What is the Protestant Reformation?

October 31, 2017 is the five hundredth anniversary of one of the most significant events in church history. On October 31, 1517 day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg protesting the sale and abuse of indulgences. Though he did not intend to start a revolution Luther’s actions are considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian and Anglican churches came directly out of the reformation. From those churches sprang many more that have spread across the world.

The protestant reformation began as a protest against Roman Catholic errors that initially sought to bring reform to the Catholic church. When these reform efforts failed the reformers became leaders of protestant churches. The reformers boldly preached the Word of God and trained others to do the same. They rejected the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the dogma of salvation through works and many other distinctly Catholic teachings. The reformation spread across Germany and Switzerland, into France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland. By the end of the 1500’s the Protestant church was fully established across much of Europe.

The roots of the Protestant Reformation can be found in the 14th and 15th centuries in men like John Huss and John Wycliffe who opposed the Roman Catholic Church. The 15th century brought an increased focus on the text of Scripture. Martin Luther studied the New Testament to learn how to become righteous. His reading of passages like Romans 1:17 and Galatians 2:16 led him to conclude that righteousness is received only through faith and that salvation is given only by the grace of God without any effort or merit on the part of the person.

At the same time Luther was protesting indulgences Ulrich Zwingli was leading a reformation movement in Zurich, Switzerland. He began to preach from Scripture, verse by verse, instead of following the church calendar. Soon his parishioners stopped observing Catholic rituals and in 1525 the city council of Zurich voted to abolish the Catholic mass. Ulrich Zwingli insisted that only those things taught in the Bible were to be practiced by Christians. He led his parishioners ot abandon many of the rituals and regulations that so influenced the lives of those living in Catholic Europe.

The Protestant Reformation sought to return to Biblical truth to find the answer to questions about the salvation of men and the authority of the church. The primary answers to these questions came to be summarized in five “only” statements. Salvation is only received through faith and not through any act of obedience or religious observance. Salvation is only by the grace of God not any works of men. Salvation only comes through Christ and there is no salvation in any one else. The only authority of the Christian life is the Word of God. God saves men for His glory and the Christian to live his life only for the glory of God.

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