The Reformation Begins – an Excerpt from The Church

The following is an excerpt from Gerald Bray’s The Church.


No event has ever shaken the church as profoundly as the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. There had been schisms before, such as that of the Donatists, but they had been peripheral. There had been splits caused by extraneous factors, such as the isolation of the Celtic churches after the fall of the Roman Empire, but they had been healed fairly easily once contact was restored. There had even been breakaway movements caused by theological disagreements, such as that of the monophysites of Egypt and Syria and the Nestorians, but they did not touch on the fundamental character of the church itself.

Cover ArtHowever much they disagreed with one another, all sides in these disputes claimed an episcopal succession that they could trace back to the apostles, and they organized their ministry and worship in much the same way. The Donatists and the Celtic church have now disappeared, but the non-Chalcedonian churches still survive and are regarded with sympathy by the Eastern Orthodox, who recognize the fundamental similarities between them—similarities that they do not share with either the Roman Catholics or the Protestants of the Western tradition. It was the Reformation that challenged this common pattern and forced the Christian world, or at least its Western half, to think through its principles of ecclesiology for the first time.

In the early sixteenth century there were still a few dissenting groups from earlier times, but they were localized and not very influential. Some Lollards survived in England but were so obscure that almost nothing is known about them, and there were Waldensians in the Alps, survivors of a medieval dissident movement originally led by Peter Waldo (1140?–1218?). The Hussite movement in Bohemia was far more influential than either of these, but it too was a regional phenomenon that did not spread beyond its Czech-speaking homeland. The pope did not lose much sleep over them, nor did he worry unduly about the Eastern churches, most of which were under Islamic rule or else so remote (in Russia and Ethiopia, for example) that they hardly mattered from a Western perspective.

Protestantism was something else altogether. The surviving Lollards, Hussites, and Waldensians quickly aligned with it—not the other way round—and it was to leave an indelible mark on the Christian world. In the course of a single generation, from about 1520 to about 1560, Western Christendom was torn in two and a new kind of Christianity came into being.

©2016 by Gerald Bray. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


For more information on The Church, click here.

New Release: The Church

Cover ArtRenowned evangelical theologian Gerald Bray provides a clear and coherent account of the church in biblical, historical, and theological perspective. He tells the story of the church in its many manifestations through time, starting with its appearance in the New Testament, moving through centuries of persecution and triumph, and discussing how and why the ancient church broke up at the Reformation.

Along the way, Bray looks at the four classic marks of the church—its oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity—and illustrates how each of these marks has been understood by different Christian traditions. The book concludes with a look at the ecumenical climate of today and suggests ways that the four characteristics of the church can and should be manifested in our present global context.


“Solid, shrewd, and most thorough, this superlative survey of God’s people on earth past and present will be a boon not only for seminarians but also for many more of us besides. It is a truly outstanding performance.”—J. I. Packer, Regent College

“Here is a fresh overview of the church and its history, theology, and current challenges in today’s world. Gerald Bray is an ordained evangelical Anglican, but he writes with such great sympathy and wisdom that this telling of the church’s story will edify the Lord’s people everywhere.”—Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School

“Anyone who wonders whether ecclesiology matters—or even where it came from, in all its present diversity—should read this book.”—John L. Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Comprehensive in scope, ecumenical in tone, orthodox in confession, and insightful from beginning to end….I suspect it is destined to become the go-to classic for an overview of Protestant ecclesiology.”—Bryan Litfin, Moody Bible Institute

“I know of almost no one else who could write a book like this. Gerald Bray’s unique global-mindedness and catholic awareness are put on full display in this analysis of the development of the church throughout the ages and across the continents.”—Michael Allen, Reformed Theological Seminary


Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne) is research professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama; distinguished professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary; and director of research at Latimer Trust, Oak Hill College, London. A prolific author, he has written many books, including God Is Love, God Has Spoken, The Doctrine of God, and Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. Bray is a minister in the Church of England and serves as editor of the Anglican journal Churchman.

For more information on The Church, click here.

BA Books & Authors on the Web – February 12, 2016

Cover ArtAt Transformed, Tim Harmon reviewed Robert Sherman’s Covenant, Community, and the Spirit.

“On the whole, Covenant, Community, and the Spirit is a satisfying exploration of and meditation on the essence and ends of the Church, approached through the lens of pneumatology, and positioned within the broader economy of God’s redemptive grace. It will challenge students and laypeople, refresh pastors, and edify all. If it sounds like I’m gushing – well it’s because I am.”

Luther and the Stories of God, by Robert Kolb, was reviewed at Books at a Glance.

Gerald Bray’s forthcoming The Church: A Theological and Historical Account was one of Christianity Today’s 7 New Theology Books You Should Read This Year.