Radical Reformation vs. Magisterial Reformation
                                                                  David Bennett
                                                                     © January 1, 2007
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During the Protestant Reformation there were different views on a number of doctrinal issues. Two of these views can be summed up in what are
called the
Radical Reformation and the Magisterial Reformation. These two views existed at the same time.

My purpose here is to dispel the notion that there was just the “
Protestant Reformation” and that Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli (1484-1531), John
Calvin (1509-1564) and Martin Luther (1483-1546) were the only reformers and that their doctrine was the only doctrine of the Reformation.
I’m merely making the case that these men were not infallible.

Before I cover the differences between the Radical Reformation & the Magisterial Reformation let's look at their similarities. Both:

  • Rejected sacramentalism (Observing only two: Baptism & the Lord's Supper).
  • Rejected distinction between clergy & laity.
  • Rejected ritualism.
  • Emphasis on grace in justification.
  • Emphasis on priesthood of all believers.
  • Rejected the selling of indulgences for forgiveness/pardon of sins for which people were allowed to pay for a particular sin, even before
    they committed it. (1) Actually even Martin Luther did not oppose so much the use of it as he did the abuse of it.
  • Rejected the selling and collecting of supposed religious icons.

The following only highlights some of the differences between
Radical Reformation and Magisterial Reformation. John Calvin, Martin Luther
and others usually associated with "the Reformation' fall under Magisterial Reformation.

As I have demonstrated, there were competing doctrine during the Reformation. John Calvin was not infallible and things he said and bear scrutiny
and criticism.

It is interesting that Calvinists say on one hand, “
God doesn't need our help to accomplish anything, especially regarding anyone's salvation
as God has already determined it. When follow the Great Commission or do missions we don’t really accomplish anything because the
outcomes have already be determined, we’re merely being obedient

Then on the other hand these same people defend Calvin's dictatorial rule that included mandatory church attendance, infant baptism, and the
taking of the sacraments and his general dictatorial rule that included torture and killings for Anabaptists and others who disagreed with John
Calvin on doctrinal issues. These same defenders that say God doesn’t need our help then still defend John Calvin by saying what those like John
Calvin did was “necessary for protecting the faith from heresy...”

Jesus said you will recognize people by their fruit (
Matt 7:20) and no good tree bears bad fruit (Luke 6:23).

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    Galatians 5:22-23

John Calvin's decisions to have people burned at the stake are understandably viewed by Reformed Theology as an attempt “to confirm his image
as an intolerant authoritarian” and they rationalize his actions this way:   

    ...Despite the fact that religious toleration did not become a popular conviction until at least two hundred years later, and that
    what was done in Geneva was done virtually everywhere else in Europe on a much grander scale...

Actually that defense is a poor justification, just look at how the early Christians operated.

John Calvin said, “
…God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as He will, whether to good for His mercy's sake or to evil
according to their merits... Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of
” (11)

That looks similar to how Islam has been spread from its beginning. However, the early Christian church was spread by love and example.

These examples just don't square with what is taught in the New Testament about the Golden Rule and how to deal with those whom we disagree
with. The point in all of this is to show that Calvin and other reformers were wrong in much of their doctrine and their methods were far from those
taught by Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church, therefore, it is right to question their position on doctrine on an individual basis.

Also see
Calvin: The Unchanged and The Golden Rule.

1. http://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/indulgences.html

2. Various: http://www.anabaptists.org/history/schleith.html , http://www.eldrbarry.net/heidel/anabrsc.htm , http://history.hanover.edu/early/prot.
html, Estep, William R., Renaissance & Reformation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 241.; Littell, Franklin H.,
Origins of Sectarian Protestantism
(New York: The Macmillan Company), 11 http://www.baptistchristianworldview.
com/bheritage/cumminswhitsitt.htm and many others.

The Seven Theses of the Anabaptists http://www.theblackboxspeaks.org/anabaptists-7-theses.html

4. Eucharist

  • According to the Roman Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be bread and wine, and
    become instead the body and blood of Christ. The empirical appearances are not changed, but the reality is.

  • Many Reformed Christians, particularly those who follow John Calvin, hold that Christ's body and blood do not come down to inhabit the
    elements, but that "the Spirit truly unites things separated in space" (Calvin).

By faith (not a mere mental apprehension), and in the Holy Spirit, the partaker beholds God incarnate, and in the same sense touches him with
hands, so that by eating and drinking of bread and wine Christ's actual presence penetrates to the heart of the believer more nearly than food
swallowed with the mouth can enter in.

