The Protestant Reformation partook so much of past and future theology that it may best be viewed as a transition between the medieval and modern periods in church history. As such, it was a significant break with the past. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Reformation’s break with the past was its emphasis upon the Scriptures as the sole source of authority and rule of faith in the believer’s life. This was a radical departure from the medieval attitude that tradition, as well as the Scriptures, as interpreted and promulgated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy is the rule of life. Although the early Reformation leaders did not fully appreciate or apply the implications of their principles, the effect of their movement was to unfetter man’s mind and allow him to think for himself. No longer was it enough for man to simply obey what he was told God’s word said; he had to understand God’s word for himself. No longer was his faith to be in a hierarchy of men but in Jesus Christ and His written revelation of Himself.
The consequences of this new attitude were immediately evident in the proliferation of sects within Protestantism. Not realizing that freedom to interpret and follow the Scriptures involved religious freedom, early Reformation leaders worked almost as hard to suppress what they considered heretical sects as the Catholic Church had worked to suppress them. They failed to see that the only weapon given to Christians for the eradication of error is the word of God (Acts 17:2,3; II Cor. 10:3,4; Eph. 6:17). In any event, they had opened the door, and slowly but surely the idea and practice of religious freedom spread and in its wake increasing realization of the truth.
The broadening of man’s horizons in science, philosophy, and geography also influenced, and was influenced by, Reformation thinking. With men’s advances in exploration came an awareness of other cultures which Europeans had to fit into God’s scheme for men. Likewise, scientific...
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