Theodore Beza was to John Calvin what Phillip Melanchthon was to Luther. Beza & Calvin both studied at the same school and under the same teachers notably Wolmar. Shortly after his conversion, Beza fled to Geneva and was welcomed by his former schoolmate. He eventually became a professor of theology in Geneva and even pastored the church there. His knowledge of Greek lead him to produce his own Greek New Testament and an ancient Greek manuscript bares his name. Beza was involved in many famous assemblies including the Colloquy of Mompelgard in 1586 which was intended to bring about the union between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Beza defended the views of the Protestant Reformation in front of some influential parties in that assembly. While there are many who believe that Beza altered Calvin’s views on the doctrines of grace, there is no evidence that Beza held to any different theology than his predecessor.
John Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon in France and was a genius beyond his time. He studied in humanism from an early age until his defection from the church of Rome where he became the most influential theologian in the protestant reformation.
Calvin lived most of his Christian life as a leader and pastor in Geneva even while having been exiled from the city for many years. While he was a mild man with a true pastors heart, Calvin was a strong defenders of the truths of Scripture and wrote many responses to criticisms of the theology of the reformation. Calvin also wrote one of the first systematic theology called “Institutes of the Christian Religion” which is to this day used to study the biblical theology. Along with his famous Institutes, Calvin wrote commentaries on almost every book of the bible as well as a number of sermons that are still being circulated today.
While he has been branded a cruel dictator by some, his life and principles in living out the Christian faith seem to demonstrate a much different perspective on Calvin’s life and theology.
While we cannot draw strict parallels, what Martin Luther was doing in leading people back to the truths of the scriptures and forsaking the traditions of men as their equal, Ulrich Zwingli was doing in Zurich Switzerland. Zwingli became a city chaplain in 1523 There are various opinions at what brought Zwingli to attempt to reform the Suisse church, some believing that the air of reformation had reached Zurich to be embraced by Zwingli while others believing that it was a unique reform flowing from Zwingli’s own convictions. Zwingli was one of the first expositional preachers and after purchasing Erasmus’ NT Greek text spent most of his sermons expounding the truths of the word of God. Zwingli had a tight grip on the moral structure and theology of Zurich. He met with Martin Luther in 1529 in an attempt to unite the movements. There were 15 points of theology that were discussed and all were agreed upon except one which was mainly on the elements of the Lord Supper (especially the bread), the two left the meeting with irreconcilable differences. Zwingli passed away in battle during a siege by Roman Catholics.
For any movement to have a lasting effect in history and continue on strongly in its influence, a great leader needs a worthy successor. Martin Luther had such a bold successor in his associate and colleague at Wittenberg University, Philipp Melanchton.
Melanchton was Luther’s main collaborator in the Protestant Reformation and it could be said that Melanchton was even more affirmed as a scholar than Luther. He was a professor of Greek at Wittenberg and has been credited for composing the Augusberg Confession which was one of the most significant documents of the Protestant Reformation. He continued to lead the Protestant Reformation and He is a leading founder of what is known today as the Lutheran church.
There can be no examination or discussion about the 16th century reformation without first turning to Germany and mentioning the name Martin Luther. Luther can be unquestionably credited with the beginning of this great movement which most agree began with the nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. His confrontation of the abuses of the Roman Catholic church especially on the sales of indulgences was the monumental event in triggering the fire storm that would turn Europe and the whole world upside down. Luther was a professor at Wittenberg University and an ordained monk when he began to address the false teachings of the empire known as the Roman Catholic Church. His desire was to reform the church and after being excommunicated by Pope Leo X on January 3, 1521. Luther was called before scholars, magistrates and emperors to defend his beliefs and his continued belief in Sola Scriptura lead him through all these trials. While Luther’s theology changed over the years, there were some classic works that were penned by the bold reformer that remain useful to us today as sons & daughters of the reformation.
While many this week will be getting dressed up in all sorts of frightful costumes and celebrating Hallow’s Eve, Christians who are Reformed in their understanding of scripture will reflect upon the 497th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
In 1517, Martin Luther, a young German monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg challenging the great religious kingdom of his day in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a time of reflection on the story of those who took the word of God in their hands and brought it’s teachings to the common people. It was a time when God poured out His Spirit and lead men in different locations to rediscover the truths therein. These were men who stood for the principles laid out in scripture even under tremendousl persecution. The Protestant Reformation stands as a monumental time in Christianity to the extent that historian Philip Schaff could write that “next to the introduction of Christianity, it is the greatest event in history” . The spread of this movement reached the far regions of Europe and set the entire modern world into rethinking their faith and their allegiances. It brought about a focus on neglected biblical teaching including the five solas of the reformation.
While anyone today who possesses a bible in their hand has benefited from the Protestant Reformation, the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians have no idea what happened in this historical event or who was involved. Over the next 5 days I will be posting some materials on five of the most significant men who were part of the reformation movement in the 16th century. These will include Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchthon, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and Theodore Beza. Please join me in considering how God was moving in those days.
If anyone would like to get a head start and gain an tremendously full historical understanding of the Reformation, please take the time to listen to Dr. Trueman’s lectures on the Reformation.