Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Calvin, Zwingli, and the Anabaptists

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Five hundred years ago this month the Protestant Reformation brought about a new emphasis on Scripture. Lay people were freed to read the Bible in their own language, and to understand God's Word for themselves.

My friend, Betsy Gómez, experienced her own reformation, along with her family. She says that you can have a reformation of grace as well.

Betsy Gómez: So we as a family will celebrate big time the Reformation because we grew up not having the Scripture as our authority. Our experiences were our authority. So when the Lord set a hunger in our hearts for the Word, we started realizing that we need to filter everything through the Scripture.

We were grown ups already. We were leaders in a church. We were teachers already. But honestly, the Scripture was not our main authority.

When we started looking at the Scripture, the Lord brought a revival in our hearts, in our minds, in our family. Everything started falling into place. We started looking at ourselves like we really were—sinners. The Lord through His Word aligned our lives to His purpose. We started functioning as a family, according to the Word of God, instead of being conformed to the world. We experienced our own reformation as a family.

Nancy: My friend Susan Hunt reflects on the importance of this event for each of us today.

Susan Hunt: The Reformation is very personal to me. When Martin Luther rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone, he wrote, "I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered Paradise itself with open gates."

Like Luther, I lived for the burden that going to Heaven depended on my good works outweighing my bad works. I tried really hard to be good. But I had no peace until God's Spirit gave life to my dead soul. The light of the gospel shown into my heart, and I finally understood that the justice of God was satisfied by the death of Christ in my place.

Justice and love met at the cross. God declared me to be just in His sight on the basis of the finished work of Jesus. I stand before Him just as if I never sinned and just as righteous as Jesus Christ.

I'm a daughter of the Reformation. The great solas of the Reformation have shaped me:

  • By Scripture alone
  • By faith alone
  • By grace alone
  • Through Christ alone
  • Glory to God alone 

These truths give me joy and hope and assurance as they continually draw my heart to the high King of heaven who died that I might be made right with God.

These truths motivate me to serve my sovereign and to glorify and enjoy Him. 

I celebrate the Reformation because I celebrate the power of the gospel in my life every day.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Monday, October 30, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I’m so grateful for the opportunity over these days to have had this conversation—it turned out a little longer than we were anticipating, but it’s been so rich, so helpful—with Dr. Erwin Lutzer.

We go back a long way. Dr. Lutzer’s wife, Rebecca, has been a long-time friend and a prayer partner and such an encourager to me. Rebecca is here in the audience today. She sends me notes of encouragement and emails, and I am just so grateful for her prayers and encouragement.

And then also for all that I’ve gleaned over the years from Pastor Lutzer’s books, his teaching, his ministry, his heart for revival. We were just talking at lunch about how, during the Canadian Revival in 1971, Dr. Lutzer was living in Chicago. But he is Canadian, or has Canadian roots, and he went up to see what was going on there. He then ended up writing a book about the Canadian Revival which has been a great encouragement to a lot of people.

I don’t know if that’s still available today, so you might have to go on the Internet to find a copy of that. But The Flames of Freedom and so many other helpful resources that are still available today.

So we’re really honored that he took time this week to come and help us understand better what some of the issues are surrounding this Reformation, which we are celebrating—500 years since the start of the Reformation.

Dr. Lutzer, let’s just jump in here because, as we talk about the Protestant Reformation—protestant, protestors—I think some of our listeners may have been wondering along the way, Does that mean you guys don’t like Catholics? Or does it mean you’re anti-Catholic? We have a lot of listeners who are members of Roman Catholic churches. What are we saying, and what aren’t we saying as we jump into these final sessions here?

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: Well, first of all, let me say that we, of course, share a lot with Catholicism, and we acknowledge that. That’s important to say. For example, Roman Catholics believe in the deity of Christ. They believe, actually, that Christ died for our sins. They believe, also, in the authority of Scripture.

The difference, of course, comes with whether or not the Scripture alone is the basis of our authority, or whether or not we accept tradition.

