History of Christianity Pt. 4

Written on: October 11, 2020

Article by: Bob Sandiford

Christianity: 1500-1650 The Reformation

Background to the Reformation

Corrupt Catholic Church

  • Negligence, ignorance, absenteeism, sexual immorality were widespread among the clergy.
  • Corruption was not only present, but in many ways protected by the Church itself.
  • There was probably much good still taking place, people living lives of godliness – but overall the Church itself did not reflect that.
  • History of corruption in the papacy, and attempted political control by different kings – e.g. three popes at one time, or the Avignon years away from Rome all substantially politically motivated

Non-Church Threats to Europe

  • Bubonic plague (The ‘Black Death’) – first struck in 1347, and in three years killed about one third of Europe.
    • Continued for centuries (e.g. London, 1665.)
    • Society became more death-oriented.
  • Muslim threat.
    • Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, Negroponte (Italian possession in modern day south-east Greece), and a landing in Italy in 1480 in the south-east most part, in the heel of Italy.
    • Raiding parties would land in Italy south of Rome and carry off pretty girls for the Sultan’s harem.
    • A menace potentially along any seacoast through the Mediterranean area.

New Lands, New Nations

  • We’ve been using the term ‘Europe’ to describe the area that is modern day Europe.
    • But – the whole concept of ‘Europe’ as a title for this area dates only to the 1400’s.
  • National consciousness is rising.
    • England, France and Spain becoming more like the nations we think of today, rather than just a part of the larger society of Europe.
    • New monarchies in England, France and Spain date from the late 1400’s.
  • Age of exploration.
    • Brought about through better navigation and ships.
    • Rounding the Cape of Good Hope (Southern-most tip of Africa) (Diaz, 1488.)
    • North America (Columbus, 1492.)
    • Sea-route to India (Vasco da Gama 1494.)
    • Coast of North America (Cabot, 1497.)
    • South America (Pizarro, 1510.)
    • Cuba and Mexico (Cortez, 1511 and 1519.)
    • First sailing around the world (Magellan, 1519-1522.)

The Renaissance (Literally ‘Rebirth’)

Started during the 1400’s, primarily in Italy, and spread from there.

  • Reviving of classical Greek and Roman civilizations in the arts, politics, and world-views.
  • ‘Humanist’ – originally someone who taught Latin grammar, but came to mean students of Latin and Greek who read classical writings and modelled their life on what they read. Quite different than the modern definition.
  • Didn’t mean rejecting Christianity – most early Humanists had Christian faith.
    • Although by the early 1500’s some were moving away from Christianity, which in educated circles at least was becoming known.
    • A great search for lost and forgotten Latin and Greek classics.
    • In some degree Humanism was a reaction against the Scholastics, who held that all needed knowledge was found in classical Greek philosophy, church fathers, and the Bible – a question would be posed, and these sources were used to determine the answers. Even though two of the three were fallible sources, and contradictory to the Bible and a Biblical world-view (more so the Greek philosophy, but partly the church fathers as well).
    • Emphasis of Greek Philosophers changed from Aristotle to Plato.
    • Oversimplifying:
      • Plato taught that concepts had a universal form, an ideal form, which leads to an idealistic philosophy. Thought experiments and reasoning would be enough to prove a concept or establish the qualities of an object.
      • Aristotle (at one time a student of Plato) taught that universal forms were not necessarily attached to each object or concept, and that each instance of an object or concept had to be investigated on its own. Direct observation and experience were thus required to understand a concept or object.
      • Medieval Scholastics were more of the Aristotelean school, Humanists more of the Platonic school.
      • This is more a ‘this is the way it happened’ rather than any formal analysis of Scholasticism and Aristotle and a rejection of them.
      • There were Renaissance thinkers who tried to harmonize Plato, Aristotle, and Christianity.
  • A prime aim of Humanism was to be able to read the Greek and Latin works in their original – which led to a greater understanding by Europeans of Greek – the language of the New Testament.
    • This led to official professorships for Greek studies – one was created in Florence in 1396.
    • By 1500, Greek studies were firmly established in the west.
  • Humanist scholars also naturally turned to the Greek New Testament.
    • 1444 saw the publication of a comparison between the Latin Vulgate and the Greek original.
    • This was the beginning of the discipline today called Biblical Criticism.
  • Education became more widely available, and new developments in education taking place.
    • In addition to the traditional studies, music, philosophy, and even physical training were added.
    • More than two dozen universities were founded in Europe in the 1400’s.
    • Libraries were also started outside of monasteries – some of today’s libraries date back to the 1400’s.
    • One important event was in 1506, when the Hebrew language started to become more commonly studied in Europe.
  • Humanism started in Italy, but spread throughout Europe through the 1400’s.
  • Leading up to 1500, the Humanist and Scholastic approaches caused polarization between groups of church scholars and leaders.


