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The Reformation Part 13: The Radical Reformation

Radical Reformation

The Reformation Part 13: The Radical Reformation

By the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church relied on a forged Medieval document to claim supreme authority over all churches and all temporal powers.

The Donation of Constantine was a document supposedly given by the Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester I in the 4th century, granting the pope (therefore the Roman Church) dominion over all Italy, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Alexandria.

A Short Quote From The Forgery
“We attribute to the See of Peter all the dignity, all the glory, all the authority of the imperial power. Furthermore, we give to Sylvester and to his successors our palace of the Lateran, which is incontestably the finest palace on the earth; we give him our crown, our miter, our diadem, and all our imperial vestments; we transfer to him the imperial dignity. We bestow on the holy Pontiff in the free gift the city of Rome, and all the western cities of Italy. To cede precedence to him, we divest ourselves of our authority over all those provinces, and we withdraw from Rome, transferring the seat of our empire to Byzantium; inasmuch as it is not proper that an earthly emperor should preserve the least authority, where God hath established the head of his religion.”

The document also claims that Constantine granted supreme control to the papacy over all clergy.  Although the document was exposed in the 15th century as a Roman Catholic forgery, the net effect of the document was the establishment of a church and state synthesis through which the papacy attempted to control not only the souls of people but also the wealth and power of the state.  The sword of the state was used against any and all who challenged the pope’s religious authority, doctrine or practices.  Thus, all attempts at reform were crushed by Constantine’s sword in the name of Christ.

In sharp contrast to Rome, the Anabaptists emphasized the separation of church and state as well as the importance of individual soul liberty in matters of conscience.

The Anabaptists (“to baptize again”) were so called because of their rejection of infant baptism and their belief in believer’s baptism. This independent movement was birthed in the reform movement of Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, separated from that movement and soon spread throughout Europe during the time of the Reformation.

While the work of men like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli brought much-needed reform it was the Anabaptists who pushed for even more drastic separation from Catholicism—not just Reformation, but “Radical Reformation.” The Anabaptists differed from the other Reformers over the relationship between church and state.  Most of the Reformers believed that the use of politics and law to enact church and social reform was justified whereas the Anabaptists believed that church and state should be separated and that each individual church was accountable only to Christ and Scripture, not to any human institution. 

The Anabaptist movement’s ideals played a significant role in the establishment of religious liberty in the years that followed.  Although it was the English Baptist movement of the Reformation and not the Anabaptist movement, that was the direct ancestor of modern Baptists, the Anabaptists none-the-less planted the seeds:

Basic Beliefs of Baptists (From the English Reformation influenced by the Anabaptists)
Biblical Authority
Autonomy of the Local Church
Priesthood of all Believers
Two Ordinances
Individual Soul Liberty
Separation of Church and State
Two Offices
Saved Church Membership

Make It Matter

  1. Rely on the Sword of the Spirit to bring revival and not on the Sword of the State!
  2. Deepen your understanding and experience of the Protestant faith by attending the course, The Reformation, offered at both the 8:30 and 10:30 services at Kindred from September 3—December 10.

Leading up to the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 31st, I will be reflecting on key principles taught by the Reformers.  Next week we look at The English Reformation.

 © Dave Doyle