by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)


  • Introduction
  • The Causes
  • The Leaders
  • Catholic Reaction
  • Principles Upon Which the Reformation was Founded
  • Historical Perspective
  • Student Instructions

  • Introduction

    In Lesson 13, we traced the history of Catholicism leading up to the Reformation. You will need to review this lesson briefly. Recall how Wyclif, Huss, Savonarola, and Tyndale protested against Catholic practices, starting opposition movements, only to find themselves impaled upon her wrath and power. Although their efforts were abortive insofar as making a clean break with the Catholic church, their martyrdoms were the "launching pads" for the "explosion" (the Reformation) which rocked all of Europe in the early 16th century. The revolution gathered so much momentum that within 50 years of its beginning (1520-1570) Germany, England, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, and Holland had become lost to the papacy. There was open rebellion to papal authority across Spain and France, and even in Italy. Catholicism suffered great losses in terms of influence, power, and strength -- losses which have not been recovered.

    The purpose of this study will be to present some facts about the Reformation -- the causes of it, the Leaders of it, Catholic reaction to it, and the principles behind it.

    The Causes

    Attitudes Toward the Scriptures and Their Results

    Ignorance of the Scriptures led to many drastic changes:

    * The lust for power among religious leaders was the most noticeable feature.
    * The idea of ultimate power being vested in the church required that the organization be proclaimed infallible and incapable of making mistakes. This produced a subsequent notion that the church could declare the Bible valid or invalid as it desired. Therefore, the church was elevated above the Scriptures -- a position God never intended for it to occupy. The church was made the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures and claimed that they could only be understood as she interpreted them.
    * Another outgrowth was the placing of one man into the highest authoritative position and giving him infallible powers to rule and control the church.
    * A fourth development was the idea that it was the duty of the civil government to defend the church against her enemies and to protect her resources. Consequently, the punishment of enemies was deemed expedient. The civil government could therefore, force the members to attend church and believe only what they allowed. Religion became a matter of form and tradition.
    * A fifth facet was the concept of "tradition" being equal to the Bible. With the work of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, the "traditions of the church" were elevated to an unwarranted position and literally became the interpreter of the Bible -- together with the pope.

    Consider: The actual meaning of "tradition" in the New Testament is found in a study of the Greek word "paradosis". The Greek-English New Testament Lexicon defines this word as "an instruction, or tradition". This word is found in Matt. 15:2, I Cor. 11:2, II Thess. 2:15; 3:6. It clearly refers to something taught by the apostle Paul in these latter references. All that he taught and wrote were in perfect harmony. Therefore, any religious activity must not contradict the inspired writings. Today when Roman Catholics are asked "by what authority" they do certain things they reply that "said activity" is based on "tradition". But, any teaching in addition to that which was taught by an apostle in person, or which contradicts the New Testament writings, must of necessity be rejected. (Gal. 1:6-9).

    Abuse Within the Catholic Church Itself:

    * The practice of simony, a word which means the sale of church offices, was practiced openly.
    * Nepotism, which means that all favors, positions of power and places of prominence are given to relatives, was widely condoned.
    * The common people were displeased with the lives of the priests, their ignorance, immorality, and vulgarity.
    * There was no discipline -- why should the people follow that to which their leaders refused to adhere.
    * The clergy was ignorant of the Bible - Carlstadt, a contemporary of Luther, admitted that he had become a doctor of divinity before he even saw a complete copy of the Bible. (Miller, p.26).
    * The sale of indulgences by which a person could buy the remission of his sins, was the most corrupt and diabolical money-making scheme ever devised.
    "Indulgences were farmed out to be retailed. Thus, 'selling the privilege to sin' became one of the main sources of Papal revenue. In 1517, John Tetzel came through Germany selling certificates, signed by the pope, offering pardon of all sins, to buyers and their friends, without confession, repentance, penance, or absolution by the priest. He said to the people 'as soon as your coin clinks in the chest the souls of your friends will rise out of Purgatory into Heaven'. This horrified Luther" (Halley, p.894).
    * The worship of God "in spirit and in truth" had been corrupted by the addition of saint worship, worship of images, superstitious rites and ceremonies. Mechanical recitals of paternosters and ave Marias, confessions, and pilgrimages to holy shrines had replaced the simple New Testament form of worship.
    * Preaching in the church centered around such themes as indulgences, pilgrimages, processions, and raising money. The word of God had been "chained to the pulpit". (Miller, p.27).
    * The idea of SALVATION through works of merit changed completely the New Testament purpose for doing good works, and appealed to selfish motives in man.
    * The cruelty of the papacy in such things as the Inquisition brought about revolt. The Inquisition, called the "Holy Office", was instituted by Pope Innocent III. It was known as The Church Court for the Detection and Punishment of Heretics. Its manner of working is described by Halley:
    "Under it, everyone was required to inform against Heretics. Anyone suspected was liable to torture without knowing his accuser. The proceedings were secret. The Inquisition pronounced sentence, and the victim was turned over to civil authorities to be imprisoned for life, or to be burned. The victim's property was confiscated and divided between the church and the state" (p. 883).