  • About 1445, Johannes Gutenberg started experimenting with movable type (as opposed to previous printing methods where each page had to be completely set by carving or casting)
  • In 1456 the Gutenberg Bible (a printing of the Latin Vulgate) became the first known book to be printed in the Christian world.
  • For a time the process was kept secret, but printing presses were later set up in places like Rome (1467), Paris (1470), Kraków (1474), and Westminster (1476).
  • By 1500, printing was well established throughout Europe.
    • This meant a number of things:
    • First – books and other materials could be printed quickly, and distributed widely. Previously, they pretty much had to be hand copied, which limited the number available.
    • Second – the cost of books dropped. More people could afford to purchase books.
    • As a result, the spread of new ideas and availability of source materials became grew immensely.
      • A new printing could become widely available within weeks, with thousands of copies available.

‘The Modern Way of Serving God’

  • This movement within the Catholic Church started in the late 1300’s, and was a spiritual revival.
    • It emphasized both personal devotion and social involvement.
  • Started in northern Europe, at the same time Humanism was developing in Italy.
  • Mainly a reaction against the self-indulgent luxury in which many rich people lived – including church people.
    • Many proponents had themselves been part of this lifestyle before being ‘awoken’.
    • Tracts were written against simony, the immorality of the clergy, and prevailing clerical practices.
      • The Catholic church did not react well to some of this
    • New concepts in community living were developed.
      • Rather than the vow based approach of the monasteries and convents, the approach became “Religion is to love God and worship Him, not the taking of special vows” (Geert Groote, late 14th century.)
    • Both convent and monastery like communities were set up.
      • Observed poverty, chastity and obedience, but no vows taken, so anyone was free to leave at any time.
      • Studied to be quiet, to do their own business and work with their own hands, as the Apostle Paul’s writings instructed.
  • One branch became known as ‘The Brethren of the Common Life’, with approval from the Pope in 1395.
    • They dedicated themselves to spiritual discipline, renouncing the world, and the whole process of education.
    • They taught in local schools, and in schools of their own.
    • They also got big into book production – writing, copying, marketing – and operating their own press when that became available.
    • They produced a number of people who made a mark in the Christian world, including both Scholastic and Humanist philosophers, as well as Erasmus.
      • The teaching included the best parts of both Scholastic and Humanist approaches.
  • One person, Thomas a Kempis, wrote a very popular devotional book, ‘The Imitation of Christ.’
    • Initially published anonymously around 1430-1440, and was printed in 1471.
    • It’s one of the most widely read books in the world.
    • It has four sections, and is described as “searching, scriptural, and utterly centred on Christ.”
      • Not until the 4th section does sacrament based Catholicism really appear.
      • It does teach justification by works, but it focuses the mind and heart on Jesus Christ.
    • One of the results of its popularity was in preparing hearts and minds of many in Northern Europe to receive the teachings of the Reformers.

Precursors of Luther

  • Martin Luther is generally credited as the founder of the Reformation, but he didn’t live or study in a vacuum.
  • We’ve looked at a number of aspects that were background to the reformation.
  • There were also various people preceding Luther who influenced him, and echoed some of what the Reformation came to be. Here are four from Germany, Luther’s home country, and Holland:
    • Meister Eckhard (1260-1327) – German Dominican mystic, major force in German religious life, after his death condemned by the pope.
    • Johann Tauler (1300-1361) – pupil of Eckhard, stressed human nothingness in the presence of God.
    • John of Wesel (approx. 1400-1481) – rejected many of the medieval Catholic Church’s doctrines and practices, declared the Bible alone is the ultimate authority. Wrote against indulgences, tried by the Inquisition in 1479 and condemned to lifetime confinement in a monastery.
    • Wessel Gansfort (1419-1489) – Dutch member of the Brethren of the Common Life, called the first of the biblical Humanists. Wrote against indulgences, and had much the same position as Luther in denouncing the Church errors of his time.
  • Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536), Catholic, Humanist, published a series of best-selling satires that ridiculed monasticism and scholasticism, using common sense to examine the practice of Christianity. Much contempt for corruption of Rome. He was also a Latin and Greek scholar, and published a German translation of the Greek NT in 1516 – the year before the reformation began.
  • The Roman church held a council in 1512, where one of the speakers said (ironically) “Now nobody contradicts, no one opposes.” The council ended in March 1517 thinking the peace of the Christian world was assured.