John Calvin specifically rejected adoration of the Eucharistic bread and wine as "idolatry", however. Leftover elements may be disposed of
without ceremony (or reused in later services); they are unchanged, and as such the meal directs attention toward Christ's bodily resurrection and

  • Lutherans believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are "truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms" of the consecrated
    bread and wine (the elements), so that communicants eat and drink both the elements and the true Body and Blood of Christ Himself (cf.
    Augsburg Confession, Article 10) in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

  • The Zwinglian view sees Communion (also called the Lord's Supper or the Lord's Table) as a symbolic meal, a memorial of the Last
    Supper and the Passion in which nothing miraculous occurs.

  • The Radical view was the Lord's Supper was to just be an observance or remembrance. The wine remained wine and the bread remained
    bread and they had no transforming power.

5. http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/sola-scriptura-earlychurch.html , http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/sola-scriptura-bible.html

6. Franklin Littell, The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism: A Study of the Anabaptist View of the church, (New York: The Macmillan Company,
1964), p. xvi. Hereafter referred to as Littell. http://www.anabaptists.org/history/sepamarg.html

7. http://www.anabaptists.org/history/sattler.html

8. http://www.biblehelp.org/appndx.htm

9. http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/Heritage/menno.htm#Menno%20Simons

10. Martin Luther and John Calvin on Sacramental Salvation. http://www.asapnet.net/remnant/page14issacrament.htm

Radical Reformation
(free will)
Magisterial Reformation


Called Radical because they believed the life of believers had to
be different or else the Reformation was just a farce. People had to
live their convictions out. Also as citizens of the Kingdom of God
they rejected the authority of the state.

Generally believed in:
  • Return to simplicity of the early church.
  • Opposed infant baptism.
  • Some practiced a radical egalitarianism – all are equal; poor
    & uneducated are equal to the rich & educated; women and
    men are equal.
  • Some called each other “brethren” to distinguish from others
    called Christian by being born in a Christian state.
  • Some called for common ownership of property.
  • Although they believed in justification by faith alone, they
    had to demonstrate good works and live according to a high
    moral standard. Those who did not were often exiled from
    the community.
  • Pacifists.
  • Saw themselves as returning to New Testament Christianity.
  • Sects like the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, and Quakers
    are offshoots of this movement.
Also see reference (2) and The Seven Theses of the Anabaptists in
reference (3)


Called Magisterial because they relied on the authority of the civil
magistrates for enforcement & to further their agenda.

It was largely supported by those in elite societies and the
privileged classes such as nobility and others who had political

Generally believed in:
  • Infant Baptism over Believers Baptism
  • State controlled Church over independent churches
  • Eucharist: Real presence vs. symbolic, memorial. In this I
    refer to the common practices of the Reformers at the time.
    For more see reference (4)
  • The elite and privileged wanted to protect or justify their
    status while the peasants and underprivileged lived in
    deplorable conditions.
  • Often times brutal to those who opposed their doctrine.


Pressed for the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Latin "by
scripture alone"). The assertion that the Bible as God's written
word is self-authenticating, clear to the rational reader, its own
interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself
to be the only source of Christian doctrine. (5)


Was in principle content to allow practices not contrary to
Scripture, even if not explicitly affirmed by Scripture.

Augustine, who John Calvin quoted extensively, said Scripture
should not be interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know
from science and our God-given reason.


Free will to accept or reject Christ's gift of salvation.


No choice to accept or reject Christ's gift of salvation. Salvation is


Credobaptism (from the Latin credo meaning “I believe”)
otherwise known as
Believers Baptism.

- Given to persons who have reached the age of accountability or
reason who have made a declaration of their personal faith in Jesus
Christ as their Savior.

-Conrad Grebel said baptism of infants and forced baptism of
adults were both invalid; everyone who joined his church had to be
re-baptised to make sure it was done right.

- Huldrych Zwingli dubbed them “Anabaptistts” (rebaptizers)
because they insisted on the rebaptism of those baptized as infants.

