Here’s a very brief look at the five streams, with sincere apologies to historians and scholars:
German (Lutheran) Reformation: Martin Luther’s act of nailing 95 theses into the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral was not an unusual occurrence, indeed, it was actually a common practice of professors giving students their reading material for discussion in class. But the content was the spark that set off a bushfire. What did he write? You can read them here, but in short he challenged some profitable activity of the Church, some downright wicked activity, and some activity that was in conflict with what the Bible taught. Luther also translated the New Testament into the German language for the everyday person to hear and understand, earning him further wrath from Church hierarchy. Luther never intended to “bring the Church down”, but he clearly expected things to change.
Swiss Reformation: Under John Calvin and his contemporaries in Geneva the Swiss Reformation was as intellectual as Luther’s in Germany was passionate. Calvin systematically interpreted Scripture and made clear theological ideas and teaching that had been obscured by language (the Bible was only ‘officially’ available to clergy and only in Latin) and doctrine (the rule of the Pope was absolute). As the Swiss Reformation grew, city-states and regions resisted the power of the Roman Church and pursued Calvin’s interpretation and understanding of Scripture above Papal proclamation and force. Calvin and his co-workers were in communication with other Reformers, particularly those in England.
English Reformation: It is widely known that King Henry XIII wanted a divorce and the Pope would not grant him one – so as King of England he separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. And yet there were much greater movements at play before that, not least the work and writings of John Wycliffe (see post on ‘Pre-Reformation’). Thomas Cranmer was a key person in the English Reformation, creating the instruments and systems for the newly separated Church of England to function outside the authority (but not completely out of the control of) the Pope in Rome. Cranmer had worked hard to separate the English Church from the Roman Church throughout the sixteenth century.
Anabaptists: The Anabaptists were anti-institutional long before any Reformation movement. They opposed many Roman Catholic teaching and practices, and indeed were disliked by most other branches of the Church, and were often attacked and killed en masse, and being passionately pacifist, did not violently resist. The Anabaptists are the spiritual ancestors of the Salvation Army, Baptist, Church of Christ denominations, those that have minimal hierarchical leadership.
Counter-Reformation [Council of Trent]: Finally (in this terribly brief summary) was the Roman Catholic Church’s response in the mid-sixteenth century. Primarily hoped to find reconciliation with the Lutheran Reformation, common ground was sought and concessions made by the Roman Church. Change was achieved and many of the deeply wicked, and un-Biblical, practices were abolished. Yet agreement was not found, and the Reformed Church and Catholic Church drifted further apart.
Volumes have been written on this era in the history of the Church, including lessons from it. In our service we encouraged those who strongly disagree with Church behaviour to not reactively act without seeking answers, and positive action. Arguably Luther, Calvin and Cranmer wanted keep their beloved Church as one, and none desired to create all new “denominations”.
Note: if ‘strongly disagree with Church behaviour’ and believe such behaviour is illegal in nature we encourage you to contact legal authorities in the first instance.
[Our readings for this Sunday were Romans 3:9-31 and Luke 17:1-10].
Preached on October 29 2017.