Heralds of the Reformation: 30 Biographies of sheer Grace
By: Richard M. Hannula Review by Hanna with NETworkers TEC
To provide a broad overview of the Protestant Reformation by focusing on the lives of thirty believers during the Reformation in Europe.
Forerunners of the Reformation
The Reformation in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands
The Reformation in France, Switzerland, and Italy
The Reformation in England
The Reformation in Scotland
Why You Should Read this Book!
After reading this book you will...
Be in awe of God and the power of his Word.
Gain courage from Christians of the past.
Be challenged to not compromise your Christian faith.
Change the way you regard your Bible.
Don't have time to read the whole book? Get a glimpse of the book through the detailed summary below.
Going to church and hearing the sermon in another language and having no one to interpret it for you.
Not being allowed to own a Bible, and even if you did see a Bible, you couldn’t read it because it wasn’t in your language (and there was no Google Translate back then!).
Being afraid to teach your children the Lord’s Prayer in English because if you did you could be burned at the stake?!
This is the way it was for most of the population in Europe during the Middle Ages. There was only one church, the Roman Catholic Church, and only the clergy, leaders, or scholars could read and interpret the Bible. But when they preached or read God’s Word, it was in Latin, which the common people did not understand; consequently, they were left in the dark about spiritual teaching. The only things they knew about God were what the Roman Catholic church told them and unfortunately the church often used this situation to exploit the people. One of the many things the people were told was, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” (pg 54). Since the people did not know the Scriptures, they often gave their last penny to the Roman Catholic church hoping to escape (non-existent) purgatory, while those in the leadership of the Roman Catholic church got rich on the people’s money. People were kept hostage by the Roman Catholic church’s teaching on praying to the saints, achieving salvation through good works, purging one’s sins in purgatory, following the seven sacraments, and believing that only church fathers had the authority to forgive sins (pg 5-6). Through these teachings, the people and even the scholars and clergy were left without the hope or security of eternal life, having their sin forgiven, or having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Then came the heralds of the Reformation. Some of the earliest voices against the teaching of the Roman Catholic church came from the Waldensians. These men and women held on to Scripture as their authority and not the Pope. They faced extreme persecution by being chased and expelled from their homes and even murdered for teaching their children God’s Word and placing Him as the highest authority and over the Pope’s word. Throughout the 1500’s God stirred in the hearts of men and women all across Europe. He opened their eyes to the truth of the Gospel through the words of Scripture. Many a time God first worked through a scholar or church leader who had access to the Scriptures in Latin to open his eyes to the truth that salvation is by grace through faith, not works (Eph 2:8-9). This revelation brought such joy to his heart that he confessed his dependence on Christ alone for salvation, instead of all the other acts the church tried to get people to do to be saved. Then he preached far and wide the message to the common people that Jesus alone could save, that all could have direct access to Him through prayer, that there was no need to give money to free souls from purgatory because there is no purgatory, and that Jesus Christ paid the punishment for sin once and for all so anyone can believe, by God's grace, in Jesus for salvation. These leaders began to affect others and soon a Reformation started in Europe and people were revived in their faith when they realized they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
As you can imagine, this was not very popular with the Roman Catholic church as they could no longer control the people (or their money) with false teaching. They arrested the Reformers and imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, and burned many at the stake. Some of the Reformers recanted under the extreme persecution, only to be repentant of that sin and die a martyr's death. Others lived like fugitives, going from country to country, and sharing God’s true Word wherever they went. Many of these reformers wrote books about the Protestant faith and many of them translated the Bible from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or other original manuscripts into the languages of their people. The gift of having the Bible in the common man’s tongue was a great blessing, as it allowed the people for the first time to know the Words of God personally instead of through the Pope or a church leader who often distorted God’s Word. People began to experience great joy when they were personally born again.
Heralds of the Reformation is organized, as much as possible, in chronological fashion starting with pre-Reformation groups including the Waldensians and the Lollards and ending with one of the later reformers in Scotland, John Knox. A sampling of the 30 heroes of faith that are featured in this book are John Huss, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Katherine Zell, William the Silent-Prince of Orange, Ulrich Zwingli, William Ferel, John Calvin, Renee-Duchess of Ferrara, Thomas Bliney, William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer. In each one of their lives, Richard Hannula accounts what their life was like before they met Christ, how they were born again through God’s Word, and how their life was transformed after that. Each person is a remarkable story of God’s grace.
It is neat to see how throughout Europe, how God was stirring individually, but yet all around the same time, in the hearts of believers to believe the truth of his Word; and then it is interesting to see how these Christians were brought together from different European countries, often because of persecution, and were encouraged by one another’s faith and stand. Frequently one chapter of the book would focus on one hero of faith and then the following chapter bears more details on a person in the previous chapter who interacted with the main believer of the previous chapter. It was impacting to see how these heralds affected one another and how they worked together to accomplish God’s work, led people to Christ who were originally opposed to their work, or influenced others in different countries through their writings, preaching, and Bible translation work.
Each one of these people was very courageous. They were courageous to admit that they were wrong about what they had previously been teaching from the Roman Catholic church. Some of these men held high teaching positions, were already part of the clergy or religious institutions, were political leaders/rulers, or could have just lived quiet and comfortable lives. They could have believed the truth for themselves and experienced great joy at that but, out of fear, kept it to themselves or told relatively few people. But instead they stepped out in faith, boldly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to all who would listen.
Slowly, the people’s hearts turned to the true teaching of the Bible and many townspeople suffered right along side these leaders as they risked their lives to teach their own children God’s Word in their own language. These stories mainly focus on prominent people in the Reformation, but let us also remember unmentioned fathers, mothers, church shepherds, and Christians who also suffered persecution and gave their lives for holding to the Word of God as supreme.
These men and women of the Reformation were very humble. They did not start out to create a denomination or even to purposefully pull away from the Roman Catholic church. Whenever they were confronted about what they were saying, they continually begged those opposing them to show them from Scripture where they were wrong and they would gladly recant. But the church leaders could never prove their own teachings from Scripture and thus the reformers would boldly proclaim with Martin Luther (pictured to the right), “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils alone, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” (pg 58).
Comprehension questions and answers at the end of each part of the book.
Brief overview of the divisions of Christians in the 1500’s, as well as the ruling leaders of various countries and provinces during the Protestant Reformation, and a simple timeline that lists the major key events in the Reformation.
Seven short teachings on basic Reformation doctrines including sola Christo, sola Scriptura, and key statements of faith of the Reformation.
Extra resources to go deeper on studying about the Reformation.
This book is a charge to every believer to always compare what you are hearing to God’s Word; it doesn’t matter if it is from a preacher, a book, a person in authority, or an educational institution, God’s Word must be supreme and we must compare all things and believe or reject ideas based on the standard of His Word. This book also is an encouragement to stand strong against anyone who would try to deter you from your faith in Christ and his Word. Thankfully we have great heroes of the past to look to for this encouragement and the knowledge that just as God was with them, so He is with us.
As we read our Bibles, let us remember those that gave their lives so that we could have the Bible in our own language and remember to pray for those who are translating the Bible for those who have yet to have the Bible in their own tongue.