Theological Roots of the

Protestant Reformation: A Handbook


Written by Robert Jones

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Acworth, Georgia


Engraving from The History of Protestantism by J.A. Wylie (Ages Software, 1997)

Copyright 1996, 2005 by Robert C. Jones

This material may be reprinted free of charge for use by non-profit church groups, as long as the author and copyright information is retained. 

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Part I:  Excesses of the Roman Catholic Church

Moral/ethical laxity

Excessive wealth.

Indulgences. PAGEREF _Toc100635089 \h 5

Part II:  The Essential Reformation Theology.. PAGEREF _Toc100635090 \h 7

Justification by Faith - Salvation by Grace. PAGEREF _Toc100635091 \h 7

Predestination.. PAGEREF _Toc100635092 \h 8

Priesthood of believers. PAGEREF _Toc100635093 \h 9

Bible as the sole authority of the Word of God.. PAGEREF _Toc100635094 \h 9

The Universal Church.. PAGEREF _Toc100635095 \h 10

Areas of disagreement among the Reformers. PAGEREF _Toc100635096 \h 10

Part III:  Laying the Foundation - Forerunners of the Reformation   PAGEREF _Toc100635097 \h 11

John Wycliffe (1330?-1384) PAGEREF _Toc100635098 \h 11

Jan (John) Hus (1369?-1415) PAGEREF _Toc100635099 \h 12

Erasmus (1466-1536) PAGEREF _Toc100635100 \h 14

Part IV:  The Revolution Begins.. PAGEREF _Toc100635101 \h 15

Martin Luther (1483-1546) PAGEREF _Toc100635102 \h 15

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) PAGEREF _Toc100635103 \h 21

John Calvin (1509-1564) PAGEREF _Toc100635104 \h 24

Anabaptists. PAGEREF _Toc100635105 \h 30

John Knox (1514(?)-1572) PAGEREF _Toc100635106 \h 34

Caspar Schwenkfeld (1489-1561) PAGEREF _Toc100635107 \h 36

William Tyndale and the English Reformation.. PAGEREF _Toc100635108 \h 40

Sources.. PAGEREF _Toc100635109 \h 43

Other Christian History & Theology courses


This book grew out of a six-month course I wrote and taught at Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, Acworth, Georgia, in 1996.  The original idea for the course came out of the fact that many of the members of the class, although lifelong Protestants, freely admitted that they had only a somewhat cursory knowledge of the theology of the founding fathers of the Reformation.  I suspect that there are many other Protestants in the same situation!


To many modern Protestants, the Reformation theology seems quite harsh.  Secularism teaches us that "I'm OK, you're OK", and that "everything one needs to succeed is within".  The Protestant Reformers had a very different view (see section "The Essential Reformation Theology"), which is not necessarily comfortable to many modern, middle of the road Protestants.  However, comfortable theology doesn't necessarily equate to correct theology.


"A common reformation should be undertaken by the spiritual and temporal estates."


- Martin Luther, in a letter to the Duke of Saxony


As one reads through the excerpts of the various denominational creeds contained herein, one is struck by the commonality of the creeds - the differences, hard fought at the time, and magnified through the ensuing years, are confined to fairly defined areas.  Overall, the Reformers showed a remarkable similarity in their basic message.


This booklet is meant to be a handbook, not a complete study of Reformation theology, and certainly not a complete history.  Rather, it attempts to capture the key events, and key theological views of the key 16th-century reformers, in a (hopefully) easy to read and easily accessible format.  The booklet does not examine later (post-16th century) Protestant movements, such as the Methodists or Baptists (see my A Brief History of Christian Baptism for the history of the latter).


Also, where feasible, I have let the reformers speak for themselves, quoting excerpts directly from the key Creeds and works associated with them.


One final word for the introduction.  Many people assume that the root of the word "Protestant" is negative, as we use the word "protest" today to describe a negative reaction against something.  However, the root of the word "protestant" actually comes from the concept of "to take a stand".  In 1529, at the Second Diet of Spires, a (pro-Catholic) resolution was passed calling for a restoration of the authority of the Catholic church.  On April 19, 1529, a small Lutheran group issued a formal "Protestation", stating that everyone must "stand and give account before God for himself."


I hope this booklet serves as a useful handbook on the theology of the Protestant Reformation.


Note: The opinions expressed in this book are those of the author.

Part I:  Excesses of the Roman Catholic Church


"...the five Vicars of Christ who ruled the Holy See during Magellan's lifetime [1480-1521] were the least Christian of men; the least devout, least scrupulous, least compassionate, and among the least chaste - lechers, almost without exception.  Ruthless in their pursuit of political power and personal gain, they were medieval despots who used their holy office for blackmail and extortion." - William Manchester (Manchester, p. 37)

Moral/ethical laxity

The Roman Catholic Church perhaps reached its low point in terms of moral example in the years surrounding the Reformation.  As, such, the ground was fertile for a backlash. 


The poor moral example started at the very top.  For example, Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) was known for throwing orgies in the Vatican.  Alexander VI is most well known for fathering a child by his illegitimate daughter, Lucrezia Borgia.


The papacy was also well known for nepotism during the 15th and early 16th century.  Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484), for example, appointed 6 nephews/grandnephews to College of Cardinals, and appointed an 8 year old boy as Archbishop of Lisbon.  Leo X (the pope that excommunicated Martin Luther), appointed 6 cousins/nephews as cardinals.  The aforementioned Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503) actually appointed his illegitimate son (Cesare Borgia) to the College of Cardinals!


The poor moral example extended downward to the clergy.  By the 16th century, the lax discipline in many monasteries and nunneries in Europe had reached almost epidemic proportions.  Gluttony, sexual excess, avarice and other vices were common in many religious houses, to the point where monks and nuns in many areas became targets of either hatred or derision from local townspeople.  It is no wonder that, when the Reformation came to countries such as Scotland and England, the local populace often joined in with the looting and destruction of the monasteries.

Excessive wealth

The Roman Church was also known for its excessive wealth during this period.  In 1502, the Catholic Church owned 75% of the money in France, and in 1522, the Catholic Church owned 50% of the wealth in Germany.  In early 1500s Scotland, the Catholic church owned more than 50% of the real estate .  The control of such massive wealth excited the envy of secular rulers and merchants alike, and led to the strong support of the Reformation by many secular rulers in Germany and Switzerland.  (Statistics from Manchester, p. 132 & Christian History, Issue 46, p. 2)


Of course, the most famous excess of the Roman Catholic Church during the period of the Reformation was the sale of indulgences.  An indulgence in of itself is nothing sinister - in the Catholic Church, an indulgence is used to signify a remission of worldly punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has already been absolved (during Confession).  Common means of gaining indulgences include prayer, fasting, giving alms, going on pilgrimages. 


