This week is the final piece of a series on the Protestant Reformation that began 500 years ago. We're taking a look at some of the individuals that God had in place for a period of time when the Christian church went through a major upheaval. I have drawn from various sources for these e-mails but have leaned heaviest on a series of biographies called, "Here We Stand" on www.desiringgod.org website. If you are fascinated by the stories of the reformers, I'd highly recommend checking those out. They go into much more depth than I've been able to do here and cover a lot more people. The book by Timothy George titled "Theology of The Reformers" is an excellent source also. It is more interesting to read than the title sounds and does well with explaining the dynamics of the four major wings of the Reformation.
Martin Luther hated Jews. He didn't like the book of James and said that it was written by a dirty Jew and shouldn't be in the Bible. To this day there is still an engraving high outside on his church in Wittenberg Germany that depicts a Jewish man and his children defiling themselves with a pig. It's not difficult to trace the influence of Luther on the Jewish race to the Holocaust 400 years later.
John Calvin was a proud authoritarian who was so harsh that he had a man imprisoned for falling asleep in one of his sermons and a girl beheaded for hitting her parents. The minutes of the Geneva City Council reveal a man who was very insecure and threatened by anyone who made the slightest indication that they were not in total submission to his teachings. "Foxes Book of Martyrs" completely ignores the truth that Calvin had the blood of many martyrs on his hands, because John Foxe was a personal friend of Calvin. But Martin Luther's description of Calvin's actions was, "With a death sentence they solve all argumentation"
Ulrich Zwingli is known for beginning the wholesale slaughter and persecution of the Anabaptists. He taught against infant baptism; but later killed people who baptized each other as adults. His hypocrisy and his violence are huge black marks on his legacy.
The radical wing of the Reformation was in no way innocent either. The Anabaptists attracted the most contentious and strange group of people imaginable. There was a group in one town who understood Jesus' teachings that "Unless we become as little children, we can't enter the kingdom" as a command to lay on the floor and crawl around in their church services, making baby noises and pretending to be babies, in order to earn their spot in the kingdom.
Jan Van Leyden was an Anabaptist leader who seized control of Munster Germany, declared it to be the New Jerusalem and place where Christ would return soon. He instituted polygamy and took 15 wives for himself. His cult drew so much Anabaptist support that several thousand people flooded to Munster only to be slaughtered a short time later by Roman Catholic authorities and the German army.
The Anabaptists held to holiness teaching so intensely that many of them taught a salvation that was utterly dependent on their good works. Menno Simons himself held a view of Jesus Christ that rejected His full humanity. There are so many little splits and splinters in the early Anabaptists that at one point, I'm told, there were about a dozen church groups in a 7 mile radius and they had all excommunicated each other over disagreements. They preached brotherly love, but couldn't get along with anyone!
What are we to make of these people? They range from very sincere Christ followers, who had some weaknesses, to complete heretics. God used these people to change the course of history and God has always used flawed people to accomplish His purposes.
I find a lot of comfort in the fact that God is perfectly capable of using my life for His purposes even when I'm weak and flawed. I think Crawford Loritts said it best when he said, "God takes immeasurable delight in hitting straight licks with crooked sticks"