The Reformation

Reformation Period

Relic or reality?

What images are conjured up in your mind when you think of the Reformation?

Did you learn about the history of the Reformation when you were at school? Have you made it your business to research the subject for yourself?

Indeed, I might ask, how much of the past 2000 years of church history have you researched. Why do it? What’s the point?

There has been trouble, division and discord in the world as a result of one generation not passing on to the next generation their  knowledge and experience.

If each generation of parents had simply ensured that their children had a better understanding of their heritage; many of the problems that history records could have been averted.

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

2 Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors?

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.

The defence of the gospel

Galatians No Other Gospel

The core failure of the ‘Middle Ages’ was failure to preserve the gospel.

Galatians 1 v 6-9

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again:

If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

These are sobering words; they were inspired by God himself in the defence of the Gospel. The New Testament opens with the silence shattering voice of the angel announcing the long awaited Messiah.

Jesus was born, Christ had finally come.

As we have already outlined on the ‘Coming of Christ’ and the ‘Early Church’ pages, the four Gospel accounts describe how the Gospel message was preached during the public ministry of Christ.

The book of Acts unfolds how the church was formed and how it expanded across Judea, Asia and into Europe. The church reached out to every nation and quickly became cosmopolitan in its nature and despite this, the church maintained its pure Christian identity during the first century.

However, by the time of the Reformation, some 1500 years later, the church had long lost its original identity. The simplicity and purity of the early church had evolved into a complex structure of ritual and superstition controlled by a hierarchy which bore little resemblance to the early church leaders.

There were by now many 'man-made add-ons' which had defiled the structure and function of the church.

A lesson from Cain and Abel

Cain And Abel Sacrificing

Cain and Abel revisited

We have observed on several occasions on this timeline that Genesis is the book of beginnings. The following example is no exception.

Genesis chapter 4 outlines the story of Cain and Abel. It records the first ever murder in human history and at the same time, gives us an invaluable lesson in how to worship God in the right way.

You could say that this is the first example of religious division in the bible. There were only two individuals involved in the account. The setting was one of offering worship to God.

There was nothing wrong with Cain’s occupation; he worked the soil. God had already said that man would work the soil. But Cain had missed the point of how God had provided coverings of animal skin to his parents after the fall.

The point that God was making was that sacrifice for sin was a necessity. This theme is developed throughout the Old Testament.

You could say that Cain was a horticulturist; he offered to God an offering from his fruitful toil in working the ground. It was not accepted by God. Abel on the other hand, had a different occupation, he tended flocks.

Abel offered God a sacrifice from the firstborn of his flocks. Abel’s offering involved bloodshed and it was accepted by God on that basis.

Cain’s offering came from the ground which God had cursed and it represented Cain’s hard labour, his own efforts to overcome the curse. It represented self not sacrifice; it was based on works not faith! Sound familiar?

This notion would be an ongoing concern for all mankind through all ages. Christ put an end to this notion on the cross. The following passage reflects on the above account from Genesis:

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

Why revisit the account of Cain and Abel when we are considering the Reformation, some 5500 years later?

The point is this; God had prescribed a way of acceptance for sinners. It involved sacrifice for sin and required bloodshed and atonement.

We have already outlined on the ‘Exodus’ page that this theme is developed through the writings of Moses in the giving of the Law and the Tabernacle. The five books of the Pentateuch are dedicated to this subject.

God has a prescribed way of dealing with sin. He has a prescribed method of worship and acceptance. The only way of meeting with God and finding forgiveness and acceptance with him in the Old Testament was laid down through Moses and the people of Israel. There was no other way.

God asked Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” If Cain had set aside his own flawed remedy for sin and followed God’s way, as his younger brother Abel had done, his offering would have been accepted and he would have received forgiveness for his sin.

Cain had worked so hard in preparing and presenting his offering to God. He wanted to justify himself to God by his creative thinking and hard work. But his efforts proved futile.

God wanted more than what Cain had offered. It might sound brutal, but God wanted blood!

Unfortunately, Cain’s pride and stubborn resistance to God precluded his offering, and as a result, Cain committed the first murder in human history. This was not the blood that God demanded, quite the opposite!

When we come to the New Testament, we see that Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. He claimed that He alone was the way, the truth and the life. I repeat; there was no other way.

Just as Judaism was the prescribed means of forgiveness and worship in the Old Testament; so in the New Testament, Christianity was the way that God had prescribed for this new age of grace. Christ was the vital link between the two.

A light begins to shine

Light Begins To Shine

The truth shines through

As we have pointed out; during the ‘Middle Ages’ or ‘Dark Ages’, the simplicity of the early church had been polluted through a long process of Clericalism, Ecclesiasticism and Apostasy. 

Darkness reigned for many centuries until the light of the gospel shone once again in the lives of a few men and women who would eventually protest against the erroneous teachings of the Catholic Church.