Interestingly enough “Anabaptists” never considered that any
rebaptism took place since they refuted the entire concept of infant
baptism to begin with. (6)

Anabaptist: A member of a radical movement of the 16th-
century Reformation that viewed baptism solely as an external
witness to a believer's conscious profession of faith, rejected
infant baptism
... Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“As to baptism we say: Infant baptism is of no avail to salvation; for
it is written that we live by faith alone. Again: He that believeth and
is baptized shall be saved. Peter likewise says: The like figure
whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting
away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience
toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:17;
Mark 16:16; I Pet. 3:21.”
Michael Sattler (1495-1527) (7)

The Schleitheim Confession
I. Observe concerning baptism: Baptism shall be given to all
those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and
who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all
those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be
buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him
and to all those who with this significance request it (baptism) of us
and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the
highest and chief abomination of the Pope. In this you have the
foundation and testimony of the apostles. Matt. 28, Mark 16, Acts
2, 8, 16, 19. This we wish to hold simply, yet firmly and with
The Seven Articles of Schleitheim, Canton Schaffhausen,
Switzerland, February 24, 1527 were considered important
enough to be refuted by both Zwingli and Calvin in separate

Menno Simons (1496–1561)
Ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1524 he did not become
acquainted with the bible until two years later. Around 1526 or
1527, questions surrounding the doctrine of transubstantiation
caused Menno to begin a serious and in-depth search of the
scriptures, which he confessed he had not previously studied, even
being a priest. Menno's first knowledge of the concept of
"rebaptism", which he said "sounded very strange to me", came in
1531. This came through the means of hearing of the beheading of
a Dutch tailor, Sicke Freerks Snijder for being "rebaptized". After
searching the scriptures Menno Simons concluded that infant
baptism is not in the Bible. Menno Simons left the priesthood in
January of 1536, and having scoured the teaching of the
Magisterial Reformers on infant baptism, he joined with the
Anabaptists. “For the next 25 years he (like Luther before him)
lived with a price on his head. While Luther at least could exercise
a ministry in a friendly political environment, Menno's ministry had
to be clandestine on account of political hostility. He and his people
were harassed by Roman and Reformed authorities alike. He died
of natural causes.” (9)


Pedobaptism (from the Greek paido meaning “child”) otherwise
known as
Infant Baptism.

For many in this camp infant baptism was tied to the doctrine of
predestination. It was the belief of these reformers that to admit
that one could not be baptized until they were old enough to make
a choice on their own denied the doctrine of predestination and
admitted that man indeed had free will and a decision to make, to
either accept or reject God's gift of Salvation.
removed the decision from the equation.

-John Calvin called pedobaptism "
a divinne institution."

- Martin Luther said that infant baptism was justifiable because
babies have "hidden faith," just as a believing adult is also a
Christian even while he is asleep.

-Around 1524 at the instigation of Zwinglii the Zürich council
ordered all unbaptized babies to be baptized within eight days.

-March 7, 1526, the Zürich council again sided with Zwingli and
passed an edict making adult baptism punishable by drowning.

- 1648 in Protestant England an Act of Parliament made a
rejection on infant baptism punishable by death.

Cannons of Dort: Article 17- The Salvation of the Infants of
“Since we must make judgments about God's will from his Word,
which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature
but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with
their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the
election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this
life in infancy.” (8)
[Apparently the children of the predestined are automatically
predestined too…]

Belgic Confession of Faith: Article XXXIV-Holy Baptism
“...we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with
the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover
condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who we believe
ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as
the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same
promises which are made unto our children...” (8)

Heidelberg Catechism
Question 74- Are infants also to be baptized?”
Answer 74- Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included
in the covenant and church of God; (Gen.17:7) and since
redemption from sin (Matt.19:14) by the blood of Christ, and the
Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to
the adult; (Luke 1:15; Ps.22:10; Isa.44:1-3; Acts 2:39) they must
therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted
into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of
unbelievers (Acts 10:47) as was done in the old covenant or
testament by circumcision, (Gen.17:14) instead of which baptism is
instituted (Col.2:11-13) in the new covenant.” (8)

Westminster Catechism
“Question 95- To whom is baptism to be administered?”
“Answer 95- Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out
of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and
obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the
visible church are to be baptized.” (8)

The Scottish Confession of Faith
drawn up by John Knox in 1560
Chapter 23- To Whom the Sacraments Appertain: We confess
and acknowledge that baptism appertains as well to the infants of
the faithful, as unto those that be of age and discretion. And so we
damn the error of the Anabaptists, who deny baptism to appertain
to children before that they have faith and understanding.

Modern Day Reformed Theology
The grievous heresy of sacramentalism continues to seduce in
various forms most “Reformed” churches. R.C. Sproul, for
example, justifies infant baptism by likening it to circumcision: “The
scriptural case for baptizing believers’ infants rests on the parallel
between [O.T.] circumcision and N.T. baptism as signs and seals
of the covenant of grace....The Old Testament precedent requires
it” (Geneva Study Bible, p. 38).(11)

Regarding the Treatment of Anabaptists:

Conrad Grebel
Often called the "Father of Anabaptists."
Early on an earnest supporter of the preaching and reforms of
Zwingli but split over abolishing the Mass. Zwingli argued before
the council for abolishing the Mass and removing images from the
church. But when he saw that the city council was not ready for
such radical changes, he chose not to break with the council, and
even continued to officiate at the Mass until it was abolished in
May of 1525. Grebel saw this as an issue of obeying God rather
than men. In October of 1525 he was arrested and imprisoned.
Through the help of some friends, he escaped in March of 1526
and died of the plague the same year.

Felix Manz (1498–1527)
initially became a follower of Zwingli after he came to Zürich in
1519. On 5 January 1527, Manz became the first casualty of
Zwingli's edict prohibiting adult baptism, and the first Swiss
Anabaptist to be martyred. His hands were bound and pulled
behind his knees and a pole was placed between them. He was
thrown to his death in an icy baptism in the cold waters of Lake

Michael Sattler (1495-1527)
Formerly a monk, he left the monastery in 1523. Michael Sattler
was captured by Roman Catholic authorities and was burned at the
stake on May 21, 1527. 7 I guess the Catholics beat Calvinists to
the punch.

George Blaurock (1491-1529)
became the pastor of the church in Adige Valley, after their former
pastor, Michael Kürschner, was burned at the stake. Eventually he
and Hans Langegger were arrested and on September 6, 1529,
both were burned at the stake.

Jacob Hutter (? - 1536)
-Swiss pastor who fled to Moravia to join the Anabaptists and
become the main leader of the Anabaptists. He was arrested on
December 1, 1535 and taken to Innsbruck, where King Ferdinand
had his government. There he was tortured and burned alive in
February 1536.

Thomas Müntzer (1489–1525)
is sometimes considered an Anabaptist, since he rejected infant
baptism. But because many Anabaptists were also pacifists,
Müntzer was not typical.

During his studies Münzer was influenced by Martin Luther. By
1523 Münzer's position had diverged considerably from Luther's,
siding with the peasants and working classes whom he saw as the
instruments of divine will. He promoted the establishment of a new
egalitarian society which would practice the sharing of goods. After
the Peasants' War (1524–25) broke out Münzer and the radical
priest Henry Pfaiffer succeeded in taking over the Mühlhausen
town council and set up a communistic theocracy in its place. Upon
the defeat of the peasant party, Münzer was beheaded.

Regarding the Treatment of Anabaptists:

Huldrych Zwingli was the leader of the Protestant Reformation in
Switzerland, and founder of the Swiss Reformed Churches.
Zwingli's Reformation movement was known for mercilessly
persecuting Anabaptists and other followers of Christ who
maintained a nonresistant stance.

From 1525 Zwingli persecuted Anabaptists mercilessly with
imprisonment, torture, banishment and death. The Anabaptist
leader, Felix Manz, was drowned. Under Zwingli's influence,
penalties of drowning, burning or beheading were decreed by the

'It is our will,' they proclaimed, 'that wherever they be found,
whether singly or in companies, they shall be drowned to death,
and that none of them shall be spared."

John Calvin wrote to England's King Henry VIII recommending
that Anabaptists be burned as an example to other Englishmen: 'It
is far better that two or three be burned than thousands perish in
Hell.' 10 (
Only it wasn't two or three. Calvin was instrumental
in having other groups killed as well. See

Martin Luther (1483-1546) “…His attitude to Anabaptism was
molded by a succession of unfortunate events, and he turned from
toleration through banishment to the death penalty for sedition and
blasphemy (a term which in practice was largely equated with
what previously had been called

Luther told the princes and the nobility (referring to peasants) that it
was right and lawful to slay at the first opportunity a rebellious
person, "
just as one must slay a mad dog…Let all who are
able, cut them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in
secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous,
noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel... For we are come
upon such strange times that a prince may more easily win
heaven by the shedding of blood than others by prayers
." (10)

The Peasants' War (1524–25) cannot be blamed totally on those
in the Radical Reformation. It was in many ways a response to the
preaching of Luther and others. Many peasants mistakenly
believed that Luther's attack on the Church and the hierarchy
meant that the reformers would support an attack on the social
hierarchy as well, because of the close ties between the secular
princes and the princes of the Church that Luther condemned.