However, in the 15th-16th centuries, indulgences were also granted for money.  Typically, the Church sold indulgences to either finance wars, or (a bit more noble reason), to finish the Sistine Chapel.  Matthew 16:19 was often used as the somewhat dubious theological basis for the sale of indulgences:


"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  (KJV)


Of course, the idea of selling "a remission of worldly punishment due to sin" is a concept ripe for abuse.  In 1476, Sixtus IV declared that indulgences could be applied to people in purgatory, so peasants began buying indulgences to get their Uncle Almaric out of purgatory (a place which, of course, the Reformers later stated didn't exist). 


In 1517, Pope Leo X took things a bit further by announcing a blue light special ("feste dies" - jubilee bargain) on indulgences.  Indulgences bought during this period were not just for already committed sins, but for sins not yet committed!  So, for example, if you wanted to steal a chicken, you could buy your indulgence beforehand, steal the chicken, and be comforted by the fact that you were already absolved of your sin!  It should be pointed out, though, that the proceeds of the sale of these indulgences went to the building of St. Peter's in Rome.



A gentleman named Johann Tetzel, who has been described as a "medieval P.T. Barnum", sold indulgences for Pope Leo in Germany from a push cart, in a somewhat huckster-ish manner.  It was Tetzel's irreverent sale of indulgences which eventually led Martin Luther to tack his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle in 1517.

Part II:  The Essential Reformation Theology

While there were serious areas of disagreement among the reformers, there was a core set of beliefs that united them.  The essential reformation theology is capsulized below.


        All mankind are unregenerate sinners - there is nothing that man can do on his own to achieve salvation

        Sin is a massive gulf between God and humans - God sent his Son, Jesus, to redeem the sins of mankind

        Through faith in Jesus, humans can become reconciled (justified) with God

        Salvation for humans beings is through the Grace (unmerited favor) of God only - No one is worthy of salvation

        Mankind is not saved through works - works are a result of justification, not a cause


We will now examine the basic characteristics of Reformation theology in more detail.

Justification by Faith - Salvation by Grace

The reformers believed that man is reconciled with God solely through faith, and saved by the Grace (unmerited favor) of God, not through anything that mankind does on his/her own. This view was a  direct challenge to the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the day, which preached that salvation was a combination of works (which could include giving alms, going to confession/mass, celebrating feast days, etc.),  and faith.


The Reformers often pointed to the Apostle Paul for their support for the doctrine of salvation by Grace alone:


"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."  - Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)


Some additional Biblical passages that discuss these themes are listed below:




Genesis 15:6

Abraham's belief

Romans 1:17

Righteousness by faith

Romans 3:10-31

No one is worthy of salvation

Romans 4

Paul discussing Abraham

Romans 5:1-2

Gaining access to Grace by faith

Romans 5: 8-21

Reconciliation through Christ

Romans 11:1-6

Remnant chosen by Grace

2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

Ministry of reconciliation

Galatians 3:6-9

Children of Abraham

Ephesians 2: 1-10

Salvation through Grace alone

Titus 3: 4-7

Justification by Grace

1 Peter 1: 3-12

Goal of your faith


Perhaps the single most controversial tenant of the Protestant reformation (especially in modern times) is the doctrine of  Predestination.  Predestination is the belief that God has preordained all things, including the salvation or damnation of individual human beings.  In the words of John Calvin, perhaps the most visible (but not sole) proponent of predestination:


"...the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.  All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation..."  ("Institutes of the Christian Religion", Calvin, p. 203)


From a theological standpoint, predestination can be viewed as the opposite of the doctrine of "free will" (and, in fact, there was a notable debate between Dutch Calvinist proponents of predestination, and Arminian proponents of free will in the 17th century).  However, the reformers were not the first theologians to put forth the doctrine - St. Augustine, in the 5th century had a well developed theology involving predestination.  Biblically, the most obvious proponent of the doctrine seems to be the Apostle Paul.


The following table gives some idea of scriptural references to predestination (there are, of course, references that back the free will side of the question, also!):





Matthew  20:23

Places prepared by the Father

Matthew  25:34

Inheritance prepared since creation

Luke 10:20

Names written in Heaven

Luke 18:7

Justice for the chosen ones

Acts 13:48

Appointed for eternal life

Romans 8:28-33

Those he predestined

Romans 9:10-21

God's purpose in election

Romans 11:5-8

Remnant chosen by Grace

1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Chosen by God to...

Ephesians 1:4-12

Chosen before creation of the world

1 Peter 1:1-2

God's elect

Jude 1:4

Condemnation pre-ordained

Revelation 13:8

Book of Life

Priesthood of believers

The term "priesthood of believers" was coined by Luther, but it was a doctrine preached by all of the primary reformers.  It is the view that each individual can interpret the Bible on their own, without external authority, and that individuals did not need intermediaries between themselves and God (priests, bishops etc.)  This doctrine was a direct threat to the European hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, which based much of its authority on its self-proclaimed right to interpret and act as an intermediary to the word of God.


Once one accepts the doctrine of a "priesthood of believers", an easy next step is the rejection of papal authority, a stand taken by all of the Reformers, imperiling the lives of some such as Martin Luther.

Bible as the sole authority of the Word of God

The reformers believed the Bible was the sole authority of the word of God.  The Roman Catholic view (then and now) is/was that church tradition/councils/teachings were on equal authoritative footing with the holy Scriptures. 


A corollary to the view of the Bible as the sole authority of the Word of God is that the Bible should be available in the vernacular, or the common language of the people.  Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was translated solely into Latin, which was understood by a very small segment of the population (clergy, some merchants, etc.)  Reformers such as Wycliffe, Luther, Hus and Tyndale all translated the Bible to the vernacular (English, German, Czech, and English, respectively).

The Universal Church

Prior to the Reformation, the "Church" was generally defined as the Roman Church, with its papal head.  With the coming of the Reformation, the "Church" began to be defined as the total of the saved, living, dead, or to be born.

Areas of disagreement among the Reformers

While the Reformers generally agreed on key theological issues, there were areas of strong disagreement that led to the proliferation of Protestant denominations that we know today.  Among the areas of disagreement:

        Infant vs. adult baptism

        Relationship between church and state

        The meaning of the Eucharist (Communion).  Essentially, there were 4 views in the 16th century:

        Transubstantiation - Roman Catholic Church

        Consubstantiation - Martin Luther

        Symbolic - Ulrich Zwingli

        Spiritual - Caspar Schwenckfeld


Part III:  Laying the Foundation - Forerunners of the Reformation

John Wycliffe (1330?-1384)

Place of Birth: Yorkshire, England

Key Events




Ordained priest (See of Lincoln)


Doctorate of Theology


Publishes "Tractatus de civili dominio"


Brought to trial before Archbishop of Canterbury as a heretic; saved by the crowds


Pope condemns 18 propositions of Wycliffe (in 5 separate bulls)


Begins first full English translation of the Bible (from Jerome's Latin Vulgate).  Published in 1388.


