THE REFORMED CHURCH
THE REFORMATION IN OTHER LANDS. THE PRINCIPLES OF THE REFORMATION
while the Reformation was in its earliest stages in Germany, the same spirit broke out in many other lands of Europe. In the South, as in Italy and Spain, it was put down with a relentless hand; in France and the Netherlands the cause of reform hung in the balance of uncertainty; but among all the northern nations the new religion was victorious over all opposition and ruled the lands. The Reformation in Switzerland arose independently of that in Germany, though simultaneous with it.
It was under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli, who, in 1517, attacked the “remission of sins” through pilgrims to a shrine of the Virgin at Einsieldn; and in 1522 definitely broke from Rome. The Reformation was formally organized at Zurich, and soon became more radical than in Germany; but its progress was hindered by the civil war between the Roman Catholic and Protestant cantons, in which Zwingli was slain in 1531. The reform went onward, however, and found its later leader in John Calvin, the greatest theologian of the church after Augustine. His Institutes of the Christian Religion, published in 1536, when Calvin only twenty-seven years old, became the standards of Protestant doctrine. The Scandinavian kingdom, comprising at that time Denmark, Sweden, and Norway under one government, early received Luther’s teachings which were favored by King Christian II. Political strife and civil war for a time interfered with the progress of the Reformation, but in the end all the three lands accepted the Lutheran views. In France, the Roman Catholic Church possessed greater liberty than in the rest of Europe, and hence there was less demand for ecclesiastical independence from Rome. But a religious movement arose among the French people, even earlier than in Germany, for in 1512, Jacques Lefevre wrote and preached the doctrine of “justification by faith.” Two parties appeared in the court and among the people, and successive kings, all nominally Roman Catholic, sided at one time
or another with each party.
But Protestantism received almost a deathblow in the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1572, when nearly all its leaders and countless thousands of their followers were murdered. In the face of persecution the reformed faith lived, and a minority of the French people have been Protestant. Though small in numbers, French Protestantism has been great in its influence. The Netherlands, comprising what are now the two kingdoms of Holland and Belgium, was at the beginning of the Reformation period under the dominion of Spain. She received the reformed teachings early, but was bitterly persecuted by the Spanish regents. In the Low Countries the reform was a demand for political as well as religious liberty, and the tyranny of Spain drove the people to revolt. After a long war and incredible suffering, the Netherlands, under the leadership of William the Silent, at last obtained independence from Spain, although it was not recognized until 1648, sixty years after his death. Holland on the north became Protestant, but Belgium remained mainly Roman Catholic. The movement for the Reformation in England passed through various stages of advance and retrogression, from its political relations, from the differing attitude of the successive sovereigns, and from the conservatism of the English nature. It began in the reign of Henry VIII with a band of young students in classical literature and the Bible; some of wisdom, like Sir Thomas More, paused in their progress and remained Catholic, while others pressed on boldly to the Protestant faith. One of the leaders in the English Reformation was John Tyndale, who translated the New Testament into his mother-tongue, the earliest version in English after the invention of printing, and the one which more than any other has shaped all the translation since.
Tyndale was martyred at Antwerp in 1536. Another leader was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who, after aiding to make England Protestant recanted under the Romanist Queen Mary, in the hope pf saving his life, but when condemned to die by fire, recalled his recantation. The reform was both helped and hindered by King Henry VIII, who broke from Rome because the ope would not sanction his divorce from Queen Katherine, the sister of the emperor, Charles V; and established and English Catholic Church with himself as its head. Henry VIII put to death Romanists and Protestants alike who differed from his views. Under Edward VI, a mere youth, whose reign was short, the cause of reform made great progress. Led by Cranmer and others, the Church of England was established, and the Prayer Book compiled in its rich and rhythmic form of speech. Queen Mary, who followed Edward VI, was a bigoted Romanist, and undertook to bring her subjects back to the old church by lighting the fires of persecution. She reigned only five years, but in that time about three hundred Protestants suffered martyrdom. With the accession of Elizabeth, the ablest of all the sovereigns of England, the prisons were opened, the exiles were recalled, the Bible again stood in honor in the pulpit and in the home, and during her ling reign, which has given its name, “Elizabethan,” to the most religious age in English history, the Church of England was re-established and took the form in which it has continued to the present day. The Reformation at first made slow advance in Scotland, where the church and state were ruled with iron hand by Cardinal Beaton and the Queen-regent, Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots. The cardinal was murdered, the Queen-regent died, and soon afterward John Knox, in 1559, assumed the leadership of the reforming movement. By his radical and uncompromising views, his unbending determination, and his resistless energy, even against the opposition of the abilities and fascinations of his Romanist sovereign Mary Queen of Scots, he was able to sweep away every vestige of the old religion, and to carry the reform far beyond that in England. The Presbyterian Church as planned by Knox became the established church of Scotland. At the opening of the sixteenth century, the only church in western Europe was the Roman Catholic, apparently secure in the loyalty of every kingdom. Before the end of that century every land of northern Europe west of Russia, had broken away from and had established its own national church. While in the lands of northern Europe there were differences in doctrine and in organizations as a result of the Reformation, yet it is not difficult to find the common platform of all the Protestant churches. The principles of the Reformation may be named as five in number.
