Was Martin Luther the only leader of the Protestant Reformation? Who were some others who were actively involved in the initial days of God’s great movement? I direct your attention all too briefly to two: Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin.
Zwingli was born seven weeks after Luther in early 1484. He lived in Switzerland and was converted to the gospel. He was called to the priesthood but when he became the pastor of a church in Zurich on January 1, 1519, he abandoned the traditional methods of worship, preached from the Gospel of Matthew and began to teach the Word of God systematically.
While he encouraged his congregation to read Luther’s books, he refused to be called a Lutheran. He looked to the Scriptures for his understanding of the gospel, and not to Luther.
The primary difference between Luther and Zwingli was over the Lord’ Supper. Luther initially believed the elements became the actual body and blood of Christ, but adjusted to eventually say the body and blood were present, while Zwingli, like Calvin, believed the bread and wine only represented the body and blood of Christ.
The two actually met, in Marburg, Germany just north of Frankfort. They never did come to an agreement over the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Luther did not shake Zwingli’s hand upon leaving their meeting because he did not believe Zwingli to be a Christian because of not only his view on Communion, but also because Zwingli taught to take up arms against Catholics.
John Calvin was born in northern France in 1509. He was 26 years younger than his two peers. Calvin and Luther never met. Calvin was converted to the gospel, perhaps in some measure through the influence of Luther’s writings on the gospel. Calvin would call Luther his “most respected father.” Calvin’s lasting importance would undoubtedly be his Institutes of the Christian Religion and his Five Doctrines of Grace.
Like Luther, Zwingli denounced papal authority and preached justification by faith alone. He denied the merits of the saints and indulgences. He, like John Calvin, believed in predestination and urged there be only two church sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli would eventually publish Sixty-Seven Articles against the Roman Catholic Church.
For Luther, the primary doctrine to defend was justification by faith. It was the article, he said, by which the church stands of falls. Luther stressed the wonder of redemption while Calvin stressed the sovereignty of God in salvation.
Luther believed all methods of worship could be employed, unless strictly forbidden by Scripture. Calvin and Zwingli worshipped according to only that which was expressly taught in Scripture. Luther used instruments in worship, Zwingli and Calvin did not.
Luther still held, interestingly enough, that infant baptism was the entry point into the Christian Life. Lutheran churches hold to this doctrine today. Zwingli and Calvin believed that infant baptism was a sign of “future faith” and that God was making a covenant with the parents for their child’s eventual salvation.
They all agreed on the five solas of the Reformation.
There is no way we can with great depth and detail chronicle the lives of Zwingli and Calvin in this brief blog. Let me say that all three Reformers were human beings just like you and me. They possessed great spiritual strength from God, but they were also men who possessed feet of clay; they weren’t perfect. Their greatest legacy I think would be their perspective that people should seek to follow God and His Word, and no human beings such as themselves.
While we respect these men, we do not follow these men. We follow Christ, as they most certainly did.
Soli deo Gloria!