacred Scripture could be wrong. A Protestant’s whole faith journey is dependent upon their “skilled interpretation” of Sacred Scripture and so when presented with the possibility of having erred with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture it could actually be enough for the individual to go into an existential crisis. So, I wouldn’t so much focus on what Protestant’s believe regarding The Early Church just because there’s such a wide range and diverse beliefs among Protestant’s but if you can honestly question the basic questions that most Protestant’s have than in dialogue you can ask them what their views are. And when you do, have a few quotes from the Early Church Father’s ready to be quoted and include the era they lived in. If you can quote Early Church Father’s from the 2nd and 3rd Century that prove Catholic Teaching today is the same as it was in the 2nd and 3rd Century of the Church then you’ll have enough to debunk some of their misguided beliefs.

the protestant doctrine is changing depending on the challenges that they continue to face on just about every era…but when it started, it was just SOLA FIDE and SOLA SCRIPTURA…

some went out of the SOLA FIDE branch and changed it to SOLA GRATIA when the main branch of protestantinism failed to answer the question about good works…

but deep in their system is the SOLA SCRIPTURA doctrine to which, if I am not mistaken, all branches of PROTESTATINISM subscribes to up until this point…

When I was attending a baptist church, church history was never taught. We would compare and contrast beliefs of other churches in our bible study groups. We talked a lot about the stories in the bible. Conversations about the reformation or why it happened or who caused it just never came up. I was considering joining this baptist church. But before I did I wanted to figure out what it meant to be baptist. That’s when I looked up the baptist faith on the internet. I learned about when the faith was founded and who founded it. I learned that Baptists broke away from the Church of England. So I started reading about the Church of England on the internet. I learned that the Church of England also broke away from another church, the Catholic Church. So I started reading about the Catholic Church.


Alex H;13462746]Hi all,

I was curious about something I read here on CAF. The main idea was that Jesus said that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against his church. They went on to ask the question, do protestants believe that the gates of the netherworld prevailed for 1500 years until Martin Luther showed up?

No. If the gates of Hell had prevailed, there would have been no Church to reform. No Church Triumphant to transfer to.

What do you believe happened to all of those Christians who died before Luther (Or Zwingli, Calvin, Wesley, etc) was able to reform Christianity?

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

I guess I’m just trying to figure out where protestants think it all went wrong and what happened to those who were not alive to see the time of Luther?

Why do you think we believe it ALL went wrong?

Do you have source for this?


  1. How do we know which church triumphant is correct? Calvinism, Lutheranism, etc?
  2. So would you say that catholics will not perish?
  3. Because there had to be some reason why Lutheranism, Calvinism, Methodism, etc was founded. If they thought that the Catholic church was teaching all truth, then there would be no need to found a new religion.

Alex H

Most Protestant churches have no quarrel with the early Church. It wasn’t until many centuries later that the popes started doing things that the Reformers claimed were unChristian. When exactly that is supposed to have happened, and which popes were to blame, I don’t know. It’s probably something that the different strands of Protestantism disagree about among themselves.

As for Jesus’ promise that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [my Church],” all a Protestant has to do is claim that the promise applies to his church or sect alone, and not to any of the others.

In which case we only have to look at who Jesus was building His Church on (Peter), and who were considered the successors of Peter very early on in the Church, and still are to this day. :shrug:

  1. There is only one Church Triumphant.
  2. Of course not.
  3. Yes. We believe that the Catholic Church mixes some error with truth. Lutheranism, as a tradition within the Church Catholic, is not a “new religion”. We confess "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.


In all the years I attended Protestant churches the topic of early church history never came up. It was if there was a jump in time from Acts 28 until the present, and anything in between didn’t matter. Every so often there was a passing comment or compliment about Luther or Calvin but that was it. Of course I never bought into the fact that the past doesn’t matter, one of the things that drew me to Catholicism is 2000 years of rich church history

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.


Hello, Jon! :slight_smile:

There is one thing I do not understand, though. You’ve said that the Catholic Church mixes some error with truth; what does it mean then for Lutheranism to be a tradition within the “Church Catholic”? What is the “Church Catholic”, something distinct from what is now considered the Catholic Church?

When people use the name Catholic Church, they are usually referring to those in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Church Catholic is, essentially, the universal Church, of which Catholics, Lutherans, and many others are part of, The One True Church.


I think it would depend on which Protestant denomination or “non-denomination” one is speaking of.

Most of those bodies believe that they most resemble the early church. It’s their 'raison d’etre.

The body I converted from, the
acapella "church of Christ’ considers themselves to be the only true church to exist. Even though they were not invented until the year 1906. They claim to be the church of the apostles and that this group restored back into being. :confused:

I’d argue it started with the Avignon papacy and continued to worsen through the Western Schism and of course the string of morally ambiguous to downright abhorrent popes in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. There were of course a few very bad popes before these eras such as Stephen VI, Benedict IX, Sergius III. And there were some good popes during the era I mention, but the bulk of the protestant issues with the papacy can be traced back to the early 1300’s-mid 1500’s time frame, particularly the tail end of that time when there was a string of over a half dozen bad popes back to back. It was a time when there was a disproportionate amount of abuse from the papacy from Popes like Sixtus IV Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, which led significantly to the weakening of the office both temporally, morally and spiritually.

Now which pope broke the camel’s back specifically varies so to speak, but leading into the Protestant reformation it was a string of abuse by multiple popes that opened the door to the reformation. Now that’s not to say that the gates of hades prevailed against Christ’s overall church. The reformers felt their pulling away was helping resist the gates of hell. And if anything the Reformation helped the Catholic church to finally rectify some of the issues that the reformers had objected to and to resist the evil that had been plaguing it. Just my :twocents:

With regard to the early church, indeed some protestant bodies do see themselves as returning to what they view is more like the early church. Some like the Anglicans and arguably the Lutherans view themselves as a continuation of the church that had existed up until the break with Rome simply outside of Rome’s control and still see themselves as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Indeed as an Episcopal I still profess that ever Sunday using the more or less the same Nicene Creed as Catholic, Lutherans, Orthodox (minus the filioque).

Thank you, Jon. I think this is language - or the many branches of the Church - that Roman Catholics have a hard time understanding. But it is what I was taught from an early age in the Anglican Church.

When I was growing up the word “Protestant” was often used by Protestants, but nowadays the word is seldom used by anyone other than persons in-union-with-the-Pope, and Orthodox. There is now so much diversity of official positions among Christians who aren’t in-union-with-the-Pope, nor Eastern Orthodox, I don’t think you can use a single term to describe any common position taken by those Christians.

You might say there are Catholics who don’t agree with the Church’s position on X. But there is only one official position on many issues. Protestantism has multiple official positions. So the thread question can be answered, but keeping that in mind.

I think there are several factors:

  1. perhaps a relative ignorance of this principle and corresponding writings of the church fathers. Remember this was the 1500’s. No internet, not much coming of the printing press, books were rare expensive and valuable.

2). Reformation church practice and theology was much more similar to Catholicism than it is today. It looked much more like an internal protest than a new invention at the time. The chasm of course is much greater today due to the changes occurring in every generation of Protestantism that transforms it.

  1. as an evangelical I sort of did not think about this question. I had the belief that Catholics that loved Christ could be saved but the idea of the church being protected was not part of my view.

As a Protestant I watched churches fail and divide constantly so the idea of an unfailing church was strange to me, and I would interpret that verse to mean from Christ time to the second coming, someone will be proclaiming Jesus somewhere.

You can see how my worldview skewed my interpretation. Reading the early church put me back on the right track!

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