The Reformation

Luther’s 95 Theses – October 31, 1517

  • Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, was a professor of biblical studies in the new University of Wittenberg in Germany.
  • The 95 Theses are an argument against Indulgences, and moderate in tone.
  • Luther’s goal was not that the Church be replaced, but to make a proposal to discuss the theology of Indulgences in light of the errors and abuses that had grown over time.
  • The selling of Indulgences had become a scandal.
    • Luther didn’t oppose the original sense – the merciful release of a penitent sinner from the penance imposed earlier by a priest.
    • The Church taught that as long as one died forgiven and blessed by a priest, then Heaven was assured.
    • However – the Church also taught that every sin committed in life needed to be cleansed by time in a place called Purgatory before entering Heaven.
    • Indulgences had become shortening of the punishment of Purgatory.
      • For example, a pilgrimage to see the relics at Castle Church, where Luther nailed the 95 Theses, was reckoned to earn a remission of 1,902,202 years for the pilgrim.
  • Luther’s objections:
    • Indulgences were not warranted by Scripture, reason or tradition.
    • They encouraged people in sin, turning their minds away from Christ and from God’s forgiveness.
    • The pope claimed authority “to shut the gates of hell and open the door to paradise.”
    • Luther challenged that authority.
  • Luther was ordered to recant in 1520, excommunicated in 1521, and outlawed by the HRE emperor in 1521.
  • Luther was a prolific writer, and his writings for ordinary Christians were widely circulated and read.
    • His teaching and personal experience were connected.
      • He would start with Scripture, move to personal conviction, and then proceed to declaration and preaching. The only communication of God with humanity is through His word.
    • He published an account of each of his disputes with Rome so people could judge for themselves.
    • He gained many followers, including many of the princes of the territory making up Germany.
  • In 1529, the Emperor tried to stop Luther’s movement by force.
    • But some princes of the German states stood up in ‘protest’ against this, and the movement had a name – Protestantism.
    • Up to this point Luther’s intent was that the Church be reformed from within – from this point on the movement separated off from that goal, and became known as ‘the Reformation.’
  • In 1530 at a meeting called the ‘Diet of Augsberg’, Luther put forward the beliefs of this new movement.
    • It split Christian Europe in two.
    • Three main Protestant movements emerged:
      • Lutheran (Germany and Scandinavia) (a movement and name which Luther foresaw and condemned.)
      • Zwinglian and Calvinist (Switzerland, France, Holland, and Scotland.)
      • Church of England (England.)
    • Ultimately, the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel of God’s saving work in Christ. Not obscured by practices or custom that corrupted it, or theology that covered it over.
    • We are justified by not by what we do, but our faith alone. Which was very different than Catholic teachings that focused on our actions as the basis for salvation.
  • Reformation churches looked very different than Catholic ones.
    • Took away the rigid form of Catholic worship.
    • Stressed preaching the Word of God, communion, and congregational singing.
    • Saw monasticism as a long discipline of religious duty and effort. Mysticism as an attempt to climb up to heaven. Academic theology as substantially just speculation about God. Ultimately all trusted in humanity’s own efforts to get us to God, or near enough to be accepted by Him.
    • Luther realized that it isn’t that God is far away and needs to be reached by us, but that we were distant from Him, and in Christ He provided the way to find Him. A return to the basic message of the Gospel.
    • No need for the Virgin as mediator, the clergy as priests, and saints as intercessors – we all have access to God and Christ.

Three Great Principles of the Reformation

  1. God’s Word of Authority
  • The account of God’s dealings with humanity is given in Scripture, and continues to speak through the words spoken to prophets and apostles.
  • God speaks in love to His creation, and people heard and answered in faith. Individuals can and should read the Bible for themselves to come to personal faith and understanding what the Christian life entails.
  • More a case of God handling us through Scripture, rather than us handling and interpreting Scripture.
  • The Roman Church also held to the authority of Scripture – but added to that tradition and rules of faith, decrees of popes and councils.
  • Protestant result: rejection of doctrines and practices for which there is no basis in Scripture.
    • Authority of the pope, merit of good works for salvation, mediation of Mary and the saints, all sacraments not instituted by Christ, transubstantiation, view of the mass as a sacrifice, purgatory, prayers for the dead, private confession of sin to a priest, celibacy of clergy, exclusive use of Latin in services, holy water, shrines, relics, rosaries, images, candles, and other elements.
  1. By Grace Alone
  • Salvation is free and undeserved, provided by the grace of Christ. Our justification, being made right with God, is by faith only.
  • God alone, in the death and resurrection of Christ, calls us from sin to a new life in Christ.
  • Good deeds proceed from this, as the fruit of the Spirit, rather than being a pre-requisite and basis for salvation.
    • Good works are the product and evidence of justification, not the basis for justification.
  1. Every Believer a Priest
  • No precedent in the early church for the priest as mediator between the church and God.
  • And nothing in Scripture supports the secular power of the clergy.
  • As a result – no longer two levels of Christian – spiritual and lay.
    • Only one gospel, one justification by faith, one status before God, common to all men and women.
    • We serve God in whatever our calling – farmer, scholar, servant, soldier, whatever.
  • Raised the expectation on Christians.
    • Reading the newly-translated Bible.
    • Taking responsible part in government and public affairs, of both church and society.

