What were the effects of the Reformation?


This question is pretty open-ended, so I'll just try to offer a broad outline. The Reformation affected, to varying degrees, the religious, social, political, and economic lives of much of the world.

Regarding the religous world, it fragmented the Roman Catholic Church to a degree previously unknown. The Roman Catholic Church had suffered the split from the Eastern Church in 1054, and the split with the Church of England under Henry VIII, and the Reformation continued this devastation of the Roman Church's empire. Whereas the prior splits had left the Vatican in control of a unified territory, the Reformation began all sorts of inroads into that territory, shaking the security of the Vatican's grip over all its territories. In those areas where the Reformation took hold, the Protestant churches exhibited different ecclesiastical governmental structures from the Episcopal government of the Rome, as well as significant doctrinal differences.

Significant doctrinal differences included both rejections of Roman Catholic doctrines as well as positive assertions of other doctrines. Among other things, the Reformation encouraged the rejection of: the Roman doctrines of salvation (including justification by faith and works, purgatory, and related doctrines such as the Pope's authority over the treasury of grace); the general authority of the Pope and church councils; and the restriction of the Scriptures from the people. Postively, the Reformation asserted such things as: Scripture alone as the sole final authority of the church; and justification by grace alone through faith alone.

The Reformation did not yield a unified Protestant movement, however, but a divided one. There were many groups involved in the Reformation which were unable to unite in a common cause, including the Reformed churches (following Calvin and his students), the Lutheran Church (following first Luther and then Melanchthon), the Anabaptist churches, and of course the Anglican Church.

Politically, the Reformation crushed the power of the Roman Catholic Church over such nations as Germany (its princes were the first "Protestants"), and gave greater autonomy and power to secular rulers in general. Eventually, it led to the overthrow of the English monarchy and its replacement by the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. Political battles continued to surface in national politics as a result of the Reformation, seen in fights for crowns in many nations over many centuries, and visible even today in the strife between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Presbyterian government was also foundational to the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

Socially and economically, many credit the Reformation with improving social justice and the condition of the poor. It cannot be denied that many Protestant missions and charities have done incredible amounts of good in building hospitals, educating the poor, and meeting the basic daily needs of millions. Moreover, the freedom of Protestant nations from paying tribute to Rome increased the national coffers and allowed greater economic expansion.

Incidentally, LIFE Magazine recently listed Martin Luther (the man who accidentally started the Reformation) as the 3rd most important person of the millennium:

We have a good series on the Reformation in our Magazine Online under the Church History section. The series is entitled Reformation Men and Theology, and is by Dr. Jack L. Arnold. The articles are brief, easy to scan, and densely packed with good information.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.