“Subtle Sacramentarian” Or Son? John Calvin’s Relationship To Martin Luther -- By: R. Scott Clark

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017)
Article: “Subtle Sacramentarian” Or Son? John Calvin’s Relationship To Martin Luther
Author: R. Scott Clark


“Subtle Sacramentarian” Or Son? John Calvin’s Relationship To Martin Luther

R. Scott Clark

R. Scott Clark is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He earned his DPhil from Oxford University. He is author of Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008) and Recovering the Reformed Confession (P&R, 2008). Dr. Clark is a minister in the United Reformed Churches in North America, a husband, and father of two.

In October of 1545, Heinrich von Wolfenbüttel (1489-1568), the Romanist Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneberg-Wolfenbüttel, in the process of attempting to recover lands taken from him by the Protestant Schmalkald League (in 1542), was taken captive along with his sons. The Lutheran territories of Hesse and Saxony in were placed in great danger of invasion by Romanist forces.1 In response, the Reformed pastor-theologian John Calvin (1509-64) was so disturbed by this threat to his Lutheran brothers that he asked for and received permission from the city fathers of Geneva to hold a special prayer service on their behalf.2 In one of only two sermons from the years prior to 1549 to be transcribed, he expressed concern that Lord’s name should not be blasphemed (Ps 115:2-3).3 He justified the prayer service for the besieged Lutherans on the basis of the spiritual union between the Genevan church and the German Lutherans. He invoked Ephesians 4:1-6, reminding the assembled “there is only one God, one Redeemer, only one true doctrine, one faith, one baptism.” He invoked 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, we must all have compassion.” For Calvin there was

“no question” of a single member. For Calvin, an attack on the Lutherans in Hesse and Saxony was an attack on the Reformed in Geneva. They were, after all, members of the same church, though scattered and separated from each other by distance and language. They owed it to their brothers to intercede with God on their behalf.

This relatively obscure episode four years into Calvin’s second tenure in Geneva illustrates his fraternal feelings toward the Lutherans generally and his filial attitude toward Luther in particular. Calvin’s strong affirmation of Genevan unity with the Lutherans of Hesse and Saxony might surprise both confessional Lutherans and some confessional Reformed Christians ...

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