Remembering the Reformation: A Timeline

Reformation

As I have been filling my head with information about the Reformation through websites, podcasts, YouTube videos, and books, I have realized something: It is like a bottomless well of information and I am just touching the surface. I feel completely inadequate to even present a timeline. The more I know about the Reformation, the more I realize how much I don’t know. But I am going to go ahead and present a basic timeline of the most important events with just a bit of information about them. (If you think I missed something important please don’t hesitate to let me know so that I can add it). I hope this is a helpful resource as we continue our study on the Reformation.

One thing that is of important note before I give the timeline is just how much the Reformation changed Western culture. As one speaker put it: The Reformation is the foundation of Western Civilization. This period of time re-established the authority of scripture, the priesthood of the believer, and the importance of a personal relationship with God—all things taught in the New Testament but lost among the common man in the false religion of Catholicism. It also brought about the birth of free enterprise and highlighted the importance of education and literacy. And, let’s not forget–it changed how the culture viewed marriage and family.

It is safe to say that it would be a very, very different world, if not for the Reformation.

We tend to think of this time as religious only, but what I have realized is that God’s ways are perfect–not just for our spiritual health, but in all ways. The Bible teaches us tools for all of life and we can see this truth when we look at the Reformation.

Here is the timeline–

1440— Somewhere around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press. I include this as the first item on this timeline because without a printing press there would not have been a Reformation. It was this machine that enabled Luther’s 95 Theses and other writings to be spread across the land.

1517–Luther nails the 95 Theses on to the church door at Wittenberg

Luther becomes distressed at how the pope, Leo X, has decided to use indulgences to raise funds for his dwindling coffers. A guy by the name of Tetzel is Leo’s representative in the region where Luther lives. Tetzel comes up with a little jingle (that rhymes in German as well as in English!): Every time the coffer rings another soul from purgatory springs. With his coffer and jingle, Tetzel travels the countryside, convincing people that their dead loved ones will remain in purgatory unless they pay to get them out. It is specifically in response to this unbiblical practice that Luther writes his 95 theses. He takes them and nails them to the door of the Wittenberg church. He actually receives little notice from the academic world (his intended audience), but a few students find them, copy them into common vernacular, and disseminate them all through Germany.

1519– Leipzig Debate

Luther is invited to debate Johann Eck at the Pleissenburg Castle in Leipzig, Germany. Here they discuss many different topics of the Catholic religion. There is one thing that Luther says during this debate that fans the small flame he had started two years before with his 95 theses and it is this: Scripture is the sole authority in the life of a Christian and that Christ is the true head of the Church. This statement is considered heresy, since the Pope is viewed as the sole authority for all people and also as the head of the church (and, by the way, he is still viewed that way in Catholicism today). These statements by Luther start the fires of the Reformation to start sweeping across the land.

1519– Ulrich Zwingli starts preaching expositionally through the New Testament

While Luther was causing people to re-think religion in Germany, Zwingli–completely independent of Luther–was doing the same thing in Switzerland. His sermons through the New Testament would serve as the catalyst for the changes he would bring to religion there. In a few years he would write his sixty-seven theses against many of the man-created Catholic church practices.

1520– Luther publishes the Christian Nobility of the German Nation

It is in this publication that he teaches the priesthood of the believer.

1521– Diet of Worms

In 1520, Pope Leo had issued a papal bull calling Luther a heretic and so the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, Charles V, calls for the Diet of Worms which will serve as an inquisition into the accusations against Luther. Here Luther reaffirms his commitment to scripture and confirms that he will not recant. He is quoted as saying– “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

1522– Luther publishes the German Bible

Luther is captured on his way home from the Diet of Worms by Frederick the Wise, in an effort to protect his life after his refusal to recant.  During his ten month captivity in Wartburg Castle, he translates the New Testament from Ancient Greek into German in just ten weeks.

1525– Luther marries Katherine Von Bora

Katherine is a former nun and wastes no time making a godly home for Luther. Together they completely change how the culture views marriage and family, particularly for the clergy. Before their marriage, women and marriage were viewed rather negatively. Luther proclaims that marriage is a God-given blessing and then lives this by his example. We cannot underestimate the importance of the Luthers’ godly marriage and loving family. I know it sounds redundant but it is worth repeating: The Luthers were critically instrumental in changing how Western culture views marriage and family.

1526– William Tyndale published the first English Bible

Tyndale, driven by a like-minded conviction as Luther to make the scriptures available to the common man, was the first to translate the scriptures into the English language. This was condemned not only by the Catholic Church but also by the King of England, Henry VIII.

1531– Zwingli is killed in battle

Preaching the Gospel in Switzerland is prohibited and a few are even being martyred as heretics for their stands against the Catholic church. This eventually leads to the Battle of Kappel and Zwingli falls while defending Zurich against Catholic forces.

