Customs, Habits and Symbols of the Protestant Religion

Term Paper, 2012
14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Origin and Self-Understanding of Christianity

3. Protestant Symbols and their Meanings
3.1. Symbols
3.2. Symbolic Numbers

4. Protestant Life
4.1. Sunday and Church Service
4.2. The Ecclesiastical Year
4.3. Protestant Life Cycle

5. Conclusion

6. List of References

1. Introduction

The word religion has its roots in the Latin words religio or religari , which stand for retrospective dependence and to aim at something very often (Panati, 1999). But nowadays the term religion is quite hard to grasp, as it is somehow always there but always in a different way, which is hard to explain. All in all it stands for the involvement with fundamentional questions of mankind, like “Who am I?”, “Why do I live?”, “What should I do?” or “How can my life succeed?”(Schwikart, 2000).

Christianity is the biggest religious movement in the world with more than 2.1 billion supporters, which is almost one third of the world’s population (CFS Consulting For Success GmbH, 2011). Christians live all over the world, but most of them in the southern hemisphere. Faith and above all, everyday life is different everywhere, dependent on denomination, but on the face of it, the common origin is obvious (Schwikart, 2000).

The word Protestantism was originally not a self-designation of the evangelic Christianity, it came into being by the letter of protestation by Lutheran princes against the decision of the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which banned Martin Luther’s 95 theses. The word itself has two main options of being understood: it could stand for entering an objection, coming from the Latin word protestari or for bearing witness, coming from pro testare . And so both of those meanings became main indicators for Protestantism. In England the term stood for all non- Catholic churches and was already often used during the 16th century, while in Germany it only won through after 1700. To say evangelic seemed to be more logical here as Martin Luther was concerned with the gospels (German: Evangelien ). Today Protestantism is besides Catholicism and Orthodoxy one of the three basic forms of Christianity (Hahn, 2004).

This paper aims to describe and analyze typical customs, habits and symbols of the protestant religion as well as to give a short overview about what those are based on and where they come from.

2. Origin and Self-Understanding of Christianity

The Christian religion arose out from Judaism by accepting Jesus Christ as the expected Messiah being born of the Virgin Mary during Roman reign in Palestine (today’s Israel). He is supposed to be the son of god, who was sent to earth to release men from their sins. The primary religious texts for all Christians are written down in the bible. It consists of the Old Testament, the Tanakh - the Jewish book of faith, and the New Testament in which the first century Christianity and the life of Jesus is being told (Drane, 1995).

To give a short overview and to understand and class the following customs, habits and symbols better, some of the most important Christian beliefs are listed below:

- There is one single god, who is triune: Father (Creator), Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit
- Jesus Christ is the son of God and the Messiah of Jewish prediction. (The Jewish mother religion is still waiting for him)
- Jesus Christ has proclaimed the upcoming kingdom of God and trough his selfsacrifice at the cross the original sin is forgiven for everyone.
- All believers are christened with water and will rise again from death as long as they believe in ransom by God.
- Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of God and will come back to take all believers with him.
- Men get apart from God through sin and original sin.
- The Christian bible is the word of God.

Talking about the distinction of Catholic and Protestant Christianity, a huge intersection appears where both groups are based on the same sources and fundamental beliefs. But a deeper look will often help to identify the one or the other allocation. The most significant Catholic feature is the pope as the follower of Saint Peter and the sacraments of ordination for all clerics, which give them a special divine imprinting. The Catholic Church celebrates seven sacraments, the Protestant church only christening and Eucharist. Evangelic believers also refuse the adoration of Mary and saints and search for the base of faith only in the bible, while Catholic people also refer to sustained tradition among pilgrim people of God and the magisterium (Rössler, 2004).

3. Protestant Symbols and their Meanings

All religions express their central ideas through symbols, for example the wheel for the eternal recurrence or the path for people’s lifestyle. In addition to those, creeds and also numbers can be seen as religious symbols. A fourth dimension of symbols can be religious acts like christening or Eucharist, which will be described later on. According to Christian Danz (1998) symbols have an outstanding importance in religions and appear to be a determining characteristic of religious awareness.

3.1. Symbols

Alpha and Omega

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Alpha and Omega are the first and the last letter of the Greek alphabet (Panati, 1999). Alpha stands for the beginning, the first principle, from which everything starts. Both of the letters together symbolize the totality, beginning and ending of the world, eternity, but also God and Jesus Christ as creator and finisher (Kafka & Zerbst, 2006). In the revelation 22, 13 Jesus says “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”, the same words that god uses in revelation 1, 8 (Rommel, 1989). The letters can often be found as symbols for Jesus Christ on pictures of him or on the left and right side of Chi Rhos (Biedermann, 2000).


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In general the Anchor is a symbol for hope, steadfastness, calm and composure. In the religious context it appears to describe hope, confidence and salvation as it anchors the ship safely in the harbor and holds it tight during storms (Rommel, 1989). The connection to rescue and true faith is also mentioned in the pastoral epistle to the Hebrews, where it is written “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entered into that within the veil” (6,19). If an anchor is being shown together with dolphins or fishes, those become symbols for faithful people or Jesus Christ at the cross (Kafka & Zerbst, 2006).

Chi Rho / Labarum

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In a Chi Rho the name of Jesus Christ is abbreviated, either with the letters I and X (=Labarum) or X and P (=Chi Rho). This abbreviation is often surrounded by a circle, a cross, a fish or the letters Alpha and Omega (Kafka & Zerbst, 2006) and has already been spread widely during the first years of Christianity. Nowadays it can often be found on altars or on the priest stole (Panati, 1999).


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Thanks to his morning crow and his red comb, the cock has always been a symbol for sun and light, but also vigilance (Biedermann, 2000). In one of the most famous biblical stories, Peter pronged all cocks that have crowed after he had betrayed Jesus. This is where the tradition to prong cocks on the top of church roofs comes from. Among the first Christians the cock was even used as a symbol for resurrection, the one announcing the day that Jesus will come to wake up the death (Rommel, 1989).


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The cross Jesus died on is the main symbol of Christianity (Panati, 1999). It stands for a connection between far and near, between heaven and earth, it unifies space and time. It also shows how people’s temporal wishes (horizontal) are being crossed be gods eternal love (perpendicular) (Rommel, 1989). Since the 11th century a cross is usually put on the altar in Christian churches (Kafka & Zerbst, 2006).


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The fish is the symbol of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for fish is Ichthys . Each letter is now used as the first letter of a new word: I=Jesus, Ch=Christ, Th= Gods, Y=Son, S=Savior. Also the casting of a fishnet is used as a symbol for winning people for the Christian faith (Bieger, 2010). The fish is and has always been a sign of identification for Christians (Rommel, 1989) and was even used as a secret sign among pursued Christians (Hahn, 2004). Nowadays it can often be found on the back of cars to demonstrate people’s religious affiliation.


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

A lamb is the young one of a sheep or a goat and has always been a symbol of innocence, meekness and purity (Kafka & Zerbst, 2006). In Israel lambs had to be slaughtered to atone for one’s sins (Ex 12, 3). But in the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God to carry the world’s sins (Jn 1, 29). The other dimension of a lamb in the biblical sense is described in the Gospel According to Luke (15, 5), where the lamb stands for all of god’s children he takes care of as the shepherd (Rommel, 1989).


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Customs, Habits and Symbols of the Protestant Religion
Stralsund University of Applied Sciences
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customs, habits, symbols, protestant, religion
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Laura Klöpping (Author), 2012, Customs, Habits and Symbols of the Protestant Religion, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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