Four reasons why Protestants wanted to Reform the Catholic Church—but the Pope refused
Protestantism was a movement sparked by Martin Luther. He was a Roman Catholic priest and theology professor in Germany who wanted reform within the church. He reasoned by nailing his Ninety-five Theses at the door of All Saints’ Church, Wittenberg in 1517.
Defiant to the church’s offer to recant, he burned the papal bull in public. After his excommunication, Luther became the symbol of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.
Collectively, the movement led by other figures like John Calvin, the independent reformation in Switzerland by Huldrych Zwingli, and King Henry’s unintended contribution summarized into four primary reasons to leave Roman Catholicism.
1. The Pope is not the Vicar of Christ
The Roman Catholic church claims the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. This gives the papacy supremacy over all its teaching (Catholic Dogma). However, the Bible refers to the “vicar of Christ” as the Holy Spirit.
- John 14:26 – “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
- John 14:16-18 – “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth
2. The church is built upon Jesus, not St. Peter
According to Catholic tradition, the Apostle Peter founded the church of Rome. He was the rock, making him its first Bishop. Hence, the first Pope starting the unbroken line of succession. (Read interpretation on Matthew 16:18)
The Bishop of Rome is not the Overseer of the church. At best, the Pope is a patriarch. Instead, Peter points us all to the Overseer of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:25). “The church” is built upon Jesus (Petros), not Peter (Petras).
- Paul and Peter started the Church of Rome.
- Linus was Rome’s first Bishop, according to Irenaeus of Lyon.
- Orthodox churches also claim apostolic succession.
- Delegating responsibilities is not the same as apostolic succession.
3. The Bible should be read by ordinary people
The church banned reading or possessing the Latin Vulgate unless you are a cleric. John Wycliffe was first to translate the Bible from Latin into English in 1382, so ordinary people can read the Bible.
Tyndale’s “Reformed Bible” translation
English scholar William Tyndale’s Bible was the first English translation to work directly from Greek, Hebrew texts, older than the Latin Vulgate. The King James Version is about 76 to 83% of Tyndale’s words. He was burned to the stake in 1536, only three copies of his translation survived.
4. Salvation is by faith alone
For medieval Catholicism, membership, and submission to the Pope’s authority are essential to salvation. Today, Catholics deny these claims differently—which is a good thing if done with good intention.
Salvation is not by good works or penance. That is why Luther fought against Indulgence. He opposed the Pope because he had no right to grant indulgences on God’s behalf.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear; salvation is by faith alone—God’s gift to those who believe, John 3:16. All these stemmed from the Papal authority as Vicar of Christ, which is the real heresy.
What is Indulgence? Intended as a reward for piety, good deeds, but eventually sold to fill the coffers. In 1517 Pope Leo X offered indulgences to those who contributed alms towards the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. Indulgences offered to pardon sins committed, but also bestow license for future transgressions as well. [J.H. Merle d’Aubigne]