Purpose of this Session
In the 1500’s, a sweeping revolution took place in the New Testament church that we now refer to as the Reformation.
Forerunners of the Reformation
John Wycliffe 1329AD – 1384AD
Known as the ‘morning star’ of the reformation, Wycliffe began a movement which esteemed the Bible as the sole source of truth, and preached eloquently and powerfully against the heresies and corruption of the established church. They held that Christ was the head of the church alone, and not the pope. Wycliffe also translated the Latin version of the Bible into English. After his death his followers were severely persecuted and virtually extinguished.
Jan Hus 1369AD – 1415AD
What Wycliffe was to England, Jan Huss was to Bohemia. Preaching strongly all that Wycliffe held and proclaimed, Jan Huss was declared a heretic by the Catholic church and burned at the stake. Before his death God had promised: “They will silence the goose (Hus means goose in Czech), but in 100 years I will raise a swan from your ashes that no one will be able to silence.” Just over one hundred later, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of his Wittenberg church, and the Reformation began. Jan Hus did not die in vain.
Girolamo Savonarola 1454AD – 1498AD
Savonarola brought the early voice of reformation to Italy. His powerfully anointed preaching against sin and corruption among the common people, clergy, government, and even in the papal office, inspired deep conviction in his hearers, and savage anger from ecclesiastical authorities. In 1498AD he and two of his contemporaries were tortured, and burned alive.
One famous event in Savonarola’s ministry is named the ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’. On 7 February 1497, supporters of Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects like cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy. The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, paintings, playing cards, and even musical instruments.
The Renaissance (a French word meaning “rebirth”)
The cultural movement known as the renaissance spanned the 14-17 centuries. Beginning in Italy it spread across Europe, awakening a revival in learning based on classical sources, and an educational and cultural revolution in arts and education. This renewed interest in classical literature led many to the Bible, and to the study of Greek and Hebrew.
The Printing Press
The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1456 was a major factor in the propagation of the reformers message. It precipitated the translation of the Scriptures into many European languages, allowing people to search the Scriptures apart from papal interpretations, shaking the Catholic church to its foundations.
Martin Luther 1483AD – 1546AD
It has been said that God’s method is a man. The man in this case was a German monk named Martin Luther. Luther became a monk in his twenties and proceeded to earnestly seek peace with God through a series of self-denying penances such as self-flagellation, endless fastings, and other punishments of the flesh. Frustrated with God’s apparent heartless denial of his efforts, Luther turned to the Scriptures to see if he could find some way of discovering the peace that so stubbornly eluded him.
Several years passed and Luther became a professor at the University of Wittenberg. His Biblical studies continued and it was here that the revelation of Romans 1:17, “the just shall live by faith” became a living reality to the weary Luther. Realising that it is not by works but by simple faith that a man is saved and justified, Martin Luther began to compare the Catholic dogma with Biblical doctrine.
Unscriptural practices of the Catholic church prompted Luther to prepare a document of protest, denouncing the sale of holy relics and indulgences (papal certificates bestowing pardon for all sins committed by the purchaser without repentance). These ‘95 Theses’ were hammered to the door of the castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. News of these theses spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the reformation flame began to burn brighter and brighter.
When he was excommunicated in 1520, Luther publicly burned the excommunication document. His dramatic stand against the ungodly papal authorities and the Emperor, aroused passionate response in other men who also rose to propagate the liberating truth of the gospel of faith in other nations.
The structured church was shaken, as the spiritual church awakened from years of slumber. Nations were divided as lines were drawn between those who would be Catholic, and those who would follow the Protestant truths proclaimed by Luther and his followers. One hundred years of bitter religious wars followed.
When the enemy comes in, like a flood the Lord raises a standard against Him
Following the Lutheran spark on October 31, 1517, a flood of earnest and passionate men and women rose to the Protestant call. Men like Zwingli, Calvin and Knox, as well as thousands of others, shouted their message, and Europe responded. Tyndale’s English Bible was one among many translations into French, German, Dutch, Italian, Swedish and Danish.
Truths restored during the Protestant Reformation
- Justification by faith
- Individual Study of the Scriptures
- Personal prayer based on relationship with God
- Assurance of salvation and clean conscience
Individual study of the Scriptures was restored to the church, having been lost in a Latin mire for centuries. Also restored at this time were the primary doctrines of repentance from dead works, and justification by faith. Men were assured of their right standing with God apart from the works of the flesh and religious performances so prevalent in the Catholic church at the time. Personal prayer, directed to God alone, and vital relationship with a living God was also restored. No longer did a battalion of saints, Madonna’s and priests stand between a man and his God. Jesus alone was recognised as the sole Mediator between God and man.
The impassable rift between those who embraced the restored theology and the Catholic church, who branded all protestants “rebels of the church as Lucifer was a rebel against God”, gave rise to new church denominations. The Protestant reformation led directly to the formation of the Anglican (Episcopal), Lutheran and Presbyterian churches.