Reformation in Europe during the 16th century was one of
the most important epochs in the history of the world. The
Reformation gave us the Bible - now freely available in
our own languages. The now almost universally acknowledged
principles of religious freedom, liberty of conscience,
the rule of law, separation of powers and constitutionally
limited republics were unthinkable before the Reformation.
The Reformers fought for the principles that Scripture alone
is our final authority, Christ alone is the Head of the
Church and Justification is by Gods grace, on the
basis of the finished work of Christ, received by faith
influential developments which preceded the Reformation:
Black Death." The Bubonic plague wiped
out over one third of Europes population.
The invasion of Muslim Turks who swept over the
Balkans and even reached the gates of Vienna.
was also a massive influx of pagan Greek humanistic
writings (as a result of the fall of the Byzantine
Empire). This led to a renaissance of pagan humanistic
was widespread corruption of the Roman Catholic
system with superstitions and unBiblical doctrines taught
and with positions in the church for sale - open to
the highest bidder.
People were also encouraged to "buy salvation"
with the sale of Papal Indulgences.
invention of the printing press and the printing
of the first book (a Bible) in 1456, by
Johan Gutenberg, was one very positive development which
made possible the rapid dissemination of Reformation
Waldensians were a dynamic Gospel movement which
was started in 1177. Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant,
had the Gospels translated into French and organised a Society
to present Biblical truth. The Waldensians desired to study
the Scriptures and to be faithful to Biblical principles
in all areas of life. They were eager for a more consistent
walk following the example of Christ. These "poor men
of Lyons" went out in twos and boldly proclaimed
the Word of God throughout Southern France, Northern Italy
and Switzerland. After the Bible was placed on The
Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Valencia
in 1229, the Papacy began to viciously persecute the Waldensians.
Many thousands were murdered.
survivors fled to the southern Alps of western Piedmont
and flourished there. Under relentless attack the Waldensians
became resourceful soldiers and effectively resisted the
tyranny. The persecution of the Waldensians only ended in
the 17th Century when Oliver Cromwell of England intervened
vigorously on their behalf. The Waldensians survive in Northern
Italy to this day - the oldest Protestant church in the
The plague led Wycliffe to search the Scriptures and
find salvation in Christ. As a professor at Oxford University,
Wycliffe represented England in a controversy with the
Pope. Wycliffe championed the independence of England
from Papal control and supported King Edward IIIs
refusal to pay taxes to the Pope. (It was only one step
away from denying the political supremacy of the Pope
to questioning his spiritual supremacy).
royal favour Wycliffe earned from this confrontation
protected him later in life.Wycliffe then attacked
the corruptions, superstitions and abuses of the friars
and monks. He also declared the monasteries unbiblical
and exposed their supposed powers to forgive sins
as fraudulent. "Who can forgive sins?"
Wycliffe taught: "God alone!" He
also exposed indulgences, purgatory and transubstantiation
as unbiblical heresies.
worked on translating the New Testament into English while
a friend, Nicholas of Hereford, translated the Old Testament.
Nicholas was excommunicated and imprisoned for his work.
Then the divisions within the Roman Catholic Church and
the election of two rival Popes distracted attention from
Wycliffes Reformation work.
mobilised lay preachers (Lollards) to travel throughout
the land to read, preach and sing the Scriptures in
to appear before a council Wycliffe rebuked the bishops
for being "priests of Baal," selling blasphemy
and idolatry in the mass and indulgences. He then
walked out of the assembly and refused a summons from
years after his death, Wycliffes bones were dug up
by order of the Pope and burned). Wycliffes writings
and example inspired Huss and Luther.
was the father of the Reformation its Morning Star
translations from persecuted Waldensian refugees entered
Bohemia in the 13th Century. In 1382 when King Richard
II of England married Anne of Bohemia (who
had a great love for the Bible) she sent copies of
Wycliffes writings back to her homeland.
