Each week from now until the Reformation Party, we will focus on one of the reformers. Please take a few minutes to read this information for yourself and discuss it with your family. We will have a game at the Reformation Party to test your knowledge of these great men who were used by God to bring His people back to the truth of His Word.
 
  • John Wycliffe – (1325-1384) England
  • Jon Hus – (1370-1415) Bohemia
  • Martin Luther – (1483-1546) Germany
  • William Tyndale – (about 1494-1536) England
  • Ulrich Zwingli – (January 1, 1484 – October 11, 1531) Switzerland
  • John Calvin – (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564) France/Switzerland
John Wycliffe

(Lived 1325 – 1384 in England)

John Wycliffe

Known as: “The Morning Star of the Reformation” because he was one of the first men that God used to shine the light of truth into the spiritual darkness of Europe. Although he lived 200 years before the ‘Protestant Reformation’, his teachings and beliefs were much like those of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other later reformers.

Famous quote: “Forasmuch as the Bible contains Christ, that is all that is necessary for salvation. It is necessary for ALL men, not for priests alone.”

When Wycliffe lived, the Bibles were written in Latin so most people could not read and study the Bible for themselves. In fact, the Church leaders did not want the common person to be able to read the Scriptures. The Church taught that the words of the Pope, who was the leader of the Catholic Church, were more important than the Bible.

John Wycliffe, who was a professor at Oxford University, spoke out against the Pope, saying that the Word of God is the only source of religious truth. He said that the Pope was a sinner, like all people, and that he too was in need of a Savior.

John Wycliffe is best known for being the first to translate the Bible from Latin into English. He believed everyone should have the Bible in his own language. In 1377, his first English Bible was printed by hand because there were no printing presses at that time. It was against the law to read Wycliffe’s Bible but many people risked everything to have one for themselves.

Because John wanted to spread the Gospel to all of England, he taught his students and church members to be evangelists and to live out their faith by helping the poor. The evangelists he trained went all over England preaching and teaching. They went out without money and lived only on what others gave them. They taught that believing in Jesus is the only way to be saved… not by believing the words of the Pope, doing good deeds or by praying to dead saints.

The Catholic Church said that John was a heretic (an evil person) and tried to have him put to death but there was a violent earthquake just as they were writing up his death sentence. The bishops were afraid that God was punishing them so they dropped the charges against Wycliffe. John always believed he would be killed for his beliefs and he often said ‘What! …I should live and be silent. Never! Let the blow fall, I await its coming.”

John died in 1384 but 31 years later the Church was still angry at him for translating the Bible. They dug up his bones, burned them and threw them into the Swift River. This did not stop the work that God had begun. Wycliffe’s ideas and teachings continued to spread across Europe.

Jon Hus

(Lived 1370 – 1415)

Jon Hus

 
Known as “The Bohemian Goose” – His name ‘Hus’ means ‘goose’ in the Czech language. Remember what his name means as it will be important later in his story.
 
Jon Hus lived in Bohemia (now known as Czech Republic) at the same time that John Wycliffe lived in England. Wycliffe’s writings had spread Bohemia and Hus was one of Wycliffe’s followers. The spiritual condition in Bohemia was no better than that of England. It was so bad that even the stained glass windows in the churches showed the Pope in the highest position with Jesus or symbols of Jesus under the Pope’s feet. The people did not have the Bible in their own language and most believed they had to go to a priest in order to pray.
 
Hus, the preacher at Bethlehem Chapel, agreed with John Wycliffe that the Bible is the final authority for how to live and he boldly taught that only Christ could forgive sins. He spoke out against the church practices of selling tickets of promised salvation called ‘indulgences’ and praying to saints. His preaching angered the Archbishop of Prague and he was thrown out of his church and city but he continued to preach in open-air meetings. His enemies began to look for ways to capture him.
 
Hus was tricked into attending a meeting to defend his writings and there he was arrested. He spent about a year in prison where he was badly treated and given little food. He was given an unfair trial and sentence to death. At his trial Jon Hus said, “The chief aim of my preaching was to teach men repentance and the forgiveness of sins according to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ… therefore I am prepared to die with a joyful soul.”
 
Best Known for: being burned at the stake for his beliefs. Some historians claim that John Wycliffe’s manuscripts of the Bible were used as kindling for the fire.
 
Famous quote: “Today you will roast a lean goose but 100 years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you.”
 
In the Czech Republic, July 6 is celebrated as a public holiday called ‘Jon Hus Day’ to celebrate his life and remember his death on this date. The church thought they were ‘cooking the goose’ and his ideas but the death of Jon Hus inspired others to rebel against false teachings and follow Christ and His Word. One of those men was Martin Luther about whom we will learn next week.