Condemned by Council of Constance for 267 heresies


Remains dug up and burned on papal order



Key beliefs

Wycliffe, although he died 100 years before the birth of Martin Luther, had most of the later-Reformation beliefs contained in his theology.  Because of this, he is sometimes referred to as the "Morningstar of the Reformation".  Some of Wycliffe's theological views that were later adopted by the Reformers include:


        Good works do not guarantee salvation - rather, good works are a sign of the saved

        Predestination - Wycliffe believed that only Adam & Eve had free will

        All Christians are "priests" - no earthly intermediaries are needed between man and God (including priests in the confessional)

        The Bible as the preeminent authority for every Christian

        Rejection of the sale of indulgences

        Criticism of the excesses of clergy - Wycliffe believed they should be tried by secular courts when they broke the law.  Generally, members of the clergy in Medieval Europe were tried by ecclesiastical courts, not by secular courts.

        Denial of Transubstantiation.  Similar to Luther's later Consubstantiation view, Wycliffe believed in the "Real Presence" of Christ during the Eucharist - "spiritually, truly, really, effectively".


There were several areas of Wycliffe's beliefs which were not picked up on by the later reformers.  These views were more typical of religious figures from the Middle Ages such as St. Francis of Assisi:


        Communal ownership by the righteous (see Acts 2:44-2:47, and 4:32-4:37)

        Church/clergy should own no earthly goods (a view that would make Wycliffe a not-very-popular figure to the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the time!)


Wycliffe's greatest legacy is probably his influence on later reformers such as Martin Luther and William Tyndale.  Wycliffe was the first medieval theologian to publish a Bible in the vernacular, a concept that would later (with the advent of the printing press) prove as revolutionary as any of the actions or theologies of the Reformation. 


A small group of Wycliffe's followers, named the Lollards (poor priests), struggled on after his death.

Jan (John) Hus (1369?-1415)

Place of Birth: Husinec, Bohemia

Key Events




Ordained priest


Rector, University of Prague


Protested sale of indulgences to finance a war by antipope John XXIII (Hus referred to John XXIII as the Antichrist)


Pope lays interdict against any city that shields Hus


Imprisoned.  Offers to refute beliefs only if they could be disapproved Biblically  (an eerie precursor of  Luther at Council of Worms!)

 July 6, 1415

Burned at the stake



Key beliefs

Hus was a strong follower of John Wycliffe, and he adopted many of his ideas, such as:


        Christ, not the pope as head of church - Hus defined the church as the total of the saved on heaven and in earth (similar to Calvin)

        Bible as the ultimate spiritual authority

        Protested lax practices of clergy

        Church should have no worldly goods

        Questioned transubstantiation

        Wrote in the vernacular (Bohemian, Czech)


Hus also held other views that would later be adopted by Reformers such as John Knox, Martin Luther, and Ulrich Zwingli:


        Questioned existence of purgatory

        Rejection of confession, worship of images, and ornate religious rites

        Condemnation of the taking of fees by priests for baptism, marriage, burials, masses, confirmation


Like Wycliffe, Hus's greatest legacy was probably his influence on later reformers.  However, Hus also started a church that still exists today - the Moravian Church.  Some people would argue that the Moravian Church, not the Lutheran or Reformed Church, is the first Protestant denomination - 100 years before Luther tacked his 95 theses on the door of Wittenburg Castle!

Erasmus (1466-1536)

Place of Birth:  Rotterdam (?), Netherlands

Key Events




Augustinian Priest


Traveling Scholar


Publishes "The Praise of Folly"


Published Greek New Testament


Excommunicated (after death)



Erasmus wasn't a Protestant reformer in the sense that Calvin and Luther were - he remained a Catholic until the day he died.  However, Erasmus was an important influence on the Reformation because he was an early and vociferous critic of the excesses of the Roman Church in the Middle Ages.  He wrote a number of extremely satirical tracts, including a play ("Julius Exclusus") depicting a noted pope (Julius II) being denied entrance to heaven by St. Peter.  The fact that he wasn't excommunicated until after his death is a credit to a key factor - Erasmus kept his criticisms within the clerical community (quite unlike Calvin, Luther, Knox, etc.) 

Key beliefs

        Mocked Virgin Birth, original sin, transubstantiation

        Called shrines, miracles "bugbears of superstition"

        Openly criticized the wealth and nepotism of the papacy

        Attacked lechery in the monastery

Part IV:  The Revolution Begins

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Place of Birth: Eisleben, Saxony

Key Events




Becomes Augustinian monk; ordained as a priest


Doctorate in Theology; Professor of Biblical Literature at Wittenburg University


Protests sale of indulgences by Pope Leo X

October 31, 1517

Tacks 95 theses to door of Wittenburg Castle


Bull of Excommunication #1

Dec, 10/11, 1520

Luther burns the Bull; announces that to be saved, one must renounce the Pope


Bull of Excommunication #2 - Luther excommunicated

April 17/18, 1521

Council (Diet) of Worm, convened by Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  Luther ordered to recant.  Luther replied, �Here I stand. I can do no other.�


Luther in hiding at Wartburg Castle; translates New Testament into German, and battles with the Devil

March 9, 1522

Luther begins a series of sermons asking for calm as followers of Carlstadt destroy relics, paintings and statuary in churches


Marries former nun Katherine von Bora; criticizes the Peasant�s Revolt


Writes "A Mighty Fortress is Our God"  (Luther wrote a total of 41 hymns)


Publishes "Large Catechism", "Small Catechism"


Luther is the doctrinal inspiration for the Augsburg Confession


Publishes German Bible - 100,000 copies of New Testament printed in Wittenberg during his lifetime (Durant, p. 369)


Arts & Entertainment network votes Luther the 3rd most influential person of the millennium

October 31, 1999

�The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification� is signed by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, seemingly bringing the Catholic Church closer to Luther�s view of salvation by �faith alone�


Key Beliefs

Luther had struggled his whole clerical life with the idea that God was a wrathful, judgmental God, and that no mortal man could possibly live a life pure enough to please God.  One day, while sitting on the privy in Wittenburg Castle, Luther had what he later described as a "thunderbolt to my conscience" - the realization that the righteousness of God is not a negative characteristic (i.e. judgmental), but rather a merciful one (justification of sinners through faith).   Romans 1:17 was the spark for this revelation:


"For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."" (KJV)


Later, Romans 1:17 would become the centerpiece of Luther's theology, capsulizing his views on justification by faith, and salvation by grace, and grace alone:


"The righteousness of God is the cause of our salvation.  This righteousness, however, is not that according to which God Himself is righteous as God, but that by which we are justified by Him through faith in the Gospel.  It is called the righteousness of God in contradistinction to man's righteousness which comes from works...righteousness (justification) precedes works and good works grow out of it."  (Luther's Commentary on Romans, p. 41)


Luther was also a strong proponent of viewing the Bible as the sole source of Christian belief.  He vociferously rejected non-Biblical tenants such as purgatory, worship of Mary and the Saints, and indulgences (although not infant baptism).  He generally viewed the Bible as literally true (what would be called fundamentalism today), but at the same time, he cast some doubt on the authority of several books in the Bible, including James, Hebrews, and Revelation.