1534– Ignatius of Loyala founds the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

This Roman Catholic missionary organization was part of an effort to create a Catholic counter-reformation and parts of Poland, Hungary, and Germany are recovered from Protestantism back to Catholicism. This society is still at work today and there is much that could be written, but you will have to research the Jesuits on your own (a very interesting and fascinating study, to say the least!)

1534– Henry VIII declares himself Head of the Church of England

Disgruntled at the Pope’s unwillingness to grant his divorce from Catharine of Aragon, Henry breaks from the Catholic church and creates the similar “Church of England”. The Act of Royal Supremacy restores the power of the church back to the King of England where, according to this document, it had been before it was supposedly usurped by the Roman Catholic Church.

1536– Tyndale is martyred

Tried and convicted on a charge of heresy, he is burned at the stake. His last words were “Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes!”

1536– John Calvin publishes the Institutes of Christian Religion

This systematic theology encompasses all of Protestant beliefs into one work. Calvin–so sadly known often only for his stand on pre-destination–wrote many other wonderful and edifying books about the Christian faith. He was a truly gifted man who was used by God to change the world. (I will write more about him later.)

1545-1563– Council of Trent

This council meets to reform and clarify Catholic doctrine. Incidentally, the modern day Catholic church has never rescinded the extra-biblical and unbiblical doctrines and beliefs confirmed during the Council of Trent and therefore must be viewed as a false religion.

1560– Geneva Bible is published

This is the first English edition to use chapter and verse divisions.

1611– The King James Bible is published

King James of England orders this new translation to try to unify the various religious factions of his kingdom and to replace the controversial Geneva Bible, which had included revolutionary notations (not part of the original manuscripts) in the margins. In fact, he specified that there were to be no notes in the margins of this new translation!

1618-1619– The Synod of Dort

The Dutch Reformed Church holds this Synod to discuss the issues raised by the supports of Jacobus Arminius. At the synod, five-point Calvinism is upheld in opposition to Arminianism. (It is worth noting that it is at this time that John Calvin’s name becomes so associated with this doctrine. This leads many who could grow spiritually from his many worthwhile books to avoid them. It is quite unfortunate.)

 

Wow! That is a lot to take in. If you are still reading, I am impressed! Of course, Church History doesn’t end in 1619 and there are so many events and people worthy of blog posts. I didn’t even touch on the Puritans, who were so incredibly instrumental in upholding literal interpretation of scripture and were most surely reformers in their own right. I also didn’t get into anything regarding the Anabaptists, led by Menno Simons and also worthy of note during this time. As I have time to learn more I may come back and add more to this timeline. But, for now, I do hope that this will be a helpful resource to you and that you have learned something new today.

I will be taking a break for a few weeks from this series as I will not have time over the next few weeks to do the research necessary. But when I return, I will be covering some individuals and the part they had to play in the Reformation. In these posts, I will give more detail than I was able to give here. Hope you will stick around as I continue the series!

 

If you’d like to know more, these are most of the resources I used. I especially recommend the lecture by Nathan Busenitz (the first link) and the video by Ryan Reeves (the second link)–

https://www.gracechurch.org/sermons/13326

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn0QlENHlrQ&t=61s

https://www.tms.edu/preachersandpreaching/the-fire-that-fueled-the-reformation/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qrSgNbeG5E&t=1228s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Faf6ISLbPQ8

http://www.ligonier.org/store/luther-and-the-reformation-download/

https://www.thelocal.de/20150717/this-week-in-history-martin-luther-and-the-leipzig-debate

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/zurich-revolutionary-ulrich-zwingli/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wartburg

http://discerninghistory.com/2015/08/ulrich-zwinglis-death-at-kappel/

https://www.gotquestions.org/Tyndale-Bible.html

http://protestantism.co.uk/timeline.html

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jesuit-order-established

http://www.britannia.com/history/articles/relpolh8.html

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1601-1700/story-behind-king-james-bible-11630052.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/Diet-of-Worms.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Reformation: Before the Beginning

Reformation

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. I use the word “allegedly”, because there is actually some debate about exactly how it all happened. What we do know is that Martin Luther did clearly present 95 theses as a challenge before the Catholic church, which officially began the period of time we know of as the Reformation.

But what was going on in the true Church before the Reformation began? While God used the Reformation in a mighty way, what exactly was going on in the Church during the preceding Dark Ages? I’d like to give a {very} brief overview of church history before Martin Luther. This will help set the stage for the rest of this series.

