October 31st is recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On that date an Augustinian monk (Martin Luther) nailed his 95 Thesis on the church door at Wittenburg, Germany. His desire was to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within from practices he viewed as contrary to Scripture. Every Protestant should be aware of this event and it’s major players (Especially if you can name players on your favorite football team!).
John Wycliffe (1330-84) attacked what he saw as corruptions within the church, including the sale of indulgences, pilgrimages, the excessive veneration of saints, and the low moral and intellectual standards of ordained priests. Wycliffe also repudiated the doctrine of transubstantiation, held that the Bible was the sole standard of Christian doctrine, and argued that the authority of the Pope was not grounded in Scripture. Some of Wycliffe’s early followers translated the Bible into English, while later followers, known as Lollards, held that the Bible was the sole authority and that Christians were called upon to interpret the Bible for themselves. The Lollards also argued against clerical celibacy, transubstantiation, mandatory oral confession, pilgrimages, and indulgences.
John Huss (1369–1415) — A Bohemian priest, excommunicated in 1410, and burned at the stake for heresy in 1415. His death lead to the Hussite Wars in Bohemia. Huss followed Wycliffe’s teachings closely, translating Wycliffe’s Trialogus into Czechoslovakian, and modeling the first ten chapters of his own De Ecclesia after Wycliffe’s writings. He believed in predestination, regarded the Bible as the ultimate religious authority, and argued that Christ, rather than any ecclesiastical official, is the true head of the church.
Martin Luther (1483–1546) — In 1517, nails his 95 Theses onto a Wittenberg Church door. These theses were Latin propositions opposing the manner in which indulgences (release from the temporal penalties for sin through the payment of money) were being sold in order to raise money for the building of Saint Peter’s in Rome.
John Calvin (1509–64) — Calvin was a French theologian and reformer who fled religious persecution in France and settled in Geneva in 1536. He instituted a form of Church government in Geneva which has become known as the Presbyterian church. He insisted on reforms including: the congregational singing of the Psalms as part of church worship, the teaching of a catechism and confession of faith to children, and the enforcement of a strict moral discipline in the community by the pastors and members of the church. Geneva was, under Calvin, essentially a theocracy.
Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) was one of the watchwords of the Reformation. This doctrine maintains that Scripture, as contained in the Bible, is the only authority for the Christian in matters of faith, life and conduct. The teachings and traditions of the church are to be completely subordinate to the Scriptures. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, holds Scripture and Tradition to be of the same inspired Deposit of Faith.
Sola Fide (by faith alone) was the other watchword of the Reformation. This doctrine maintains that we are justified before God (and thus saved) by faith alone, not by anything we do, not by anything the church does for us, and not by faith plus anything else. It was also recognized by the early Reformers that Sola Fide is not rightly understood until it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of Sola Gratia, by grace alone. Hence the Reformers were calling the church back to the basic teaching of Scripture where the apostle Paul states that we are “saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God,” Eph. 2:8.