Taking Back Our Stolen History
Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation

Protestant Reformation

« Back to Glossary Index

A period in European history, covering the span between the 14th and 17th centuries with religious reformers such as Tyndale, Hus, Zwingli, Knox, Martin Luther and others (see HERE for full history). The pinnacle was perhaps when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the to the door at All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. This effort to reform the corrupt Roman Catholic Church failed, and resulted instead in the creation of many Protestant Churches, first in Western Europe and then around the world. (But the name “Reformation” stuck.) The reformation was a catalyst for change throughout the world.  The Roman Catholic Church itself, ultimately launched the “Counter-Reformation” and made many changes in its practices and doctrine. A Reformation implies a prior Formation. Loconte implies that the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus was that Formation. The Reformation was not so much a new thing as a return back to the principles of individual liberty, conscience and personal responsibility.

The Renaissance

Beginning in the 14th century, the Lord began to prepare those social, educational, religious, economic, and governmental conditions that would restore his true gospel. The Old Testament prophet Joel foresaw the Spirit of the Lord working among individuals to help prepare the world for the Restoration. The Lord said in Joel 2:28–29:

28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

When the Great Apostasy took place nearly 2,000 years ago, the world entered a state of spiritual darkness from which it did not begin to recover until the Renaissance. A restoration under such spiritual tyranny that existed then would have surely failed, but the Lord would inspire great men and religious reformers to prepare the way.

During the Renaissance, the rebirth of learning that blossomed from about A.D. 1350 to 1550, two events took place that were vital in preparation for the final dispensation: Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s and Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Americas in 1492.

In the centuries before the invention of the printing press, the majority of people could neither read nor write. Even Charlemagne, perhaps the greatest ruler of medieval Europe, was illiterate. Books were written by hand, and many ecclesiastical leaders strongly resisted the idea of circulating the Bible among the common people. One clergyman argued, “We must root out printing, or printing will root out us.” However, once Gutenberg’s invention became widespread, the publication of books, including the Bible, was too great a force to be stemmed. Like an irresistible flood, printing, and the desire to read what was printed, swept over the entire land. Among the first books Gutenberg printed was the Bible.

Historian, De Lamar Jensen, would write in Renaissance Europe (1981), 182. that: “None of the technological innovations [of the Renaissance] has had a greater effect over a longer period of time and upon more people than the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century. Some scholars have pronounced it the single most important development of the Renaissance and perhaps of the entire modern world.” Without the discovery of movable type in about A.D. 1440 the barrier of gross darkness covering the apostate world could scarce have been pierced.

Christopher Columbus’s personal study of the Bible greatly increased the influence of the Holy Ghost in his life. Columbus himself declared: “With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. … This was the fire that burned within me. … Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit … urging me to press forward?” (Delno C. West and August Kling, trans., The Libro de las profecías of Christopher Columbus (1991), 105.)

The Protestant Reformation

The activities of Gutenberg, Columbus, and other prominent figures of the Renaissance helped set the stage for another great movement in European history: the Protestant Reformation. This religious movement, which took place primarily during the 16th century, was so powerful that no area of Europe or field of thought and activity was unaffected by it. Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and others, had the moral courage to rebel against the religious evils of the day and sought to make the Bible and other truth available to everyone.

Englishman John Wycliffe (1330–84) has been called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.” A priest and an Oxford University professor, Wycliffe was courageous and outspoken about religious corruption, and consequently his church condemned him. In 1382 Wycliffe was put under house arrest, under which circumstances he died two years later. However, before he passed away he began the first English translation of the Bible, which his followers completed after his death.

Wycliffe’s ideas fell on fertile soil in Bohemia—located in today’s Czech Republic—where a young priest named Jan Hus (1372–1415) embraced them. Hus was ordered to stand trial for heresy, but he refused and was excommunicated along with his followers. In 1414 the Emperor Sigismund and his councilors interrogated Hus about his attitude toward the teachings of John Wycliffe. Although Hus was more moderate than Wycliffe and did not agree with all of Wycliffe’s teachings, he refused to denounce them in their entirety. Hus was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

Hus and Wycliffe were precursors to the most prominent figure of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther (1483–1546). Luther was an Augustinian monk and a professor at Germany’s University of Wittenberg. After a monk came to Saxony in 1517 selling indulgences—essentially permission to commit sin—to raise money for Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Luther protested such corruption and worldliness by nailing his historic 95 theses—statements urging reform—to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. Antagonism between Luther and the church grew, and in 1521 he was summoned by Emperor Charles V to appear before the Diet (Council) of Worms, where he made this courageous statement: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. … Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”

Luther was officially banned from the empire, but several German princes protected him. He translated the Bible into German for the masses, and Lutheranism spread throughout northern Europe and caused an ecclesiastical revolution.

About a hundred years after Wycliffe’s English Bible translation, William Tyndale (1494–1536) made an even more significant English translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew. When Tyndale could not find a publisher in England, he arranged for copies to be printed in Germany and smuggled into England. Tyndale’s translation was later used extensively by the King James translators of the Bible. Tyndale said: “If God spare me I will one day make the boy that drives the plough … to know more of Scripture than the Pope does.” Tyndale was executed in Belgium as a Protestant heretic.

