The word “Protestant” is based on the root word “protest.” Luther protested Catholic practice, and as a result of widespread abuses by the Catholic Church, a chorus of others joined in to likewise protest against Rome. The protests unleashed against Catholicism quickly spread throughout Europe. Protestantism succeeded because it was needed. Catholicism brought it upon itself by its failure to provide a genuine Christian experience for the common man. At the same time as Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, Simons, and others began to oppose Catholic abuses, there was an eager audience wishing to be freed from under Catholic domination.
When it began the movement was caused by the abuses of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Reformers shared a common experience that included a conviction that Catholicism was different from New Testament Christianity and failed to either practice or preach Christ's Gospel. The first Reformers also experienced first-hand abusive treatment by local Catholic leaders and sincerely wanted to practice a more pure form of Christianity. In their search to connect with God, they broke from Rome.
consequences of the reformation
The Roman Catholic Church was changed by the Protestant Reformation. They responded, beginning in 1545, with the Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent convened in 25 sessions between 1545 and 1563 to address needed church reform. In addition to condemning Protestantism, the council clarified Roman Catholic doctrine, reformed church administration, abolished some abuses affecting the sale of indulgences, established more rigorous clergy education and residential rules, affirmed that the Catholic Church was the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of scripture, and explained the relationship of faith and works to counter Luther’s doctrine of salvation by faith alone. It also reaffirmed many practices the Reformers found offensive, including veneration of saints and relics, pilgrimages, indulgences, and veneration of the Virgin Mary. The Counter-Reformation lasted until the close of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 and addressed reconfiguring the church’s structure, establishing religious orders as well as responding to spiritual movements and political reforms.
Between the Reformation outside Catholicism and the Counter-Reformation within, the Protestant movement reshaped Christianity. In turn, Christianity was revitalized and held far greater relevance to the lives of the common man. Whereas before mere superstition informed most “Christian” beliefs, afterwards Christians were expected to understand, even debate, the meaning of Christ’s teachings. Once the Protestant leaders translated and published the Bible in the language of the common man, an aloof and educated clergy lost their monopoly over access and the right to interpret scripture. Every soul was entitled and expected to read the Bible for themselves.
Society in Europe was transformed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The transformation spread to the New World, and North America was initially populated by fleeing Protestants. The government of the United States reflected Protestant values. The American political example, in turn, changed European rule. In time the entire world was influenced, directly or indirectly, by the changes that began with the Protestant Reformation.
As the Reformation gathered strength, Protestant Christianity itself began to fracture. Once the Bible became available in the common languages of Europe, the widespread recognition that other institutions, in addition to Catholicism, failed to value different New Testament teachings led to multiplying denominations.
Although the Reformation of Christianity began a half-millennium ago, it has not completed its destiny. In the New World, Roger Williams reached the conclusion that the original could not be "reformed" back into its original state, but it would require a "restoration" which Christ alone could accomplish. He thought Christ would eventually send another apostle to restore the ancient, original church.
One of Christianity’s greatest impediments to unity is the competing economic interests of the various denominations. Today there are preachers, bishops, elders, and ministers who claim that their version of Christianity is the only one that has the power to save, while all others teach false doctrine, are a cult, or are inspired of the Devil. This “dangling carrot” of salvation keeps congregants loyal to their churches’ authority and willing to financially support their professional clergy. In the 500th year of Protestantism the time has perhaps finally arrived when once again the common man can see through the conflicting claims and again protest against the denominational conflicts for what they are: competing economic structures. There is little difference between what motivated the Catholic abuses in the 1500s and the conflicts between denominations today. What Christianity needs is to practice more of what Christ taught and less of what the theological schools have overlaid in order to rebrand their version as “true.” Ministers should not be paid. Tithes and offerings should help the poor. If there were no financial incentive to advance denominational conflicts, they would die out.