Reformation 500: Day Five

Reformation 500—Your Seven-Day Countdown

Day Five…

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Cathedral ushering in the Protestant Reformation and reshaping Christianity. Today, Protestants number over 560 million world-wide—more than one out of every three followers. This revolutionary moment inspired five great doctrines that undergirded the entire Reformation:

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

Sola Gloria (God’s Glory Alone)

Sola Fide (Faith Alone)

Sola Gratis (Grace Alone)

Sola Christos (Christ Alone)

And Luther was not the only key figure in the Reformation. Other men figured prominently in the development of the Protestant churches as well:

  • Martin Luther– (1483 –1546) was a German professor of theology, composer, priest, monk, and the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation.
  • Huldrych Zwingli- (1484 – 1531) was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland during a time of emerging Swiss patriotism and increasing criticism of the Swiss mercenary system. In 1519, Zwingli became the pastor of the Cathedral in Zurich where he began to preach ideas on reform of the Catholic Church. In his publications, he noted corruption in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, promoted clerical marriage, and attacked the use of images in places of worship.
  • John Calvin- (1509-1564) was an influential French theologian, minister and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism, aspects of which include the doctrines of predestination and of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation of the human soul from death.

Zwingli’s ideas came to the attention of Martin Luther and other reformers. They met at the Marburg Colloquy (1529) and although they agreed on many points of doctrine, they also began to realize with great clarity that their reformation would not bring uniformity of thought on all matters. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin could not (and would not) reach an accord on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and what occurred with the elements in the midst of the communion sacrament. Please notice that each man started from “Sola Scriptura” but focused upon a different phrase from Scripture to arrive at differing positions:

Luther: Focused upon the words of Jesus at institution, “This IS my body” and believed quite similarly to what the Catholic Church did that the bread actually becomes (changes into) the actual body/flesh of Jesus. The Catholic church taught “transubstantiation”: Trans means “change” and substantiation means “substance.” Luther’s teaching saw the change occurring “with-in” the elements and is generally called “consubstantiation.”

Zwingli: Focused upon the words of Jesus that stated, “Do this in REMEMBRANCE of Me.” He viewed the Lord’s Supper as a memorial, a regular reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus—but nothing metaphysical was taking place. The one time sacrifice of Jesus has been fully offered and grace reckoned to us as salvation.

Calvin: Focused more upon the meaning of what was taking place in the communion meal. Narratives like Jesus on the road to Emmaus carried great weight as scripture records, “Jesus was REVEALED to them in the breaking of bread. “ He viewed communion as a place of grace where Jesus Christ is spiritually present and meets us to bestow grace. For Calvin, it was not about the elements being changed but rather human hearts changing.

Notice that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all agreed upon many aspects of the Lord’s Supper… Who? (Jesus?), What? (bread and wine) When? (they all partook each Sunday) Why? (instituted by Christ before his crucifction). But the reformers could not agree upon “How?” God went about presenting the elements to us. What would they do?

When“protesting” Reformers did not see eye-to-eye they met to discuss, tried to reach consensus and then found unity apart from uniformity. It was a follower of Luther who later first said:

      “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty,

In All Things Charity”

QUESTION: What do you think happens at the Lord’s Supper? Are you closer to Luther, Zwingli or Calvin? Let us know your thinking….

Author: Scott Sager

Sager joined the Lipscomb team as Vice President for Church Services in July of 2011, after 15 years as senior minister of the Preston Road Church of Christ in Dallas. In this role, Sager not only teaches in the Bible department, he also connects churches across the region with a variety of the university’s resources as well as equips and trains church and business leaders through programs, seminars and special events. Since 2015, he has worked as the Preaching Minister for Granny White Church of Christ. Sager serves on the board of the Christian Relief Fund where his focus is on supporting AIDS orphans in Africa. In Dallas, he serves on the board of Christ’s Family Ministries, a fully functioning health clinic he founded that serves the working poor and is located inside the Preston Road Church of Christ building. He also serves on the advisory board of New Friends/New Life, a ministry helping women leave sexually oriented businesses for new life in Jesus Christ. He received his D.Min. in evangelism from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is an Abilene Christian University alumnus where he earned an undergraduate degree in business management and also received master’s degrees in Bible and divinity. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Suzanne. They have two children, Will and Anna, and enjoy visiting their family in Texas whenever possible!

2 thoughts on “Reformation 500: Day Five”

  1. Your comments on the differences between Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin are appreciated, and are examples of how good men can differ over the meaning of the same scripture. In 2nd Peter, Jude, and elsewhere, we are warned about false teachers. Those discussions generally are referring to those who denied the very deity of Christ; however, in our churches today, we are quick to label as false teachers those who don’t agree with our individual interpretations of the scripture, and label them as unbelievers, lumping them in with those who never consider Christ. This is our shame.

    1. Agreed! WHere I preach we partake of the Lord’s Supper weekly, but not everyone agrees even in our midst about what is occuring at the Table of the Lord. Some view it as a memorial while others as a means of grace. What unites us all is that Christ died to save us all. Thanks for the comment!

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