Milic, archdeacon of the Cathedral in Prague,
preached fearlessly against the abuses of the church
and wrote "Antichrist has come" over a cardinals
doorway. He was imprisoned.
Stickna preached the Gospel in the open air to large
of Janov traveled throughout Bohemia preaching against
the abuses of the church. His followers were imprisoned
and burnt at the stake.
Huss, was 34 when appointed Rector of Prague University.
He also preached to the poor in the chapel of Bethlehem
translated Wycliffes works into Czech, exposed superstitions,
fraudulent "miracles" and the sale of indulgences.
He was protected by the Emperor, Queen, University and nobility
from the wrath of the Pope so the entire city was
placed under an interdict (all churches closed, no marriages
or burials allowed.)
general church council was called at Constance (1414)
to settle the issue of the rival Popes and Papal wars.
Huss was summoned to answer charges of heresy and granted
he was burned at the stake after a mockery of a trial.
After Husss martyrdom his followers organised
military resistance to the Holy Roman Empire. Remarkably
these vastly outnumbered Hussites repelled six crusades
against them. These Hussites fought under Husss
motto: "truth conquers". They proved
that one could take on the Holy Roman Empire - and
of Florence was a Dominican monk who boldly denounced the
prevalent corruptions and immorality in the churches. He
was burned at the stake. Savanarola was not a doctrinal
Reformer but a social Reformer campaigning for moral standards
Luther was a distinguished law student who become
an Augustinian monk and yearned for peace with God.
He found it in studying the book of Romans. He received
his doctorate in theology at age 28 and as a professor
at the University of Wittenberg, he dealt with many
AUTHORITY the Bible alone is our
authority and not the councils or leaders of the church.
Bible above tradition.
SALVATION is by the grace of God alone,
accomplished by the atonement of Christ alone,
received by faith alone. Grace before Sacraments.
THE CHURCH the true Church is composed of the
elect, those regenerated by Gods Holy
Spirit. Regenerate Church membership.
THE PRIESTHOOD consists of all true believers.
Priesthood of all believers.
Protestant Reformation mobilised by Luther rallied around
these battle cries:
Sola Christus Christ alone is the head of
Sola Scriptura Scripture alone is our authority.
Sola Gratia Salvation is by the Grace of
Sola Fide Justification is received by faith
31 October 1517 Luther posted his 95 Theses
in Wittenberg, challenging the practice of indulgences.
Soon printers were selling translations of his bold challenge
to the papacy throughout Europe.
1520 Luther publicly burned the Papal bull
threatening him with excommunication.
18, 1521 Luther stood firm before the Emperor,
6 Electors (Princes), 24 dukes, 30 archbishops and bishops
and 7 ambassadors. His speech shook the world:
I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasoning that
I am in error for popes and councils have often
erred and contradicted themselves I cannot
recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have
quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against
ones conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.
So help me God. Amen."
this point for the rest of his life, Luther was an outlaw
with a price on his head. He was protected in Saxony by
Prince Frederick, but he was under sentence of death elsewhere.
translated the Bible into German. (The New Testament was
on sale for a weeks wages by 1522 and the Old Testament
the end of his life, Martin Luther had written over 60 000
pages of published works. Yet he said that he would rather
"all my books would disappear and the Holy Scriptures
alone be read!"
POWER OF PRINTING
invention of the printing press played a key role in mobilising
the Reformation. Without printing, it is questionable whether
there would have even been a Protestant Reformation. A century
earlier, Wycliffe and Huss had inspired dedicated movements
for Bible study and Reform. But the absence of adequate
printing technology severely limited the distribution of
their writings. As a result, their ideas did not spread
as rapidly or as far as they could have done.
Luther recognised the power of printing to mobilise grass
roots support for Reformation. Luther wrote prolifically
more than 400 titles, including commentaries, sermons
and pamphlets that attacked Catholic superstitions and abuses
and which promoted Biblical doctrines. In the first three
critical years after Luther posted his 95 Theses in Wittenberg,
from 1517 to 1520, Luther published 30 pamphlets and flooded
Germany with 400 000 copies. By 1523, half of all the printed
works in Germany were Luthers works.
understood that books and pamphlets speak long after the
preacher has left the pulpit. Luther described printing
as: "Gods highest and extremist act of grace,
whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward."
