The Protestant Reformation was not the beginning of a new religious movement, but rather it was literally a re-formation of the church and so it was an attempt to reform the church of the sixteenth century and to return it to its earlier and purer form. Over the centuries errors had crept into the Roman Catholic Church and so its doctrine, worship and practice had become slowly corrupted. The Protestant Reformation sought to correct these errors initially from within the Church of Rome, but when this was not possible from outside of it in new churches.
The name of Martin Luther is often associated with the Reformation and in particular with the vitally important doctrine of justification by faith alone. This was many of the Biblical doctrines that were re-discovered at this time. Another great Reformation theologian was John Calvin and he was able to write theology in a way that was easy for the common people to understand.
The five great doctrinal pillars of the Reformation were summed up in five Latin statements: -
Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
Solus Christus - Christ Alone
Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
Sola Fide - Faith Alone
Soli Deo Gloria - The Glory of God Alone
In other words our authority in religion is in scripture alone where it is taught that salvation is through Christ alone, and this is an act of God’s grace alone which is received by faith alone, and to the glory of God alone.
Now the Reformation in England started to make progress during the reign of Henry VIII because he wanted a divorce that the Church of Rome wouldn’t give, and his solution was to establish the Church of England outside of the control of the Church of Rome. Though doctrinally Henry VIII was always a Roman Catholic the Church of England was allowed to adopt some of the Reformation principles, and this included the translation of the Bible into English.
With the death of Henry VIII his son Edward VI became king, and though he was quite young at the time he was a keen supporter of the Reformation movement and reform within the Church of England started to move more quickly with for example the publishing of the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles of Faith.
Unfortunately Edward VI died at the age of sixteen and reform was brought to an abrupt halt as his successor Queen Mary, Edward’s half-sister, actively sought to bring back the country to Roman Catholicism. During her reign two hundred and eight-nine Protestant martyrs were burnt at the stake as heretics whilst over a hundred more died in prison awaiting their execution.
With the death of Mary in 1558 her younger half-sister became Queen Elizabeth I and as her sympathies were towards Protestantism so began the Church of England as we know it today. In doctrine it was reformed, but not in all of its practice and this in time led to the Puritans who wanted the Reformation in the Church of England to be more complete.
In the seventeen century Reformation theology was developed further with new churches outside of the Church of England, and a number of confessions of faith based on the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion were published. These confessions of faith were very similar except for differences in church government and baptism: -
The Presbyterian “Westminster Confession of Faith”
The Congregational “Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order”
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith
In 1604 permission was given by King James I for a new translation of the Bible into English and this was completed in 1611. Today this is known as the Authorised Version or the King James Version, and after over four hundred years in use it is still the most accurate Bible translation that is available in the English language.
During the seventeenth century attempts to re-introduce Roman Catholicism were finally defeated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the arrival of William, Prince of Orange, to become King William III. At the Battle of the Boyne on July 1st 1690 King William III and his Protestant forces defeated the Roman Catholic King James II and so the civil and religious liberties of the Protestant Reformation are still enjoyed by us to this day.