A very brief overview of the major players in the Reformation.

Introduction

The term Protestant stands for ‘those that protest’, it was not meant as a compliment by those that bestowed it however it fit the new band of Christians well and soon it would be the name by which all knew them. Luther may have started the reformation with a stroke of the hammer at Wittenberg but it did not stay there; soon after Calvin and Zwingli would birth the reformed movement. The reformed would confess the basic tenets that Luther and the Lutherans would but even at this early age of the protestant movement the differences between Calvin and Luther were starting to appear. Next came the Anabaptist and with them came the real bloodshed of the reformation. As the new Lutherans and Reformed were already being persecuted by state leaders that held to Roman Catholic beliefs, this persecution would cost Zwingli his life, the new group of Anabaptists started to be persecuted by both those that excepted the reformed ideas and the Catholic ideas; so now persecution came to the protestant movement from within and without. To combat the problem of growing tensions in the church of England between the protestant reformer’s call to separate from Rome and the Catholic sympathizers and in order to fulfill the desire of the king to keep worship under the control of the crown, the state was heavily involved in the reformation of England: “the one definite thing which can be said about the Reformation in England is that it was an act of the State” (Swatos, 1981, p. 217). However, this was seen as a compromise by the Puritans that were not satisfied with the state sponsored worship. Many of the Puritans would leave England and go to what would become America in search of the right to worship the way they chose to. As western Christianity started to fracture into all these pieces one thing became apparent to state leader and clergy man alike, those old systems that had stood for a millennia, where the lord of his lands determined the belief system of his domain, were a thing of the past. Denominationalism became needed as the blood spilled in the name of Christ flowed in the streets. It became apparent that to have peace, religion for the most part would have to move from state control into a personal system of belief (Shelley, 2013, p. 320). It was the process that Luther started, which quickly became Reformed, Anabaptist, Anglican, and Puritan that showed the need of a way to unify Christianity without enforcing belief by law; that way was Denominationalism and not even the Catholic Counter Reformation could stop the Protestant Denominations, especially in the New World of American freedom.

Lutheran 1517 -2016

            The term Lutheran was originally a derogatory statement about those that followed the crazy Luther and his bad theology. However, just like the term protestant it stuck and Lutheranism was born. Lutheranism was the first of the confessions that were born out of the Reformation movement. The primary differences between Luther and his Catholic counterparts was the understanding of justification. The Roman Catholic definition for justification was that a person was by faith given the grace to keep the church sacraments and it was membership in the church and keeping of the sacraments that brought about salvation (Shelley, 2013 pp. 251 – 253). Luther on the other hand held to justification by faith alone. In Rome’s dogma the church had been granted to power to forgive sins and that thinking lead to the selling of forgiveness in the form of indulgences. These indulgences were Luther’s first target and the primary focus of the famous ninety-five theses: “The idea for the theses was ignited after the preaching and, in effect, selling of an indulgence by a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, in the area bordering electoral Saxony” (Hitchcock, Perry, 2016).

Reformed 1528 –2016

Building on what Luther started, the young law student John Calvin in Geneva and Zwingli in Zurich were the founders of what is known as the Reformed confession. The Reformed confession was built on the principles of justification that Luther had laid out however they took steps even farther from Catholic tradition. While Luther and the Lutherans had maintained that there was actually the body and blood of the Lord in the communion elements the Reformed started to separate themselves from this idea. The general consensus in the Reformed circle tended and still tends to center on John Calvin’s definition that the communion elements are only spiritually the body and blood of the Lord. This understanding of communion is the major difference between Lutheran and Reformed. This difference can be observed today in the worship services of the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches.

Anabaptist 1525 -2016

The Anabaptists took the next step out of the Roman Catholic way of thinking. Luther and Calvin had no qualms about the idea of using the state to force the expression of faith that they held to. The Anabaptist on the other hand thought that the believer should commune without compulsion. This belief was based on the fact that no one in the church spoken of in the book of Acts was forced to be a member. This was all well and fine until Anabaptist theology took a turn away from Reformed theology on the question of baptism. Anabaptist were the first confessional baptism group. Prior to the Anabaptists, the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed position all called for infant baptism. The Anabaptists cited the book of Acts again showing that in the early church only those that believed were baptized. After a long debate the argument came to a head in Zurich where the Anabaptists squared off against Zwingli in debate. After the Anabaptists lost the debate they withdrew from Zurich however the city leaders of Zurich would not stand for such a rebellion and they set police to arrest the Anabaptists leaders and imprison them for a time (Shelley, 2013, p. 261). They  suffered long hard persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholics and the Reformers, however the Anabaptists teachings are alive and well today and practiced by Mennonite communities all over the world (Shelley, 2013, p. 263, 265).

English (Anglican) and Puritan 1509 – 2016

Swatos makes it clear that to understand Anglicanism one must know that it “… was forged out of socio-cultural environment… ” (Swatos, 1981, p. 218). There were three primary factors that attributed to the rise of Anglicanism. First, Henry VIII, who was king from 1509 to 1547, had sought an annulment from the Pope of his marriage to a wife that had not given him an heir. When the Pope refused the ensuing drama lead to the establishment of the Church of England that rejected the Roman Pontiff’s authorities and placed all church authority in the king. Second, because of this split with Rome, the people started to hear and believe the ideas taught by the reformers. The third was the rise of the Puritans who called for reform in the Church of England. In the wake of all of these pressures Anglicanism experienced considerable reform however this reform was not enough for the Puritans who would spread to America where freedom of religion was just on the other side of the next mountain.

Catholic Reformation (Counter-Reformation) 1545 – 1563

The Roman Catholic response to the reformers was violent as protestants were killed and their books burned (Shelley, 2013, p. 288). However it was not long before the Roman Catholic church realized that the measures were not stemming the momentum of the Reformation. So at Trent a council was undertaken that vigorously and violently rejected everything the reformation stood for (Shelley, 2013, p. 288). The two primary things that came out of Trent were the Catholic canon that include several books the Protestants rejected, this canon is used by the Roman Catholic Church today, and the firm understanding that the newly formed Jesuits order under Ignatius Loyola would be the watch men of Catholic interests world-wide.

Conclusion

Today the Lutherans, Reformed, Anabaptists, English and Puritans have learned to live in relative peace by adopting the concept of denominationalism. Harper points out that there are as many as 26,000 different denominations of Christianity in the world today and most of them can trace their origins back of one of these five groups: Lutherans, Reformed, Anabaptists, English, and Puritans. Each of these groups have found the ability to have a unique expression of their faith while still confessing, for the most part, unity in the blood of Christ.

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