Foxe, the 16th century author of the "Book of Martyrs"
wrote: "Although through might the pope stopped the
mouth of John Huss, God has appointed the Press to preach,
whose voice the pope is never able to stop "
1517 there were about 24 printing centres in Europe. Wholesale
booksellers had also developed distribution centres and
hundreds of itinerant book salesmen criss-crossed the continent
to make these publications available.
writings dominated the market and were far and away the
most popular. Martin Luther could be described as a pastor,
preacher, teacher, theologian, professor, composer and Reformer.
But perhaps his greatest achievement was the German Bible.
his New Testament in German was published in September 1522,
it created a sensation. Five thousand copies were sold in
the first 2 months alone! It was the first time a mass medium
had ever impacted everyday life. And it was affordable
even to the poor - for but a weeks wages! Almost everyone
in Germany either read Luthers translation, or listened
to it being read. It formed a linguistic rallying point
for the formation of the modern German language. Its
impact in restructuring literature, arts and culture was
so awesome that King Frederick the Great later called Luther
"the personification of the German national spirit".
Even today, nearly half a millennium later, Luther is still
considered "one of the most influential people who
Bible translation inspired and guided similar translations
of the Bible into local languages in Holland, Sweden, Iceland,
Denmark and England. One of the many ways Luther left his
mark was the order in which he placed the books of the Bible,
to which we adhere to this day. Before Luther there had
been no uniform arrangement. Luthers translations
particularly guided William Tyndale in his translation of
the Bible into English.
has sometimes been described as the worlds first great
journalist. Why did his writings succeed in changing history?
Firstly, he wrote in the common language, instead of in
the scholarly Latin which was only understood by
the educated elite of society. Secondly, Luther mastered
the use of broadside pamphlets, which were cheap and easy
to read, and thirdly, he used some of the finest illustrations
and woodcuts of the times to make his message understood
even to the semi literate.
showed the way and other Reformers continued his work of
using print technology to mass-produce Scriptures and Reformation
publications. By Gods grace, the Printing Press provided
the spiritual weaponry needed to make the Reformation succeed
a young Catholic priest Zwingli began to study the
Bible. He taught himself Hebrew and Greek and memorised
Pauls epistles in the Greek New Testament. Zwingli
was shocked to find that there was a world of difference
between the teaching of the Bible and the teaching
and practice of the Roman Catholic church. In 1519
Zwingli began to systematically preach through the
New Testament - beginning with the Gospel of Matthew.
He opposed indulgences and preached the Gospel. He
also secretly married! Zwingli laid the foundations
for the Reformation in Switzerland. In 1523 the City
Council of Zurich voted to become Protestant by supporting
Zwinglis reforms. He died fighting to defend
Zurich from attack in the battle of Kappel in 1531.
His last words were: "They can kill the body
- but not the soul!"
Calvin was a distinguished law student, strict and
severe in manner, who was forced to flee persecution
in France. For years he lived under aliass and
moved constantly to avoid arrest. He became the great
Reformer of Geneva. Recruited by William Farels
forcefully insistance, he became the first to systematically
expound Reformed theology through daily sermons and
lectures which worked verse by verse through the whole
taught "the whole counsel of God" including: the
Sovereignty of God in predestination, the Grace of God in
His irresistible call, and the Lordship of Christ in all
areas of social, economic, judicial, political and moral
Institutes (which began as a letter to the King of France)
developed into the most comprehensive and influential book
on the Christian Faith ever published.
Pius iv, the Roman pontiff at the time of Calvins
death, provided a telling eulogy on his arch enemy: "The
strength of that heretic (Calvin) consisted in this, that
money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such
servants my dominian would extend from sea to sea."
