Who Are the Reformers?
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Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Luther is credited as the founder of the German Reformation. Luther's study of the writings of the Apostle Paul and Augustine of Hippo led him to the belief that men and women could only be justified by the grace of God, through faith rather than through good works or religious observances. Luther's writings include On Christian Liberty (1519), To the Christian Nobility (1520), The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), and On the Bondage of the Will (1525). In his Small Catechism (1529), Luther commented briefly in question and answer form on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. The Small Catechism explains the theology of the Lutheran Reformation in simple yet colorful language.
Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), Lutheran
Melanchthon shared a lifelong friendship with Luther. Having arrived at Wittenberg with a strong humanist background, he was won to the Reformation by Luther, and became the reformer's leading associate. It was Melanchthon who urged Luther to translate the Bible into the German of his day for the common people. In Wittenberg, Luther had little time to systematize the various doctrines of evangelical theology, so in 1521 Melanchthon took on this task, writing the first systematic summary titled Loci Communes. Based on several already completed writings and on the negotiations of Augsburg, Melanchthon also wrote the first great confession of the Reformation, the Augsburg Confession (1530). Lutheran pastors to this day are ordained with this confession.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Reformed
Calvin was the French reformer best known for his work in Geneva and his seminal work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). Calvin's teachings shaped the beliefs of most Reformed churches. Calvin had a great commitment to the absolute sovereignty and holiness of God. Because of this, he is often associated with the doctrines of predestination and election, but it should be noted that he differed very little with the other magisterial reformers regarding these difficult doctrines. The five points of Calvinism are a reflection of the thinking of the great reformer, but were actually a product of the Synod of Dort, which issued its judgments in response to five specific objections that arose after Calvin's time.
In 1541, Calvin began to reform the institutional church in Geneva. He established four categories of offices: Doctors held an office of theological scholarship and teaching for the edification of the people and the training of other ministers; Pastors were to preach, to administer the sacraments, and to exercise pastoral discipline, teaching and admonishing the people; Deacons oversaw institutional charity, including hospitals and physical welfare; and Elders were twelve laymen whose task was to oversee the spiritual well-being of the church.
Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), Reformed
After the death of Ulrich Zwingli in 1531, Bullinger became pastor of the principal church in Zürich and a leader of the Reformed party in Switzerland. He played an important part in compiling the First Helvetic Confession (1536), a creed based largely on Zwingli's theological views as distinct from Lutheran doctrine. In 1549, the Consensus Tigurinus, drawn up by Bullinger and Calvin, marked the departure of Swiss theology from Zwinglian toward a more Calvinist theory. His later views were embodied in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), which was accepted in Switzerland, France, Scotland, and Hungary and became one of the most generally accepted confessions of the Reformed churches.
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Anglican
In 1533, Cranmer was chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury. With Thomas Cromwell, he supported the translation of the Bible into English. In 1545, he wrote a litany that is still used in the church. Under the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer was allowed to make the doctrinal changes he thought necessary to the church. He is credited with writing and compiling the first two Books of Common Prayer (1549, 1552), assisted by the Strasbourg Reformed leader Martin Bucer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles, which established the basic structure of Anglican liturgy for centuries.
Hugh Latimer (c. 1485-1555), Anglican
Hugh Latimer was Bishop of Worcester in the time of King Henry, but resigned in protest against the King's refusal to allow the Protestant reforms that Latimer desired. When Mary came to the throne, he was arrested, tried for heresy, and burned together with his friend Nicholas Ridley. His last words at the stake are well known: "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out." In October 1555, he was burned at the stake. The deaths of Hugh Latimer, Nicolas Ridley, and later Thomas Cranmer are now known as the Oxford Martyrs.
John Knox (c. 1513-1572), Reformed
John Knox was a Scottish teacher who embraced the principles of the continental Reformation. As chaplain to Edward VI he was involved in the revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. After a period in exile following the accession of Mary he returned to Scotland, where he pioneered changes along Reformation principles. He was primarily responsible for the First Book of Discipline and the Book of Common Order, which were adopted by the newly formed Church of Scotland.