The first great principle is that true religion is founded upon the Scriptures. The Roman Catholics had substituted the authority of the church for that of the Bible. They taught that the church was infallible, and the authority of the Bible proceeded from its authorization by the church. They withheld the Scriptures from the laity, and strongly opposed every translation of them into the language spoken by the common people. The reformers declared that the Bible contained the standards of faith and practice; and that no doctrine was to be accepted unless it was taught in the Bible. The Reformation brought a lost Bible back to the people, and placed its teachings upon the throne of authority. It is through the Reformers and mainly in Protestant lands, that the Bible is now circulated by many million copies annually. Another principle established by the Reformation was that religion should be rational and intelligent. Romanism had introduced irrational doctrines like transubstantiation into the church’s creed, preposterous pretensions like papal indulgence into her discipline, superstitious usages like image-worship into her ritual. The reformers, while duly subordinating reason to revelation, recognized the former as a divine gift, and demanded a creed, a discipline, and a worship, which should not outrage man’s rational nature. A third great truth made emphatic in the Reformation was that of personal religion. Under the Roman system a closed gate stood between the worshiper and God, and to that gate the priest held the only key. The repentant sinner did not confess his sins to God, but to the priest; he did not obtain forgiveness from God, but from the priest who alone could pronounce absolution. The worshiper did not pray to God the Father through Christ the Son, but through a patron saint, who was supposed to intercede for him with a God too high form man in this earthly life to approach.
In fact, God was looked upon as an unfriendly Being, who must be appeased and placated by the ascetic lives of saintly men and women whose prayers alone could avail to save men from God’s wrath. The godly-minded could not go for guidance to the Bible, but must take its teachings at second-hand, as interpreted by the councils and canons of the church. All these barriers the reformers swept aside. They pointed the worshiper to God as the direct object of prayer, the immediate giver of pardon and of grace. They brought each soul into the presence of God and the fellowship of Christ. The Reformers also insisted upon a spiritual as against a formal religion. The Roman Catholics had overloaded the simplicity of the gospel with a mass of forms and ceremonies which completely obscured its life and spirit. Religion consisted in external services rendered under priestly direction, and not in the attitude of the heart toward God. Undoubtedly there were many earnest, spiritual natures in the Roman Catholic Church, men like Bernard of Clairvaux Francis of Assisi, and Thmas a Kempis, living in intimate communion with God. But throughout the church in general, religion was of the letter and not of the spirit. The Reformers emphasized the inward rather than the outward traits of religion. They brought forth the ancient doctrine as a vital experience, “salvation by faith in Christ and by faith only.” They proclaimed that men are righteous, not by outward forms and observances, but by the inward spiritual life, “the life of God in the souls of men.” The last of these principles in the practical working of the Reformation was that of a national church as distant from one universal. The aim of the papacy and the priesthood had been to subordinate the state to the church, and to make the pope supreme over all nations. Wherever Protestantism triumphed a national church arose, self-governed,
and independent of Rome.
These national churches assumed different forms, Episcopal in England, Presbyterian in Scotland and in Switzerland, somewhat mixed in norther lands. The exception was the Anabaptist movement which emphasized a free church. The worship in ever Roman Catholic Church was in Latin, but every Protestant Church maintained its services in the language spoken by the worshipers.
- True Reformation (talkingdonkey.wordpress.com)
- Priesthood of the Believer Church (Church Meetings Without A Dominating Leader) (stevesimms.wordpress.com)
- rants: an outsider’s look to protestantism (christiannoob.wordpress.com)
- The Reformed Church (beeyondaroz.wordpress.com)
- The Reform Church (beeyondaroz.wordpress.com)
- Scripture Alone! (pastorreeder.wordpress.com)
- Reconstitution Not Reform (radixthinking.wordpress.com)
- Athens Chamber Singers perform hymns of the Reformation (onlineathens.com)
- Viewpoint: In the War Over Christianity, Orthodoxy is Winning (ideas.time.com)
- Is Conversion to Orthodoxy Escapist? A Response to Pastor Steven Wedgeworth (orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org)