The Spread of the Reformation

  • It started in Germany and spread throughout that territory.
  • It also developed, somewhat independently, in other areas also.
    • Switzerland: in Zurich under Zwingli, and in Geneva under Calvin.
    • In France, the people and leadership more generally held to Catholicism and many Protestants were put to death. But, Calvinists founded a church in Paris in 1555, with over 70 churches by 1559. It became more a political movement.
    • In the Netherlands, currently ruled by Spain, both Luther and Calvin had influence. But, it was firmly opposed by the Spanish rulers. Protestantism here developed a political side as an independence movement. Hundreds of thousands of Protestants were put to death. Finally in 1574 they gained independence both from Spain and from the Catholic Church.
    • Similar movements in Bohemia, Hungary, Poland. and Scandinavia.
    • England had had strong anti-pope and anti-clerical movements several hundred years before Luther, but they were strengthened by Luther’s writings and started leaning towards his movement. But, the movement became political, culminating in Henry VIII whose quarrel with the pope was about annulling a marriage, and his split from the Catholic Church in 1534, proclaiming himself head over the Church of England. Over the next 50 or so years, things went back and forth, depending on the monarch – for example Queen Mary in the 1550’s tried to restore Catholicism. Under Elizabeth (1558-1603) Protestantism was permanently established. The church she ultimately formed was objected to by both Catholics and more extreme Protestants – the pope actually ordered English Catholics to oppose Elizabeth.
    • In Scotland, Reformation started, but was also opposed by the state and Catholic Church. John Knox became a key leader in 1559 in Scotland. He saw that if he could succeed in Scotland, and England could be kept Protestant, then the result would be a new united nation – which ultimately came to pass, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England after Elizabeth’s death.
    • Ireland had had Christianity since before 432AD. England, with the pope’s permission, invaded Ireland to bring it under English control. Ireland had various religious forms imposed from England as England went through her struggles – which in Irish eyes became a political issue of England meddling in Ireland.
  • As a result of the variations in the Protestant movement, differences occurred, which were not easily reconciled, and sometimes not reconciled at all.
    • For example, Luther taught that infants are regenerated in baptism through infant faith – others held that adult believer baptism is correct.
    • Different views on the communion, and the level of Christ’s presence – some hold over from Catholic teaching of the ‘real presence’ of Christ’s body (Luther), to ‘Christ’s body is in heaven, and not here’, so Christ encounters his people at communion not by bodily presence in the elements, but by the Spirit’s power and power in their hearts (Calvin).
    • Luther concluded that anything not specifically banned is OK – Luther retained much medieval ceremony in worship – when doctrine is sound ceremonies are ‘things indifferent’ and the church is free to use or not as it thought best. Other Reformation leaders wanted worship to be as simple and scriptural as possible, things not prescribed in Scripture should be forbidden – these came to be called ‘Puritan’ or ‘regulative’.
      • We certainly continue to struggle with these distinctions today. How to understand the silence of Scripture – as permissive or restrictive?
    • Is God’s grace the source of faith leading to salvation, or is my faith not God’s work in me, but my work? Or, considering ‘the elect’ as those God had predestined to save, rather than ‘the elect’ being those who were saved.
      • Depending on which, led to ideas of God’s sovereign, unconditional pre-destination of individuals. Calvin held to this ‘unconditional and irresistible election of God’ operating on the individual.
    • What role does civil authority play in the Church?
      • Some held that the church and civil authority had nothing to do with each other, for example Calvin. Others, like Zwingli, worked with local authorities to develop the church as paired with the local authorities.
    • In England, under the Church of England, more reforms were attempted by some – who came to be called Puritans, who initially worked within the church, but ultimately a group formed outside the church in 1581.
      • They withdrew from the Anglican Church viewing it as ‘polluted and false’, setting up their own congregation – which became the English Independent or Congregationalist movement.
      • The Anglican Church and the government imprisoned, harassed, and drove out these separatists. Many went to the Netherlands, which was tolerant of different religious variants.
  • The Catholic Church, and Catholic political leaders, didn’t take all this calmly.
    • Remember that the church actively sought out heresy and worked to put it down.
    • In Germany, war broke out in 1547 and Protestant forces were defeated.
    • In Saxony, Protestant forces did better, and a 1552 treaty legally recognized Protestantism.
    • In Germany again, the 30 Years War was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 granting equal rights to Lutherans and Calvinists with the Catholic Church.
    • In France, a series of civil wars occurred. Protestantism was legally recognized in 1598 under Edict of Nantes. In the 1600’s, the French statesman Cardinal Richelieu persecuted Protestants, ultimately the Edict of Nantes was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685, and persecution continued.
  • Although we’re tracking the history of Christianity, and emphasizing the religious aspects of different events, these struggles weren’t solely religiously based.
    • As education became more widely available, as new ideas and philosophies could spread quickly, as nationalism was on the rise ultimately resulting in more distinct countries, as the middle class was increasing – all were disrupting elements that contributed to the desire for change.

