Breaking Away. The Protestant Reformation and the Churches that Split from Catholicism


The Roman Catholic Church was the dominant Christian church in Europe in the early 16th century. Nadya Chernysh It had amassed great wealth and power, but there was growing discontent with some of its practices and doctrines. Reformers like Martin Luther began to openly criticize the church’s theology and corruption. This led to the Protestant Reformation, resulting in the emergence of new Christian denominations that broke away from the Catholic Church.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian, published his 95 Theses criticizing the Catholic Church and initiating reform in the church’s teachings and practices. Luther’s main criticism was against the selling of indulgences by the church. Indulgences were seen as a way to buy forgiveness and reduce punishment for sins. Luther condemned the selling of indulgences in his 95 Theses, arguing that repentance involved inner sorrow and not just external actions.

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This sparked a theological debate and confrontation with church authorities. Luther refused to recant his writings and in 1521 Pope Leo X excommunicated him. But Luther had already inspired reformers like himself across Germany and Europe.

Out of the Reformation came the Lutheran Church, the first major Protestant denomination. Luther preached that salvation came through faith alone, not through deeds. His German translation of the Bible made it more accessible to people. The Lutheran church retained many Catholic traditions but rejected papal authority and several Catholic doctrines.

Some key sources on Luther’s 95 Theses and the beginnings of the Reformation include:

Anglican Church

The Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England, has its origins in the 16th century Protestant Reformation and King Henry VIII’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII sought to have his marriage annulled so that he could remarry and produce a male heir to the throne. However, Pope Clement VII refused to grant the annulment. In response, Henry VIII rejected papal authority and had the Act of Supremacy passed in 1534, declaring the British monarch to be the head of the Church of England. This led to a schism with the Catholic Church and the creation of the Anglican Church as separate from Rome (Was the Anglican Church created because King Henry VIII wanted to marry another woman?).

While Henry VIII’s personal desires played a key role, the roots of the Anglican Church also lay partly in the ideas of the Protestant Reformation taking hold in England in the early 16th century. Under Henry VIII, the Church of England maintained some Catholic doctrines and rituals, but adopted Protestant theology and liturgies, including allowing clergy to marry. Over time, the Anglican Church developed its own unique traditions and practices, distinct from the Catholic Church.


John Calvin (1509-1564) was a prominent French theologian and a pivotal figure in the Protestant Reformation.[1] Calvin helped develop a theological system known as Calvinism or Reformed theology. Calvinism is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice set down by John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians.[2]

Calvinism originated in the Reformation in Switzerland when Huldrych Zwingli began preaching Reformed theology in the 1520s. John Calvin was converted to the Reformed faith while living in France and in 1536 published the first edition of his theological treatise Institutes of the Christian Religion, a seminal work of Protestant systematic theology.[3] After being exiled from Geneva, Calvin settled there permanently in 1541 and became a prominent preacher and theologian, helping the city become a center of Reformed Protestantism.

Some key tenets of Calvinism include:[2]

  • Total depravity – humans are sinful by nature and fall short of God’s perfect glory.
  • Unconditional election – God chooses some people for salvation not based on merit but by divine mercy.
  • Limited atonement – Christ died only for those predestined for salvation, not the whole world.
  • Irresistible grace – when God calls people to himself, they cannot refuse.
  • Perseverance of the saints – those elected by God will persevere in faith and good works.

Calvinist theology continues to have significant influence in Protestant Christianity, especially among Reformed churches.


The Anabaptist movement emerged during the Protestant Reformation as a radical faction that believed in adult baptism. They were considered radical reformers who felt that neither the Catholic Church nor the new Protestant churches were implementing the reforms they felt were needed. Link

The Anabaptists emphasized complete separation of church and state, and opposed infant baptism in favor of adult or believer’s baptism. They believed that baptism should be voluntary and come after an individual makes a decision to follow Christ. This set them apart from both Catholics and Protestants who practiced infant baptism. The Anabaptist emphasis on voluntarism in religion helped inspire later Baptist and Methodist churches.


The Puritans were a group of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England from all Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the church was only partially reformed. Puritans in England. They believed the Church of England was too similar to the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to simplify and regulate forms of worship.

In the 1620s, Puritans left England and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England. This group of Puritans, known as the Pilgrims, sought religious freedom and intended to establish a new church separate from the Church of England. The Pilgrims saw themselves as separating entirely from the corrupt church, not reforming it An Introduction to Puritanism.

After Elizabeth I died in 1603, Puritans faced increased persecution. Many Puritans fled England during this time, establishing colonies in New England as a new home where they could practice their faith freely. History of the Puritans under Elizabeth I.


The Baptist church traces its origins to the Puritan movement in England in the early 17th century.1 Baptists believed that churches should be comprised only of professing believers who had been baptized. This was in contrast to the Church of England which baptized infants.

One early Baptist leader was John Smyth who founded a Baptist church in Holland in 1609. Smyth believed in religious liberty and separation of church and state. This belief in religious freedom became a hallmark of Baptists.

When Smyth returned to England, his follower Thomas Helwys established the first Baptist church in England in 1612. Helwys published a theological work supporting religious liberty titled “A Short Declaration on the Mystery of Iniquity.” Helwys rejected religious persecution and believed that people should have freedom to choose their religion.2

The Baptists and their advocacy of religious tolerance played an important role in the Protestant Reformation and establishment of liberty of conscience.


The Methodist movement originated with John Wesley (1703-1791) in England in the 1700s.1 Wesley was an Anglican priest who founded the “Holy Club” at Oxford University with his brother Charles and George Whitefield. They focused on studying the Bible, living a holy life, helping the poor, and reforming the Church of England.2

Wesley later went to the new colony of Georgia in America as a missionary. On his return to England in 1738, he experienced a religious conversion at a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate Street. This led him to preach in the open air to those disconnected from the church. His powerful sermons and teachings led to the rise of Methodism within the Church of England.

After Wesley’s death, the Methodist movement formally broke away from the Anglican Church to form the Methodist Church. It spread rapidly in America in the early 19th century during the Second Great Awakening revivalist movement. Today, the United Methodist Church has about 13 million members worldwide.


The Presbyterian Church traces its origins back to the Scottish Presbyterian Church, which has roots in the 16th century Protestant Reformation led by John Calvin. The Calvinist theological system emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and the necessity of grace through faith in Christ. John Knox, a Scottish minister and theologian who studied under Calvin in Geneva, was a pivotal early leader in the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in the 1560s (History of the Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian church government follows a representational structure where elected church officials, called elders, make decisions in local congregations and regional groups. In contrast to the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church led by the Pope and bishops, Presbyterians adhere to a bottom-up governance with leadership at the congregational level (A Brief History of Presbyterianism. Presbyterian theology and church structure took root in Scotland and spread to England, Northern Ireland and other parts of the world over the following centuries.


In summary, several major Christian churches broke away from the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The Anglican Church formed in England under King Henry VIII. The Calvinists and Presbyterians embraced the theological teachings of John Calvin and established their churches based on his principles. The Anabaptists formed their own congregations that rejected infant baptism. The Puritans wanted to purify the Anglican church and eventually separated to form their own congregations. The Methodists and Baptists also emerged as distinct denominations during this time period. While these groups differed on certain doctrines and practices, they all rejected the authority of the Pope and sought to reform the Catholic Church. The effects of the Reformation continue to shape Christianity today.

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