    Following the days of Pope Innocent III, the Inquisition quelled rebellions against the Catholic Church all over Europe. Later it was used by the papacy to try to crush the Reformation -- many perished.

    Other Reasons:

    * Many objected to the union of the church and state and there was growing discontent with this arrangement.
    * Many scholars began to feel that authority rested in the Bible and not in the church. Fisher says, "the Reformers, in maintaining that authority resided not in the church, but in the Bible, exercised the right of private judgment" (p. 289).
    * The Renaissance, or the transition from medieval to modern civilization, was causing an awakening all over Europe. There was a renewed interest in art, literature, and science. There was a change from medieval to modern methods of thought. The new emphasis on learning began to take away the long residence of ignorance and superstition which prevailed. And as more information came, increased dissatisfaction with the religious conditions grew. (Cox, p. 53).
    * The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1455 was another factor. "Before this invention, from the beginning of time, books had been circulated only as rapidly as they could be copied out by hand. A Bible in the Middle Ages cost the wages of a working man for a year. It is significant as showing the desire of that time, that the first book printed by the Gutenberg Press was the Bible. The press brought the Scriptures into common use, and led to their transition and circulation in all languages of Europe. The people who read the New Testament soon realized that the papal church was far from the New Testament ideal" (Hurlbut, p. 151).
    * The growing feelings of nationalism and patriotism had begun to affect the thinking of the people. There was resentment against the idea of having a foreign power rule over their national churches. They rebelled against the practice of having the pope, from another land, appoint their church officers. (Cox, p. 54).

    For these and countless other reasons the Reformation soon burst into flame. Leaders came forward to assert their influence.

    The Leaders

    Martin Luther (1483-1546 A.D.) Born and raised a Catholic in Germany, Luther learned the Bible after he became a Catholic monk. He graduated from the University of Erfurt and later earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was subsequently a teacher in Wittenberg from 1508 until his death in 1546. From his study of the Scriptures and his observation of prevalent Catholic practices, Luther took issue against them on the following points:

    * Challenged the authority of the popes
    * Condemned the sacramental system
    * Opposed the sanctity of the priesthood
    * Urged the nobles to throw off the bondage of Rome and take control of the lands and wealth that were held by the church
    * Denied the doctrine of transubstantiation

    But, it was not until 1517 when Tetzel came into Germany selling indulgences to raise money for Pope Leo X to complete St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome (it was largely built through this system), that Luther took action. Opposing this corrupt scheme bitterly, on October 31, 1517, he nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. He utterly rejected this "net with which to catch money" as he referred to it. When the reaction came, both for and against him, Luther realized that he must take a firm stand on the Scriptures as his final authority in opposition to the human authority against him.

    On June 15, 1520, Leo X issued a papal bull which gave Luther two months to retract his challenge or receive the penalty of a heretic (death). Ignoring the pope's decree, he burned the bull publicly in December, of that year, thus severing his allegiance to the Roman Church. A bull of excommunication was issued on January 3, 1521.

