As the Protestant reformers began to construct their new order, it became apparent there were significant differences among them.

Martin Luther, founder of the new order, soon saw, in addition to his papal opponents on his right, a serious threat on his left: “false brethren.” These “fanatics,” as he also labeled them, held evangelical beliefs similar to Luther’s. But they differed with him on crucial issues, usually on the interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. To Luther, this group threatened the true reformation of the church.

The Reformers understood themselves to be, first and foremost, pastors and theologians; this was certainly true of Luther. What mattered to him most was doctrine, especially the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone.

Thus the key to unity and harmony among the various Reformers was not politics, social concern, or ethics, but sound doctrine. As Luther once wrote of radical reformer Thomas Munzer, “I am not so much offended by the unfruitfulness of the spirit of Munzer, as I am by his lying and his attempt to establish other doctrines.”

Luther fought like a tiger to preserve doctrine as he believed God had revealed it to him. This led him to clash with a number of Protestant reformers with whom seemingly he had much in common.

In, With, and Under

The sharpest clash came over the meaning of the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. Ulrich Zwingli, the reformer of Zurich, interpreted the scriptural phrase “This is my body” to mean “This represents my body.” He believed Christ was present— “according to his divine nature.” Zwingli agreed with Luther that the communicant received Christ’s blood, but only by faith.

Luther, however, insisted these words be taken literally. The body and blood of Christ were ...

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