Stories of the Reformation: The Peacemakers


This is part 2 of a series that I'm calling "Reformation Reflections". Each week I'd like to take a look at a group of individuals that played a part in the Protestant Reformation. There have been hundreds of books written about these individuals; so there will be a lot left unsaid, but each of them played a significant role in helping re-shape the church.


In order for the Reformation to even happen there had to be people who were willing to stick their necks out and disagree with the established church and government. It took incredible courage to risk their very lives for the sake of the truths they held dear. The problems arose when they tried to agree with each other. They had a terrible tendency to define themselves by a personal opinion about an issue instead of defining themselves by the gospel. Those opinions about issues plagued them and divided them. For example; the issue of baptism was so divisive that men who could agree on the doctrine of "Justification by Faith" were willing to kill those who dared to baptize adults instead of babies even though the people they were killing believed the same thing as they did about faith in Jesus Christ being the only way to God. The courage of those men is often praised but the uncomfortable truth is that they were mostly fierce personalities who were almost impossible to get along with. Most reformers would have made terrible neighbors because they turned everything into a battle to be won. There are a few examples of men who tried to unify the movement. Even though their efforts mostly failed, it's good to know that they at least tried.

Wolfgang Capito has been called the Protestant Peacemaker because he's known for his efforts to unite the Reformers. Wolfgang became a Catholic priest against his father's dying wishes, but felt himself drawn out by the study of scripture and correspondence with Luther. Initially he distanced himself from the Reformation largely because of the divisions that existed. He did visit Wittenburg and was so moved by the message of the gospel that he wrote that he had moved to their side. Even in his initial conversion he admonished those he was joining to mover towards "Christian unity". His growing concern drove him to his knees and his pen as wrote repeatedly to Luther and Zwingli pleading with them to find common ground and to show mercy to the Anabaptists. He wrote a hymn that endured for centuries in the German church in which the first line told of the burden he carried. It simply read, "Give us that peace that we do lack through misbelief and in ill life" 

Martin Bucer was a monk who decided to abandon his monastic vows in order to get married to eventually married an ex-nun named Elizabeth. He ended up in Strasbourg and joined with Wolfgang Capito's efforts to unite Luther and Zwingli and eventually Bucer managed to get Luther and Zwingli to sit down with himself as the mediator. That meeting failed to bring unity between the two men but it forced the issue of the divisions and had a powerful influence on later reformers such as John Calvin. Unlike Luther and Zwingli, Bucer taught that Spirit empowered good works and discipline should be expected in the lives of believers and in that respect found himself in unity with the Anabaptists. His efforts to unite eventually lead to his label as the "German Glue of The Protestant Reformation"

Michael Sattler was also a monk who left his monastic vows and got married. Michael ended up in Strasbourg with Capito and Bucer, but eventually separated from them and joined the radical wing of the reformation known as the Anabaptists. Their disagreement was mostly over the issue of infant baptism, but the thing that made them so unusual was that they were able to remain friends in spite of their disagreements and Sattler worked as hard as any to unite around the Gospel. Of the three friends, Sattler was the only one that died by execution. He was burned at a stake, by Roman Catholic authorities, as a heretic. They cut part of his tongue out but somehow he was still able to sing and pray for his executioners as they lead him from the prison to the fire. The executioners were so agitated that they took hot tongs and pulled chunks of his skin off his body as they tortured him. They denied him the bag of gunpowder around his neck that was typically given to make the process faster and less painful. They wanted Sattler to suffer as long as possible and suffer he did; but he stayed true to the end. When his friends Capito and Bucer heard of his execution, they were quoted a having said, "Michael Sattler was a dear friend of God". 

In a time of deep divisions in Christianity we could learn from these courageous men. We will never agree with everyone, but we can find common ground in our faith in Christ and because we are family we can find the power to love and respect each other. I can't think of anything I'd rather have people say of me, at my death, than, "he was a dear friend of God". Especially those who I have disagreements with right now. 

Think of those Christians you disagree with. Do they know you to be God's friend? Our pride gets us in trouble sometimes and causes divisions in places where there should be unity. Take a cue from these reformers and have the courage to love people who are different from you in practice and opinion, but same in faith.

Floyd Yutzy