During the rule of the Roman empire, we know that Christians were viewed unfavorably. In fact, they were dreadfully persecuted and even martyred under certain emperors. They were thrown to lions for sport while the bloodthirsty Romans looked on; tied in bags with serpents and thrown into the sea; lit as torches for Nero’s parties, along with many other inconceivable tortures. But, surprisingly, during this time, the Church grew. Instead of the persecution functioning as a deterrent to keep the church from growing, it worked in the opposite way. People were attracted to a faith that kept a soul at peace during even the most horribly unthinkable circumstances.

And so it comes as no surprise that Satan came up with a Plan B: If you can’t beat them, then join them to eradicate and extinguish from within. The Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, would be the instrument he would use to do this. It was under Constantine’s reign that, in the year of 313, Christianity was decriminalized. Eventually it would become the official state religion.

But was this true Christianity? A look at historical facts will reveal that it wasn’t. First, we will find that Constantine himself gave no proof of being a Christian. He continued on in his pagan practices and lifestyle. It would appear that he made this move to Christianity for political reasons only. And, second, you will find that Catholicism has an uncanny and unsettling resemblance to pagan religion of old. And so we can be certain that even from its inception, this state religion called “Christianity” was actually a deadly mingling of paganism and Christianity that became an accepted–but deceptively false– religion that was simply not (and still isn’t) biblical Christianity (Read this article for specific examples). This can easily be proven by comparing its dogmas and doctrines to scripture (read this article for more information). If you want to know how this all came about, you will find this short video to be a well-researched explanation—Know Your Enemy: Roman Catholicism.

It is extremely important that we come to a study of the Reformation with the knowledge that the Roman Catholic system is a false, satanic system. This gives us the background we need in order to do an accurate study of church history.

(Please keep in mind that I am judging the system of Catholicism and not any individual’s salvation. God, in His grace and mercy, may save someone who is caught up in that false system. I do believe that a true believer in the Catholic church who studies the Bible will eventually recognize the discrepancies and choose to leave).

From the point where Constantine validates this false Christianity, we find a church that becomes all-powerful in the lives of its parishioners—demanding things from them in life, as well as falsely teaching that they can control what happens to them after death. Many of Martin Luther’s 95 theses are specifically targeted towards the unbiblical teachings of purgatory and indulgences. We also find during this time the persecution of true Christians. In fact, we see the beginning of papal persecution, in earnest, around the 11th century. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs puts it like this:

Disregarding the maxims and the spirit of the gospel, the papal church, arming herself with the power of the sword, vexed the church of God and wasted it for several centuries, a period most appropriately termed in history, the “dark ages.” *

It started with the Waldensians and went on to include other pockets of true believers throughout the next several centuries, including many martyrs during that terrible time known as the Spanish Inquisition. (It would later include the persecution of the Huguenots in France and the Anabaptists in Germany.) This persecution included familiar names from this time such as John Wycliff and Jan Hus, as well as countless unknown names.

These records and other historical accounts of these groups and individuals makes it clear that, while Catholicism (which was false from its inception) dominated and controlled the lives of the general population, there were always those who sought the Truth. There were always those who fought against the false system. True Christianity did not disappear during the Dark Ages.

The common thread that drew all of these forerunners of the Reformation together was a commitment to the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the whole Word of God in its totality. This same thread runs through all of the Reformation, throughout all of Church history, and continues to be the same common thread that ties those of us together who desire to stay true to biblical faith in a world (and church) that has seemingly gone mad.

And so there is a brief– and hopelessly incomplete–history of the Church before the Reformation. It is my hope that this study will give you a deeper appreciation for the Word of God and the critical place it has played in all of Church history. It is also my desire that it will cause you to reflect on the pivotal place the Bible continues to play in this day and age, in the mainstream church and within our own churches.

We can see that Satan has tried all through the ages, and in many different ways, to twist, manipulate, and destroy God’s Word. We know this is because it, alone, is our revelation from God in this Church age. It is our only anchor for true faith and sound doctrine. We can also see that it is the Word that drew (and continues to draw) people back to true and pure faith. Keep this in mind as we continue our study.

Next time I will endeavor to give a general outline of the Reformation’s most important events.

 

Please note: I had a suspicion when I set out to do this series on the Reformation that my outline for posts could change. I will make the changes accordingly on the introduction page, so that each post can be clicked on from there.

 

*Foxe, John. Fox’s Book of Martyrs Or A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths of the Primitive Protestant Martyrs (Kindle Locations 998-1000). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Resources:

Long Before Luther: Where was the Gospel Before the Reformation? By Nathan Busenitz

The Fire that Fueled the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz

Know Your Enemy: Roman Catholicism by the Fuel Project

What Is the Origin of Roman Catholicism @GotQuestions.org

How Was the Gospel Preserved Throughout the Middle Ages? @GotQuestions.org

Fox’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (free for Kindle!)

CARM: Attaining Salvation in Roman Catholicism by Matt Slick

Constantine the Great and Christianity @Wikipedia