The Protestant Reformation

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 15th Dec 2016 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>History

An angry monk, a corrupt papacy, a revolt, some people being thrown out of a window, the Thirty Years War, reforms in society and the formation of different denominations.

How a monk with a list of grievances brought about the definitive religious revolution in history.

In 16th century Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was the Alpha and Omega.

They had consolidated most of the power and money in Europe through the merging of religion and the state, and they only wanted more. To do this, Pope Sixtus IV established the selling of "indulgences."

The gist of indulgences was that, no matter how bad it was, people could buy pardons for their (and their deceased) sins. There were a lot of different types of these, but the most common one was a slip of paper signed by Pope Sixtus IV saying "Your transgression of is forgiven! You won't be cast into Hell when you die!"

Essentially, the Church started selling forgiveness of sins.

Naturally, some people within theological circles began complaining.

Jan Hus and John Wycliffe were one of the first people to oppose this new policy of “indulgences” and proposed that the Church return to previous practices such as:
•Teaching and preaching in the language of the people.
•Having communion in both bread and wine
•Allowing priests to marry

Basically, both Hus and Wycliffe believed in the doctrine that God’s pardon for sinners is granted and given through faith. They believed that all mankind were born sinners under the curse of God and were incapable of saving itself. But it is through Christ’s sacrifice that allows sinners to be saved and that this gift is only given through belief and faith.

The Church didn’t like the idea that Hus, Wycliffe and others were beginning to stir the pot and decided to make a statement by condemning both Hus and Wycliffe. They went on to kill Hus despite promising him that no harm will come to him. They would have also killed Wycliffe if it wasn’t that he had already passed.

However, the Church was not the type to pass up on an opportunity to make a statement, and decided to exhume his body and burn it.

Of course, this, along with the failure of the Church to address national and ideological tensions, made some people disgruntled with the Church and Martin Luther, a monk, was one of them.

It all came to a head on one day in the year 1517, when Luther got fed up and wrote his legendary Ninety – Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. In his work, Martin Luther criticized the selling of indulgences and insisted that the Church’s belief that the communion of saints grants benefits others had no place in the gospel as it came into conflict with the belief that God is the only savior. Other leaders against the Church cleverly used passages from the Bible to convince other believers that the Church was on the brink of ruin and made them switch allegiance to the movement.

Martin Luther also went on to form his own Christian church, one without a Pope as the figurehead and thus the Protestant branch of Christianity was born.

The emergence of the printing press in Germany provided many like Martin Luther the medium to express their dissatisfaction with the Church and the movement began to grow exponentially.

The Church immediately came out, condemned Martin Luther and the Reformation but the damage was already done. People were beginning to tire of the corruption with the Church and reformations were taking place around the rest of Europe.

Of course, the Church's usual response to anyone going up against their doctrine was killing said person, but Martin Luther survived because Germany was split up into hundreds of tiny Duchies at the time and his Duke was willing to protect him, largely because he wanted out from the rule of Rome himself.

With religious and political tensions brewing, it was only a matter of time before war broke out and the situation culminated in the Thirty Years War, which began in 1618.

Basically, Ferdinand II, a fierce Catholic, was the heir to the throne and Crown Prince of Bohemia. The Protestants didn't like him because they were afraid that he might take away their religious freedoms. One day in 1618, Ferdinand sent some of his delegates to Prague to rule Bohemia in his absence. But, because the Protestants were having none of that, they threw the delegates out of a window.

This only encouraged the Protestant movement in Bohemia and other German states to revolt against the Catholic Church.

So, both the Bohemians and the Protestant movement began looking for allies to help in the war effort, which drew in almost the entirety of Europe into the conflict that lasted 30 years.

Because of the Thirty Years War, most of Europe (but mainly Germany) was plunged into religious war. Eventually, the war ended with the agreement of the Peace of Westphalia which stated that:
•The Peace of Augsburg was to be respected, which basically said that each Duke got to decide if they wanted to reform or not.
•Christians that followed the church but lived in regions where the Church was not in power were guaranteed the right to practice their faith without fear of harm.

