The Protestant Reformation and History of Reformed Theology
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The reformation or protestant reformation was a major movement in 16th century Europe within the entire Christian community. It was a proposal of change or challenge to the catholic doctrines and papal authority which resulted in a split from those that accepted the catholic doctrines to the reformists.
The reformation resulted in a major split resulting in two distinctively different groups that disagreed on major theological doctrines, the Catholics being the first group that derive their doctrinal stance on the authority of the papacy and history of the church up to that time. The second group of reformers that became and birthed the protestant church, who took the stance that Gods word was the only authority that believers should stand on.
History of the Reformation
Martin Luther is the patriarch commonly attributed as the originator of the reformation, but history reveals that there where many other reformations that began as early as the 14th century. John Wycliffe, Arnold of Brescia, Peter Waldo, Bohemian reformers and many others began various lasting reformations throughout Europe.
Martin Luther was a German priest, ordained to the priesthood in 1507, who began to reject the teachings of many of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther began one of the largest reformations with a powerful influence that has lasted to this day. Specifically he disagreed that the papacy was the divine authority and that believers should rely on God’s word alone as the divine truth. In fact, he later taught that the papacy was a heretical institution.
I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist– Martin Luther
The papacy and the Catholic Church saw Martin Luther as a heretic and sought to retaliate against him. He was hidden and protected by the king of Germany during that time. Luther fought against the papacies use of selling indulgences; this was a practice by the Catholic Church that sold indulgences to grieving family members who were told loved ones stuck in purgatory could go to heaven if they made the purchase.
Luther fought against other corrupt uses of the papacy’s religious authority. He believed that faith alone justified a person and fulfills the law of God and opposed the Catholic views on salvation by faith and works. Luther wrote out 95 theses titled the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. This was his scholar’s objection to the Catholic church’s practices. This became known as Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and spread throughout Europe in the early 16th century in various languages.
The 1500 marked a major technological achievement for humanity; it was the advent of the printing press in Europe. Therefore, the protestant reformists had access and the ability to something no other reformist had. They were able to distribute mass amounts of literature and distribute their information to large amount of people. By 1530 over 10 thousand publications were made with over 10 million copies of reformation literature.
The reformists’ ideology of teaching people to rely solely on the teachings of the bible and not on the authority of the pope spread throughout Europe and to the ends of the literate world.
The publications that challenged the Catholic Churches doctrines, institutions and teachings that had no bases in the Bible. They built a very strong case for the reformists and helped to pull people away from the Papacy.
Effects of the Reformation
As people began to convert to Protestantism, a 30 year war broke out between Reformists and counter Reformists between 1618 and 1648. It devastated much of Germany, estimated to having killed roughly a third of its population. The struggle ended with the peace of Augsburg of 1555 or Augsburg Settlement which was signed by the King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and the Schmalkaldic League who officially ended the religious struggle. All parties involved had the right to determine the religion of his own state being Catholic, Lutheran or Calvinist. The treaty ended the Papacies total European political power.
Dividing of the Church
Those that rejected the papacy as the primary religious authority turned to the Bible as the one true religious authority. This allowed believers and non believers to create their own interpretations of various meanings within the word of God. Some adhering to literal meaning, other allegorical, and others to various other types of interpretations. From these various interpretations the church began to split and divide into various subdivisions and denominations.
In the 1500’s the three major division where Lutherans, Church of England and the Calvinists. From these three came some of the following divisions in denomination and/or theology:
Church of England – Baptists – Quakers – Methodists – Pentecostals
Calvinists – Reformed Tradition – Restorationists
Was the Protestant Reformation from God or Heresy?
This is an important question, because if the reformation was heretical movement, one would have to consider whether or not the products of that movement are heresies. Many of the officials from the Catholic Church take the position that the reformation and all its products are heretical institutions. The Apostle John teaches us that those who teach heresy and are unwilling to repent are not to be a part of our fellowship:
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.– 2 John 1. 7 – 11
In order to properly answer this question, we have to consider a number of points.
Does Divine Authority Come from the Church or from the Bible
There are only two ways that authority over anything can be determined;
- Self Authorization (self-proclaimed authority)
- Appointed Authorization (authority given by another)
Self Appointed Authority – Anyone at anytime can proclaim they have authority over anything they choose; however it doesn’t mean their proclamation is true. The only way that a self proclaimed authority can stand is if that person or institution enforces it within their own abilities and continues to enforce it as long as they possibly can. No material or physical institution can enforce anything upon a supernatural institution since the spiritual is above, or is superior to the natural.
