Our first post leading up to the Reformation is to see why the church needed to change:
The church was the beautiful creation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Her creation was to show Christ’s body on earth, spreading the gospel and ministering in works of love. The book of Acts is testament to the glory of the church. Sadly however we see that the church of the Middle Ages was not so.
Abuses had slipped in unnoticed and after centuries of time these teachings and practices took the church to a place that was almost unrecognizable from the early church. Among some of its practices by the time of the Reformation were:
– The Bible was only allowed to be in Latin (The Latin Vulgate) and lay people were not allowed to read it (The Council of Toulouse 1229)
– The Pope was supreme, the spiritual descendant of the Apostle Peter and the Vicar of Christ (Christ’s representative) and infallible.
– The clergy controlled the administration of grace and salvation through obedience to the Seven Sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Mass, penance, marriage, ordination and last rites)
– The Mass was central. It re-performed the sacrifice of Christ on a regular basis. On the altar the body and the bread of communion would literally become the body and blood of Jesus, therefore to ingest them would be to obtain salvation and grace. This was repeated day to day to take away God’s wrath. The people, however, generally only ate once a year and never drank the wine, yet even to look at the raised sacrament was to receive grace.
– Confession to a priest was required to take away sins
– Veneration of Saints and Mary had become so prevalent that it was almost indistinguishable from Polytheism.
– Nobody could fully earn salvation, so if you died you went to Purgatory, unless you were unrepentant of committing a mortal sin (such as murder) then you would go straight to hell.
– Purgatory was said to be a place of temporary suffering, to chastise you until your sin is paid for.
– Indulgences had become the practice of the church since the crusades. Indulgences meant that the church could promise salvation, or time out of purgatory, through acts of service or purchasing certain items, or performing certain acts. Eg, veneration of supposed relics, such as a nail from the cross, bread from the Last Supper, twigs from the Burning Bush, some of Mary’s hair or clothing etc.
To add to these the clergy and Pope’s were usually of a very corrupt sort, exploiting the people and even whole countries for the sake of power or money. The church and clergy were quite immoral in the eyes of many.
To defy these and other practices was to be an enemy of the church and was punishable by death. Religion at the time was extremely popular, yet it was devoid of the power of the Gospel and the people were captive to falsehood.
It desperately needed changing.
Tomorrow: John Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation
If you want to read more, here are two good book recommendations:
The Unquenchable Flame – by Michael Reeves
2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Volume Three – by N.R. Needham
Both will be available on our book table on Reformation Day!