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The Diversity Within Protestant Tradition as The Result of The Medieval Reformation

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The diversity within Protestantism is a result of the reformation and schism that occurred in the Church throughout the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. This resulted in the forming of new Christian churches and their numerous and multiple ways of practicing Christianity. This is incredibly important to understand Christianity’s history as a whole as well as the differing claims to truth these denominations hold. Therefore, in this essay I will be presenting the importance of understanding the Protestant diversity of tradition in order to understand its global presence. Firstly, I will provide an outline for Protestant history and how the diversity of the modern day came to fruition. Secondly, demonstrating the way in which Martin Luther created the first major schism of diversity in the church. This will then lead onto the third part of my essay in the English Reformation, finally discussing the diversity across Europe and the Globe. Thus, highlighting the importance of understanding the diversity of Protestant tradition.

During the end of the fourteenth century Catholic Church began to face calls for reform especially in response to the infallibility of the Pope and the unquestioned authority of the Church. These fractures included the fact that many people were uneducated in the Bible language of Latin which meant that their faith and relationship with God was entirely mediated and molded by the Church clergy who could translate the Bible into the vernacular. It is important to understand that this fracturing of the Church led to the diversity present within the Protestant church. This abuse of power within the Catholic Church led to reformers such as John Wycliffe and Jan Hus to challenge the authority of the clergy as well as the way in which these people were elected into positions of high leadership. They argued that Christians should be able to interpret and read the Bible on their own which led to the ‘sola scriptura’ precedent within the current Protestant tradition. This divergence from the Catholic Church created many new Churches within Europe as the ‘ironies of Protestantism is that what began as a protest against orthodoxy ended a new orthodoxy’. This is incredibly important to understand as the many denominations of Protestantism would not have survived without this new orthodoxy.

Erasmus was a very important figure in the German intellectual and reformation scene as he was the “egg that Luther hatched”. He satirised the Catholic world and called upon bishops and popes to live and practice in the way in which Christ would have wanted them to, not in alignment with power and money. This is significant as the German monk Martin Luther carried on the lineage of this thought challenging the Pope and Church as an institution. Luther translated the Bible in his local languages providing access that had not been apparent beforehand. Lutheran beliefs diverge massively from the Catholic church, accepting “sola scriptura at its essence”, promoting that scripture alone is the formal principle of faith as well as final authority for all matters of faith and morals. This is because of the Bible’s inspiration, authority, clarity, efficacy and sufficiency. To Lutheran Protestants the scripture of the Bible is all encompassing.

This marked the beginning of the European Reformation. This schism was the first diversity the Church had seen and would remain a prevalent sect of Protestantism within northern Europe and nordic countries. Lutheran Christianity became the state religion of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and other northern countries which is similar to the reformation of Ulrich Zwingli within Switzerland. In the early sixteenth century, Zwingli argued for a theocracy, a government in which Church and State are joined, consequently having government officials being considered divinely inspired. This then led to John Calvin founding the Republic of Geneva which was an entirely new sect of Protestant Christainity. These diverse sects of ever changing Protestantism is especially important to understand the nature in which Christinaity has changed and whether or not it is the Chrisitnaity Jesus and God would have wanted. For the religion to be reformed and changed multiple times in massive ways highlights the cultural and political ways in which Christianity can be used, thus presenting the importance of understanding these divergences to capture the full picture of Christianity.

In contrast to the theologically rooted reformation of Europe, Henry VIII created the Church of England for his personal gain in wishing to divorce and remarry. Under the Catholic Church and the Pope’s authority, divorce and remarriage is prohibited. This led to the reformation in Parliament in which Henry VIII declared that England was no longer under the rule and authority of the Pope, announcing in an Act of Supremacy that he was now the “Supreme Head of the Church of England”. This act of defiance became a catalyst for the sects of English Protestantism to develop and unfold. The Puritism sect became a huge marker of English history and this diversity holds a massive influence and significance because of this. In addition to the Puritan movement, the Methodist Church began as a revival movement in the eighteenth century which spread across the empire of Britain and was used in many missionary works and projects. The importance of this diversity sheds light on the history of Britain and their missionarycolonial past. In understanding these divergences, the history of Christianty’s outreach across the globe becomes apparent and aids in the comprehensive learning of all the denominations.

Today Protestant tradition reaches Christians globally around the world, originating from a tiny reformation in a small town in Germany. These powerful divergences and tensions create new schisms in a fractured Christendom. In understanding these sects allows for a deep and comprehensive understanding of Christian theology where using the Bible is the sole and most high authority. The catalyst that Martin Luther created paved the way for reformers like Zwinglu and Calvin in Switzerland as well as Henry VIII in England. Although their reformations are rooted in different causes, the beauty of diversity creates a new orthodoxy that appears both deeply traditional but also modern. This, however, is only a small insight into the diversity, perhaps an inquiry into the Presbyterian or Anglican Churches could shed further light onto the understanding of the diversity within Protestant tradition.

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