Protestant Christians got their name by protesting the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s. Many Catholics felt that the church needed to be reformed, but leaders of the church at that time did not listen. As a result, a large number of Catholics splintered off and founded independent congregations. These congregations placed an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible rather than church dogma.
There are many denominations within Protestant Christianity, including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. In addition to being identified by denomination, churches within these groups are further identified by their theological orientation. They are either liberal (more concerned with social action than the teachings of the Bible), Evangelical (a balance between social action and the teaching of the Bible) and Fundamentalist, those who are culturally conservative and who insist upon a very strict interpretation of the Bible.
An Overview of Beliefs
Protestant Christians maintain all the basic tenets of faith associated with Christianity including the deity of Christ, his sacrificial death for the sins of people, and his resurrection. The more liberal the Protestant, the more likely they are to be open to social and cultural change even as it comes at the expense of what the Bible teaches.
Views on Death and the After-Life
Many mainline Protestant believers hold a traditional view of death and the afterlife as taught by the Bible and believed by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. However, others have ceased to believe that hell exists as a place of punishment because they think that it is an unjust destination for those who make mistakes in life. They maintain that a loving God would not punish anyone by sending them to a place of eternal punishment.
Mourning and Funeral Rites
A Protestant funeral is generally conducted by the pastor of a local church. It normally consists of a short sermon, eulogies by friends and relatives of the deceased, hymns and prayers. Prior to the funeral service there may be a viewing at the funeral home, however the coffin is usually closed during the funeral service in the church.
After the funeral service in the church, there is often a brief graveside service. In many cases family and friends meet after the burial for food and to share memories of the deceased.
How to Express your Condolences
It is always appropriate to share your sense of loss with the family and friends of the deceased. This should be done in person if possible or by letter if necessary. A card or letter of condolence is far better than a email, but a text message should be considered inappropriate. Condolences should be directed to a surviving spouse, the adult children of the deceased, of the family member you know best. Many atheists will want gifts directed to humanitarian or scientific causes rather than flowers, and it is desirable to respect their wishes whenever possible.
Important note: The statements made about beliefs and rites are general in nature and may vary by sect, denomination, country or ethnic group. The information provided here is intended as an overview, and if you have questions about specific matters you should contact the clergy or other person conducting the funeral service. If you read anything in this section that differs from the beliefs in your tradition, please contact usso we can update this page.