Luther strongly rejected monasticism, which he viewed as the epitome of the "salvation through works" viewpoint.  (The Augsburg Confession had liberal references rejecting monasticism.)  He also rejected clerical celibacy, and he eventually married a former nun, and had 6 children!  However, because he only accepted two of seven Roman sacraments - Baptism and Communion, he viewed that divorce was possible, since he did not accept marriage as a sacrament.


Luther also strongly believed in the Pauline/Augustinian doctrine of predestination, although the doctrine is surprisingly under-represented in the Augsburg Confession, upon which the Lutheran faith is based.


Luther on Predestination


"He [Paul] here takes up the doctrine of predestination or election.  This doctrine is not so incomprehensible as many think, but is rather full of sweet comfort for the elect and for all who have the Holy Spirit.  But it is most bitter and hard for (those who adhere to) the wisdom of the flesh."


"God absolutely recognizes no chance; it is only men who speak of chance.  Not a single leaf falls from the tree without the will of the Father.  All things are essentially in His hands, and so are also our times."


"The first and most flimsy objection against divine election is this, that man has been given free will by which he can earn for himself either merit or demerit.  To this I reply:  Man's free will without divine grace has not the least ability to secure righteousness, but is totally corrupt."


"The third thought (that we could consider in connection with God's eternal election) is that this doctrine is indeed most bitter to the wisdom of the flesh, which revolts against it and even becomes guilty of blasphemy on this point.  But it is fully defeated when we learn to know that our salvation rest no wise upon ourselves and our conduct, but is founded solely upon what is outside us, namely, on God's election."


"It is not the characteristic of reprobates to tremble at the secret counsel of God; but that is a characteristic of the elect."


(From Luther's "Commentary on Romans")


Luther was also a strong proponent of the doctrine of a "priesthood of believers", a view which says that each Christian can make their own interpretation of the Scriptures, and that no intermediaries (such as clerics) are needed for a Christian to communicate with God.  Coming out of this viewpoint was Luther's total rejection of papal authority.  He noted that, in the first several centuries of the Church, the Bishop of Rome had no special authority.


One area where Luther's views strongly disagreed with that of other Reformers (Zwingli, Schwenckfeld, the Anabaptists) was in the area of the nature of the Eucharist (Communion).  While Luther rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation (defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215) which said that the elements actually turned into the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist, Luther's Consubstantiation view still promulgated the presence of Christ's body and blood during communion:


"It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given unto us Christians to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ himself."  (Luther's "Small Catechism", Schaff, Vol. III, p. 90)


 Augsburg Confession (1530) - excerpts


Note:  It is generally viewed that Martin Luther produced the doctrinal background for the Augsburg Confession, and that it was put to paper by his follower, Philip Melanchthon.


Of Original Sin: "...after Adam's fall, all men begotten after the common course of nature are born with sin...bringing eternal death now also upon all that are not born again by baptism and the Holy Spirit."


Of Justification: " can not be justified [obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness] before God by their own powers, merits, or works; but are justified freely [of grace] for Christ's sake through faith."


Of New Obedience: "...this faith should bring forth good fruits, and that men ought to do the good works commanded of God, because it is God's will, and not on any confidence of meriting justification before God by their works."


Of the Church: "But the Church is the Congregation of saints [the assembly of all believers]..."


Of Baptism: " is necessary to salvation, and that by Baptism the grace of God is offered, and that children are to be baptized, who by Baptism, being offered to God, are received into God's favor. They condemn the Anabaptists who allow not the Baptism of children, and affirm that children are saved without Baptism."


Of the Lord's Supper: "...the [true] body and blood of Christ are truly present [under the form of bread and wine], and are [there] communicated to those that eat in the Lord's supper [and received]."


Of Ecclesiastical Rites: "...vows and traditions concerning foods and days, and such like, instituted to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the gospel."


Of Christ's Return to Judgment: " the consummation of the world [at the last day], Christ shall appear to judge, and shall raise up all the dead, and shall dive unto the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys; but ungodly men and the devils shall he condemn unto endless torments".


Of Good Works: "...our works can not reconcile God, or deserve remission of sins, grace, and justification at his hands, but these we obtain by faith only."


Of the Worship of Saints: "But the scripture teacheth not to invocate saints, or to ask help of saints, because it propoundeth unto us one Christ the Mediator, Propitiatory, High-Priest, and Intercessor."


Of the Mass: "This is not only commanded by St. Paul, to use a tongue that the people understand (1 Cor. xiv. 9), but man's law hath also appointed it."


(From "The Creeds of Christendom: Vol. III", edited by Philip Schaff)




Luther at the Council of Worms.  Historian Thomas Carlyle called his response of �Here I stand. I can do no other� "the greatest moment in the modern history of man." (Manchester, p. 173)


So why did the theological views of an obscure Augustinian monk light the match that ignited the Protestant Reformation, when earlier reformers such as Wycliffe and Hus had much less impact?  If one were to pick a single factor, it would have to be the development of the printing press.  As the Internet today has democratized the distribution of information and opinion, the printing press allowed views at odds with official Catholicism to receive wide-spread (and International) exposure.   Europe in the 16th century was ready for a message of reform, and Luther and the printing press delivered it.


It is hard to put into words the effect of Martin Luther.  By successfully refuting the pope and his bull of excommunication, Luther lessened the hegemony of the Roman Church over Europe.  By successfully refuting the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Luther helped bring about the rise of nationalism.  And, of course, Luther was the spark that ignited the Reformation, which forever changed the face of Christianity in the world. 


Luther�s influence continues in modern times.  On October 31, 1999 in Augsburg, a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.  Among the contents:


�Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ�s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.�



This understanding of justification by faith would seemingly bring the Catholic Church closer to Luther�s interpretation. 


Other legacies of Luther include:


        As the founder of the Lutheran Church, Martin Luther could view with satisfaction that there are over 7,000,000 Lutherans in the United States alone as of 1994.

        Luther was the first to use the term "evangelical" to describe the essential Reformation theology.  By some estimates, there are over 65 million evangelical Christians in the United States today alone.

        Luther was the first proponent of congregational hymn singing in church!


Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Place of Birth: Wildhaus, Switzerland

You can order a 3-hour, 2-DVD set of the author lecturing on Presbyterian origins in front of a live audience by clicking here!


Key Events




Master of Arts, University of Basel; becomes a priest - Influenced by writings of Erasmus


Appointed preacher at Grossmunster Cathedral in Zurich - Leads Zurich to withdrawal from alliance with Catholic France


Resigns from priesthood; employed by Zurich City Council as evangelical pastor


Publishes 67 theses


Authorizes execution of the Anabaptists


Dies fighting in Catholic/Protestant Second War of Kappel

Key beliefs

Zwingli, a contemporary, not a follower of Luther, laid the foundation for the Reformed Church.  As Luther, he believed that mankind is unregenerate, and is saved through the intercession of Christ.  Also as Luther, he believed in the supreme authority of the Bible.