Now, there are many different kinds of doctrines within Roman Catholicism. And it is really a different day than during the time of the Reformation, which was very contentious. You have all of these statements being made on both sides of the fence. It’s wonderful that today we have an entirely different atmosphere.

I was pastor of Moody Church in Chicago for thirty-six years, and about twenty percent of our people were raised Catholic and came to Moody Church. Not only that. I’m a graduate of a Catholic university. I’m a graduate of Loyola University in Philosophy. So we have many Catholic friends. We love Catholics. We welcome Catholics. They make, of course, our neighborhood. Many people are Catholic.

It’s wonderful today that we can have these discussions without rancor, but rather, trying to understand that even today two separate answers are still given to the question of how a sinner stands holy before God.

In Roman Catholic theology, salvation comes through the sacraments. It is a process that is repeated.

We believe that when Jesus died on the cross, His death was so sufficient that He really did pay it all, and when we receive that free gift, we receive the gift of eternal life.

So, to all of the Catholics who are listening, thank you so much. We’re glad that you are listening. We’re glad that you are our friends. And whenever possible, let’s dialog about these very important matters.

Nancy: When we talk about these differences, that’s not to say that everything that’s taking place in Protestant circles is according to Scripture or right.

We need to have the willingness to evaluate, whatever our background, whatever our associations may be, to say: “Is what we’re doing entirely in line with Scripture?” Because you’ve been equally vocal about some of the things in evangelical Christianity that need to be addressed, that need to be changed.

We’re not saying, “Protestants have it all together. Catholics have got it all wrong.” But we are trying to go back in this series and understand better what caused this great seismic shift in the 1500s. And you’ve been so helpful to us on that.

Well, we’ve talked about some of the precursors to the Reformation in John Wycliffe and John Hus and how they paved the way for the Protestant Reformation. We’ve looked at the life of Martin Luther. We’ve looked at the life and marriage of Martin Luther.

If you’ve missed any of these previous programs, you can go back and pick those up. But today we want to just do a broad brush overview of how the Reformation spread. We associate the name of Martin Luther with the Reformation, but there were lots of other people involved in other countries in helping to spread that.

So, Dr. Lutzer, where do we want to start with the spread of the Reformation?

Dr. Lutzer: Well, I think what we have to do is go to Switzerland. We’re going to talk about two very famous reformers. They are usually mentioned, actually, in the same breath almost as Martin Luther.

The first is John Calvin. John Calvin is a student in France. He’s at the University of Paris, and Luther’s writings are being read there. They’re being debated, and they’re being accepted. He doesn’t tell us expressly how he came to saving faith in Christ. He just says that God overcame the darkness of his heart, and he understood the clarity of the gospel, and he savingly believed on Christ rather than the superstitions with which he was brought up.

So now he is a young theologian. He’s bright. He writes a book entitled, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. He has his motivations for writing it, but basically it’s an exposition of the Christian faith based on the Bible.

Now, eventually, it goes through a second revision. He enlarges it some. But, Nancy, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, for much of Europe becomes the textbook of Reformation theology for 200 years.

You have, for example, the influence of the book and John Calvin’s teachings in such countries as the Netherlands, where you have the Netherlands becoming Calvinistic. We have the Dutch Reformed, and so forth.

But now, let’s go to Geneva. He doesn’t want to be part of the reform movement there. He wants to be a quiet scholar somewhere. Calvin goes there to avoid persecution that was happening in France, and he meets a guy by the name of Farel, an old fiery preacher. He asked Calvin to stay, and Calvin said, “I don’t want to stay.” Farel points his finger at Calvin and says, “May God curse your studies if you don’t stay here in Geneva.” So that was Calvin’s call to Geneva. (laughter)

He began to preach there. He began to write commentaries. He became a very famous theologian.

Nancy: And another major influence that he had was through what we’ve come to know as The Geneva Bible.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes.

Nancy: It had an impact on this country. Can you just tell that story?

