The Protestant fathers were able to protest against institutional Christian corruption, reform and improve Christianity, and publish the scriptures to allow the common man to read the words of Christ, prophets, and apostles for the first time. However, what they couldn’t achieve was the restoration of what had been lost. Between the close of the New Testament and the 16th century, Christianity had not merely declined; it had perished. It had become an institutionalized belief system with fixed forms of conducting that system. Professional clergy supported by the tithes and offerings of the believers was universally accepted before and after the Reformation. The church owned property and exercised control, with no separation between Christianity’s right to preach morality and the right to enforce morality. The Protestant Reformation fathers assumed that this was entirely proper.
What changed was not persecution and abuse, only the identity of the denomination changed. While Catholic abuses such as burnings, killings, and rule ended in areas controlled by newly rebelling denominations, in their place, Lutheran abuses of burnings, killings, and rule assumed that prerogative. The new sects didn’t know how to behave any better than the Catholics they rejected.
During the Peasant Rebellion, Martin Luther concluded that the peasants would not listen and advocated for violent suppression. Zwingli, as well as John Calvin, held similar dispositions. Calvin wanted Michael Servetus executed for his beliefs, advocating for beheading rather than burning. John Knox believed in killing Catholics and believed religious freedom was exclusive to those who believed as he did.
In short, reform was unable to escape the low and unchristian condition the reformers inherited from their Catholic predecessors. Generations following the Reformation were needed before benign Christian thought could begin to change Christianity to be more Christian. Reforming is not the same as restoring, and without Christ’s direct involvement, there is no way to recover what was lost.
Protestant reformer John Wesley reflected on one of the results of losing original Christianity. In his sermon “The More Excellent Way,” he explained that the decline of spiritual gifts following Constantine was due to the love of many, almost all Christians, waxing cold. Christians had no more of the spirit of Christ than the other heathens, and this decline led to the lack of extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost. Once Christianity died, it needed to be reborn, and for that, something more than earnest desire was needed; it required God’s direct involvement.