Appointed Authority – The only way a person or an institution can have authority over any spiritual institution is if it has been given that authority by the superior. The Catholic Church claims it has authority based on the appointment of God from the first church and is from the Bible. Since we have the writings from the first church fathers we are able to substantiate or test these claims.
Further this open up the doctrines of authority which have a number of views based on the following:
- Sola Scriptura – the doctrine of relying on scripture alone for all authority. The reliance on the infallibility and completion of scripture to be the ultimate authority to determine truth. (2 Tim 3.16-17)
- Prima Scriptura – the doctrine of believing that ultimate authority come first from scripture as primary source, however traditions of the church are allowed to be used to determine truth.
God gave authority to His disciples and to the early church apostles. Therefore, we have the truth from them that they wrote down in the scriptures.
And Jesus came and said to them (His disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.– Matthew 28.18
Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches of Galatia.– Galatians 1.1-2
About the Bible we find Gods authority and complete infallible instruction given to humanity. Further we are instructed to beware of those that would tempt believers away from Gods clear teachings in the Bible.
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit– 2 Peter 1.20 – 21
Now there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow in their depravity, and because of them the way of truth will be defamed.– 2 Peter 2.1 – 2
Beloved, although I made every effort to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt it necessary to write and urge you to contend earnestly for the faith entrusted once for all to the saints. For certain men have crept in among you unnoticed—ungodly ones who were designated long ago for condemnation. They turn the grace of our God into a license for immorality, and they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.– Jude 1. 3 – 4
All truth remains consistent and Gods direction will not contradict His word, the Bible. Since we know Gods word is the absolute authority it is the only source we should depend upon for truth and direction. This is why it is important for all believers to know His word. Churches and Gods people will receive direction from God, and it will always align with His scripture. Whenever a teaching or direction is given that does not align with His word, we are warned by the Apostles to call it out and keep away from it.
Is the Authority of the Church Centralized
Depending on the interpretation of this question, we can ask, if the Catholic Church is the only church that was given divine authority to speak on behalf of God. The Roman Catholic Church proclaims:
It is not from the sacred scriptures alone that the (Roman Catholic) Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed, but sacred tradition in its full purity of God’s word which was entrusted to the Apostles.– First Vatican Council
None of the distinct first churches throughout the Bible claimed to be the one supreme church. All of Paul’s epistles were written to various churches, all of equal stature in authority. All of the early churches used the bible and the apostles as their source of authority, not the direction of some central church institution. Paul rebuked the church of Corinthians who had members squabbling among themselves about belonging to specific Apostles:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?– 1 Corinthians 1. 10-13
The church is not a physical institution; it is not a building build by hands. The Bible clearly teaches that the church is the body of believers and the head or center of the church is Christ. He is the one who fills us with His Spirit and leads His people.
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.– Ephesians 4.14 – 16
– 1 Peter 2.5 (KJV)
- You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
He (Christ) is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.– Colossians 1.18 (ESV)
The attempt to place any one organization at the head of authority is an attempt to take the place of Christ. The entire body of believers is the church, that is what the definition of church is, and we all have one head, which is Christ our spiritual leader, Master and Lord Himself.
Why are There so many Protestant Denominations
Even though many denominations exist today, the protestant beliefs as a whole are all universally similar. Even though some denominations may consider themselves the only church that is going to heaven, or is the right way to believe, the primary theological understanding has the same bases points since they are an understanding that come from the same word of God. This is the reason why if you are going to worship a fundamentally different God you have to change your source of authority, i.e why Mormons have to have a separate book to authenticate their beliefs.
God Creates Diversity
From creation, everything that reproduces and is from God that begins to multiply becomes more diverse over time. In Genesis 2 God told Adam and Eve to multiply, and the generations of people become diverse as they spread out. All different kinds of animals become diverse as they spread from where God places them. In Genesis 10 God divided the nation and they become more diverse as they spread. Diversity is a protection against genetic deformities in nature, corruption in governments and nations, and heresies in churches. As one organism becomes corrupt diversity is a safeguard to ensure that when the corruption dies out, the diversity will live on.
God calls for the church to be unified in love but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t allow for diversity and become more numerous with more denominations within the churches.