 

Martin Luther

November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546

Martin Luther

 
Known as the founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther was a German priest. While he was a teacher at the University in Wittenberg, he read Romans 1:17 ‘.. the righteous will live by faith’ and this passage changed his life. This doctrine is called ‘Justification by Faith’. He had tried good works and even self-torture to try to earn salvation. He came to see that truth is contained in the Scripture alone (not the words of the Pope) and that salvation is by faith in Christ alone by God’s grace alone. These beliefs are called “3 Solas”. The word ‘sola’ means ‘alone’
 Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)
 Sola fide (“by faith alone”)
 Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)
As Luther continued to study the Bible for himself, he saw that many of the practices of the church were wrong according to God’s Word and he preached against them.
 
Best known for: On October 31, 1517, the day we celebrate as ‘Reformation Day’, Martin Luther
nailed a list of these errors knows as his ’95 Theses’ to the door of his church in Wittenberg. He
thought the church leaders would see their mistakes and correct them according to the Bible but
instead he was excommunicated or put out of the church. The church called him to a trial in the city of Worms. He was told to recant or deny what he was teaching but he refused and was sentenced to die.
 
Famous quote: “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture, I cannot and will not recant anything. For to act against our conscience is neither safe for us not open to us. In this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen”
One of his powerful friends, Prince Frederick of Saxony, planned a daring rescue. Frederick
arranged to have Martin Luther kidnapped while he was being taken to prison and hid him in his
Warburg Castle. While there in hiding, Martin translated the New Testament from Greek into the
German language. During this time he wrote other books and began translating the Old Testament into German.
 
Martin Luther thought that all of God’s people (not just priests) should sing praises to God so he wrote many popular hymns in German. One of the most famous of these is ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’.  This hymn tells us that with God on our side, we do not need to fear the powers of evil.
The church also taught that priests could not marry. As Martin Luther read the Bible, he saw that
God’s leaders did marry. In 1525, he married Katherina von Bora and together they had 6 children.  Their home became a place where many students and guests came to study.
 
Last week we learned that when Jon Hus was burned at the stake he said “Today you will roast a lean goose but 100 years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you.” Many believe Martin Luther was the ‘swan’ that John Hus meant because it was 102 years after Hus’ death that Martin Luther nailed the “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg door and began what we call the ‘Protestant Reformation’.

(About 1494-1536)

William Tyndale

 

William Tyndale was a brilliant scholar and master of 8 languages. He studied at Oxford University and Cambridge University where the words of the Pope were taught to be more important than the Scriptures. William had illegally obtained a copy of Luther’s German New Testament and was inspired to make the Bible available for English people. Even though John Wycliffe had translated the Bible from Latin into English, most people in England did not own a Bible and had to rely on a priest to learn about Jesus. In fact, it was against the law to own or even talk about having the Bible in English.

William Tyndale, known by many as ‘The Father of the English Bible’, was the first person to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the English language. His translation was accurate and easy to read. In fact, some say that up to 90% of the King James Bible of 1611 is made up of William Tyndale’s translation. He is also called “the architect of the English language” because so many of the Tyndale’s phrases are still used in our language today.

Famous quote: When a local priest said “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”.  Tyndale angrily replied, “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

In the 1450’s in Germany, Johannes Gutenberg had invented the printing press and the first book he published was the Bible in Latin. William Tyndale, excited by the news of Gutenberg’s invention, got money from a rich merchant in London to go to Germany to print the Bible in English. In 1526, he printed his first New Testaments in English and brave merchants smuggled them into England in wine barrels, flour sacks and pieces of silk.

The new Bibles sold quickly and the church tried to stop people from reading them by buying them and burning them. This actually helped Tyndale because he was able to use the money from the sale of his New Testaments to publish a better copy and to start his translation of the Old Testament. He also wrote and published other Christian books in English.

During the reign of Henry VIII, the Church of England broke away from the Catholic Church and came under the control of the English King. Some say that Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, gave King Henry VIII a copy of William Tyndale’s book called ‘Obedience of the Christian Man’.  The king supposedly liked it so much that he said ‘this book is for me and all kings to read.’ but he still refused to allow Tyndale’s Bible to be published in England.

William Tyndale never returned to England but he had many enemies even in Germany. In May of 1535, he was convinced to leave his hiding place and betrayed by Henry Phillips, a man he thought was his friend. He was kept in Vilvoorde castle for a year and a half. On October 6, 1536, he was strangled and burned at the stake as a heretic. His last words were ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes’

The Catholic church thought they had stopped William Tyndale’s work but Miles Coverdale, one of his friends, used Tyndale’s work to publish the whole Bible (called the Great Bible) in 1535.  Since Tyndale’s name was not on the new Bible, King Henry VIII allowed and even paid for it to be published in England in 1539. A copy was placed in every parish church to be read by all the people… even a plow boy! God had answered William’s prayers.

(January 1, 1484 – October 11, 1531)

 Ulrich Zwingli

 
The Reformation spread from Germany across the Alps to Switzerland where a man named Ulrich Zwingli shared the same passion as Martin Luther and others to see God’s Word as the standard of truth. Ulrich Zwingli, a parish priest, taught himself Greek and Hebrew so that he could study the Bible for himself. Like the other reformers we have studied, Zwingli came to see that the practices of the Catholic Church were not in line with the teachings of the Bible.
 
