Since this newspaper began, debate has continued amongst correspondents as to what true religion entails. It is interesting to note that John Calvin has invariably been put forward as representing all sides in their highly different positions. This is neither surprising nor helpful. Calvin was a second generation Reformer whose works reflect strong Lutheran, Zwinglian, Bullingerite and Bucerian influences in their conflicting aspects. Furthermore, whereas Calvin’s Swiss and Strasburg teachers were men of peace and developed their own theology within their own pastoral duties amongst churches who loved them, Calvin was a man of strife in a frequently rebellious church. The Geneva Council treated Calvin as a foreigner, refusing him citizenship until the latter period of his life. Moreover, Calvin formulated most of his rather harsh independent thought through battling both against those good men who had prepared his way such as Valerand Poullain and with such wayward spirits as Bolsec and Osiander. According to what influence Calvin was under at the time, or with whom he was quarrelling, his theological pronouncements differ. In his first edition of the Institutes, Calvin takes over Zwingli’s stand. In the Consensus Tigurinus, he follows Bullinger. In his later works and church order, he reproduces Martin Bucer’s work down to headings and subheadings. On the Lord’s Supper, Calvin retracted from a Reformed stance to a quasi-Lutheran outlook. On the doctrines of grace, he left his former Hyper-Calvinism for a less severe, unclear position. Though we honour Calvin for his ability to reap the best from other men’s works, he fails to convince us that he himself is a safe standard worthy of our imitation. On the other hand, if we turn to the older English and Irish Reformers from John Wycliffe to James Usher, and include the above mentioned Bucer and Bullinger, we find them building their Articles, Catechisms and Homilies on the doctrines of grace which were solidly Calvinistic before ever Calvin came on the scene or gained widespread influence.
This year is Bullinger’s 500 years anniversary. He had already earned the grand names of Shepherd of All the Churches and Father and Founder of the Reformed Faith in England before ever Calvin’s writings reached the Isles. May I recommend that our readers turn to Bullinger’s works? They will find them more consistent, more steadfastly Calvinist and more pastoral than Calvin’s writings which owed their more positive aspects to Bullinger and Bucer.
George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.
George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.