The Protestant Reformation (better: Evangelical Reformation) was not the natural consequence of a growing social movement. It was not merely the religious side of the Renaissance, though it most certainly was a true "re-birth" of Europe's understanding of Christianity by going back to the source (ad fontes). It was radical, unexpected, and quite contrary to all other attempts at reform. It truly was not the work of human invention but the evidence of divine intervention. God was breaking in to change the world through a massive orchestration of international scale. The unanticipated means of change was the divine bombshell on the landscape of a man-centered world.
Sixteenth century Europe was not looking for a change of center; moral disinfection, religious sanitization, cultural beautification, and political reorganization more closely describes the rising pulse of popular interest. The general pruning of acknowledged abuses, starting in the Church, sufficiently contented those most interested in reform.
Some argue that there were actually many “reformations” leading up to and constituting what we are here calling the Reformation. There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, this is truly an unfortunate misinterpretation. Moral reforms always come and go; they have no staying power. It is absolutely preposterous to imagine that a single German monk could stand against, indeed overthrow, the inertia of a thousand-year strong political-cultural-religious system by advocating what the various other “reformations” were promoting. We commemorate and celebrate the Reformation because it, unlike any other, demonstrated the transformative power of divine truth taking hold of the hearts of men. It was a radical shift in the center of their worldview. See especially Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide.
Only ideas have the power to reorient one’s entire outlook on life, to transform aims and ambitions. Moral reform, disinfection, and the like have not the power to change the world—only divine truth unleashed upon the hearts of mortal men can account for the Reformation. On the other hand, in as much as there were largely independent pockets of reformation born out of a fresh read of God’s Word, we can rejoice in acknowledging that no single man or group of people can receive the glory for what was truly God’s work. Though Martin Luther was raised up by God as one of His key instruments, the Reformation is owing to God alone. It was God’s Word that caused reform everywhere; not Luther’s philosophies. It was God’s ideas echoed by Luther that sparked the forest fire of transformative reform.
From a human perspective the whole of the Reformation was unorchestrated—it was truly a work of God and not man, but it was just as truly for both God and man. The Gospel’s light after darkness, brought glory to God and joy to mankind (see After Darkness Light).