John Calvin vs. Martin Luther

A Rock of Offence Special Supplement

The Positive and Negative Aspects
of the Reformation

It was during the Protestant Reformation
that the battle against God's Grace started
in earnest. This anti-grace effort was
initiated in the first century by a group
of 'believing Pharisees' in Acts chapter 15,
then incorporated into Roman Catholicism
through the famous theologian, Augustine
of Hippo ... and finally transferred into
the Protestant Reformation through John
Calvin, a devout disciple of Augustine.

This theology, commonly known as "Calvinism",
continued to gain popularity during the
"Great Awakening" revivals and eventually
became the dominant "Christian religion"
of the early American colonies, where some
of today's mainline denominations were born.

The "Believing Pharisees" were a group of Jewish ministers who requested that circumcision and "obedience to Old Testament Law" must be included as requirements to obtain salvation. This created a problem ... because it represented a doctrine that was contrary to the Grace-based evangelistic message of the Apostle Paul. In Acts chapter 15, the entire apostolic leadership of the Church, often referred to by theologians as "The First Jerusalem Apostolic Council" gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. It was led by James our Lord's half-brother. After some intense deliberation, the council denied the request ... and wrote an official letter to the churches warning that this doctrine did not come from them and was not to be received.

Unfortunately, these "believing Pharisees" decided to ignore the council's decision and preach their false evangelistic message wherever Paul planted a church. In response, Paul wrote his "Epistle to the Galatians" to expose this erroneous doctrine - which had corrupted the faith of the congregation. This is why various modern-day Bible scholars refer to this same doctrine as; the Galatian error or Galatian religion, which now dominates many parts (but thankfully not all) of the Christian Church.

As in any revival or spiritual movement involving human participation, the Reformation had both a positive and a negative side. Respected men such as the 4th century Roman Catholic theologian, Augustine - and the 16th century Protestant theologian, John Calvin (and his colleagues) were instrumental in keeping the aberrant first century “doctrine of the believing Pharisees” alive in its various modified forms and expressions. But, by this time its unscriptural characteristics had been successfully reworded and explained away - and was now being presented as God's true Biblical Theology.

Popular Christian commentaries correctly identify Martin Luther and John Calvin as the primary leaders of the Reformation. Both men left the Catholic Church to work in the new movement. History records that Luther and Calvin were trained in Catholic theology and were ardent followers of Augustine’s 4th century teachings. Luther was previously a priest and was known to possess a “Doctorate of Divinity” degree.

When studying church history, there is no doubt that both Calvin and Luther admired and respected Augustine as one of the most influential theologians who had ever lived. But, we should also remember that the Roman Catholic Church was established on Augustinian theology – which remains firmly in place today. This was the same Catholic Church Luther and Calvin claimed to oppose. For over 1000 years, Augustine’s teachings were considered to be “the accepted standard” for Christian faith. However, when we compare the teachings of any theologian (regardless of how respected and popular) with the Holy Scriptures – irregularities and errors will always become evident. But God accepts Scripture as His final authority and not a particular theology devised by man or a church organization. Under these conditions, it is possible to admire and respect a theologian, yet disagree with their teachings at the same time. This is why both Calvin and Luther spoke highly of Augustine, but responded to his doctrine in different ways.

What we are often not told is that John Calvin totally embraced Augustine’s Roman Catholic theology, which he modified to fit the new Protestant movement. Today, it is widely known as “Calvinism”. In its countless different forms and flavors – Calvinism has become a dominant theology and a stealth behind-the-scenes influence in a majority of Protestant congregations. But Luther, after discovering many of its unscriptural and anti-grace characteristics (these were the same objections that motivated the Acts chapter 15 apostolic council to condemn the “doctrine of the believing Pharisees”) - disagreed with Augustine’s theology. These disagreements eventually led him to reject Augustine's doctrine and embrace the New Testament teachings of Saint Paul. This is one reason Martin Luther is disliked and even despised by many devout Roman Catholics today.

Contrary to traditional and
historical Christian beliefs,
Calvin and Luther did not
teach the same doctrine.

In his commentary entitled "Calvinism's Surprising Catholic Connection" (availble from his Internet ministry "The Berean Call"), Christian author and Bible teacher Dave Hunt provides the following quotes and observations about John Calvin and Martin Luther.

Hunt writes ...

"There is no question that Calvin imposed upon the Bible certain erroneous interpretations from his Roman Catholic background. Many leading Calvinists agree that the writings of Augustine were the actual source of most of what is known as Calvinism today. Calvinists David Steele and Curtis Thomas point out that “The basic doctrines of the Calvinistic position had been vigorously defended by Augustine against Pelagius during the fifth century.”

As one of the most well-known classical Calvinists of the 19th century (according to the Westminister Confesion of Faith), B. B. Warfield confirmed the connection between John Calvin and Augustine by saying ...

“The system of doctrine taught by Calvin is just the Augustinianism common to the whole body of the Reformers - for the Reformation was, as from the spiritual point of view a great revival of religion, so from the theological point of view a great revival of Augustinianism.”

John Calvin made the following statement about himself:

“Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”

Hunt continues ...

"In his eye-opening book, "The Other Side of Calvinism" Laurence M. Vance thoroughly documents that “John Calvin did not originate the doctrines that bear his name ...” Vance quotes numerous well-known Calvinists to this effect. For example, Kenneth G. Talbot and W. Gary Crampton write, “The system of doctrine which bears the name of John Calvin was in no way originated by him....”

“Strangely, Calvin apparently failed to recognize that Augustine never understood salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Philip F. Congdon writes, “Another curious parallel is evident between Classical Calvinist theology and Roman Catholic theology. The two share an inclusion of works in the Gospel message, and an impossibility of assurance of salvation ... Both hold to the primacy of God’s grace; both include the necessity of our works.”

Hunt then reveals how Luther
responds to all of this ...

“Augustine’s heresies, especially his
Romanist view of faith in Christ being
supplemented by good works and
the sacraments, were not lost on
Luther, who wrote;

‘In the beginning, I devoured Augustine,
but when...I knew what justification
by faith really was, then it was out
with him.’”
(Words of Martin Luther)

(Emphasis Added)

[End of Quotations]

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All of these official sources reveal how Calvin's Protestant theology is actually a modification and rewording of Augustine's Catholic theology. As a result, both men are guilty of redefining the origianl Gospel message found in the New Testament canon - into what Paul refers to as “a different gospel and another Jesus”. Hunt correctly uses the word "heresy" to describe Augustine's doctrine because it changes the way Christ's salvation is obtained according to Scripture.

Dave Hunt’s entire commentary explains this complex problem in more detail and is available on his website HERE.

If this link becomes inactive, you can
also access this material HERE.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Quoting these individual authors, including Dave Hunt does not necessarily mean that we agree with all of their beliefs and teachings. Yet, church history shows that they are correct in their conclusions about Augustine and John Calvin. The information presented here will almost never be preached from a pulpit on Sunday morning because of the divisive and spiritual implications. There is little doubt that these facts will deeply offend those who embrace the teachings of Augustine, Calvin, Reformed theology and various expressions of Christian fundamentalism. Hopefully, it will help some to see that they need to re-examine the way they interpret and believe the Bible.

Because of certain problems which
occurred later in his life - we
feel the need to also provide a
warning about Martin Luther.
In an effort to avoid any
misunderstandings, these issues
are addressed in the following
brief commentary:

Our Position on Martin Luther


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Most recent revision March 2019