Why The Reformation?

Alfred E. Bouter

1. Introduction

Today there are many who see themselves as evangelical Christians, but do not clearly understand the need for biblical separation.  There are several factors that contribute to this situation.  One is the lack of clear teaching of the doctrines (beliefs) of the New Testament in many Evangelical circles. Second is the ecumenical movement with its accompanying liberalism and tolerance which has affected many evangelicals, at least indirectly. 

The Vatican II Council influenced many people to believe that the Roman Catholic Church had made basic changes in its dogmas (what must be believed) and its doctrines (what should be believed).  This in reality is not true.  Vatican II changed no dogma and only a few doctrines.  Neither does the new Roman Catholic Catechism make basic changes in traditional Roman Catholic beliefs. 

Also, there is a widely accepted view in western society today that everything is relative, and that there are no absolutes.  The Reformation was based on the position that the Bible, as the written Word of God, reveals authoritative absolutes.

The centuries leading up to the Reformation in Western Europe have long been termed the 'Dark Ages' by historians.  But a revival of learning took place in Western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries known as the Renaissance.  Accompanying this revival was a renewed interest in the Bible, especially among Roman Catholic clergy. This led in time to the Reformation, with several attempts to take the Church back to Biblical Christianity.  The purpose of this article is not to go into the details of the Protestant Reformation, but to remind us of some of the men who produced this kind of reformation and why they did so.

2. John Wycliffe (circa 1328-1384)

3. Jan Huss (circa 1369-1415)

4. Martin Luther (1483-1546)

5. John Calvin (1509-1564)

6. Others

Time and space forbids presenting such men as: Savonarola (1452-1498, a monk hanged by order of the Roman Catholic Church in Florence, Italy); Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560, the theologian of Lutheranism and Luther's successor); Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531), a Roman Catholic priest who kept a concubine and purchased his first parish from his uncle, a bishop, before his personal conversion and renunciation of Romanism, killed in battle against a Roman Catholic army); Theodore Beza (1519-1605, Calvin's successor in Switzerland); John Knox (1513-1572, who studied under Calvin in Geneva and helped establish the Reformation in Scotland in 1567). These and many others were instrumental in bringing about the Protestant Reformation and its great benefits to Western Europe and North America, as well as to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the world.  These were benefits that the Roman Catholic counter reformation (from 1545 onwards), led by the popes and the Jesuits, could not destroy.

7. Further Reformation

About a century later, many believers realized that outward changes in the social and political environment, in taking away statues, idolatry and wrong practices, were good in themselves, but not sufficient. They understood that an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers was needed (cf. Eph. 5:18; Rom. 8:14); this further development was seen in Puritans, Pietists and others.  Also in our days, reformation is needed, especially in view of recent developments.  Today, many of the benefits regained in the times of Reformation, Revival and Recovery are in jeopardy, because of ignorance and lack of conviction about these things. It has been said that the Reformation resulted in the following blessings: the authority of the Roman Church was replaced by the authority of the Bible, which all individuals were allowed to read freely, so that each believer could function as a priest and conduct his life in fellowship with God after accepting His Son as his Saviour by faith alone.