The Force Behind the Protestant Reformation Wasn’t Luther

Martin Luther is credited with spawning the Protestant Reformation in Germany. There’s no doubt he was one of the main movers and shakers. Perhaps the top dog in that arena.

But the forceful mind behind the Reformation wasn’t Luther. It was his Philip Melanchthon. And without him, there would be no Reformation. Not as we know it, anyway.

Luther was bombastic and passionate, using giant brush strokes to create his images.

Melanchthon, on the other hand, painted details using an ultra thin brush. He was more reserved, more careful, and more scholarly than Luther.

In comparing himself to Melanchthon, Luther wrote:

“I was born to take the field and fight with the hordes and the devil, and therefore my books are very stormy and warlike. I have to dig out the roots and trunks, cut down the thorns and hedges, and fill up the pools; I am the crude lumberjack who has to blaze a trail and prepare the way. But Master Philip goes about quietly, building and planting, joyfully sowing and watering as God has richly given him gifts to do.” (Luther, op cit. Hunsinger, 280-81)

Of Melanchthon, Luther wrote,

“If it please Christ, Melanchthon will make many Martins and a most powerful enemy of scholastic theology; for he knows their folly and the Rock of Christ as well. As a man of might, he will prove his ability.” (What Luther Says, 919).

In 1520, Melanchthon wrote, “I would rather die than be separated from Luther.”

Although Luther was also scholar himself, Melanchthon was more of an academic. Melanchthon wrote the first dogmatic textbook examining the topics of theology in an organized fashion according to the theology of Luther.

He also wrote the famous Augsburg Confession.

To get a better idea of their personalities, Donald Trump is more like Luther and Newt Gingrich is more like Melanchthon. On the other side of the aisle, Barack Obama is more like Melanchthon while Jeremiah Wright is more like Luther.

Historians are agreed. The Reformation could not have taken place without Melanchthon. Differing in personality and temperament, the two men made a formidable team and changed the course of church history.

I’m thankful that God brought these two men together to launch a revolution in their time (though I’m much more a fan of the Anabaptists during that era with respect to their ecclesiology, and happily stand on their shoulders in that regard.)

Even so, I’m convinced the Lord desires to do the same today. That is, every contemporary Luther needs a Melanchthon and ever Melanchthon needs a Luther. That is, if they can abide each other’s unique temperaments and not give in to jealousy. For details on what I mean, see Why Christian Leaders Don’t Work Together.

Then listen to Kendall sing it away.

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