New Bible Translations

Through the Middle Ages in Europe, pretty much the only Bible was the Latin translation called the Vulgate. The 1500’s saw a relative explosion in Bible versions and translations.


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1488: Jews print a complete Hebrew OT, followed by other editions.

1522: A Catholic university in Spain produces a large work including the Hebrew and Greek (Septuagint) OT, and Greek and Vulgate NT.

1524-25: Hebrew OT and rabbinical commentaries, based on as many Hebrew manuscripts as possible.


1516: Erasmus completes a Greek NT, but in haste which resulted in many errors. He also included his own Latin translation instead of the Vulgate. This was overall not well received.

1534-1536: Greek NT produced in Paris, then in Geneva based on multiple Greek manuscripts, through several editions.

1565: Calvin’s successor Beza begins producing a series of editions of the Greek NT, which became generally accepted – this was an attempt to get back to the original text.


1546: Confirmation of Vulgate as the authentic text of the Bible for Roman Catholics.

1590, 1592: Two further editions of the Vulgate.

Vernacular Translations


  • Luther 1522 (NT) 1532 (OT), published together in 1534.
  • Both High and Low German translations were made.


  • 1523 (NT), 1528 (OT), produced together in 1530 as the Antwerp Bible.
  • 1535: Calvin’s cousin produced another translation.
    • 1588 edition of this became the French Geneva Bible.


  • 1382-1395 Wycliffe – translation of Vulgate to Middle English.
  • 1525: William Tyndale (NT and parts of OT.)
  • 1535 Coverdale (Complete Bible.)
  • 1537 Matthew Bible – 1539 edition becomes the English Great Bible.
  • 1560 English Geneva Bible.
  • 1611 King James Bible.


  • 1400’s a complete Bible was printed.
  • 1548 Catholic translation of the Vulgate
  • 1558 Mennonite Bible (though not used by Mennonites today.)
  • 1561-2 translation based heavily on Luther’s German translation.
  • 1637 translation produced by the Dutch states, became the Dutch Standard Version, and was adopted by the Mennonites during the 1600’s.


  • 1530: Beginning of a number of attempts to translate the Bible.
  • 1562: Complete translation published, based on earlier translations.
  • 1607: Protestant translation, revised 1641, used until late 1700’s.


  • Early translations were made outside of Spain, due to the power of the Spanish Inquisition.
  • 1543 and 1556 – NT translations.
  • 1569 complete Bible.


  • 1541 Uppsala Bible.


  • 1550: Christian III Bible, state produced. Revisions 1589 and 1633, also named after kings.

The Anabaptists

This is a grouping of similar movements that made the most radical attempt to renew the church during the Reformation.