    He was soon summoned before the Diet of Worms by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and commanded to recant. He refused and thus was declared a heretic. He was condemned, but on his way home from the trial some of his many friends rescued him from certain death. His courageous stand before the Diet was: "Unless I am persuaded by means of the passages which I have uoted, and unless they thus rend my conscience bound by the word of God -- I cannot and will not retract" (Cox, p. 56). His death came in 1546. He is the founder of the first protestant denomination -- Lutheran -- which bears his name.

    Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531 A.D.) He lead the reform in Switzerland at the same time the Lutheran reforms were raking Germany. He was as well-educated as Luther and was probably just as courageous. He broke with the Catholic Church -- taking issue on the following points:

    * Combination of church and state
    * Sale of indulgences
    * Celibacy
    * Mass
    * Images
    * Using the Bible as sole authority
    * Instrumental music

    He virtually eradicated Catholicism from Switzerland and it has never been strong there since. The extent of his reform was more far-reaching than that in Germany by Luther. His stand on the Scriptures was different from that of Luther. He upheld completely the authority of the Scriptures and in so doing swept away all the externals (images, pictures, relies, instruments of music) in the worship together with transubstantiation and monasteries. He stipulated that the only things to be used in worship must be specifically authorized by the Bible. When he and Luther met in 1529 to discuss their views on the Lord's Supper, they could not agree. Luther, although he did not believe in transubstantiation, held to a peculiar doctrine he called consubstantiation (somehow the elements did become the literal body and blood of Christ). He walked out in a rage against Zwingli.

    Unfortunately the career of this great man was cut short when Protestant and Catholic forces engaged in carnal warfare. Determinded to die rather than yield, Zwingli, a chaplain, was killed.

    John Calvin (1509-1564 A.D.) A very well-educated Frenchman whose sympathy for the Protestant Movement caused him to be driven out of France (all Protestants were being burned at the stake) by the Roman Catholic Church. He moved into Switzerland, and continued the reform which Zwingli had started there. A sickly man all of his life, he is described by his biographer as a "beautiful example of a truly Christian life". In this, he was the direct opposite of Luther -- a man who was described as "almost anything other than a saint". (Hardeman, p. 89). At the age of 27, he wrote his famous Institutes which was an exposition of Reform theology. Calvin contended that everything which has to do with our salvation is founded on the will of God -- that God alone saves and not we ourselves. Because he believed this, he was the author of five main doctrines which have always characterized the Presbyterian denomination -- of which he is the founder. These doctrines (which will be examined in detail in Lesson 19) are:

    * Election, predestination -- some have been selected for salvation -- all others are damned.
    * Limited atonement -- Jesus died for the ones already selected.
    * Hereditary total depravity -- all are born sinners.
    * Effectual calling of the Holy Spirit -- God will call those selected for salvation by the Holy Spirit. He cannot be resisted.
    * Impossibility of apostacy -- a saved person cannot be lost.

    Other principles in religion for which he stood were:

    * Church members should elect their own office-bearers to carry on the government of the church.
    * In spiritual matters the church must be separate from the state.
    * Singing in the congregation should be without instrumental accompaniment.
    * Calvin believed in the absolute authority of the Scriptures.

    Note: "There is general agreement among serious scholars that Calvin was the greatest man of the Reformation era" (Renwick, p. 119).

    Consider: Here again in the thinking of Calvin we see the same age-old process wherein much confusion and false doctrine have arisen -- namely, the matter of taking an assumption and following it through to its logical conclusion.

    * The Catholics did it -- they assumed that all are born with "original sin" and look at the results, Lesson 15.
    * Martin Luther did it with the idea of salvation by faith alone. We will study it in Lesson 19 and note the results.
    * And, Calvin did it with the idea of the sovereignty of God -- that God alone controls the salvation of man.

    Philip Melancthon (1497-1560 A.D.) He was a brilliant scholar with a meek and humble disposition -- a very close friend and co-reformer of Luther. It is amazing that two men of such different temperaments as he and Luther were friends. Of this great man, it has been said, "Without Luther, the Reformation would never have taken hold of the common people: without Melancthon it would never have succeeded among the scholars of Germany" (Schaff, VII:195). He was the person who drafted the first and most famous of Protestant creeds, the Augsburg Confession of Faith, in 1530.

    John Knox (1505-1572 A.D.) Formerly a Catholic priest, Knox took John Calvin's doctrines to Scotland and established the Presbyterian denomination. Like Calvin, he was a man of ill health, and often had to be helped about, but as a preacher, he was of fearless courage. It was largely through his influence that the doctrine, worship and government of the Catholic Church was over-thrown by the Scotland parliament in 1560 and Protestantism made the state religion.

    Catholic Reaction

    The Counter Reformation In reaction to Protestant expansion in many countries, the Roman Church organized the Counter Reformation. The Council of Trent (in session for 18 years -- 1545-1563), together with the Inquisition, succeeded in abolishing some of the moral corruption of the papacy. Then, about the end of the century all of her forces were organized for a drive against Protestantism. Through the Jesuits, she was able to recover much of the lost territory -- no matter that millions perished in the process.

    Germany By 1540, all of North Germany had become Lutheran. Pope Paul III urged the Emperor Charles V to declare war -- volunteering the use of his army. The pope made the war a Crusade and offered indulgences for all who would take part. The war lasted nine years before the Lutherans were given official recognition.

    The Netherlands The Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Anabaptists became strong in this country. But, in 1522, Charles V established the Inquisition. In 1535, "death by fire" was decreed for the Anabaptists. Charles V, through the Jesuits (Roman Catholic priests who were the Inquisition) massacred more than 100,000 with unbelievable brutality. "Some were chained to a stake near a fire and slowly roasted to death; some were thrown into dungeons, scourged and tortured on the rack, before being burned. Women were buried alive, pressed into coffins too small, trampled down with the feet of the executioner". Finally, after horrible sufferings they gained their independence in 1609.

    France In 1559, there were 400,000 "Hugenot" Protestants in France. Their purity of life was a clear contrast to the profligacy of the Roman priests. On the night of August 24, 1572, about 70,000 Hugenots, including most of their leaders, were butchered -- planned, instigated and carried out in the name of Christianity. This was known as the St. Bartholomew's Massacre.

    Bohemia By 1600, 80% of the population of 4,000,000 were Protestant. When the Hapsburgs and the Jesuits had completed their work, only 800,000 remained -- all Catholics.

    Austria and Hungary Many were slaughtered in a 50% Protestant population.

    Poland By the end of the 16th century it appeared that Romanism would be completely abolished. However, the Inquisition killed Reform in that land.

    Italy The Inquisition halted the spread of the Protestant fires.

    Spain A Dominican monk, named Torquemada, purged this country of the Reformation. From 1481 to 1808 there were at least 100,000 martyrs and 1,500,000 banished. When the Reformation began, Spain was the most powerful country in the world. Its present negligible standing in the world is a living monument to what the papacy can do for a country. (All references, Halley, pp. 895-898).

    Consider: Were these persecutions and slaughters just "the spirit of the age"? Can the papacy be excused? Whose age was it? Who made it? It was their world. They made it what it was. For over 1000 years they had been training the world to follow them. If the people had been following the Bible -- the word of God -- they would have known better. Surely the Vicars of Christ (popes) should have known better, and if they did not who did? The people had no Bible to guide them.

    It must be acknowledged that many Protestants also persecuted, thinking that they must "fight fire with fire". They were wrong, also, and many were slow to understand that for which they were struggling.

    Principles Upon Which the Reformation was Founded

    * Acceptance of the Bible as the only authoritative source and rule of faith and practice, plus the right of private interpretation.
    * Doctrine of justification by faith alone as opposed to the works of merit idea of Catholicism.
    * Universal priesthood of all believers in which all Christians are free to take part in church affairs -- opposed the Roman Catholic arrangement whereby the hierarchy controlled everything.
    * Removal of the obstructions (priests, saints, images, relies, etc.) which Catholicism had placed between the believer and Christ. This made the gospel of Christ available to every believer without the interference or permission of a priest. (Miller, p. 27).
    * When the Bible was studied, the union of all believers was possible.