Dr. Lutzer: All right. Calvin is there in Geneva. Bloody Mary is ruling in England. She’s killing people. She killed about 400 people. She earned her name. Refugees are coming from England to Geneva.

While they’re there, Calvin is teaching them. Calvin is teaching these refugees, and among them is John Knox, who spends two years there. He gets taught by Calvin the Reformed faith, and he ends up going back to Scotland. Scotland eventually becomes the most Calvinistic country on the face of the earth back then. It sure isn’t now, but it was back then. John Knox, the Presbyterian Church—that’s where that all came from.

While the refugees are there, there are some scholars among them, and they say, “We need a better translation of the English Bible.” They get together, and they translate the English Bible, and that turns out to be The Geneva Bible—the first Bible with footnotes.

When the Pilgrims come over to America, what do they bring with them? They bring . . .

Nancy: The Geneva Bible.

Dr. Lutzer: The Geneva Bible. Yes. The Puritans were Calvinists. They read the Calvin’s Institutes. They were influenced by that. What happened there in England is very, very interesting.

The Church of England, for the Puritans, was not reformed enough. They felt that the Church of England people had never really shaken the dust of Rome from their feet, so they came over to America because they wanted a purer Church than the Church of England was giving them. And that’s what happened.

Nancy: Then we come to Zwingli in Switzerland, who leads us into another whole stream, another theological stream. Can you unpack that for us, how that took place?

Dr. Lutzer: Yes. Zwingli was actually a contemporary of Luther. They were almost the same age. Zwingli said that he came to saving faith through his own studies of the Scriptures. It was not as a result of Luther, but he admired Luther. The two of them did meet in Marburg to debate the Lord’s Supper.

Zwingli is there, and he is preaching the gospel. He’s a scholar. Apparently, he memorized the whole book of Matthew in Greek, which I find to be amazing. He mentors some young men, and they’re studying the Scriptures together.

These young men come to the conclusion that infant baptism is not in the Bible. Zwingli vacillates for a while on the issue but eventually comes to the conclusion that, “Yes, we have to baptize infants.”

Meanwhile, the Zurich City Council says that anyone who is baptized as an adult, upon profession of faith, must be put to death either by burning, by sword, or drowning. Why?

Well, the answer is this: Infant baptism was a symbol of the unity of Church and State. It was almost like citizenship within the empire. The Holy Roman Empire, which Voltaire said was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”. . . What you have is this idea that Christendom has to hang together because the argument was: If you begin to baptize people upon profession of faith, even Melanchthon, Luther’s sidekick, says, “If we baptize only those who are truly converted, then the Church will be a sect within society and not coextensive with society. So you have to keep baptizing infants.”

When Charlemagne was crowned by the pope on Christmas Day in the year 800, centuries earlier, he decreed, “Any parents who do not have their children baptized as infants must be put to death.” Why? Because of theology? No. This was the way in which the empire hung together.

A number of people in Switzerland baptized one another upon profession of faith, and one of them is Felix Manz, and there were others. The Zurich City Council had said that they had to be put to death. So they were taken to the Limmat River, and they were forcibly drowned.

Now, you can go today to the exact spot. We know exactly where it is because the chronicler told us how many yards it was from City Hall.

Nancy: These were known as Anabaptists. You have these Reformers who love the Scripture, love Christ, recovering the gospel. Then out of that come these Anabaptists who say that being baptized as an infant is not saving, and that they should be baptized as believers, and you have this horrible contention. You have Reformers killing Anabaptists. What’s your take-away?

Dr. Lutzer: There were two things. The first is simply this: The Reformers believed that these people were breaking up the whole order of society, because it was Christianity, Christendom that held society together.

But there’s something else. I’m glad you mentioned that, Nancy, because I didn’t mention it in my little speech here. There was the lunatic fringe.

After taking all this persecution, some of the Anabaptists went to Westphalia in Northern Germany, and they established a colony, and they became Lunatics. I mean, they did crazy things.

