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The Religious Reformers

The great Apostasy resulted in false doctrines saturating Christianity. Many religious reformers were inspired of God to identify these falsehoods and revolt against them. The resulting unrest spawned multiple Christian churches, which paved the way for the restoration of the true Church of Jesus Christ. Here are some of these reformers:

John Wycliffe—Possibly the greatest of all the "Reformers before the Reformation," was born in 1324, and is supposed to have been a native of the parish of Wycliffe, near the town of Richmond, Yorkshire. He studied theology at Oxford, but little is known of his university career. Wycliffe appears to have been a man of simple faith and of earnest and manly courage. He made a strong impression upon his age; an impression that was not effaced at the time of the "Reformation." Wycliffe taught that the Catholic Church did not have priesthood keys, that the Eucharist (or sacrament) was not the literal body of Christ, and that the church should not exercise political power over the people. He translated the Bible into English, and died in the year 1384. (see Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, p.288; Preach My Gospel, p. 45)

Martin Luther—One of the foremost figures among the reformers. He was an Augustine monk, and teacher in the University of Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was born in Saxony in 1483, of humble parentage. Amidst the struggle which poverty imposed upon him but with a determined will, he rose to be renowned as a scholar long before his rebellion against Rome. His study and reflections while in the service of the church awakened in his mind many grave doubts and he was led to question many of the doctrines of the church. He gradually reached the conclusion that the system of penance and forgiveness of sins through indulgences was wrong. He nailed 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in defiance of many current teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Although John Wycliffe and others had called for a return to New Testament Christianity nearly a century earlier, it was Luther who launched the Protestant movement-although it should be noted that his followers, not Luther himself, actually organized the Lutheran Church. Soon other visionaries such as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Wesley, and John Smith took up the movement. These men gave rise to religious orders that broke new theological ground while continuing certain aspects of the Catholic tradition from which they sprang. (see Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man, p.221 – 222; Preach My Gospel, p. 45; M. Russell Ballard, Our Search for Happiness: An Invitation to Understand The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, p.31)

John Huss—After the death of Wycliffe his work was continued by John Huss, in Bohemia. These two men never met, but Huss obtained translations of Wycliffe's writings which had been spread all over Europe. Huss was also a teacher and a preacher. He declared that no man on earth had power to forgive sins, and he taught the people to search the Scriptures for the words of eternal life, a thing forbidden by the ruling ecclesiastical power. Through his activity he converted thousands of his countrymen. He was summoned to a church council at Constance and unwisely went (although it was with the sacred promise of King Sigismund that he should be returned in safety), was condemned for heresy and in July, 1415, was burned at the stake. Because of his death the Bohemians rose in rebellion and carried on a war for several years which was finally concluded through a compromise. The spirit which Wycliffe and Huss had given to the movement of reform went on; it could not be stopped for there were unseen powers greater than the power of men at work among the people. (see Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man, p.221)

William Tyndale—Where Wycliffe's Bible was only a translation of the Latin into English, Tyndale translated his version from the original Greek. The result was the first printed New Testament in English. Utilizing one of the greatest inventions of man, the printing press, the Tyndale New Testament was printed in Germany, smuggled into England, and made available to the English people. For this, Tyndale was strangled and his body burned at the stake. His last words were "Lord, open the King of England's eyes," a prayer that was subsequently answered when King James, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, gave to the world the authorized King James Version of the Bible-the version used to this day by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.John Calvin. From the ashes of Zwingle another reformer, John Calvin, arose. While he did not accept many of the views of his predecessor, yet with great effect he carried on the work of rebellion against the Church of Rome. He was executed on October 6, 1536. (see Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, p.2; Preach My Gospel, p. 45)

John Calvin—Calvin was a Frenchman who was studying to be a priest. He was forced to flee from France on account of religious persecution—he was a major leader in movements to reform the Catholic Church. He found refuge at Geneva where he established himself with considerable power. Whereas another reformer, Zwingle, believed in a gradation of offices in the church, Calvin maintained that all should be equal, and that the church should be governed by the elders, so out of this doctrine came the Presbyterian Church, or the church of the elders. Calvin lived much of his life in Switzerland. He taught that men by nature are depraved and that only God’s grace can save them. He wrote many commentaries on the Bible. He died in 1564. (see Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, p.2; Preach My Gospel, p. 45)

John Knox—In Scotland the work of the "reformation" was carried on by John Knox, who was a disciple of Calvin. The Scotch Covenanters were followers of Calvin as were also the Puritans. The Pilgrim Fathers took with them from England to New England across the Atlantic, the Calvinistic creed, and alas, its intolerance also. So ingrained was it in their theological mind that, even though they were fleeing from persecution, Frederick Seebohm has declared, "they themselves persecuted in the land of their refuge. Under the rule of the Boston saints there was as little religious liberty as under the rule of Calvin in Geneva." (see Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man, p.233)

There were a number of key reformers within the movement, including:

  • Martin Bucer
  • Heinrich Bullinger
  • Andreas von Carlstadt, later a Radical Reformer
  • Wolfgang Fabricius Capito
  • Martin Chemnitz
  • Thomas Cranmer
  • William Farel
  • Matthias Flacius
  • Caspar Hedio
  • Justus Jonas
  • Jan Łaski
  • Philipp Melanchthon
  • Johannes Oecolampadius
  • Peter Martyr
  • Joachim Vadian
  • Laurentius Petri
  • Olaus Petri
  • Pierre Viret
  • Huldrych Zwingli

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