    Historical Perspective

    33 -- Church of Christ began in Jerusalem.

    606 -- Roman Catholic Church organized with Boniface III, as first pope.

    1054 -- Catholic Church splits -- Eastern Orthodox Church established.

    11-13th century -- Rise of Protestant sect --Albigenses in France.

    13-14th century -- Waldenses arose in northern Italy.

    15-16th century -- Huss, Wycliff, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others arose in protest.

    1521 -- Lutheran Church founded.

    1535 -- Church of England -- Episcopal Church in America (1609).

    1536 -- Presbyterian Church established by John Calvin.

    1581 -- Congregational Church started -- Robert Browne.

    1607 -- Baptist Church began in Holland -- John Smyth.

    1650 -- Quaker Church founded in England -- George Fox.1739 -- Methodist Church of England -- John Wesley.
    1830 -- Adventist in America -- William Miller.

    1830 -- Mormons -- Joseph Smith.

    1863 -- Christian Church -- St. Louis, Missouri, United States -- members of the Church of Christ who adopted the use of instruments of music in worship.
    1866 -- Christian Science -- Mary Baker Eddy.

    1886 -- Church of God (Holiness).

    1874 -- Jehovah's Witnesses -- Charles T. Russell.

    1895 -- Nazarene Church -- P.F. Bresee and J.D. Widney.

    1898 -- Pentecostal (Holiness).

    1914 -- Assemblies of God.


    Cox, John D., Church History, Fisher, George P., History of the Christian Church
    Halley, H.H., Bible Handbook
    Hardeman, N.B., Hardeman's Tabernacle Sermons
    Hurlbut, Jesse L., Story of the Christian Church, Philadelphia 1933.
    Maynard, Zeke, The Church of Christ
    Miller, Waymon D., A Survey of Church History
    Renwick, A.M., The Story of the Church
    Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII
    Walker, Williston, A History of the Christian Church, Chas. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1918

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    I. Put TRUE or FALSE before each of the following statements, (Example: True - The Mormon Church began in 1830.)

    1. The Catholic doctrine of "salvation by works of merit" appealed to the selfish motives of men, thereby changing the New Testament purpose for doing good works.

    2. Those who led the Reformation opposed the union of church and state.

    3. The "right of private judgement" gives the church authority over men.

    4. The invention of the printing press had little meaning for the Reformation.

    5. It is alright for church organizations in one country to dictate to people in another country.

    6. Luther was a Catholic before 1520 A. D.

    7. After 1520, Luther was a Protestant (Lutheran, by denomination).

    8. Luther did not oppose the sacramental system of Catholicism.

    9. Luther took his stand on the Scriptures, in opposing Catholicism.

    10. Zwingli disagreed with the Catholic Church on several doctrines, including mass and the use of instruments of music in the worship.

    11. Because he upheld the Scriptures completely, Zwingli removed all externals in the worship services.

    12. Calvin discontinued the Reform movement when he was forced to leave France.

    13. Zwingli founded the Presbyterian denomination.

    14. Calvin believed that the church and the state should be separated.

    15. Luther's doctrine of "salvation by faith alone" is an example of how basic assumptions have led to many other false teachings that are opposed to the Bible.

    16. Calvin believed in the authority of the Bible.

    17. The idea of an infallible church which could supposedly be the final authority in religion came from the Bible.

    18. The idea of an infallible person who could supposedly be the final authority in religious matters came from the Bible.

    19. The idea that the civil government is the protector and defender of the church came from the Bible.

    20. The idea that "church tradition" is on an equal standing with the word of God -- the Bible -- came from the Bible.

    21. A decision by parliament (pushed by John Knox) made Protestantism the state religion of Scotland.

    22. The popes of Rome are responsible for many of the great persecutions.

    23. It was only the "spirit of the age" which caused all the atrocities, therefore no one can really be blamed.

    24. The results of following the popes for hundreds of years (instead of the Bible) were of the "spirit of the Devil".

    25. The Catholic Church is united.

    II. Complete the following statements by choosing the proper word or phrase. (Example: Calvin continued his Reform work in: Switzerland.)

    26. Catholicism replaced the worship of God in spirit and truth with (which one is not right):
    image worship
    daily Bible reading

    27. The expression "the right of private judgment" means:
    each person has a right to interpret things for himself
    each person has a right to have a priest interpret things to him privately
    each person has a right to be judged privately by the priest
    none of these

    28 When Luther was commanded to recant of his heresy he (burned, signed, spit on, tore up) the papal bull.
    spit on
    tore up

    29. Five main doctrines which constitute Calvinism, comes from the doctrine of:
    salvation by faith alone
    salvation by God alone
    total hereditary depravity
    tnone of these

    30. False doctrine has come to men by:
    disregarding the Bible and reading other books
    disregarding the Bible and reacting to an opposite extreme;
    reacting to the opposite extreme and failing to use good commentaries
    none of these

    III. Match the dates below with the correct event by placing the proper letter in the space to the left.
    A. 1874 A.D.
    B. 606 A.D.
    C. 1054 A.D.
    D. 1535 A.D.
    E. 1609 A.D.
    F. 1600 A.D.
    G. 1521 A.D.
    H. 1527 A.D.
    I. 1739 A.D.
    J. 1607 A.D.
    K. 1874 A.D.
    L. 1650 A.D.
    M. 1866 A.D.

    31. The Baptist Church began

    32. The Methodist Church began

    33. A great split in Catholicism occurred

    34. The Anglican (Church of England) Church began

    35. St. Bartholomew's massacre occured

    36. When the Roman Catholic Church elected its first official pope

    37. When the Church of Christ began

    38. Catholic persecutions in Netherlands ended

    40. Catholics began persecuting Bohemians

    42. Quaker Church began

    43. Christian Science Church began

    IV. Match the doctrine below with the correct explanation by placing the proper letter in the blank to the left.
    A. Nepotism
    B. Consubstantiation
    C. Simony
    D. Limited atonement
    E. Indulgences
    F. Total hereditary depravity
    G. Original sin
    H. Paradosis
    I. Pilgrimages

    44. Sales of church offices

    45. An instrument or tradition

    46. Putting one's kinsmen in office

    47. Trips to holy shrines and places

    48. Means of gaining forgiveness for sins

    49. Very similar to Catholic doctrine concerning the Lord's Supper

    50. Jesus' death was only for the ones selected to be saved

    51. All are born with the guilt of sin

    52. Catholic doctrine which shows how they disregard the authority of the scriptures

    V. Match the proper nouns below with the correct definition by placing the proper letter in the blank to the left. Note: There are more potential right answers than you need.
    A. Diet of Worms
    B. Institutes
    C. Crusade
    D. Ausburg Confession of Faith
    E. Renaissance
    F. Reformation
    G. Inquisition
    H. Counter Reformation
    I. Luther
    J. Melancthon
    K. Zwingli
    L. Gutenberg
    M. Carlstadt
    N. Calvin
    O. Leo X
    P. Torguemada
    Q. Tetzel
    R. Aquinas

    53. Took care of the arrest and trial of heretics

    54. Caused a great awakening all over Europe

    55. Became a doctor of divinity before he saw a complete copy of the Bible

    56. Greatest leader in the Reformation

    57. Inquisition leader in Spain

    58. Invented the printing press

    59. BriIliant scholar and friend of Luther

    60. Sold the "privilege to sin" to make money for the pope

    61. Rejected Tetzel's "net to catch money" and sparked the Reformation

    62. Brought great changes in Roman Catholicism

    63. An exposition of Reformation theology

    64. First Protestant creed-written by Melancthon

    65. Catholic efforts to curtail the Protestants and reform the Catholic Church

    66. Luther was ordered to appear before this council

    67. A holy war by papal decree

    VI. List the five great principles upon which the Reformation was founded.
    68. First principle:
    69. Second principle:
    70. Third principle:
    71. Fourth principle:
    72. Fifth principle:

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