The Origins of the Reformation

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Jim West.  Dr. West is adjunct professor of biblical studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and pastor of Petros Baptist Church in Petros, Tennessee. He has written a number of books and articles, and he serves as language editor for the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament and language revision editor for the Copenhagen International Seminar series.

“The Reformation” is a misnomer if ever there were one, for in fact there was no one Reformation any more than there was just one Reformer. “The Reformation,” when used by students and the general public, usually refers to the Reformation of Martin Luther, which commenced at the end of October in the year of our Lord, 1517.

Even then, though, Luther’s intent wasn’t as earth-shattering as later ages took it to be. For Luther, the placement of a series of theses in Latin on the church door at Wittenberg Castle was nothing more than an invitation to debate. In other words, Luther didn’t see his act as the commencement of a revolution; he saw it as an academic exercise.

“The Reformation” is, then, little more than a label derived from historical hindsight focusing on a series of events over a period of time across a wide geographical landscape. Each Reformer had roots sunk in fertile ground, and their work was simply the coming to fruition of generations of shift in the Roman Catholic Church.

Hence, it would be more appropriate to speak of “Reformations” in the same way that we now speak of “Judaisms” and “Christianities.”  The Reformation was no monolith.

Who, then, were the Reformers who gave birth to the Reformations most closely associated with them? They were Huldrych ZwingliMartin Luther, and John Calvin, in just that order.

Each of these Reformers was the father of his own Reformation.  Each was, originally, independent of the others, and in many ways they tried very hard to retain that independence even when their common foe, the Church of Rome, was the target.  Each contributed to the Reformation in his own unique way.

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Written by
Jayson D. Bradley

For the last 20+ years, Jayson's been a pastor, worship leader, and church planter. Now he writes about ministry and Christian engagement.

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Written by Jayson D. Bradley