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Who was Martin Bucer?

Martin Bucer

Martin Bucer (1491—1551) was a German Protestant Reformer. Originally, Bucer took the vows of a Dominican friar and studied under the well-known Catholic humanist Erasmus. Later, Bucer met Martin Luther and heard him teach. In 1521, he became convinced of Luther’s assertion that faith alone is needed for salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9) and that the Bible is the sole source of one’s faith (2 Timothy 3:16).

When Bucer moved to Strasburg, France, he became the pastor of a parish and sought to spread the Reformation in France and Italy. While in France, Bucer met John Calvin, who had been exiled from Geneva. During his time with Calvin, Bucer influenced Calvin’s views on worship and liturgy and encouraged the younger theologian to return to Geneva.

One of Bucer’s goals was to reconcile differences among the Reformed denominations. For example, the followers of Luther and Zwingli disagreed on the theology behind the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:18–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–25). Luther held to the view of consubstantiation, which teaches that Christ is spiritually present in the elements of the Eucharist. Zwingli held to the belief of memorialism, which teaches that the Lord’s Supper is done in remembrance of what Jesus did for believers on the cross. Bucer held to a middle view between Luther’s and Zwingli’s beliefs and maintained that Christians from both camps could join in unity. This attempt at reconciling both views culminated in the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, but it did not end with the unification that Bucer had hoped.

Not only did Martin Bucer attempt to reconcile denominations within Protestant circles, but he also tried to bridge the gap between Catholics and Protestants. Bucer took part in Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s attempts at Catholic and Protestant reconciliation at the Colloquy of Regensburg in 1541. Sharing some political and doctrinal interests, both parties agreed on certain issues, but the main area of disagreement was justification. In the colloquy’s written declaration, the idea of biblical justification was portrayed in an unclear and ambiguous manner. The Protestants held that Scripture taught that works are not needed for salvation (Romans 3:28; 5:1–2), but the Catholics urged the inclusion of works for perfecting salvation. Martin Luther publicly opposed the declaration, and the Protestant members of the colloquy, including Bucer, subsequently rejected the declaration as well. Given his efforts to make peace among various groups, Martin Bucer is regarded by some scholars as an early advocate of ecumenism.

A major emphasis in Martin Bucer’s theology was the importance of faith in action. He wrote a book in 1523 entitled Instruction in Christian Love, and he strongly believed that Christians should show love to all: unbelievers and believers alike. Clearly, this emphasis on Christian love reflects teachings in Scripture (see John 13:34; Philippians 2:4; James 1:27).

In 1549, Martin Bucer was forced to leave Strasbourg; he moved to England at the request of Thomas Cranmer. While in England, Bucer became a professor of divinity at Cambridge University. Many scholars note the influence that Bucer had on Cranmer’s most recognized work, the Book of Common Prayer. This liturgical guide for worship went on to influence the Anglican Church as well as many other Protestant denominations.

While not as widely known as Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli, Martin Bucer had a wide influence and is best known today for his commitment to compromise.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022