Month: April 2017

Protestant Profiles #5 Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger (1504 – 1575)

Born: Bremgarten, Switzerland
Role: Monastery headmaster; pastor; theologian; Reformer; successor to Zwingli
Theological emphases: covenant theology; total depravity/original sin; predestination; justification by faith in Christ alone; symbolic baptism & Lord’s Supper
Protested against: unbiblical traditions; icons & relics of saints; ancient heresies & antinomianism; papacy; Catholic sacramentalism; purgatory


Bullinger became intrigued by the fuss over Luther while a university student in Cologne in the opening years of the Reformation. His theological studies of the early church fathers led to an embrace of Protestantism as a more biblically faithful alternative to the kind of medieval scholasticism that prevailed in the educational environments he had studied in.

But while it was Luther and then Melancthon that contributed to Bullinger’s evangelical awakening, it was Zwingli whom he became personally involved with. The two developed a close partnership throughout the 1520s, engaging in reform work and theological disputes  together. When Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531, Bullinger quickly became his successor as the chief Reformer in Zurich (and by extension Swizterland). He was still a relatively young man and remained in this role for almost 45 years.

Similar to the way that Melancthon played a key role in systematising Luther’s theology, Bullinger’s importance to the Protestant Reformation lies in his efforts to produce clear statements of Reformed Christian theology that could be spread throughout Christendom as a precursor to Protestant beliefs being widely understood and embraced by people all over Europe. He was instrumental in drafting the First and Second Helvetic Confessions of Faith, which clearly put forward Reformed doctrines on the gospel, salvation and the church, while rejected Roman Catholic and heretical positions on these issues. The Second Helvetic Confession was an incredibly important document for Reformed Christians in this period and won wide acceptance amongst believers of this theological persuasion in many different countries.

Bullinger was also a prodigious preacher and writer, making his impact felt heavily not only in Zurich but in many other places. His works were highly influential in the development of Reformed Christianity within England and he is known to have corresponded with the key Protestant monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I – along with the English martyr-queen Jane. By the time he preached his final sermon at Pentecost in 1575, he is believed to have delivered more than 7000 pastoral messages in Zurich.

Bullinger did have disagreements with other Protestants during his ministry, including Calvin, Lutherans and Anabaptists – but he is widely regarded as a man who cared about Christian unity and sought after harmony and affection between sincere evangelical believers. He was called by Theodore Beza (featured next week) “the common shepherd of all Christian Churches” and showed great love for and solidarity with a wide range of other Christians.

While he remains relatively unknown to many today, Bullinger stands behind much of the thought and theology that Presbyterians, evangelical Anglicans and many other Reformed and Protestant Christians have come to take for granted. A giant in his lifetime, he deserves to be remembered in this 500th anniversary of the Reformation in which he played a key part.

You can read a more extensive biography here.
Or read the Second Helvetic Confession here.



ANS Lane, “Bullinger, Heinrich” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
“Heinrich Bullinger” wikipedia
“Heinrich Bullinger” in Schaff’s History of the Christian Church 


Protestant Profiles #4: Philipp Melanchthon

Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560)


Born: Bretten, Baden (Germany)
Role: Scholar, Professor, Reformer, Systematic Theologian
Emphases: Justification by faith alone; law/gospel distinction
Protested against: Transubstantiation, veneration of saints, papal and clerical abuses

Having looked at the lives and impact of the “big three” Protestant Reformers, it’s time to consider the role of the men who were their co-workers and successors. Philip Melanchthon was a student, sidekick, successor and systematiser of Martin Luther and his theology and ministry. An academic rising star (renowned humanist scholar Erasmus said of him in 1516, “What acumen of innovation, what purity of language, what mature erudition!”), he became a lecturer at Wittenberg University (the town where Luther ministered and where the Reformation began) at a fairly young age in 1518.

Melanchthon became inseparably associated with Luther (in fact he reportedly said, “I would rather die than be separated from this man!”), holding the same evangelical convictions and concerns for reform and taking on common theological adversaries like John Eck. The publication of his Loci Communes Rerum Theologicum (Common-place Theology) in 1521 was a watershed moment for the Protestant Reformation, as it represented the first attempt at a detailed systematisation of evangelical beliefs.

Melanchthon became substitute-leader of the Reformation in the period Luther spent disguised doing translation work at Wartburg while under the protection of Prince Frederick of Saxony. While Luther did return to Wittenberg and continue his reform work for over 20 years, his imperial outlaw status prevented him from undertaking certain activities and Melanchthon acted as Protestant statesman in his place. This was especially so at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, where Melanchthon led what we would now call a Lutheran delegation to present an evangelical statement of faith to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

The Augsburg Confession was largely the work of Melanchthon himself and attempted to present Lutheran theology in a manner that would stress both the emphases of the Reformation and the areas of agreement between Protestants and Catholics. This confession remains the foundational document for many Lutherans today and its publication at Augsburg has been regarded by some as the beginning of the distinct branch of Christianity called Lutheranism.

