Lesson 2. The Reformation

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will be able to see the similarities and differences between Protestants and Catholics, and why Christians sometimes disagree with one another. We hope this will help you to become more patient and tolerant with other believers.

  1. Grace and Faith.  Martin Luther was raised as a Catholic, but he came to feel  that that he himself was not able to live up to the standard of love for God that he was taught to strive for.  He found relief in the concept of being accepted by faith, when he saw in the Bible that the justice of God was not a desire to punish, but rather was was shown by declaring people acceptable through faith in Jesus.¹   He then spread this insight to others so they could see the grace of God more clearly and find comfort. Church officials told Martin Luther to give up his ideas, but Luther answered that he could not give up his ideas unless he was convinced from the Bible. In 1521 the pope removed Luther from the church.  This began a movement called the “Protestant Reformation.”
  2.  Slogan. Luther and all the others who belong to the churches formed because of the reformation summed up their principles in the following slogan: “Grace only, Faith only, Bible only, .”  By “Grace only,” they meant “not grace plus the results of grace (a more godly life).”  By “Faith only”, they meant “not faith plus the result of faith (good deeds).”  By “Bible only” they meant that the Bible should have the final authority, over the teaching authority of the church and over the conclusions of church councils. The Catholic Church accepts the importance of the  Bible, Grace, and Faith, but does not agree with adding the word “only,” so in 1529, the Catholic Church declared that a person who “says people are saved by faith alone, without works,” should be rejected.  The controversy has to do with the relationship between grace, faith and good works.
  3. Sources of authority.  We can understand the differences that we see between Protestants and Catholics by realizing that they have different views about the authority to explain the Bible. Martin Luther and the other reformers maintained that the Bible is the only source of authority, and no human has the authority to tell another how to understand the Bible. This is called the “Protestant principle,” and helps us understand why Protestants have divided into so many different viewpoints and denominations.
  4. Church as authority. On the other hand, the Catholic Church accepts that the church has the authority to tell how to understand the Bible, and that the pope is the person who announces what these correct views are. This authority was clearly stated when In 1870, the Catholic Church announced that the pope cannot make a wrong teaching when speaking in his authority as pope.  The eastern orthodox church gives honor to the pope but does not believe that he has authority over them — they believe that their churches have their own authority, and that they are preserving the views of the earliest believers. The next paragraph begins to introduce  the different influences within the Protestant churches.
  5. Calvin. The reformation began with Martin Luther, and in the next generation appeared the other main person of the reformation: John Calvin.  These two men are the source of most of the ideas in the Protestant churches The followers of Luther formed the Lutheran church, (In Chinese, called the “faith-righteousness” church¹ª); they lived mostly in the countries of northern Germany and Scandinavia.  The followers of Calvin formed many different churches.”  In Switzerland and, Holland, the churches following Calvin’s ideas are called “Reformed Churches. In England and Scotland, they are called the Presbyterian churches.  The following pages show how even more churches were formed. All these churches have sent missionaries around the world, including to China.³  
  6. Agreement. Luther and Calvin agree with the other two branches about the fact that there is one God who is Triune, and that Jesus is the savior of the world. Luther and Calvin both accept justification by faith and the “three onlies” of the reformation (Grace alone, Faith alone, Bible alone).  Nevertheless, there are some differences between those who follow the ideas of Luther and those who follow the idea of Calvin.  A few of these differences are described below, and there are more details in Part 6..
  7. Focus. For Luther, the focus is “forgiveness of sin,” while for Calvin the focus is “the sovereignty of God” (God’s authority and standards for true Christianity.)  For Luther, the important question was “how can I find a gracious God?”  For Calvin, the question was “What is God’s will?”  Luther approached each question from the standpoint of “how can I explain this in a way that will bring comfort through the gospel,” while Calvin approached each question from the standpoint of “how can I base this teaching on the truth of God’s sovereignty?”  This difference in emphasis is still evident today.  If you hear a sermon that stresses “this is how you should live,” you are probably hearing a sermon that is influenced by Calvin’s thought.  If the sermon emphasizes “even though you failed, you can be sure that God will forgive you,” you are probably hearing Luther’s influence.
  8. Assurance. Luther and Calvin used different approaches to counsel people who were not sure whether they were truly saved. Calvin would tend to say, “look at your behavior” (1 John 2:3 says that believers will obey God’s commands.)  Luther would say “look at the promises of God.” (Colossians 1:13-14 says that God has “rescued us from darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son, in whom we have redemption,  the forgiveness of sins.”)
  9. Holy Communion. In Matthew 26:26.  Jesus gave the bread used at the Passover celebration to his disciples, saying “this is my body.”  By doing this, Jesus instituted Holy Communion.  Luther and Calvin had different views of Jesus’ words “this is my body.”  Calvin was a systematic thinker, using logic to explain the teachings of the Bible; in 1535 Calvin published “Institutes of Christian Religion,” a systematic and detailed book of his teachings.  Based on logic, he taught “Jesus is in heaven, therefore Jesus is not in the bread.  The bread is a symbol; the bread reminds us that Jesus died for us.  As you eat the bread, you have a connection with Jesus by faith.”  On the other hand, Luther felt that logic should not change the plain meaning of the phrase “this is my body.”  Luther taught: Jesus said “this is my body,” so we must say that the bread is Jesus’ body; we should not say that the bread is only a symbol.  Luther taught: if God is able to cause his Son to become a man, God is also able to cause the bread to be the body of Christ.  Lesson 36 will present more details comparing Luther and Calvin.
  10. Disagreements. Many people tried to bring Lutherans and Calvinists together, but there has not been much progress since at a meeting in 1541, Lutheran and Reformed representatives agreed on justification, but did not agree on communion. Each side doubted whether the other side were true believers. In those years, each area of Europe demanded that all the people in that area adopt the same church.  Following this rule, France was Catholic, and different areas within Germany were either Lutheran or “reformed.”  People who did not change to their country’s official church were illegal and were persecuted; they had to change or to emigrate. The emperor in central Europe was Catholic, and wanted to change Germany from Protestant to Catholic. This led to a long war, from 1618 to 1648
  11. Denominations. . In 1648 the different churches agreed to live in peace, calling their opponents not unbelievers but just different “denominations.”  This means that although they still did not agree,  their arguments were regarded as “family arguments.” In 1817 the emperor of Prussia (part of Germany) commanded the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) churches to unite into a single church. Lutherans who did not agree formed small independent churches, and many Lutherans emigrated to America and to Australia.
  12. Word List.  Make an index of the key words and names by listing them in alphabetical order. After each one, write the lesson and paragraph where you found it. For example, Calvin is introduced in paragraph 8 of this chapter, so after writing his name, you would write 2-8. Each day, after you have written the words in your word-list, then also take time to add the underlined sentences from today’s lesson to your “century pages.”