Beza, Calvins successor, testified: "I have been
a witness of him for sixteen years and I think that I am
fully entitled to say that in this man (Calvin) there was
exhibited to all an example of the life and death of the
Christian, such as it will not be easy to depreciate, and
it will be difficult to imitate."
has been described as "one of the greatest and best
of men whom God raised up in the history of Christianity."
John Knox described Geneva under Calvins influence
as "the best school of Christ since the Apostles".
Calvins motto was "Promptly and sincerely in
the work of God."
FAREL (1489 - 1565)
aggressive and bold man of extraordinary zeal, Farel
as a missionary from Bern, won whole towns and cities
in French speaking Switzerland over to the Reformed
Faith, by public speaking and debate. Farel compelled
Calvin to stay and work for Reformation in Geneva
with threats that he would pray for God to curse his
studies if he refused! Farel was probably Calvins
closest friend through the years.
VIRET (1511 - 1571)
in Switzerland, Pierre Viret with Farel and Calvin,
formed the triumvirate who established the Reformed
Church in French speaking Switzerland. Viret was a
bold and effective debater who, with Farel, in the
marathon debate of June 1535 routed the Catholic clergy
and inspired the city council of Geneva to commit
itself to the Protestant cause. Viret survived numerous
attempts on his life, including poisoning. Under Viret,
Lausanne was well grounded in the Protestant faith
and flourished as a centre of Reformation and social
concern. He undertook missionary tours to Catholic
France, preaching to huge crowds of thousands. Riots
frequently followed his preaching. At one point he
was captured by Catholic forces and needed to be rescued
by Protestant forces. Viret was considered the most
popular French preacher in 16th century France.
TYNDALE (1494 - 1536)
was a gifted scholar and linguist who managed to translate
the New Testament from the original Greek, and most
of the Old Testament from Hebrew, into English. He
had these (illegal) Scriptures printed in Germany
and smuggled the contraband into England in bales
of cotton. For this he was burned at the stake in
1536. Tyndales Bible was the first Bible printed
in English. His last words were: "Lord, open
the King of Englands eyes." This prayer
was answered in a most incredible way as Queen Anne
was converted and studied Tyndales book "The
Obedience of the Christian Man" and his New Testament.
Henry VIII later ordered English Bibles placed in
every church in England. These Bibles were almost
entirely the work of William Tyndale.
Knox was imprisoned and made to serve as a galley
slave for opposing Roman Catholicism. He boldly and
regularly confronted Mary the Queen of Scotland and
transformed Roman Catholic Scotland into a thoroughly
Reformed nation. Queen Mary, trembling and in tears,
declared: "I am more afraid of the prayers of
John Knox than of an army of ten thousand." John
Knoxs famous prayer: "Give me Scotland
or I die!" was thoroughly answered in his lifetime.
Yet Knox considered the work of Reformation incomplete
until the laws of the land were brought into conformity
to the Word of God in the Bible.
1562 there were approximatly 2 million Protestants and 1250
Reformed churches in France. At one time, most of the nobles
and about a third of the population in France were Protestants
Persecution of Protestant Christians by the Roman Catholics
(such as the St. Bartholomews Day Massacre of 1572
in France when over 22 000 were murdered and the slaughter
of over 100 000 Protestants in the Low Countries between
1567-1573) shattered Protestantism in France, Belgium, Austria,
Spain, Italy and other Catholic controlled nations. Many
of the survivors fled to North America and South Africa
- spreading the Reformed faith to those countries.
Reformed Faith was firmly established and strengthened in
Germany, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Holland, Denmark,
Norway, Sweden, Finland and later in the North American
Colonies and South Africa.
heritage of the Reformation includes: religious freedom,
liberty of conscience, free enterprise, Lex Rex (the rule
of law), separation of powers and constitutionally limited
just shall live by faith." Romans 1:17
I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition
every portion of the truth of God except precisely that
point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking,
then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be
professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty
of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefront
besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that
point." Martin Luther