Zwingli also believed in predestination, and took it to some interesting conclusions.  He felt that it would be impossible for God to be omnipotent and omnipresent if he did not "control and dispose" all events.  As Zwingli believed that we were predestined to salvation (or damnation) before birth, this meant that there may be members of the elect among the heathen (Luther was horrified), and that infants that died before being baptized may be saved, if they were predestined to be so.


Zwingli believed that baptism by water can take place without baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that baptism by the Holy Spirit can take place without baptism by water.  In the latter case, the believer is still saved.  Zwingli also believed in infant baptism, a point in which he violently disagreed with his students, the Anabaptists.  To Zwingli, an important element of infant baptism is a profession of faith by the parents, and a pledge to bring the child up as a Christian.


It was the doctrine of what happens during the Eucharist (communion) that caused the biggest rift between Luther and Zwingli.  Unlike Luther, who believed that Christ's body and blood were present during the sacrament, Zwingli took a more symbolic view.  He felt that the bread and wine signify the body and blood of Christ - he therefore rejected transubstantiation and consubstantiation.  He further believed that the sacrament was a commemoration, not a repetition (as in the Catholic faith) of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  To Zwingli, communion is a visible sign of an invisible grace.


First Zurich Disputation (1523) - excerpts


"All who say that the gospel is invalid without the approbation [confirmation] of the church err and cast reproach upon God."


"Christ is the only way to salvation for all who ever were, who are and who shall be."


"Whosoever seeks or shows another door, errs - yea, is a murderer of souls and a robber."


"Christ is the Head of all believers...All who live in this Head are his members and children of God. And this is the true Catholic [universal] Church, the communion of saints."


"Who believes the gospel shall be saved; who believeth not shall be damned. For in the gospel the whole truth is clearly contained."


"From the gospel we learn that the doctrines and traditions of men are of no use to salvation."


"...the mass is no sacrifice, but a commemoration of the one sacrifice of the cross and a seal of redemption through Christ."


"Christ is the only mediator between God and us."


"Christ is righteousness. From this it follows that our works are good so far as they are Christ's, but not good as far as they are our own."


"The power of the Pope and the Bishops has no foundation in the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine of Christ."


"God alone forgives sins, through Jesus Christ our Lord alone."


"The Holy Scripture knows nothing of a purgatory after this life."


(From "The Creeds of Christendom: Vol. I", edited by Philip Schaff)


Generally, most Church historians view that two primary movements came out of the Protestant Reformation - Lutheran, and the Reformed Faith.  Zwingli was the founder of the Reformed faith, which begat groups such as the Presbyterians (including Calvin, Knox), Puritans, the Reformed Church in Europe, the Anabaptists etc. 


Statue to Zwingli in Zurich (photo by Barbara Brim)


Zwingli also initiated the practice of making the sermon the center of the church service, as opposed to the Eucharist.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Place of Birth: Noyon, France

Key Events




Studies for priesthood in Paris


Studies law in Orleans, Bourges


"Conversion" - Breaks with Roman Church; flees to Geneva Switzerland (1536)


         Publishes "Institutes of the Christian Religion"

         Flees to Geneva Switzerland, which declared for the Reformed Faith two months before Calvin arrived

         At the urging of William Farel, becomes an evangelical preacher in Geneva

April 23, 1538

Farel and Calvin deposed by the Great Council of Geneva � Calvin goes to Strasbourg, Farel to Basel


Calvin marries Idelette de Bure


Prodded by commercial interests, and fear of a revived Catholicism, the Great Council asked Farel and Calvin to return to Geneva


Theocratic ruler of the "City of God" in Geneva, Switzerland


"Ecclesiastical Ordinances" passed - Government of the Reformed Church established (no bishops, cardinals, etc.)


Long after Calvin's death, Dutch Calvinist's debate Arminians (believers in free will) in Dort;  the Calvinist's develop the acronym TULIP to describe Calvin's theology.

Key beliefs

John Calvin's theology, fairly or unfairly, will forever be associated with the acronym TULIP, which was actually defined by 17th-century Dutch Calvinists in their debate with the free will Arminians in 1610.


Although Calvin never used the acronym himself, it is at least useful to illustrate some of Calvin's basic theological tenants:



Calvin was also a strong believer in the concept of the Universal Church, which he defined as being the congregation of the elect, living, dead, or to be born.


Confession of Faith (1536) - excerpts


"First we affirm that we desire to follow scripture alone as the rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God."


"...we acknowledge that there is only one God, whom we are both to worship and serve."


"...we think it an abomination to put our confidence or hope in any created thing, to worship anything else than him, whether angels or any other creatures, and to recognize any other Saviour of our souls than him alone, whether saints or men living upon earth."


"...we confess all our life ought to be ruled in accordance with the commandments of his holy law in which is contained all perfection of justice."


"...we acknowledge that by his spirit we are regenerated into a new spiritual nature."


"We acknowledge man by nature to be blind, darkened in understanding, and full of corruption and perversity of heart, so that of himself he has no power to be able to comprehend the true knowledge of God as is proper, nor to apply himself to good works."


" is Jesus Christ who is given to us by the Father, in order that in him we should recover all of which in ourselves we are deficient."


"...that being in our own nature enemies of God, and subjects of his wrath and judgment, we are reconciled with him and received again in grace through the intercession of Jesus Christ, so that by His righteousness and guiltessness we have remission of sins, and by the shedding of his blood we are cleansed and purified from all our stains."


(From "The Creeds of Christendom: Vol. III",  edited by Philip Schaff)


Calvin on Predestination


"We shall never feel persuaded as ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the Grace of God being illustrated by the contrast - viz. that he does not adopt promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others." (Calvin, p. 206)


"There are others who...recommend that the subject of predestination should scarcely if ever be mentioned, and tell us to shun every question concerning it as we would a rock." (Calvin, p. 204)


"Why did God from the first predestine some to death, when, as they were not yet in existence, they could not have merited sentence of death? Let us by way of reply ask in our turn, What do you imagine that God owes to man, if he is pleased to estimate him by his own nature? As we are all vitiated by sin, we cannot but be hateful to God, and that not from tyrannical cruelty, but from strictest justice. But if all whom the Lord predestines to death are naturally liable to sentence of death, of what injustice, pray, do they complain?" (Calvin, p. 228)


"Now, since the arrangement of all things is in the hand of God, since to him belongs the disposal of life and death, he arranges all things by his sovereign counsel, in such a way that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction...The decree, I admit, is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should anyone here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does so rashly and unadvisedly. " (Calvin, p. 231/232)


"The Lord therefore may show favour to whom he will, because he is merciful; not show it to all, because he is a just judge. In giving to some what they do not merit, he shows his free favour; in not giving to all, he declares what all deserve." (Calvin, p. 235)

Calvin & the City of God

Calvin returns triumphantly to Geneva in 1541


Essentially, John Calvin was the theocratic ruler of Geneva from 1542 - 1564.  While he had no official title as such, he was the key figure in the religious and secular government of Geneva.