When Luther died in 1546, Melanchthon succeeded him as the foremost figure in Reformation Germany, until his own death in 1560. He continued to strive for as much peace as possible between Christians of all stripes, while staying faithful to Protestant principles. He not only faced significant political and religious challenges in relation to Roman Catholicism during this period, but was decried as a sell-out or even a closet-Catholic by some Lutherans who thought he was not strong enough in emphasising Luther’s distinct convictions. Lutherans in this period also struggled with questions of common ground and divergence between them and the emerging Calvinistic Protestants, along with the more established Zwinglian churches.

Melanchthon continued to develop Lutheran theology and the impact of his writings extends to most other branches of evangelical Christianity, as later theologians and assemblies looked back on his key works. He has been called “Theologian of the Reformation” (perhaps a surprise after seeing the prominence of Calvin last week) and “The Preceptor (Instructor) of Germany” and deserves to be recognised alongside the more famous trio as a champion of early Protestantism and biblical principles.

You can read a more detailed biography of his life here.
Or read the Augsburg Confession here.

“Melanchthon” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
“Philipp Melanchthon” Wikipedia>melanchthon

Protestant Profiles #3: Jean Calvin

Jean Calvin (1509 – 1564)


Born: Noyon, Picardy (France)
Role: Author, theologian, lecturer, pastor, Reformer
Protested against: Catholic sacramentalism, papacy
Emphases: glory and sovereignty of God; salvation by grace, through faith in Christ alone; lectio continua preaching; predestination; Reformed church governance and discipline


Jean Calvin was significantly younger than Luther and Zwingli, being born a mere 8 years before the nailing of the 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door. Whereas it fell to the older Reformers to instigate and persistently drive reform movements which spread from Germany and Switzerland to other parts of Europe and the world – Calvin’s role was different. The French Reformer, who spent most of his ministry in Swiss Geneva, was the great systematiser of Reformed theology and helped consolidate the gains and emphases of the Protestant Reformation through his writing and preaching.

After years of education in preparation for either an ecclesiastical or legal career, Calvin became increasingly drawn into the Protestant movement and dedicated himself to propagating its theology. He had a conversion experience of some sort around the age of twenty (1529) and by 1533-1534 he was already working on the first edition of what became his theological masterpiece Institutes of the Christian Religion.

While he had hoped to live in relative reclusion and affect church and society through his writing ministry, this plan was interrupted by those that others had for him. William Farel twisted Calvin’s arm to remain in Geneva – a small Swiss city he was merely passing through on his way elsewhere – in order to be involved in the frontline of reform, rather than writing from a distance. Calvin took on pastoral duties in the city and worked with Farel to reform the faith and worship of the Genevan Christians, through preaching, Bible teaching and other Word-based ministries. Calvin modelled a kind of verse-by-verse preaching of the Bible, commonly known as lectio continua in his church ministry.

Calvin’s ministry in Geneva was anything but quiet and peaceful. He and Farel endured expulsion by the city council over a controversy involving the Lord’s Supper, which saw Calvin station himself elsewhere for an extended period of time, until the Genevans eventually pleaded with him to return. As part of the conditions of his return, Calvin was able to enact further reform in areas that were previously hindered by resistance. Nevertheless, he still faced a degree of hostility from certain factions within the city’s power structure for a number of years, until eventually his allies gained a certain level of dominance in civic affairs.

Calvin is not personally responsible for the execution of the heretic Michael Servetus, as is commonly alleged (this lies with the Genevan civil authorities), though he did testify against him during his trial for heresy. Calvin accepted the verdict against Servetus, but pled first with Servetus to recant his heretical views and then with the Genevan authorities to employ a more humane method of execution than burning at the stake. That his request was denied is proof enough that he was not the person calling the shots with respect to the administration of justice at Geneva during this period.

Calvin is best known for his articulation of a variety of Christian soteriology (doctrine of salvation) known as “Calvinism.” This system – which emphasises God’s role in the election and salvation of Christians, rather than notions of human free-will and human contributions to their own salvation – has found a home in numerous branches of Protestant Christianity: especially in Scottish Presbyterianism and Dutch Reformed Christianity, but also in sections of Anglicanism, Congregationalism and Baptist churches. Presbyterian and Reformed churches typically institutionalised many other theological and practical emphases of Calvin, such as his ideas on baptism, church structure and discipline and interpretation of biblical Law and covenants.