Zwingli often debated his ‘67 theses’ beginning with “All who say that the gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the church err and slander God.” Zwingli loved his congregation and took seriously his job as their shepherd. When he noticed that many people came to the market on Fridays, he began to preach on Fridays as well as Sundays. Many in Switzerland agreed with his teaching and the Reformation spread beyond the city of Zurich. Local authorities gave him permission to continue his preaching, which emphasized Christ first and the church second.
 
Zwingli convinced the City Council to stop celebrating the Catholic Mass, to remove images of Mary and the Saints from the churches, and other reforms. He, like Luther, came to believe that the Bible did not forbid church leaders to marry and he was wed in a public ceremony in 1524.
 
At a 1529 meeting at Marburg, Martin Luther and Zwingli met in an effort to unite the German and Swiss Reform Movements. Although they agreed on 14 points of doctrine, they could not agree on the fifteenth: their beliefs about the Lord’s Supper.
 
Many of the states in Switzerland became ‘Reformed’ while others stayed loyal to the Catholic Church. In 1531, civil war broke out between the 2 groups and Zwingli became a chaplain in the Swiss Reformed Army. He died on the battlefield with many of his flock fighting for the right to preach the gospel without interference from the Pope. Before he died he refused to have a Catholic priest hear him recant his beliefs. As an enemy captain drew his sword to behead him, Zwingli said, “They can kill the body, but not the soul.”
 
Ulrich Zwingli is sometimes known as ‘The Third man of the Reformation’, along with Martin Luther and John Calvin. Two years after Zwingli’s death, the Swiss Reformers won the war and Geneva, Switzerland became independent from the Roman Catholic Church.
 
Famous quote: “For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”

July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564

John Calvin

 
John Calvin, born in France, trained to become a Catholic priest but later decided to become a lawyer. Like Martin Luther, as he studied the Bible for himself, he became convinced that the Catholic Church was not the way to gain salvation. He wrote that the truth of the Bible showed him his own sin and he received Jesus as his Savior and he left the Catholic Church. As persecution against Protestants broke out in France, Calvin fled to Switzerland with his brother and sister.

 

The leader of the Reformed Church in Geneva, William Farel, was impressed with John Calvin’s teaching and asked him to stay and be the leader of the church. Although the people in Geneva were supposed to be ‘Protestants’, John soon learned that many were not Christians at all. He expected his church members to live moral lives and refused to serve the Lord’s Supper to those who did not.  Eventually, both he and William Farel were forced out of town.

John moved to Austria where he met a beautiful Christian woman named Idelette de Bure. She and her husband had been members of Calvin’s church before her husband died leaving her with 2 small children. John married Idelette in 1540 and they became partners in ministry. During the 9 years they were married, they had 3 children who all died in infancy. When Idelette became ill and died, John raised her 2 children as his own. He said “I have been bereaved of the best friend of my life, of one who, if it has been so ordained, would willingly have shared not only my poverty but also my death.  During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry.”

While Calvin was in Austria, the Catholic Church regained strength in Geneva. The Reformers there needed a strong leader and asked John to come back to lead not only the church but the city as well.  John’s training as a lawyer helped him set up a strong government and keep the city of Geneva free.  The governments of the United States and the Presbyterian Church are based on John Calvin’s system of government.

John Calvin is best known for his writings of Christian doctrine. He is the author of the most famous theological book ever published, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. He is also the primary person behind the printing of the famous Geneva Bible. With the possible exception of Martin Luther, no man has had a greater impact on the theology of the Protestant Churches today than John Calvin.  John agreed with much of the teaching of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli but as we mentioned last week, although they met together to try to unite, they could not agree over their views of the Lord’s Supper.

John Calvin’s doctrines are referred to today as “Calvinism” and they are summarized in what is known as the “5 points of Calvinism”. People use the acronym ‘TULIP’ to remember them.

T Total Depravity of Man
U Unconditional Election
L Limited Atonement
I Irresistible Grace
P Perseverance of the Saints

Although he worked in Switzerland, John was very interested in reforming his homeland, France. He supported the building of churches by distributing literature and providing ministers. Between 1555 and 1562, more than 100 ministers were sent to France, funded entirely by the church in Geneva. 
 
John Calvin was also well known for his concern about the education of children. In 1559, he opened a school in Geneva that was divided into two parts: a grammar school called “the collège” and an advanced school called the “académie.” Within five years there were 1,200 students in the grammar school and 300 in the advanced school. The collège eventually became the Collège Calvin, while the académie became known as the University of Geneva.

 

Famous quote: “For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know.”

John Calvin died in 1564 at the age of 54. Just before he died he wrote, “God has given me the power to write. I have written nothing in hatred but always I have faithfully attempted what I believed to be for the glory of God.” So many people came to see his body, the reformers were afraid that they would be accused of starting a new saint’s cult so they buried him in an unmarked grave. The exact location is unknown, but a stone was added in the 19th century to mark a grave traditionally thought to be his.

One of John Calvin’s greatest contribution to the English-speaking world was his influence on a man named, John Knox. We will learn about him next.