THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION I
The following is an excerpt from the Theopedia.com article “Protestant Reformation”:
"The Protestant Reformation was a major 16th century European movement aimed initially at reforming the beliefs and
practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Its religious aspects were supplemented by ambitious political rulers who
wanted to extend their power and control at the expense of the Church. The Reformation ended the unity imposed by
medieval Christianity and, in the eyes of many historians, signaled the beginning of the modern era. A weakening of the
old order was already under way in Northern Europe, as evidenced by the emergence of thriving new cities and a
determined middle class.
In 1517, in one of the signal events of western history, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, posted 95 theses on
a church door in the university town of Wittenberg. That act was common academic practice of the day and served as an
invitation to debate. Luther's propositions challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and a number of specific
The movement quickly gained adherents in the German states, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland and portions of
France. Support came from sincere religious reformers, while others manipulated the movement to gain control of
valuable church property.
The term Protestant was not initially applied to the reformers, but later was used to describe all groups protesting Roman
As the hope of reforming the Roman church faded, the "protestants" were forced to separate from Roman Catholicism
resulting in Lutheran churches in Germany, Scandinavia and some eastern European countries, the Reformed churches in
Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England, and other
diverse elements all of which have evolved into the Protestant denominations of today.”
The following is an excerpt from David Cloud’s ebook “A History of the Churches from a Baptist Perspective”:
THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION (1500-1700 A.D.)
The term “Protestant” refers to the 16th century Reformation in Europe whereby multitudes of people rebelled against
Rome and various new denominations were formed apart from the Catholic Church.
1. The name originated with a group of German princes who protested against the pope in 1529.
2. It has come to be applied to the denominations that arose from the Reformation era, particularly the Lutheran,
Presbyterian, Anglican (Church of England / Episcopal), and Methodist.
3. The Protestant Reformation was a large and complex social, political, and religious phenomenon involving dozens of
nations and occurring over a long period.
4. The Protestants came out of Rome but they brought many unscriptural things with them.
5. We will also see that they were persecutors of the Anabaptists.
[Do you think that the Reformation was ‘sent by God’? dw]
Dan 2:20-22 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his:
And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and
knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the
darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.
Europe on the Eve of the Reformation
The following are some of the conditions that existed in the late 1400s that prepared the way for the Reformation:
In 1500, the Roman Catholic Church was at the height of its power and its cruel, immoral character had become
evident to all.
The Inquisition. People were wearied by the invasive nature of the Catholic inquisition. Multitudes served Rome
only out of fear, and they longed to throw off the pope’s shackle.
The Babylonian Captivity. This was a period of about 70 years, already mentioned, in which the popes were captive
in France. The people of Europe could see by this that the pope’s power was limited and that his curses and
excommunications were weak.
The Papal Schism. Between 1378 and 1417, there were two popes, each one cursing the other! Then in 1409, a third
pope joined the ruckus, cursing and excommunicating the other two, and they, in turn, excommunicating him. The
people of Europe were greatly confused by this and the papacy subsequently lost much of its authority.
The Disastrous Crusades. From 1095 until 1229 the popes called for wave after wave of crusades to capture
Jerusalem from the Muslims. The overall result was failure, and the people of Europe were lessened in their
confidence in and fear of the popes.
The Wicked Lives of the Popes and Priests. Every one in Europe knew that the Catholic leaders were morally
corrupt. From the Vatican pope to the village priest, covetousness, lust, and deceit reigned.
Financial Greed. Another thing that paved the way for the Reformation was the incredible greed of the Roman
Catholic Church. Martin Luther was stirred to action against Rome because of the sale of indulgences. These were
for the funding of the pope’s extravagant projects and opulent lifestyle. The greed and extravagance extended
throughout almost all sections of the Catholic Church of that day.
The Printing Press
The invention of printing in the mid-15th century made it possible for ideas to be disseminated to the masses of
people. The Reformation spread on the wings of the printed page.
Around 1450, the printing press was captured (in the city of Mentz, France) and the printers were scattered—and
with them, the knowledge of this marvelous invention was spread quickly throughout western Europe. Within ten
years after the capture of Mentz, “the art had reached to upwards of thirty cities and towns, including Venice, and
Strasburg, Paris, and Antwerp; in only ten years more ninety other places had followed the example, including
Basil and Brussels, Westminster, Oxford, and London, Geneva, Leipsic, and Vienna” (Anderson, Annals of the
English Bible, I, p. lx). With the invention of printing by moveable type, the publication of Bibles exploded. By
1520, no less than 199 printed editions of the entire Bible had appeared.
1. The Renaissance was an explosion of knowledge and learning.
2. The Renaissance emphasized individual and critical thinking.
3. It was not afraid to criticize the Catholic Church.
4. It sought ways to better the condition of man.
5. It emphasized the rights of the individual over institutions.
Erasmus published the Greek New Testament; this act alone greatly furthered the Reformation (1516). It has been
said that “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched.”
The influence of the Renaissance was evident in the Netherlands. There was an advance in art. The Dutch
Renaissance produced artists such as Mierevelt, Ruysdael, and Rembrandt.
There was an advance in science. “They could claim J.A. Leeghwater, who drew the plans for the reclamation of
Haarlem Lake, a marvelous engineering problem; and J. van der Heyden, who first undertook the illumination of
the streets of Amsterdam, and who was the inventor of the prototype of the modern fire-engine” (Dosker, The
Dutch Anabaptists, p. 244).
1. As the Reformation drew nigh, Europe was in a state of flux.
2. Constant wars had uprooted multitudes of people and had produced great change in society.
3. The Black Death had carried away 50 million people and had produced great changes.
4. The poor were restless in the midst of these great changes and longed for a way out of their economic and social
Another thing that prepared the soil for the Reformation of the 16th century was the great preaching movements of
the 15th century. In another section, we described John Wycliffe and the Lollards and the powerful preaching they
did in England and Europe.
The Waldenses were also preaching throughout the 15th century. There was hardly a nation in Europe that was not
visited by these Bible believers, either through purposeful missionary efforts or because of flight from persecution.
John Huss (1372-1415) was a prominent leader of a separatist movement that developed in Bohemia. Like
Wycliffe, Huss was a Catholic priest and he never formally broke with Rome, but he preached against Rome’s
corruptions and claimed that Christ, not the pope, is the head of the church.
And, there were various other ‘protesting’ men who had large followings: Jerome of Prague, John de Trautenau
(aka Ziska), Procopious, United Brethren, Girolamo Savonarola, etc..