As we have pointed out on the 'Middle Ages' page; The apostasy of the Catholic Church took hold in AD 606 when Pope Boniface lll was appointed as the official head of all the churches. 

According to the Catholic Church, 'Apostolic Succession' - the succession of Bishops and Popes - commenced with the Apostle Peter and continued all through history from AD 60 to the present day, including the current Pope Francis.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13 2013. He was named the 266 th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

Bergoglio, the first Pope from South America, took his papal title after Saint Francis of Assisi, of Italy.

The Martyrs

History records how many of the early reformers made the ultimate sacrifice; these martyrs protested against the erroneous teachings of the Catholic Church and paid the ultimate price - they died for their faith.

So, who were these heroes of old and how long did the reformation last? As I stated in the introduction on the ‘Middle Ages’ page; I refer the reader to ‘Miller’s Church History’ for an in depth study of this period.

The following brief outline will help to place these events in time and highlight some of the individuals who shaped this period in history. We dare not forget the self sacrifice and ‘faith unto death’ of those whose names are written here. They are indelibly written in the Lambs Book of Life.

Heroes from the Reformation

Early Reformers

John Wycliffe AD 1320-1384 

He was a forerunner to the Reformation and he is renowned for the translation of the Latin Vulgate into common English. Nowadays we have the Wycliffe Bible.

John Huss AD 1369-1415

He was a forerunner to Protestantism and the Reformation and was burned alive under the gallows on which he was subsequently hanged. The following scripture comes to mind...

John 12 v 24-25 KJV

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

Martin Luther AD 1483-1546

His 95 Theses was nailed to the door of Wittenberg Castle on 31 Oct 1517 which is the date most commonly associated with the start of the Reformation.

John Calvin AD 1509-1564

He is widely accepted as Martin Luther’s successor. He was a reformer and theologian, and mighty preacher of the gospel.

John Knox AD 1513-1572

He led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and was one of the founders of Presbyterianism. He too, was a dynamic preacher of the gospel.

Bishop Nicholas Ridley AD 1500-1555

Bishop Hugh Latimer AD 1487-1555

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer AD 1489-1556

Bishops Ridley and Latimer were burned at the stake in late AD 1555

Archbishop Cranmer was burned alive at the stake on the same spot six months later in early AD 1556

This is a brief account.

When Mary became Queen of England, she worked to bring England back to the Roman Catholic Church. One of her first acts was to arrest Bishop Ridley, Bishop Latimer, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

After serving time in the Tower of London, the three were taken to Oxford in September of 1555 to be examined by the Lord's Commissioner in Oxford's Divinity School. When Ridley was asked if he believed the pope was heir to the authority of Peter as the foundation of the Church, he replied that the church was not built on any man but on the truth Peter confessed - that Christ was the Son of God.

Ridley said he could not honour the pope in Rome since the papacy was seeking its own glory, not the glory of God. Neither Ridley nor Latimer could accept the Roman Catholic mass as a sacrifice of Christ. Latimer told the commissioners,

"Christ made one oblation and sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that a perfect sacrifice; neither needeth there to be, nor can there be, any other propitiatory sacrifice."

These opinions were deeply offensive to Roman Catholic theologians.

Both Ridley and Latimer were burned at the stake in Oxford on October 16, 1555. As he was being tied to the stake, Ridley prayed,

"Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies."

The spot where these martyrs laid down their lives for the advance of the gospel can be visited in Oxford. This image marks the spot.

Oxford Martyrs

Oxford today

The picture above marks the actual spot where Bishops Ridley and Latimer, and Archbishop Cranmer were publicly burned at the stake. It is in Oxford.

The Revival years

Revival Preaching

Preaching the gospel

As we approach the ‘Enlightenment Period’ when education, knowledge and the discovery of science were becoming more widespread, so too was the spread of the gospel and the occasional periods of significant revival.

During this time the following great characters are renowned for their influence in preaching the gospel with power and authority.

George Whitfield AD 1714-1770

He was a founder of the Methodist Movement and preached towards the very end of the first Great Awakening in North America during the early eighteenth century.

Countless thousands were converted as a result of his preaching during the revival.

John Wesley AD 1703-1791

Charles Wesley AD 1707-1788

The Wesley brothers were prominent reformers and dynamic gospel preachers. John was a founder of the Methodist Movement.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon AD 1834-1892

He was pastor of New Park Street Chapel in London, later known as ‘The Metropolitan Tabernacle’ London. He was a dynamic gospel preacher, writer and theologian.

You may have heard of the ‘Great Awakening’. Actually there were four awakenings in North America.

First Great Awakening AD 1550-1743

Second Great Awakening AD 1800-1840

Third Great Awakening AD 1850-1900

Fourth Great Awakening AD 1960-1970

These were times of revival when hundreds of thousands of sinners repented and accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour. You could say that these times represented the close of the great period of the reformation.

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