Other inspired men led the Protestant Reformation elsewhere in Europe. Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) worked to purify Christianity in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. In 1523 he presented 67 articles of reform to the city, which were accepted, but in 1531 he was killed while serving as a chaplain in a battle between Protestants and Catholics. Also in Switzerland, influential John Calvin (1509–64) carried out the work of the Reformation in Geneva. Among his many religious innovations, Calvin conceived a church organization governed by elders, which evolved into Presbyterian, or Reformed, churches. In Scotland, John Knox (1513–72) expounded and established Calvin’s doctrines. Before long, the Pilgrims and Puritans would take the ideals and thoughts of Calvin and other Reformers to the New World, America.

Another benefit was the Reformation value of work, the so-called “Protestant work ethic” which viewed all labor—not only ecclesiastical work—as a calling from God. Calvin encouraged scientific work as a means of glorifying God. He said, “there is need of art and more exacting toil in order to investigate the motion of the stars, to determine their assigned stations, to measure their intervals, to note their properties” (Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, p. 23). By extension, any investigation into the workings of nature could be considered a divine calling. Kepler, a devout Lutheran, felt that way about his labors to decipher the “music of the spheres.

In the AAAS Statement on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, while not mentioning the Reformation, one can see the influence of the Reformation behind it:

Scientific freedom and scientific responsibility are essential to the advancement of human knowledge for the benefit of all. Scientific freedom is the freedom to engage in scientific inquiry, pursue and apply knowledge, and communicate openly. This freedom is inextricably linked to and must be exercised in accordance with scientific responsibility. Scientific responsibility is the duty to conduct and apply science with integrity, in the interest of humanity, in a spirit of stewardship for the environment, and with respect for human rights.

The statement recognizes individual freedom, but also the flip side: personal responsibility. Scientists must do their work with integrity (which they unfortunately have not been doing), Michaela Jarvis says in Science Magazine. Those are all distinctly Reformation values. The reformation also had a profound affect on fine arts. When music and art are met by this fundamental shift in thought, theology, and practice, the impact of the shift upon them is truly incredible. Without the shift in thought, theol-ogy, and practice presented to the West by the Reformation, Bach and Rembrandt would not have made the contributions to music and art that they most certainly made.

The Protestant Reformation initiated a return to pure Christianity, and perhaps the greatest legacy of the Reformation was the increased attention to freedom, one’s own freedom more than that of others. The ending of the single, “universal” church and the proliferation of new churches and sects had echoes in the political arena, most notably in the independence of the United States of America. A great many factors contributed to the establishment of the United States, but the political and religious heritage of the Protestant reformers was certainly among them.

In the midst of all of this religious strife, the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were sending explorers out into the world to establish trade routes to India. Eventually, Spanish explorers discovered the Americas and some people began to migrate to the new world to find fame and fortune. When other European nations learned about these new discoveries they began to colonize various areas of the world as well. Exploration expeditions began to spring up in England and other European countries and the age of exploration was established. This development was important because it allowed many early settlers to leave Europe and travel to the Americas.

The Land of the Free

Many religious groups had then become targets for the ruling powers. An example of one such group was the Puritans. This particular denomination wanted secular rulers to only govern things secular matters only, and not the church. Many rulers of the day did not agree with this belief because they had a lot of power over the church or through the church. Ultimately, this particular stance caused many Puritans to flee their homes. Many Puritans and other persecuted groups such as the Anabaptists and the Ranters went to a region called the Dutch Netherlands. They believed that this particular kingdom was a place where religious tolerance was accepted but they were wrong. Many Puritans realized that religious persecution was occurring everywhere and that their unique beliefs were not compatible with the monarchies and empires of Europe. They decided to travel to the New World to avoid this problem.

Once the pilgrims traveled to America, they established a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. After the colony was established the Puritans initially became a dominant group in the region. As more settlers arrived in America they had to adjust to the ruling religious group in the area. Despite the fact that they had left their homelands because of persecution; stronger religious groups imposed their way of life and views on other dissenters once they arrived. Many dissenters began to slowly spread out across America to establish their own colonies.

The Reformation legacy is also seen in the frontier emphasis on congregational religion, emphasizing the right and ability of individual congregations to organize themselves as autonomous religious bodies, conducting their own worship services and generally governing their own affairs. Congregationalism grew out of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English Calvinist tradition in particular, but it was also practiced by other groups.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights applied directly to the needs of a new religion because they provided for freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. Interestingly, of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, all but one was a protestant.

By the 18th century many people began to realize that religion is an important part of their lives, and the Founding fathers who created the Constitution wanted religion to remain the backbone of the newly formed country, but did not want the document to endorse one particular religion over another. This separation of church and state has been misconstrued for political purposes, as the founders never meant to detach the Bible, prayer, or Christian morals from schools or government.


  • http://totallyhistory.com/protestant-reformation/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance
  • https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Protestant_Reformation