There have long been arguments as to the nature of Calvin's administration.  Supporters say that Calvin was the first democrat - detractors say that he was nothing more than a dictator.  You decide!




Calvin was actually an early proponent of the separation of Church and State.  While he believed that both Church and State were responsible to God, he felt that they should not rule over each other.  He felt that Divine/Natural Law should form the foundation for all secular government, and that God establishes States to enforce Divine Laws.


Calvin believed that ministers, elders and deacons should be appointed by the people, and he had no bishops, cardinals, or popes in his ecclesiastical hierarchy (these views formed the governmental basis for Presbyterianism).  Calvin believed that democratically elected rulers are most likely to rule justly.


A somewhat controversial view of Calvin's given the times was his belief that the populace should obey the law, unless commanded to do what is contrary to God's Law.  To Calvin, unjust rulers or dictators could be removed by the populace. 


Calvin's ecclesiastical governmental organization


        Pastors - Ministry of the Word and Sacraments

        Teachers - Education of children and adults

        Elders - Monitored spiritual and moral affairs of church members

        Deacons - Social welfare, including alms, hospitals etc.




The aforementioned democratic manifestations of Calvin's views make him sound like an early Thomas Jefferson.  However, there is another side to the story!  To many people, life in Geneva under Calvin was a rather grim, repressive affair.  Among the things prohibited in Geneva under Calvin:


Dancing, singing, pictures, statues, relics, church bells, organs, altar candles, 'indecent or irreligious' songs, staging or attending theatrical plays, wearing rouge,  jewelry, lace, 'immodest' dress, swearing, gambling, playing cards, hunting, drunkenness, naming children after anyone other than figures in the Old Testament, 'immoral or irreligious' books (Manchester, p. 191)


Also, Geneva was not particularly tolerant of people with divergent political or theological views.  Catholicism was banned as heresy, punishable by death (58 people were put to death between 1542-64).  Adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, and witchcraft were all punishable by death.  And, just like in the Catholic Church, excommunication was practiced.


Calvin debates Michael Servetus, who was later put to death


John Calvin was the preeminent theologian of his time, and perhaps one of the 2 or 3 greatest theologians in history.    He continued Zwingli's Reformed Church, out of which the Presbyterian, European Reformed churches, French Huguenots, and English Puritans grew.



"If I had such servants my dominion would extend from sea to sea." - Pope Pius IV, c. 1564


The first Anabaptists were students of Ulrich Zwingli that became impatient with the slow pace of the Protestant Reformation.  While much of the basic theology between Zwingli and the Anabaptists was similar, they disagreed on several key points, such as adult vs. infant baptism, separation of church and state, and whether Christians should serve in the military (the Anabaptists were nonviolent pacifists - Ulrich Zwingli died fighting the Catholics in the Second Battle of Kappel!)


Because of their break with Zwingli, and because their views were anathema to both Roman Catholics and other Protestant groups, the Anabaptists were the most persecuted group in the whole Reformation.

Key Events 




c. 1525

Schism between Ulrich Zwingli and some of his students. 

January 21, 1525

Dissidents illegally rebaptize each other


Zwingli authorizes execution of Anabaptists


Schleitheim Confession of Faith


Menno Simons (1496 - 1561) takes over movement - "Mennonite" is derived from his name


Confession of Dort


Schism among the Anabaptists over the doctrine of social shunning.  Amish movement is formed.

Key beliefs

The emergence of the Anabaptist movement rose out of their belief that there is no Biblical basis for infant baptism.  Their mentor Ulrich Zwingli disagreed from both a theological point of view, and a secular one - infant baptism was used by the secular government for tax registration, and it was from the city government of Zurich that Zwingli had his authority.

In 1525, several of Zwingli's students (Conrad Grebel, Feliz Manz, Georg Blaurock) illegally rebaptized each other.  The term "anabaptist" grew out of this event:


"The name Anabaptists which is now applied to them, has but lately come into use, deriving its matter from the matter of holy baptism, concerning which their views differ from those of all, so-called, Christendom." (Thielman J. van Braght, Martyrs Mirror, 1660 , p. 16)


The Anabaptist view on infant baptism is summarized in the following passage:


"Of Holy Baptism, and why we have preferred it to all other articles, in our history:   "...Because it is, beyond contradiction, the only article on account of which others call us Anabaptists.  For, since all other so-called Christians have, yet without true foundation, this in common that they baptize infants; while with us the baptism only which is accompanied by faith and a penitent life, according to the word of God, is administered to adults..."  (Thielman J. van Braght, Martyrs Mirror, 1660 , p. 16)


The Anabaptists were also known (as the Amish are still known today) for their doctrine of "nonconformity", or the feeling that true Christians must separate themselves from the unclean world.  The Anabaptists site several scriptural references for this viewpoint:




Third Confession of Dort (1632) - excerpts


Of God and the Creation of All Things: "...we find it testified that without faith it is impossible to please God..."


Of the Fall of Man: "...Adam and Eve...became disobedient to their Creator; through which disobedience sin has come to the world, and death by sin, which has thus passed upon all men, for that all have sinned, and, hence, brought upon themselves the wrath of God, and condemnation..."


Of the Coming of Christ into this World, and the Purpose for Which He Came: "...the Son of God died, and tasted death and shed His precious blood for all men; and that he thereby bruised the serpent's head, destroyed the works of the devil, annulled the handwriting and obtained forgiveness for all mankind; thus becoming the cause of eternal salvation for all those who, from Adam unto the end of the world, each in his own time, believe in, and obey Him."


The Law of Christ, i.e. The Holy Gospel or The New Testament: "...before his ascension He instituted His New Testament...and left it to His disciples...that neither angel nor man may alter it, nor add to it nor take away from it."


Of Repentance and Reformation of Life: "...since the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and, therefore, prone to all unrighteousness, sin, and wickedness, the first lesson of the precious New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation of life..."


Of the Church of Christ: "We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized..."


Of the Washing of the Saint's Feet: "...We also confess a washing of the saint's a sign of true humility."


Of Revenge: "...we must not inflict pain, harm or sorrow upon anyone, but seek the highest welfare and salvation of all men...and when we are smitten, rather turn the other cheek also, than take revenge or retaliate."

Of the Swearing of Oaths: "...we understand that all oaths, high and low, are forbidden..."


Of the Ecclesiastical Ban, or Separation from the Church: "We confess, a ban, Separation, and Christian correction in the church, for amendment, and not for destruction..."


Of Shunning the Separated: "...we believe and confess, that if anyone, either through his wicked life or perverted doctrine, has so far fallen that he is separated from God...the same must, according to the doctrine of Christ and His apostles, be shunned without distinction, by all the fellow members of the church..."


