Calvin: Our Churches and Ministry Founded on Luther

We maintain to start with that, when God raised up Luther and others, who held forth a torch to light us into the way of salvation on on whose ministry our churches are founded and built, those heads of doctrine in which the truth of our religion, those in which the pure and legitimate worship of God, and those in which the salvation of man are comprehended, were in a great measure obsolete.

John Calvin | Supplex Exhortatio (1543; The Necessity of Reforming the Church) written at the request of Martin Bucer and written for Charles V and the Diet of Spire to clarify the state of the question between the Protestants and Rome:


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  1. This statement is difficult for me to understand since Luther’s and the Lutheran reformation of the Western Mass, retention of vestments, crucifixes, etc., and belief in sacramental union, to name just a few things, were all things that Calvin and other Reformed rejected on what they believed to be Scriptural grounds. What I wonder, sincerely desiring an answer, is how Reformed can view Luther and Lutherans as simply not having gone far enough, so to speak, in the work of reformation? I hope you an answer my question, Dr. Clark, as this post may now be buried.

    • Adam,

      To follow Luther is not necessarily to emulate slavishly everything he did. Confessional Lutherans don’t do that! This post was aimed to those Reformed folk who either do not know that we have any relations to Luther or who deny that we have any substantial relations to Luther. Calvin saw himself as Luther’s faithful student. He preserved the essence of Luther’s soteriology (the material cause of the Reformation) and the formal principle of the Reformation (sola Scriptura) and Luther’s concern that believers eat the true body and blood of Christ in the Supper. Sure we disagree with confessional Lutheranism but we disagree with the church fathers too. Our disagreements on Christology and sacraments and the principle of worship don’t, in our minds, disqualify us from being Luther’s followers any more than the Lutheran rejection of Luther’s doctrine de servo arbitrio disqualifies them from being Luther’s followers.

      • I appreciate your quick response, Dr. Clark. I can’t presume to know a thirtieth of what you do about church history, but I’ve wondered how Reformed folks deal with Luther. I guess I’m not wondering how one could slavishly follow this man or that man, but rather, on an issue like the retention of crucifixes, how Luther was not for Calvin an idolater? It seems as grave a difference to me as between the Ev. Lutherans and Rome on the invocation of saints-something which simply cannot be tolerated.

        I’m also not aware of differences between Luther and the Lutherans (sounds like that familiar Calvin and the Calvinists) on “The Bondage of the Will,” but I haven’t yet read that. Could you explain what you said?

  2. Adam,

    I have a essay on Calvin’s doctrine of worship coming out later this year, Dv. Calvin criticized Luther for being too adamant on his doctrine of the Supper (re the nature of Christ’s presence — he agreed with Luther that we eat the body and blood but he denied that we do so by oral manducation. We do so by the operation of the Spirit).

    He criticized aspects of Luther’s liturgy, specifically his failure to apply the 2nd commandment (as we number them) to worship consistently. He criticized Luther’s “ceremonies” in worship but he did not see these issues as sufficient warrant to break fellowship. He signed the Augsburg Confession — probably the Invariata (1530).

    Whatever he should have done (beware of the a priori) he didn’t regard Lutheer as an idolater. He never said any such thing. He became an evangelical (in the old sense of the word) via Luther and remained devoted to him all his life.

    For the later confessional Lutherans Calvin was nothing more than a “crafty sacramentarian.” They regarded his protests of fidelity to Luther as nothing more than a trick to seduce the faithful away from the Reformation. I regard this as an example of Lutheran fundamentalism. For Luther “this is my body” can only mean one thing. If one fails to see this then one probably fails to see everything else. This is an a priori. The facts be damned.

    The Lutheran orthodox, in my view, essentially rejected Luther’s doctrine of election/reprobation. C F W Walther held a strong doctrine of original sin and unconditional election (as do the orthodox in the LCMS) but he and they rejected (with the Book of Concord) reprobation as rationalism (despite Rom 9). Many other Lutherans, however, so hated Calvin that they regarded Walther as a “crypto-Calvinist” for teaching total depravity and unconditional election!

    You are not alone. Most Lutherans have never read Bondage of the Will. Read it for yourself. It’s the Luther most Lutherans have never met.

    I do feel a little guilty about the “Luther v the Lutherans” argument since I’ve spent so much time criticizing the Calvin v the Calvinists argument. The problem is that while the facts do not support the latter they do seem to support the former especially when they’re forced to ignore or wish away a major work from his mature, Protestant period.

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