The Lasting Religious Impact
of the German Reformation
Christina Kelley
for the glory of God

Though Germany’s Reformation had significant political and economic implications, its most lasting impact was religious.

I.  The German Reformation marks the beginning of personal  Bible study.
         A.  Luther was the first to bring personal Bible study  to the life of the common man.
         B.  Luther upheld the Bible as the supreme authority  for the Christian.
         C.  The study of the Bible made faith personal.

 II.  The German Reformation marks the beginning of  Christian education.
         A.  The desire to read the German Bible increased  the urgency for education.
         B.  The purpose of Christian education was to educate students to read and study the Bible.
         C.  Luther placed high importance on Christian  education.
         D.  Wherever the Reformation spread, Christian education also spread.

 III.  The German Reformation marks the beginning of  Protestant churches.
         A.  Luther and his followers formed the Protestant Church.
    1.  Luther established the basic doctrines of  Protestantism.
             2.  Luther established the basic format of  Protestant church services.
         B.  German Protestant thought spread throughout the world.

The Lasting Religious Impact
of the German Reformation

    A young man’s search for spiritual truth sparked a Reformation that encompassed the globe.  When Martin Luther was a young German monk, he realized that his good works could not earn his salvation.  Searching the Scriptures in 1515, Martin Luther discovered the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.  Later recounting his conversion, Luther said, "Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning."1  In 1517, Luther made his personal convictions public by nailing the Ninety-five Thesis to the door of the church at Wittenberg to protest the selling of indulgences.  In spite of continued opposition, Luther stood firmly for the truth he had found in God’s Word.  Luther’s stand for truth began the Protestant Reformation, a turning point in history.  Many modern historians downplay the religious importance of the German Reformation by focusing on the political and economic changes of the era.  As some historians say, the Reformation in Germany did arouse pride in the German heritage,  resulting in a desire to stop the Holy Roman Empire’s political control over the German states. 2  Political reform, however, was not the thrust of the Reformation.  The Protestant idea that any type of work could be done for God’s glory influenced economics by causing people to work harder.  According to Albert Hyma, an authority on the Reformation, historians place too large of an emphasis on the political and economic aspects of the Reformation.  Followers of the Reformation did not risk their lives for political or economic reasons; their inspiration was religious.  The leaders of the Reformation across Europe focused on religion.3  Though Germany’s Reformation had significant political and economic implications, its most lasting impact was religious.

    One of the first results of the Protestant Reformation in Germany was the emphasis on personal Bible study; This movement began among scholars during the NorthernRenaissance in Germany when Philip Melanchthon and Johann Reuchiln emphasized theneed to study the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew languages.  However, MartinLuther was the first to bring personal Bible study to the life of the common man.  BecauseLuther had found the true way of salvation by studying the Bible, he wanted all people tohave the same opportunity.  At that time, the people had to believe what the Catholic Church taught about the content and doctrine of the Bible, because the Bible was not inthe German language.  During his time of hiding after the Diet of Worms, Lutherpainstakingly translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German.  He published histranslation of the New Testament in 1522, and the complete Bible in 1534.  Once theGerman people had the Bible in their own language, Luther desired that all Christianswould study the Bible on their own, no longer depending only on the Church’sinterpretation.  Believing that "it belongs to each and every Christian to know and judge ofdoctrine," Luther upheld the Bible as the supreme authority for the Christian rather thanthe Church.4  Because he believed that people "who, against God’s Word, boast of thechurch’s authority, are mere idiots," Luther encouraged believers to study the Bible forthemselves.5  As people began to read and study God’s Word in their own language, theirChristian faith became personal and their hearts were inspired to participate in theReformation.  Mission organizations today which translate the Bible for people groupsaround the world to read and study follow the example of Martin Luther and otherReformation leaders.  Today’s emphasis on personal Bible study began in Germany duringthe Protestant Reformation.