While Calvin’s particular views on predestination, election and the extent of Christ’s atonement have made him far less popular and celebrated than Luther amongst some sections of Protestant and evangelical Christianity, more 21st Century Protestants are indebted to him than realise it. While on one hand, Calvin is revered amongst reformed Christians of various stripes, who see him as a theological ancestor – many of those groups who reject his emphases would not exist in the way they do today if Calvin’s ideas were not so prevalent and developed or debated by the founders of their particular denominations and churches.

A great collection of reflections on ministry from Calvin’s life has recently been penned by Kevin deYoung here.
Another biography of Calvin can be read here.


Main sources: T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin (1975); “Calvin”  Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals;  Wikipedia

Protestant Profiles #2: Ulrich Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli (1484 – 1531)


Born: Wildhaus, Switzerland
Priest, army chaplain, Reformer, soldier
Theological emphases:
Authority of Scripture, expository preaching, 
Protested against: 
Abuse of indulgences, Lenten legalism, Catholic sacramentalism

Most Christians today would know little more about Zwingli than his name and that he was a Reformer (if even that!). His legacy may seem obscured when sandwiched between that of Luther and Calvin, but Zwingli was one of the key players in the first generation of the Protestant Reformation. He was influenced by Martin Luther at different points in his journey, while also developing his ideas and emphases separately from the German Reformer.

While Zwingli, like Luther, had protested against the way indulgences were being sold in his area, this was not the trigger point of the Swiss Reformation, which he led until his death in 1531. “The Affair of Sausages,” as it has come to be known, occurred in 1522 when friends of Zwingli’s broke the Lenten fasting regulations in the season leading up to Easter, by eating sausages for supper. In the religious context of the time, every Catholic was expected to fast from certain foods during the 40 days preceding Easter – including meat. Breaking out the snags was an act of defiance against this custom considered mandatory by the Church at the time.

Zwingli vigorously defended the right of his friends to choose whether to eat certain foods or refrain from certain foods – at any time of the year – because the New Testament did not impose stringent dietary laws on Christian believers.  This sequence of events established him as a champion of Christian liberty in conflict with the Catholic Church’s extra-biblical religious requirements. The movement led by Zwingli majored on biblical preaching and as the Reformation in Switzerland unfolded, many Catholic practices and symbols went into decline as a result of a rising Protestant understanding of biblical worship.

Zwingli produced his own 67 articles relating to the Christian gospel and faith. He argued:

“The sum and substance of the gospel is that our Lord Christ Jesus, the true son of God, has made known to us the will of his heavenly Father, and has with his sinlessness released us from death and reconciled us to God.”

He challenged the role the Church had assumed for itself in the lives of Christians in article I: “All who say that the Gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the Church err and slander God.” He attacked the exalted position of the Pope in article 17: “Christ is the only eternal high priest, from which it follows that those who have called themselves high priests have opposed the honour and power of Christ, yes, cast it out.” He emphasised the true nature of the Lord’s Supper in article 18: “Christ, having sacrificed himself once, is to eternity a certain and valid sacrifice for the sins of all faithful, from which it follows that the mass is not a sacrifice, but is a remembrance of the sacrifice and assurance of the salvation which Christ has given us.” He presented the Reformed understanding of faith and works: “Christ is our righteousness, from which follows that our works in so far as they are good, so far they are of Christ, but in so far as they are ours, they are neither right nor good.” And he called purgatory into question: “The true divine Scriptures know nothing about purgatory after this life.”

Sadly, Zwingli’s life and ministry involved theological conflicts with more parties than just the Catholic hierarchy. He found himself embroiled in controversies with radical reformers (who wanted more religious reform – sometimes taking things to the extreme) on one hand and Martin Luther on the other. Sadly Luther and Zwingli could not arrive at a shared position on the Lord’s Supper to replace the idolatrous Catholic Mass. Luther conservatively modified Catholic teaching to arrive at a position that was distinct from the Roman Church, but still heavily emphasised the real presence of Christ in and around the bread (rather than the bread literally becoming the body of Christ), while Zwingli took a more progressive approach –  deciding that the meal was entirely symbolic with almost no spiritual (and certainly no mystical) qualities in and of itself. This created a rift in the emerging Protestant movement, which was sadly difficult to mend in the subsequent years.

Zwingli himself died in battle in 1531, while leading Zurich’s armed forces against the combined forces of  five Swiss Catholic states, which had been his political and religious adversaries for some time. His city’s army suffered defeat and his body was taken away by the Catholics and incinerated.  We will never know what the extent of Zwingli’s impact and legacy might have been had he survived the conflict that ended his earthly life. At just under a decade, his active ministry as a Reformer was significantly shorter than that of Luther and Calvin, yet in that time the Reformation in Switzerland got well underway and others would carry forward the banner he raised up.


Main Sources: “Zwingli,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
                            “Huldrych Zwingli”