  • All Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and baptised adults who professed their faith.
    • ‘Anabaptist’ means ‘Rebaptizer’, though they never accepted that label for themselves.
    • The ‘Rebaptizer’ label came because they rejected the sprinkling they had received as infants, and were ‘re-baptized’. In their view, they were really being properly baptized for the first time.
    • Like the Donatists in North Africa from a thousand years earlier, they believed they were the true church, and that the Catholics were apostate, though the reason was different. (Donatists rejected Christians who under persecution renounced their faith, and would not accept them back even when they repented.) The Catholic Church used the legal precedent from their suppressing of the Donatists to do the same with Anabaptists.
  • Baptism wasn’t the major issue for Anabaptists – more important was the role that civil government should play in the reformation of the church.
    • This arose in Switzerland, where the Zurich city council wasn’t willing to bring about changes that Protestants wanted. Zwingli decided to continue to work with the council.
    • Others, however, came to the conclusion that the community of Christians, led by the Holy Spirit and the New Testament, should initiate reforms regardless of the views of the council.
  • In January 1525, this group met in violation of the council’s orders, and baptized one another.
    • Their beliefs, even though illegal, spread rapidly and widely.
    • Unlike other reformers, since they viewed the Catholic Church as apostate, they did not view Europe as a Christian society, but rather saw themselves as missionaries to this society.
    • They were systematic about dividing Europe into sectors for evangelism, and sent missionaries out in twos and threes.
  • Similar beliefs sprang up independently, and by 1530 there were groups from Holland to Moravia.
  • In 1527, Anabaptists called the first ‘synod’ of the Protestant Reformation, near today’s Swiss / German border.
    • It produced a document called the ‘Brotherly Union’, which was adopted by most Anabaptist groups throughout Europe.
    • The movement was still being persecuted – the leading figure from the meeting was burned at the stake only four months later.
  • The movement became broadly characterized by a number of convictions.
    • The first was ‘discipleship’ – the Christian’s relationship with Jesus and God must go beyond inner experience and acceptance of doctrines.
      • It must also involve a daily walk with God, in which Christ’s teaching and example shaped a transformed style of life. ‘No one can truly know Christ except he follow Him in life.’
      • As an example, they rejected the taking of oaths because of Jesus’ clear command in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt 5:33-37)
    • A second conviction was the principle of love.
      • In dealing with non-Anabaptists, they acted as pacifists. They wouldn’t go to war, or defend themselves from their persecutors, nor take part in coercion by the state. (Overcome evil with good – Rom 12:21.)
      • As well, it expressed itself within congregations in mutual aid and redistribution of wealth.
    • A third was that the Anabaptists didn’t want to reform the Catholic or any other Church, but to restore the church as revealed in the New Testament.
      • A family of brothers and sisters in Christ.
      • Existed because God was at work among His people, not because of some outside ecclesiastical or political organization.
      • Authority of Scripture was to be interpreted not by fixed tradition or some specific leader, but by a consensus of the local gathering, in which all could speak, and listen critically.
      • Members were to assist each other in living faithfully.
    • And fourth was the insistence on separation of church and state.
      • Faith is a free gift of God, and authorities exceed their competence and authority when they ‘champion the Word of God with a fist.’
      • The church was also distinct from society, even if society claimed to be Christian. Christ’s followers are a pilgrim people and the church made up of ‘perpetual aliens.’
  • Much of this should sound very familiar to us.
  • They came under attack by both the ‘mainstream’ Protestant Churches as well as the Catholic Church.
    • The Protestant Churches because the emphasis on life as well as belief seemed to contradict the basic Reformation principle of ‘by faith alone.’
      • Anabaptists tried to show that this was not a means of obtaining salvation, but a necessary expression of the new life in Christ, stemming from specific Scriptural commands.
    • To both Protestant and Catholic, “The Anabaptists seemed not only to be dangerous heretics; they also seemed to threaten the religious and social stability of Christian Europe.”
    • From 1527 and over the next quarter century, thousands of Anabaptists were put to death by burning at the stake in Catholic areas, or by drowning or by the sword in Protestant regions.
  • A former priest named Menno Simons (1496-1561) became prominent in the Anabaptist movement.
    • He travelled throughout northern Europe encouraging and strengthening Anabaptist groups.
    • One thing he always preached was pacifism.
    • He was prominent enough that the general movement became identified by his name, as Mennonites.
  • The persecution was so great that only three movements survived in a few areas by the mid 1500’s.
    • The ‘brethren’ in Switzerland.
    • The ‘Mennonites’ in the Netherlands and north Germany.
    • The ‘Hutterites’ in Moravia.
  • Over the next while these groups lost many of the Anabaptist characteristics.
    • Legalism became a problem in the attempt to remain pure.
    • Evangelism faded, for the sake of sheer survival.
    • They became known as excellent farmers, good people, ‘The Quiet in the Land.’
  • The late 1800’s saw a revival, and by the later 20th century were experiencing rapid growth.
    • Between 1950 and 1988 their world-wide membership tripled to 750,000.
  • In our area of Ontario, there has been some division between what we call ‘Old Order Mennonites’ who keep themselves separate from society, and groups such as the Missionary Church, which is a more modern take.