Of the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Last Judgment: "[We believe that] in the last day all men who shall have died, and fallen asleep, shall be wakened and quickened, and shall rise again through the incomprehensible power of God..."


(From "Martyrs Mirror", 1660)


Compared to the Lutheran and Reformed Church successors, the Anabaptist are a comparably small group today, with the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites comprising about 600,000 members worldwide.  However, while there is no unbroken line of succession between the Anabaptists and the modern day Baptists (over 32,000,000 strong in the U.S.A.), there is certainly great doctrinal similarity.  The Anabaptists may be considered the spiritual predecessors of the American Baptist movement.


Amish farmer in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Photo by Robert Jones

John Knox (1514(?)-1572)

Place of Birth: Haddington, Scotland

Key Events




c. 1532

Ordained priest


Protestant preacher George Wishart executed as heretic (Knox was his bodyguard)


Joins revolt against the Roman Church in Scotland;  becomes preacher to the revolutionaries


Captured during siege of castle of St. Andrews; made a galley slave


Released from galley imprisonment - preaches in England; confessor to Edward VI


Flees England of Catholic Mary Tudor to Geneva - Becomes student of John Calvin


Returns to Scotland; preaches against idolatry - followers sack monasteries


Scottish Parliament establishes Presbyterian Church of Scotland


Fights to depose Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (deposed 1567)


Mary, Queen of Scots beheaded by Elizabeth I




(Photo by Dee Ross)


John Knox had perhaps the most colorful life of all of the 16th century reformers.  Among his varied roles:


        Bodyguard to an Evangelical preacher

        Galley slave under the French

        Personal confessor to King Edward VI of England

        Preacher in Calvin�s Geneva to English-speaking residents

        Father of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland

        Key figure in the overthrow of Mary, Queen of Scots

Key beliefs

John Knox was a strong follower of John Calvin, and there is a great deal of commonality in their theology.  Knox once called Geneva under John Calvin "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the Apostles." (Durant, p. 408)


Scots Confession of Faith (1560) - excerpts


Of Original Sin: �By this transgression, generally known as original sin, the image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin...�


Election: �That same eternal God and Father, who by grace alone chose us in his Son Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world was laid, appointed him to be our head, our brother, our pastor, and the great bishop of our souls��


The Cause of Good Works: �The cause of good works, we confess, is not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who dwells in our hearts by true faith��


The Perfection of the Law and the Imperfection of Man: ��but our nature is so corrupt, weak, and imperfect, that we are never able perfectly to fulfill the works of the law. Even after we are reborn, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth of God is not in us�.�


The Church:  ��from the beginning there has been, now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Kirk [Church], that is to say, one company and multitude of men chosen by God, who rightly worship and embrace him by true faith in Jesus Christ, who is the only Head of the Kirk��


Authority of the Scriptures:  �As we believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels��


The Sacraments: ��we acknowledge and confess�two chief sacraments, which alone were instituted by the Lord Jesus and commanded to be used by all who will be counted members of his body, that is, Baptism and the Supper or Table of the Lord Jesus, also called the Communion of His Body and Blood...�


To Whom Sacraments Appertain:  �We hold that baptism applies as much to the children of the faithful as to those who are of age and discretion, and so we condemn the error of the Anabaptists, who deny that children should be baptized before they have faith and understanding.�


While Presbyterians often trace their theological roots to Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, John Knox can quite legitimately be referred to as "the father of Presbyterianism".  In the United States, Presbyterians number approximately 4,000,000 members.  There are about 750,000 Presbyterians in Scotland, and millions more around the world.  (Right: John Knox at St. Giles; photo by Dee Ross)

Caspar Schwenkfeld (1489-1561)

Place of Birth: Ossig, Silesia, Germany

Key Events





"Visitation of the divine" - Schwenckfeld's conversion - becomes early follower of Luther


Writes "Admonition"


Schwenckfeld-Luther debate


Writes "Great Confession"


Entire body of Schwenckfeld's works banned by the Council of Trent - an honor shared with Luther and Calvin


Schwenkfelders flee from Jesuit persecution to Pennsylvania


Last Schwenkfelder in Europe dies


(Engraving from The Schwenkfeldian, Spring Issue 2004)


Key beliefs

While Schwenckfeld was an early follower of Luther, he was concerned that some basic Lutheran tenants could be misused or misinterpreted by unsophisticated believers.  He expressed his concerns in his "Admonition", published in 1524.  Schwenckfeld concentrated on several tenants that he thought were ripe for misuse:


        Faith alone justifies

        The individual does not have free will

        We cannot keep God's commandments

        Our works are of no avail

        Christ has made satisfaction for us  (Christian History, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Issue 21, p. 12)


Schwenckfeld felt that such tenants, taken literally, could lead to fatalism, a "it doesn't matter what I do, since my fate is predetermined" viewpoint.  Also, he was concerned that if people were told that it was impossible for anyone to live a pure life, that people would stop trying!


Schwenckfeld also disagreed with Luther on the subject of communion.  Schwenckfeld took what is now sometimes viewed as the "spiritual" interpretation of the Eucharist.  He felt that, just as the bread and wine can provide physical nourishment to the body, they also provide spiritual nourishment:


"It was not until the disciples had eaten the bread and drunk the wine that Christ spoke the words.  Bread is not a food until the grain has been grown, threshed, ground, baked and eaten; bread when eaten nourishes and strengthens the body."


"Give the physical to the body, spiritual to the poor soul which is spiritual; let physical bread nourish the physical body, the invisible [bread], the invisible soul." (Christian History, Issue 21, p. 15)


Also, Schwenckfeld believed that Christians should not take communion when in open discord (see 1 Cor 11:27).  Schwenckfeld halted communion among his followers because of this view, and the ban lasted for several centuries!!


Schwenckfeld also felt that it was important for each individual to have a personal, and experiential relationship with Christ.  He felt that once someone became a Christian, a lifelong growing process commences.




"We are... The Schwenkfelders" - excerpts


"The centrality of Jesus Christ, THE LIVING WORD OF GOD, as our Savior and Lord of Life."


"The Bible as the written record of the WORD OF GOD in history and as the directive authority for our faith and life."


"The need for each person to think for himself and for individual, unforced commitment to the living Christ."


"Respect for the rights of Christian laity in the church and toleration of their individual differences."


"The spiritual rebirth through faith in Jesus Christ is essential to salvation."


"The inner experience of Christ is more important than outward forms, practices, and structures of religion."


"That faith must be seen in the way we conduct our lives."


"That in Jesus Christ all Christians are united as one."


"That as honest seekers after Truth, we must be open to the Holy Spirit so that he may lead us into truth."


"That growth toward spiritual maturity is a life long process."

("We are...The Schwenkfelders", General Conference of the Schwenkfelder Church, 1975)


The Landing of the Schwenkfelders from the St. Andrew

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

September 22, 1734

(Source: Schwenkfelder Library, Pennsburg, PA)


There are no Schwenkfelder congregations left in Europe today.  The five remaining Schwenkfelder churches are located in Southeastern Pennsylvania (Palm, Norristown, Lansdale, Worcester, Philadelphia), with a total congregation of approximately 2,500.


