« Prev The Genius of the Swiss Reformation compared with… Next »

§ 3. The Genius of the Swiss Reformation compared with the German.


On the difference between the Lutheran and the Reformed Confessions see Göbel, Hundeshagen, Schnekenburger, Schweizer, etc., quoted in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. 211.


Protestantism gives larger scope to individual and national freedom and variety of development than Romanism, which demands uniformity in doctrine, discipline, and worship. It has no visible centre or headship, and consists of a number of separate and independent organizations under the invisible headship of Christ. It is one flock, but in many folds. Variety in unity and unity in variety are the law of God in nature and history. Protestantism so far has fully developed variety, but not yet realized unity.

The two original branches of evangelical Christendom are the Lutheran and the Reformed Confessions. They are as much alike and as much distinct as the Greek and the Roman branches of Catholicism, which rest on the national bases of philosophical Greece and political Rome. They are equally evangelical, and admit of an organic union, which has actually been effected in Prussia and other parts of Germany since the third anniversary of the Reformation in 1817. Their differences are theological rather than religious; they affect the intellectual conception, but not the heart and soul of piety. The only serious doctrinal difference which divided Luther and Zwingli at Marburg was the mode of the real presence in the eucharist; as the double procession of the Holy Spirit was for centuries the only doctrinal difference between the Greek and Roman Churches. But other differences of government, discipline, worship, and practice developed themselves in the course of time, and overshadowed the theological lines of separation.

The Lutheran family embraces the churches which bear the name of Luther and accept the Augsburg Confession; the Reformed family (using the term Reformed in its historic and general sense) comprehends the churches which trace their origin directly or indirectly to the labors of Zwingli and Calvin.1515    On the Continent and in works of church history the designation Reformed includes Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and other non-Lutheran Protestants. Calvinism and Puritanism are not church terms, but denote schools and parties within the Reformed churches. The Anglican Reformed Church stands by itself as a communion which was reformed under Lutheran and Calvinistic influences, but occupies a position between Catholicism and Protestantism. In modern English and American usage, the term Reformed has assumed a restricted sectional sense in connection with other terms, as Reformed Dutch, Reformed German, Reformed Presbyterian, Reformed Episcopalian. In England the second or Puritan Reformation gave birth to a number of. new denominations, which, after the Toleration Act of 1689, were organized into distinct Churches. In the eighteenth century arose the Wesleyan revival movement, which grew into one of the largest and most active churches in the English-speaking world.

Thus the Reformation of the sixteenth century is the mother or grandmother of at least half a dozen families of evangelical denominations, not counting the sub-divisions. Lutheranism has its strength in Germany and Scandinavia; the Reformed Church, in Great Britain and North America.

The Reformed Confession has developed different types. Travelling westward with the course of Christianity and civilization, it became more powerful in Holland, England, and Scotland than in Switzerland; but the chief characteristics which distinguish it from the Lutheran Confession were already developed by Zwingli and Calvin.

The Swiss and the German Reformers agreed in opposition to Romanism, but the Swiss departed further from it. The former were zealous for the sovereign glory of God, and, in strict interpretation of the first and second commandments, abolished the heathen elements of creature worship; while Luther, in the interest of free grace and the peace of conscience, aimed his strongest blows at the Jewish element of monkish legalism and self-righteousness. The Swiss theology proceeds from God’s grace to man’s needs; the Lutheran, from man’s needs to God’s grace.

Both agree in the three fundamental principles of Protestantism: the absolute supremacy of the Divine Scriptures as a rule of faith and practice; justification by free grace through faith; the general priesthood of the laity. But as regards the first principle, the Reformed Church is more radical in carrying it out against human traditions, abolishing all those which have no root in the Bible; while Luther retained those which are not contrary to the Bible. As regards justification by faith, Luther made it the article of the standing or falling Church; while Zwingli and Calvin subordinated it to the ulterior truth of eternal foreordination by free grace, and laid greater stress on good works and strict discipline. Both opposed the idea of a special priesthood and hierarchical rule; but the Swiss Reformers gave larger scope to the popular lay element, and set in motion the principle of congregational and synodical self-government and self-support.

Both brought the new Church into Close contact with the State; but the Swiss Reformers controlled the State in the spirit of republican independence, which ultimately led to a separation of the secular and spiritual powers, or to a free Church in a free State (as in the free churches of French Switzerland, and in all the churches of the United States); while Luther and Melanchthon, with their native reverence for monarchical institutions and the German Empire, taught passive obedience in politics, and brought the Church under bondage to the civil authority.

All the evangelical divines and rulers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were inconsistently intolerant in theory and practice; but the Reformation, which was a revolt against papal tyranny and a mighty act of emancipation, led ultimately to the triumph of religious freedom as its legitimate fruit.

The Reformed Church does not bear the name of any man, and is not controlled by a towering personality, but assumed different types under the moulding influence of Zwingli and Bullinger in Zurich, of Oecolampadius in Basle, of Haller in Berne, of Calvin and Beza in Geneva, of Ursinus and Olevianus in the Palatinate, of Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley in England, of Knox in Scotland. The Lutheran Church, as the very name indicates, has the stamp of Luther indelibly impressed upon it; although the milder and more liberal Melanchthonian tendency has in it a legitimate place of honor and power, and manifests itself in all progressive and unionistic movements as those of Calixtus, of Spener, and of the moderate Lutheran schools of our age.

Calvinism has made a stronger impression on the Latin and Anglo-Saxon races than on the German; while Lutheranism is essentially German, and undergoes more or less change in other countries.

Calvin aimed at a reformation of discipline as well as theology, and established a model theocracy in Geneva, which lasted for several generations. Luther contented himself with a reformation of faith and doctrine, leaving the practical consequences to time, but bitterly lamented the Antinomian disorder and abuse which for a time threatened to neutralize his labors in Saxony.

The Swiss Reformers reduced worship to the utmost simplicity and naked spirituality, and made its effect for kindling or chilling-devotion to depend upon the personal piety and intellectual effort of the minister and the merits of his sermons and prayers. Luther, who was a poet and a musician, left larger scope for the esthetic and artistic element; and his Church developed a rich liturgical and hymnological literature. Congregational singing, however, flourishes in both denominations; and the Anglican Church produced the best liturgy, which has kept its place to this day, with increasing popularity.

The Reformed Church excels in self-discipline, liberality, energy, and enterprise; it carries the gospel to all heathen lands and new colonies; it builds up a God-fearing, manly, independent, heroic type of character, such as we find among the French Huguenots, the English Puritans, the Scotch Covenanters, the Waldenses in Piedmont; and sent in times of persecution a noble army of martyrs to the prison and the stake. The Lutheran Church cultivates a hearty, trustful, inward, mystic style of piety, the science of theology, biblical and historical research, and wrestles with the deepest problems of philosophy and religion.

God has wisely distributed his gifts, with abundant opportunities for their exercise in the building up of his kingdom.



« Prev The Genius of the Swiss Reformation compared with… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |