Catholic church and the Reformation

Although the church structures in the east have continued much as they were since 1054, the western Catholic church has experienced catastrophic divisions as a result of intellectual, cultural and theological developments from the sixteenth century onwards, now known as the Enlightenment and Reformation.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is attributed with having begun the Reformation, when he posted his ninety five theses (challenges to Catholic Church doctrine and practices) to the door of the local Wittenburg church in 1517. Others were also protesting against the Catholic church at the same time however, and the whole groundswell of reaction resulted in numerous Protestant churches coming into existence, including Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers (Society of Friends), Lutherans, Swedenburgs, and others. Many of these churches experienced further divisions as a result of local religious revivals, resulting in splinter groups forming new movements, such as the Methodists (under the Wesleys), the Salvation Army (under William Booth), and, in USA, the Pentecostalists, begun at the Asuza Street revival, Texas, in 1901.

For some of these new churches, particular practices were important (e.g. Baptists insisted on adults being baptised, not babies), whereas for others, such as Quakers and Congregationalists, the concern was to break free from the idea of clergy or other outside control, giving emphasis to democratic leadership rather than that provided by specially ordained ‘outsiders’.

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