Central Schwenkfelder Church, Worcester, PA

Photo by Robert Jones

William Tyndale and the English Reformation

It can be said with some justification that the Reformation in England was based less on theological grounds, than on personal/political grounds (Henry VIII wanted a divorce).  However, the English Reformation has had a profound and lasting effect on English speaking peoples everywhere, because of a) the establishment of the Church of England and b) William Tyndale's translation of the Bible, which served as the basis (90%) of the King James version of the Bible still in wide use today.  )


(engraving from Art Explosion 600,000, Nova Dev., 1999

Key Events





The Church bans translation of the Bible into English (in response to Wycliffe and the Lollards)

c. 1493

Tyndale born in the west of England


Tyndale receives M.A. at Oxford, ordained as priest


Henry VIII publishes "Defense of the Seven Sacraments", refuting Luther - Named "Defender of the Faith" by the pope


Tyndale acts as a tutor at a manor near Bath, and meets a woefully unlearned local clergy.  Vows "If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost."  (Christian History, Issue 16, p. 7)


Tyndale seeks permission of Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall, to translate the Bible into English; refused


Tyndale sails to Hamburg, Germany


Tyndale completes translation of New Testament into English, from original Greek manuscripts.  The print run in Cologne is interrupted by Catholic sympathizers.


6,000 copies of Tyndale's English New Testament printed in Worms - many copies distributed in England


Henry VIII seeks annulment from pope of his marriage; refused


Battle of the pen between Tyndale and Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England (More eventually wrote 9 books against the "Tyndale heresy"!)


Tyndale's English translation of the first 5 books of the Old Testament printed in Antwerp


Henry VIII leads passage of Act of Supremacy - Church of England is formed with King as head


Tyndale betrayed by English spy Henry Phillips - imprisoned near Brussels


Sir Thomas More ("A Man for All Seasons") beheaded for not publicly approving of marriage of Henry VIII to second wife (Ann Boleyn)


First complete printed English translation of Bible published in England by Miles Coverdale - based largely on Tyndale's work

October 6, 1536

Tyndale burned at stake, in Brussels - Final words were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."


Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell systematically dissolve and destroy the monasteries in England


Rievaulx Abbey

Castle Acre Priory

Walsingham Priory

Glastonbury Abbey


Between 1536-40, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell systematically dissolved and destroyed 800 monasteries in England.  In 1500, England had 10,000 monks and 2,000 nuns.  By the end of 1540, they were all gone � most of them petitioned off by the crown (Photos by Robert Jones)

William Tyndale - key beliefs


Tyndale was greatly influenced by John Wycliffe, Erasmus, and Martin Luther.  Obviously, he had a strong view that the Bible should be both available and readable by the common man.  He felt that true authority for faith is found only in the Bible.


One area where he disagreed with Martin Luther was on the subject of divorce.  Tyndale felt that divorce is against God's will.  It was this strong stand which eventually led to his death, as he rejected Henry VIII's entreaties to have Tyndale publicly back his divorce.


Tyndale's view on communion was Zwinglian - he stressed that communion was in commemoration of Christ's death.

Legacy of the English Reformation

Tyndale's translation of the Bible would form the basis of almost all other English translations for the next 400 years.  His translation brought new words to the English language (longsuffering, peacemaker, scapegoat, beautiful), and used words and phrases that tended to undermine the traditional authority of the Roman Catholic Church, such as "congregation" instead of "church", "elders" instead of "priests", and "repentance" instead of "penance".  90% of Tyndale's words appeared in the King James Version of Bible, and 75% of Tyndale's words appeared in the Revised Standard Version of Bible  (Christian History, Issue 16, p. 9)


The English Reformation produced the Church of England, headed by the sovereign, and the Episcopal Church in the United States, which has approximately 2,500,000 members.


         �Art Explosion 600,000�, (Nova Dev., 1999)

         "The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror" by Thielman J. van Braght (Herald Press)

         "The Creeds of Christendom: Vols. 1 & III"  edited by Philip Schaff  (Baker Books, 1931, 1996)

         "Commentary on Romans" by Martin Luther (Kregel Publications, 1954/1976)

         Holy Bible - King James Version

         "Institutes of the Christian Religion", by John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995)

         "Martin Luther: The Later Years and Legacy", Christian History Magazine (1993, Christian History)

         "Meet John Calvin", Christian History Magazine (1986, Christian History Institute)

         "Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity", edited by John McManners (Oxford University Press, 1990)

         "The Reformation" by Will Durant (MJF Books, 1957)

         "Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: Confessor of the Glory of Christ", Christian History Magazine (1989, Christian History Institute)

         "We are...The Schwenkfelders" (General Conference of the Schwenkfelder Church, 1975)

         "What Mennonites Believe" by J.C. Wenger (Herald Press, 1991)

         "William Tyndale: God's Outlaw", Christian History Magazine (1987, Christian History Institute)

         "John Wycliffe", Christian History Magazine (1983, Christian History Institute)

         "A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance" by William Manchester (1992, Little Brown and Company)

         "Zwingli: Father of the Swiss Reformation", Christian History Magazine (1984, Christian History Institute)


         All color photos by Robert C. Jones except John Knox (Dee Ross)

         Black and white engravings from �The History of Protestantism� by J.A. Wylie (Ages Software, 1997), except as noted


Other Christian History & Theology courses

The Search for the Pre-Incarnate Christ in the Old Testament Click here to order PowerPoint presentations, teacher's guides, and printed booklets

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 A Brief History of the Celebration of the Lord�s Supper
A Brief History of the Inquisition
A Brief History of Christian Baptism
Joseph of Arimathea: Biblical & Legendary Sources
The Apocrypha and Christianity
Theological Roots of the Protestant Reformation: A Handbook
Angels: In the Bible, the Apocrypha & the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Crusades: A Brief History (1095-1291)
A Brief History of Western Monasticism
Evidence for the Gospel Accounts of Jesus Christ
Heresies and Schisms in the Early Church
Women as Leaders in the Church: From Miriam to Joan of Arc
Hell and the Devil: In the Bible, the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity
Angels: A Biblical View
Meet the Apostles - Biblical and Legendary Accounts: Part One - The Twelve
Origins of the Major Protestant Denominations in the United States
Heaven: In the Bible, the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Revelation: Background and Commentary
Basic Christian Theology
Worship and Cultural Patterns of the Early Church
Jewish Religious Parties at the Time of Christ - Part Two: The Essenes
Origins of the New Testament
Meet the Apostles - Biblical and Legendary Accounts: Part Two - After the Twelve
The Messiah - In the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Jewish Religious Parties at the Time of Christ Part One: Pharisees and Sadducees
The Holy Spirit: In the Bible, the Apocrypha & the Dead Sea Scrolls


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