The Protestant Reformation is likely one of the most misunderstood events in the history of the church, even to most Protestants. The views of most can be summed up either by “The Reformation was a mistake” or “The Reformation was great, but other than something about ‘Faith Alone’ I don’t know about the doctrines that were questioned”. This is a great error and has led to many ills that have plagued Protestant churches in the past century and a half. No doubt my reader may find that statement a great over statement, but by briefly stating what the Reformation was and what it was not, perhaps my assertion will not seem so outlandish.
Let us start by stating what the Reformation was not. A common but grossly false view can be summed up in this way; after the Apostles, the church fell into an ever increasing period of paganism and superstition, until God couldn’t stand it any longer so he raised up Martin Luther to fix things. This is grossly inaccurate to say the least.
Church history leading up to the Reformation can be stated better in this way; after the Apostles sound doctrine did take something of a big nosedive, which isn’t surprising considering the constant warnings in the writings of the New Testament about false doctrine and false teachers existing in various New Testament churches. However, even while error was introduced at various times and a number developed to nauseating obvious levels; it is equally as valid to state that very sound and evangelical doctrine was developed leading up to the Reformation. So by the 1500s when the Reformers (the leaders of the Reformation [examples: Martin Luther, John Calvin]) came on the scene their purpose was not to start from scratch. It was rather to affirm the truth that had been passed down and purify the church of the errors that had obscured the truth of the Gospel.
From here it is that we can see what the principle of “Scripture Alone” means, not that we cast out all tradition that has been handed down by the church, but rather we affirm what is true, happily, and cast out the false, knowing men can err. One can see then how easily the Reformers, once underway with the task, began drawing up confessions and formulations of doctrine, that to the best of their ability was to match that taught by Scripture as opposed to that taught by Rome. By this principle of subjecting all practice, worship, and doctrine of the church to the authority of the Bible; this led to the formulations of the other great principles of the Reformation, that were simply found in the pages of Scripture; in particular that great doctrine that salvation is found through faith alone, through grace alone, through Christ alone for the glory of God alone.