They were radicals. They ran around half naked saying they were in the New Jerusalem. They began to kill and to slaughter others in retaliation. They were totally out of control. They tried to imitate the patriarchs and prophets as well as the apostles. Some followed the prophet Isaiah, who was instructed by God to walk naked. And on and on it went.

These people gave Anabaptists a very bad name. It used to be that the Anabaptists, therefore, were despised, but that was very unfair. This was a lunatic fringe that didn’t apply to everybody.

But Luther wrote against the Anabaptists. He called them beschwarma. In other words, like you have bees in a hive that are swarming. That was Luther’s response. He was referring, actually, to the more radical fringe. 

In answer to your question, Nancy—I’m agonizing over it. The fact is, it’s very difficult for us to put ourselves back in that historical context when Christendom and the unity of society was considered so important that you were willing to allow these people to be killed simply because they baptized one another.

When we were in Switzerland, at the last day of the tour, we were right there where the drowning took place. My daughter back on the bus, said, “Dad, I don’t get it. Why was this worth dying for?”

Well, the answer is this: They believed that the Church should be pure. They had this idea that the Church should be pure. And the Church, as constituted as Christendom, was wholly corrupt. So they believed that you had to come out of society and establish your own areas and your own lifestyle and your own communities. And so, as a result of that, they said, “This is worth dying for.”

It goes to your point that Protestants don’t always have it all together, do they?

Nancy: And that we need to continually be reforming and taking things back to the Scripture, saying, “What does God’s Word say?” Because we tend to go off on tangents or extremes or to see others through our own lens.

They had their issues to work through. These are major issues. But we have our issues today to work through. I think it says that it’s worth taking the trouble and the effort to not just say, “Che sera, sera, let’s just all sing ‘Kumbaya’ together,” but let’s grapple with these issues and find out what God has to say about it.

Dr. Lutzer: I’m going to read this now. This is after recording the deaths of 2,173 of the brethren—think of that. That’s a large crowd—2,173. An observant wrote these words of the Anabaptists:

No human being was able to take away out of their hearts what they had experienced. . . . The fire of God burned within them. They would die ten deaths rather than forsake the divine truth. They had drunk of the water which is flowing from God’s sanctuary, yea, the water of life. Their tent they had pitched not here on earth, but in eternity. Their faith blossomed like a lily, their loyalty as a rose, their piety and their candor is the flower of the garden of God.

It goes on to say that “the angel of the Lord battled for them,” and so forth. I’m going now to the end of the quote:

They were thus drawn unto God that they knew nothing, sought nothing, desired nothing, loved nothing but God alone. Therefore they had more patience in their suffering than their enemies had in tormenting them. The re-baptizers, our brothers and sisters, who will be ahead of us in the kingdom because they were so faithful unto death.

Nancy: This is all part of our heritage. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes, with their flaws, and their challenges, and we ask God, in our day, to give us wisdom and insight and clarity and courage and conviction and to know what issues are worth dying for. And if we don’t have any sense of what it is that has taken place before us, then how do we know how to do this in our day?

So I want to encourage you to be with us again for Revive Our Hearts tomorrow, which is October 31, 2017, the 500th anniversary of what is considered the beginning of the Reformation when Martin Luther nailed those Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

So as we are honoring that 500th anniversary, I’m going to ask Dr. Lutzer to be back with us for one more day to talk about some of the lessons we can take away from the Reformation. Please be sure and join us tomorrow as we conclude this series on “Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation.”

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. She’s been talking with Dr. Erwin Lutzer about the importance of the Protestant Reformation. If this conversation only whetted your appetite to learn more, I hope you’ll get a copy of Dr. Lutzer’s book. It’s called Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation.

We’d like to send you a copy when you help keep this program coming to your each weekday. Your donation will be a huge part of making that happen. When you donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, you can get the book, or call 1–800–569–5959.

Well, we’ve been talking about the Reformation over a week, but tomorrow’s when we mark the actual anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous act of nailing his document to the Wittenberg Door. Join us again for the final day of this celebration tomorrow, here on Revive Our Hearts.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion