Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Martin Bucer and the Reformation

Like Martin Luther, Martin Bucer was born in the Holy Roman Empire, baptized on November 11th, named after St. Martin of Tours, and began his adult life as a friar. After hearing Luther at the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518, Bucer like Luther came to Protestant convictions, took refuge in a castle for a time, and married a former nun. 

While Bucer would become known as the reformer of Strasbourg, that was not the first city he attempted to reform. In 1522 he was traveling to Strasbourg to drop off his wife with his parents before going to complete his doctoral studies in Wittenberg. They stayed the night in Wissembourg, and there he was convinced by the local pastor, Heinrich Motherer, to help him preach the gospel and reform the city (much like Calvin was later convinced to stay in Geneva by Farel). 

In Wissembourg, Bucer preached once every day and twice on Sundays and holidays, working through books of the Bible. His outspoken advocation for Reformation teachings got him excommunicated by the local bishop and aroused the opposition of powerful noblemen. After six months, he and his fellow preacher were forced to flee in the night with their pregnant wives to seek refuge in Strasbourg. It looked like his first attempt to bring about reformation in a city had ended in failure.

But Bucer pressed on. He would help lead the reformation in Strasbourg for the next 26 years and would help lead many other cities and regions to embrace the Reformation. Nor was his work in Wissembourg in vain. In 1534, the Reformation was permanently established in that city.

In fact, Bucer's time in Strasbourg would end the same way as his time in Wissembourg ended. In 1549, he was forced to flee with his (second) wife and children from Strasbourg to England because of the emperor's imposition of the Augsburg Interim.

While Bucer threw himself into assisting the Reformation in England, “The situation of the church in Germany tormented and anguished Bucer until his very death. Did not the very same fate threaten England, should it respond with the same indifference to God’s Word now revealed so openly and clearly? On the afternoon of February 28, 1551, Bucer urged those surrounding his deathbed to do all they could to make his grand design for the kingdom of Christ come true. That very night he died, at only fifty-nine years of age” (Greschat).

In one sense, his fears concerning England were well founded. Mary Tudor came to power in 1553, burning some of the Protestant leaders and causing many to flee to the continent. She even had Bucer’s remains tried for heresy and burnt with his books.

Nevertheless, due the courageous stand of some of the Protestants in the Empire, the Augsburg Interim was voided in 1552, allowing each territorial prince to decide whether the territory would be Protestant or Roman Catholic. So Strasbourg would remain Protestant, and the exiles from England were able to find refuge in the cities on the continent, including Strasbourg.

Despite discouraging circumstances, let us press onward and promote the kingdom of Christ, knowing that Christ reigns over all and is the faithful guardian of his church.
"What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."
(1 Corinthians 3:5–6)

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