The treaty also effectively ended the Roman Catholic Church’s pan-European political power as each duchy became independent from the Church in both economics and religion.

The Roman Catholic Church also came to the conclusion that Martin Luther might have had a point. Therefore, they made reforms within the papacy to appease people. They mainly banned the practice of selling indulgences and officially allowed the translation of the Bible into local languages.

This solved most of the gripes people had with the Church while maintaining the power of the Pope over those who had remained Catholic.

The end of the Reformation also indirectly brought about:
•An increase in literacy rates
•The economic growth of independent duchies
•Different social ethics
•The development of the state system

The Reformation also brought about a change in the way churches were governed:

Episcopal - Rule by Bishops. Church leaders are called priests, and are appointed by higher ranking leaders called bishops, ultimately appointed by an archbishop. All church decisions are made top-down in an autocratic authority structure.

Presbyterian - Rule by Elders (Presbyter means "elder" in Greek). Church leaders are called Elders, pastors are elders with license to preach. Elders are elected by congregational vote, and church decisions are made by the session of elders, which includes the pastor and any ruling elders elected.

Congregational - Ruled by the congregation. Pastors are elected by congregational vote and all major church decisions are decided the same way.

The different branches of Christianity formed by the aftermath of the Reformation

Another major change which the Reformation brought was the formations of different denominations that followed their own beliefs within Christianity:

Roman Catholic (Episcopal polity)- Politically conservative on moral issues, but liberal on social issues. They are the most tradition-bound church, with lots of traditions that were abandoned by most other churches after the Reformation.

Various Orthodox (Episcopal polity)- Broke off from the Catholic Church in the 11th century over issues of autonomy and some theological issues. Similar in belief to Catholics, high emphasis on tradition and ritual, differences are mostly in some traditional practices and culture. Unlike Catholics, they don't have one unifying figurehead leader like the Pope. They have a number of different Patriarchs that serve a similar role in their area of responsibility

Anglican (Episcopal polity)- The Anglican church split off from the Catholic church in tandem with, but separate from, that reformation, however it aligned itself with a lot of the beliefs of the Reformation by the time of Elizabeth I.

Mainline - Churches that fell on the "modernist" side of the 1920's fundamentalist/modernist controversy. They are called mainline because most people who were in these denominations stayed in them when the fundamentalists left. Tend to be theologically and politically liberal.

Evangelical - Churches which stress the importance of personal conversion, evangelism, and Biblical inerrancy. They are theologically and politically conservative.

Baptist (Congregational polity) - These are the most "stereotypical" evangelicals. They get their name because they don't baptize infants, unlike all the other denominations mentioned so far.

Reformed - Churches which adhere to the doctrinal principles of John Calvin. The most uniformly theologically and politically conservative group. Reformed Baptists and Independent Reformed churches often practice a modified form of Presbyterian polity where they elect elders who have group authority, but don't report to a local presbytery the way traditional Presbyterian churches do.

Pentecostal - Churches which emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual gifts and miracles. Commonly characterized by "speaking in tongues" in public worship. Pentecostal churches tend to be much more culturally conservative, dressing differently and preaching "holiness", which to them is being outwardly different from the rest of their culture in appearance and behavior.

Anabaptist (Congregational) - Churches whose members practice a radically different lifestyle than other modern Christians. They often form tight-knit rural communities set apart by archaic clothing, avoidance or elimination of the use of modern technology, and avoidance of interaction with the greater culture. They are usually pacifistic in belief.

Independent - Independent churches still have particular beliefs which set them apart from other bodies of believers. Most independent churches are congregational in polity. Sometimes, however, they can transform into or begin as a modified form of episcopal government.


Christianity, Denominations, Historical Events, Martin Luther, Protestants, Reformation, Thirty Years War

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