The Reformers & Evangelism

The Protestant Reformation began in earnest with the excommunication of Martin Luther.
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The Protestant Reformation brought significant changes in the way the Church views evangelism. Much of the modern Protestant church's view on evangelism was formed by the early Reformers. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Arminius and other reformers had differing views on the best ways to spread the gospel, but shared the desire to ensure that all had a chance to hear the Reformation's core tenet of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

1 Martin Luther

Luther encouraged people to learn to read the Bible for themselves.
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Martin Luther's excommunication from the Catholic Church was based on his teaching that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. Luther's understanding of salvation is based on Romans 3:23-24: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Luther believed that God's message of salvation could be found and readily understood by all who could read the New Testament for themselves. This led to his translation of the Bible into the vernacular German of the day and his book, "Small Catechism," which sought to present the Christian faith in a format children could understand.

In Luther's words, "It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor."

2 Huldrych Zwingli

Zwingli's ministry had lasting impact on the majority of Reformed Protestant denominations.
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Huldrych Zwingli was a German-Swiss reformer and a contemporary of Luther. While the two agreed on most issues, Zwingli disagreed with Luther's position that participating in the sacraments was important for maintaining faith. Zwingli was also more militant in his evangelistic efforts. He sought to convert entire communities, starting with his native Zurich. In his way of thinking, converting the local princes to Protestantism amounted to leading the entire community to the Reformed Christian faith. Zwingli's zeal in evangelizing Switzerland's Catholic cantons (states) led to a brief civil war in Switzerland, and ultimately to Zwingli's death in battle.

3 John Calvin

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John Calvin was a French-Swiss Reformer who taught that those who are to be saved are predestined to salvation and those who are to be damned are predestined to their fate. This teaching did not, however, dampen Calvin's enthusiasm for evangelism. He taught: "Since we do not know who belongs to the predestined and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved"; and, "God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception."

In Calvin's view, Christians are called to spread the gospel message and to leave the results to God. He further believed that God had foreordained both who was to come to salvation (the elect) and the means by which they would come to salvation (by the preaching of the gospel).

4 Jacob Arminius

Jacob Arminius was a late 16th-century Dutch Reformed theologian and pastor. In his early ministry, he ascribed to the teachings of John Calvin. Later, he challenged Calvin's teachings about predestination. In Arminius' view, salvation was offered to everyone through Jesus Christ, and each person had the free will to accept or reject salvation. This belief led Arminius to an active form of evangelism. Those who identify with Arminius' teachings tend to be fervent about evangelism. They believe it is their responsibility to make sure everyone receives the opportunity hear about salvation through Christ.

Dell Markey is a full-time journalist. When he isn't writing business spotlights for local community papers, he writes and has owned and operated a small business.