The Baptists

Other groups as well came to the understanding that adult believer’s baptism was the way to enter into salvation.

  • In England in 1612 a congregation formed that called themselves a General or Arminian Baptist church.
    • The ‘Arminian’ comes from a Dutch Protestant theologian who rejected the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination, and asserted that God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are compatible – i.e. BOTH are in play.
    • Churches of Christ and many other groups have this ‘Arminian’ view – including Free Will Baptists, General Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan church, the Salvation Army, Conservative Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Amish, and Pentecostals.
  • By 1638 there were also Calvinist type congregations in London that also practiced believer’s baptism (they became known as ‘Particular Baptists’.)
    • These later realized that the apostolic church as revealed in the New Testament should form the pattern for modern day churches.
  • During Cromwell’s time as leader of England, many Baptists were dominant in army leadership and in the army itself.
    • Cromwell let the established Anglican Church remain, but allowed Baptists, Independents, Presbyterians and non-royalist Anglicans act as ministers in it.
    • He also allowed those who wanted to worship apart from a state church to do so, and most Baptists took that option.
  • These early Baptist churches claimed ‘independence’ – not as congregations independent from one another, but as a church independent from state interference.
    • Several levels of General Assembly were set up, which kept the movement on the same track. These became forums for discussing theological issues, and handling disciplinary issues, and general practices.
      • Practices such as the gathering of churches, believer’s baptism, communion with the unbaptized, ordination of ministers, maintenance of the ministry, missionary activity, vocal ministry, breaking bread, psalm singing, foot-washing and so on.
  • Estimated by 1660 there were about 300 Baptist churches.

The Catholic Reformation / Counter Reformation

Remember the Catholic council that concluded in 1517 that all was well in Catholic Europe?

  • There was a blindness on the part of much of the Church leadership as to what was taking place.
  • The pope of the time (Leo X 1513-21) had other things on his mind. Concern with political and family ambition (he was a Medici of Florence), increasing the political power of the Papal States that he ruled, spending a lot of money on the arts and gambling, and the day to day managing of the corrupt papal bureaucracy.
    • He wasn’t in any position to exert any kind of moral leadership over Europe, even if he had been concerned about Luther and what started developing during his papacy.
  • However, by 1520 Church leaders began to realize what Luther was saying, and the threat that a Church overhaul would be to vested interests.
    • Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and declared a political outlaw. Luther had protection from many of the German princes, who had stood in protest over the plans of the Emperor to silence Luther.
  • However – some in the Church did acknowledge the truth of Luther’s accusations of poor spiritual leadership and corruption. They worked within the Church, wanting to make things right, rather than leaving it.
    • Ultimately they brought about the Catholic Reformation, or the Counter Reformation, in response to the Protestant movement.
  • Some of the results included:
    • The founding in 1517 to 1527 of the ‘Oratory of Divine Love’, an informal group of about 50 clergy and lay people, stressing reform and discussing how to achieve that through love and moral improvement.
    • Reform of the papacy, by three popes influenced by the Oratory of Divine Love
      • Included a papal reform council started in 1536 to recommend reforms and prepare for a council.
      • Its report did not pull any punches on the state of the church, and in its recommendations to address matters. It included concrete examples of bribery, abuse of papal power, evasion of church law, abuse of indulgences, and more.
      • Ultimately Pope Paul III (1534-39) reformed the papal bureaucracy, ordered an end to taking money for spiritual favours, and forbade the purchase of church offices.
    • New monastic order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits.)
      • Founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola, an ex-soldier who had been severely wounded.
      • After recovery, he quit soldiering, and spent time in a monastery, then studying in various places. He wrote a book called the ‘Spiritual Exercises’, which emphasized obedience to Christ and to the Catholic Church.
      • The order was directly loyal and obedient to the pope – it was one of the vows taken in addition to the usual ones of poverty, chastity and obedience to the local monastic head.
      • Later, up to 15 years of training became normal for recruits.
      • By 1556 there were over 1,000 Jesuits spread through Europe. By 1626 over 15,000.
      • Education became the most important emphasis. By 1550 there were a dozen colleges. By 1626 about 400, and 1749 about 800. Open to all classes of people, and generally no charge for tuition. Today there are about 4,000 schools. The Jesuit saying “Give me a child until he is seven, and he will remain a Catholic for the rest of his life.”
      • Missionary work also became very important. We likely know of several who served and were martyred in Huronia here in Ontario – for example, Jean de Brébeuf served 1625-1649. Missionaries sailed with the ships of Spain and Portugal to the Americas, Africa, and Asia looking to make new converts.
        • Much of Mexico, Central and South America, the Philippines, and smaller numbers in Africa, India, the East Indies and the Far East became Catholics due to these efforts.
      • The Jesuits also had an increasing role through the 16th century in combating Protestantism.
    • An ecumenical council at Trent between 1545 and 1563. (Three sets of meetings in those years.)
      • It reaffirmed much of the medieval Orthodox views and practices – such as transubstantiation, justification by faith and works, practices connected with the mass, the seven sacraments, existence of purgatory, and Indulgences.
      • The post of Indulgence-seller was abolished.
      • Papal power was increased by giving the pope the power to enforce the decrees of the council.
      • This council, as a result of its conclusions, laid to rest any hope of a reconciliation between Protestantism and Catholicism.
    • Reorganization of the inquisition.
      • In 1542, the ‘Roman Inquisition’ was begun – a rejuvenation of the older medieval and Spanish Inquisitions. ‘Roman’ because it was to be controlled from Rome by the pope.
      • Heretics (including all Protestants) were regarded as traitors against God – to be either returned to the Church, or killed before they contaminated others with their sins.
      • In many ways it resembled the earlier inquisitions – use of torture and terror, and handing over convicted heretics to the civil authorities for execution.
      • It was effective in Italy, Spain (merged with the Spanish Inquisition). Mostly it was effective where there was still a substantial Catholic population, and less effective elsewhere.
    • Issuing of an ‘index’ of books which Catholics were not allowed to read.
      • First published in 1559, the pope called on Christians everywhere to observe it.
      • It banned about three-quarters of the books being published in Europe at the time.
      • Almost everything NOT banned was either Catholic devotional literature or the Vulgate Latin Bible.
      • The list was kept going until 1966 when it was finally abolished.
      • It was largely a failure.
    • ‘Wars of religion’ that led to the forced re-conversion of some areas of Europe back to Catholicism.
  • By 1650, the Catholic Church was re-energized and focused, and started a new era of expansion and spiritual life.

