It's been said that when the Catholic church was in need of reform they threw out the furniture but kept the church, but that Protestant reform was like throwing out the church but keeping the furniture. If that hints that I feel about as positively about the Protestants as I do about the Catholics then you would be right.
While there had been other 'attempts', the big opener for Christian Reform was Martin Luther. An advocate for church reform in the sixteenth century, he was excommunicated from the church for his attempts to spread his '95 Theses'. I won't go into all of them, but here's the basic two:First, the Catholics claimed you could only be saved through 'faith and works'. That is not only did you have to believe Christ was your Messiah, but that you also had to contribute to the Church welfare. This meant by either donating your labor or by tithing (a vicarious donation of labor.) Luther believed that salvation could be acquired by 'faith alone' and that 'works' were not required. I guess his modern followers forgot that bit because they still pass the collection plate in 'reformed' churches.
Secondly, he had a big thing against 'indulgences'. An Indulgence was where the Catholics sold you a bit of paper forgiving you for a sin that you did not want to burn in purgatory for. Oddly enough, the Catholic cannon has done away with purgatory and indulgences, so between that and the last paragraph you would think that Lutherans and Catholics would have patched things up...but no.In my holier-than-him opinion I feel that Luther was actually a bottom-feeding monk who was aiming to make a name for himself. Why? Because after he had acquired some power it just so happened that there was a peasant revolt going on at the same time. Instead of siding with 'fellow protesters' or trying to smooth things over as a 'good Christian leader' might, he sided with the nobility in crushing the peasants. Why? Because he could only continue his bid for religious power with the aid of the nobles, and nobles and royals liked the idea of not having to bow to the Pope.
Next was John Calvin who found another 'loophole' in the 'word of God'. He figured out that if God (meaning YHWH) was...
1) Omniscient (one of YHWH's attributed powers), and
2)Omnipotent (another trick he can do)
...Then there was a bit of a problem. That meant that the god we all know and worship had not only made each and every man or woman good or evil HIMSELF, but in addition to that he already KNEW if you were going to be good or evil at the beginning of time. That's right! God Himself already figured out you were going to heaven or hell either 6000 years ago (if you're a fundamentalist) or 13 billion years ago (if you're a normal person.)
Which, as far as I'm concerned, is also a load. I feel that if you draw that out to it's inevitable conclusion then it means that there can be no faith as YHWH himself eliminated it. It means we're all just 'going through the motions' until our civilization ends. If I have to have ANY belief at all, I'd prefer to believe we have more influence over our destinies than this.
But just like a Constitutional Amendment, those early reformers opened up the floodgates for others. Some were quite reasonable like the Quakers (tho took 'faith alone' to a new level and claimed 'why even have priests or pastors when we can read the Word of God for ourselves?') but others were self-defeating (like the Shakers who went extinct because of mandatory celibacy for every parishioner) or weird like the Barkers (who, when the faith of the lord welled up within them, would bray like dogs.) With other modern cults like Snake Handlers and Branch Davidians, it's clear that most reforms have not really been about improving the quality of religion at all.
So then what is it about? Just like tax laws, why bother reforming them if you're not going to make them better? Well, to answer that all you have to do is ask 'who is profiting from the transaction?'
There are a whole lot of people on this planet that need a whole lot of things. Everything from fresh water and food to just a little bit of reassurance. Religion SHOULD aid in providing for those needs. People that need counsel in times of trouble. People that need guidance to help them find a better way. People that need money to keep their heat from being turned off. Now I'm not saying that any one church should be responsible for all of this. That's ridiculous extrapolation. But shouldn't a church produce more profit for the society it serves than for the church leaders?
That's not a bad idea. Next time I feel like joining an organized religion I will march into their office and ask to see their balance sheets so that I can find out where all of their money is going. I wonder if they will let me see so that I know I'm supporting the right cause. Or do you think they will just ask me to take it on faith?