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1) Romans 3:22-26. Another key verse for Luther was Habakkuk 2:4 “the just shall live by faith.”

1a) In Chinese, Lutheran Church is translated as  “faith-righteousness church,” xin yi hui  信义会  信義會。  Also, Lutheran Church is sometimes translated with the name of Martin Luther: lu de hui  路德会。  Presbyterian Church is zhang lao hui 长老会, 長老會     Reformed Church is geng zheng jiao hui 更正教会  or gui zeng zong   归正宗.

2) This is still a current issue. In 1999 some Protestants and Catholics wrote that there is no longer any difference between them on the point of justification. The actual words of their statement are “Together we confess: by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” However, other Protestants feel there is no basis to sign this paper, since they feel that Catholics and Protestants to not have the same definition of the word “grace” in the statement. They feel that Luther taught that grace, in verses about salvation, is God’s attitude by which He pronounces us righteous because of Jesus’ death on the cross;  his view was that we are saved by faith because of God’s grace, and then, because we have new life, we will do good works.  They feel that the  Catholic teaching of that tends more toward looking at grace as something given to us so that we may grow and do good works and so be more deserving of salvation. They note that there are still Catholic customs that are thought to gain merit, and still teach the idea that the virgin Mary and the saints have a surplus of merit that can be transferred to a believer. More about Luther’s views and Catholic views are in chapter 30. Luther would agree that some verses speak of grace as something “given to us,” but these verses are about sanctification, not about justification.To see verses about the two uses of the word “grace,” see APPENDIX 3 at the end of the author’s article “your own nurture“.

3) The first Protestant missionary to China, who came in 1807, was a Presbyterian from Scotland, and so he brought the influence of Calvin to China.  His name was Robert  Morrisson (ma li xun)  马礼逊    馬礼遜.  In 1847 the first Lutheran missionary came to live in China, from Germany.  The ideas of Luther and Calvin are still found in Chinese churches today. .

 Chinese translations:   Calvin (jia er wen)  约翰。家爾文    Holy Communion = Eucharist = Lord’s Supper  圣餐    聖餐.   justification by faith [yin xin cheng yi] 因信称义    因信稱義   Lutheran Church 信义会 或  路德会; 信義會 或  路德會 Natural Law 自然律   (經)  saint (sheng tu) 圣徒 聖徒