Unfortunately all this also helped set the stage for a number of wars after 1541, when Lutherans and Roman Catholics gave up on reconciliation.

  • Major fighting came in Germany, finally ending in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which allowed the co-existence of Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches in Germany – based on who was in charge in any given region. So, the prince would decide the faith of his subjects.
  • France saw civil wars involving both religious and political causes from 1562 through 1598.
    • This devastated the country. The Edict of Nantes in 1598 ended the conflict. The Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants) were given religious freedom and control of some parts of the country, and Roman Catholics remained the official religion and had control of the larger portion of the nation.
    • Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Protestants either converted to Catholicism (not many), or fled France, or remained and suffered persecution.
  • We mentioned previously the Dutch war for independence, 1560-1618.
    • They were under Spanish control – the war was a combination of religious (Holland had been much more religiously tolerant than Spain had become) and political (wanting to be free of Spanish control.)
  • England as well had a civil war 1642-49, which involved a large amount of religious conflict.
  • The 30 Years War (1618-48) was just about the last of these religious influenced wars.
    • It began primarily as a religious war with political overtones, and ended as a basically political struggle with religious overtones.
    • The war started as a conflict between Calvinists and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire (which by this time was just a section of central Europe.) In part this was due to the influence of the Catholic Reformation taking hold in this area.
    • It grew to include German Lutherans, Danes, Swedes, and even the French became involved in the fighting in Germany.
    • It ended finally in the Peace of Westphalia. The treaty returned the Germanic states to basically the religious situation of 1529 when some German princes made their ‘protestation’ on behalf of the Lutheran faith.
    • The religious lines for these large religions hasn’t changed much since.

Ultimately the result of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reformation which slowed down the spread of Protestantism, led to a Europe no longer sharing a single society and religious unity.

Questions: Lesson 4

  1. If the Bible is silent on something, does that give permission to do that something (subject to other principles that would apply), or does it forbid that something?


  • OT was prescriptive Law – was intended to be all encompassing. If a command was given, there weren’t any other alternatives. For example, handling the ark of the covenant, or what type of incense the priests could use.
  • NT is not prescriptive Law, and needs to be read differently. But – how does the question resolve itself?
  1. How does the Bible affect us? Is it God handling us through Scripture? Or our understanding and interpretation of God’s word that brings us to God? Is there really a difference?
  1. What dangers do we need to be aware of when we say ‘Salvation by grace alone’?
  1. Was the Protestant Reformation a good thing or a bad thing? Why?