    The availability of the German Bible necessitated the second great religious impactof the German Reformation: Christian education.  The purpose of Christian educationduring the Protestant Reformation was to educate students to read and understand theBible.  Throughout the Middle Ages, however, the Catholic Church controlled formaleducation in Europe.  According to Dr. David Loden, a professor in the Department ofEducation at Pensacola Christian College, true Christian education began during theReformation when the Bible became accessible to the common man.6  Desiring that allknowledge be learned from a Christian world view, Philip Melanchthon founded the firstProtestant schools in Germany.  Luther knew that the Reformation could not spreadwithout Christian education.  He said, “The Scripture cannot be understood without thelanguages, and the languages can be learned only in school.  If parents cannot spare theirchildren for a full day, let them send them for a part.  I would wager that in half ofGermany there are not over four thousand pupils in school.  I would like to know wherewe are going to get pastors and teachers three years from now."7  In 1524, Luther wrotea tract entitled To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany that They Establish andMaintain Christian Schools.8  Clearly, Luther felt that Christian education was important. Wherever the Reformation spread, Christian education spread as well.  In Geneva,Switzerland, John Calvin, the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, founded theAcademy of Geneva, where Christian education took hold.  Because Calvin realized thatthe spreading of the Reformation required organized Christian education, he made it hisgoal to put a school in every church.9  The worldwide Christian school movement oftoday can trace its roots back to the German Reformation, for it was through theReformation that Christian education was established.

    The third great religious impact of the German Reformation was the establishmentof the Protestant Church.  Though Luther posted his Ninety-five Thesis in 1517 only toprotest the unbiblical practices in the Church, he and his followers soon found it necessaryto break with the Catholic Church and form the Protestant Church.  In contrast toCatholicism, Protestantism put the emphasis on the Bible as supreme authority for thechurch.  Martin Luther helped to turn the focus of the church toward Christ as Savior andthe Word of God as the highest authority.  Protestants, as Luther said, realize that “thechurch does not make the Word, but it comes into being from the Word."10  Luther andthe other Protestant leaders of the Reformation established the basic doctrines of Protestantism.  Realizing that the newly established Protestant churches needed to teachdoctrine, Luther created literature and music for their services.  Besides translating the Bible into German, Luther wrote new catechisms based on the Word of God and ahymnbook to encourage congregations to sing together.  Luther’s Protestant church services placed more importance on sermons than on the liturgy.  The format of today’sProtestant churches began during the German Reformation.

    German Protestant thought spread throughout the world, impacting the lives ofother great reformers, including Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox.  UlrichZwingli, the leader of the Reformation in German Switzerland, was inspired to action afterlistening to Martin Luther.  Because he agreed with Luther, Zwingli handed out Luther’stracts which helped begin the Reformation in Switzerland.  Ronald H. Bainton, author ofseveral books about the Reformation, says that Lutherans, Anabaptists, Baptists,Mennonites, Quakers, and Congregationalists of today can trace their roots to theProtestant Reformation.11  Protestantism, which began in Reformation Germany, hasspread throughout the world, influencing the spiritual lives of millions of people.

    Though some would say that the Reformation’s political and economic results arethe greatest, it is clear that the most lasting impact is religious.  In his History of theReformation in the Sixteenth Century, historian J. H. Merle d’ Aubigné summarizes theimpact of the Reformation in this way: "Those heavenly powers which had lain dormant inthe church since the first ages of Christianity, awoke from their slumber in the sixteenthcentury, and this awakening called the modern times into existence.  The church wascreated anew."12  Because it was the beginning of personal Bible study, Christianeducation, and Protestant churches, the German Reformation’s greatest impact has beenreligious.


 1. Ronald H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Festival Books, 1978), 49-50.
 2. John P. McKay, Bennet D. Hill, and John Buckler, A History of Western Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995), 455.
 3. Albert Hyma, Renaissance to Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eeerdman’s Publishing Co., 1951), 572-573.
 4. George Thompson and Jerry Combee, World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1997), 249.
 5. Beka Horton, Revelation: Church History and Things to Come (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1993), 43.
 6. David Loden, Philosophy of Christian Education Class Lecture, Pensacola Christian College, Fall 1998.
 7. Bainton, 262.
 8. Thompson and Combee, 251.
 9. Loden.
 10. Timothy George, “Why We Still Need Luther,” Christianity Today, 28 October 1996, 13.
 11. Ronald H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), 78.
 12. Thompson and Combee, 242.


Bainton, Ronald H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.  Nashville: Festival Books, 1978.

Bainton, Ronald H. The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.

George, Timothy. “Why We Still Need Luther.” Christianity  Today, 28 October 1996, 13.

Horton, Beka. Revelation: Church History and Things to Come.  Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1993.

Hyma, Albert. Renaissance to Reformation. Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1951.

Loden, David. “The History of Education from a Christian  Perspective.” Class lecture. Pensacola Christian College.  Fall 1998. Pensacola, FL.

McKay, John P., Bennet D. Hill, and John Buckler. A History  of Western Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995.

Thompson, George, and Jerry Combee. World History and Cultures  in Christian Perspective. Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book, 1997.

Martin Luther's 95 Thesis    |    HOME