NONESSENTIAL DOCTRINAL DIVISIONS: A Cue from Selected Protestant Church Fathers

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This year, I was able, by God’s grace, to present a paper at the Annual Babajide Journal Conference tagged Biblical Worship: The Essence of the Church. My paper focused on the views of three major Reformers on Worship, namely Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin.


My findings reveal that these three men, who are the most vocal voices of Protestantism and had the largest followership, agreed on the basics of salvation. They had five solas (Sola is the Latin word for “alone”) which they ALL emphasised! They taught that all doctrines are to be derived from Scripture ALONE (sola scriptura) and that salvation is by grace ALONE (sola gratia) through faith ALONE (sola fide) in Christ ALONE (solus Christus) to God’s glory ALONE (soli Deo Gloria).


The Protestant Fathers, on one hand, upheld the primacy of the sermon in church worship, and, on the other hand, irreconcilably disagreed as to the spiritual significance of the Eucharist’s elements and the use of music in church worship. They also agreed that worship was done to the glory of God and each one believed that his approach to worship brought the utmost glory to God. They had the same goal but sought to achieve this through different and even opposing means!

Luther allowed the use of icons in worship and believed that the use of vestments by ministers in church worship is a matter of choice freedom, inasmuch ostentation and pomp are avoided, and no one sees it as a means of acceptance.[i] On the other hand, Zwingli saw to it that the worship of images, the use of Latin in church services, and the use of relics in worship were abandoned.[ii] In addition, he and his followers removed art works from the church.[iii]

Calvin forbade the use of images in worship, asserting that it is wrong to represent God by a visible appearance, because God Himself has forbidden it (Ex. 20:4) and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory.[iv] His disgust for icons or liturgical arts in worship, notwithstanding, Calvin considered them as God’s gifts to be used purely and legitimately for God’s glory and our good, and that believers should not be polluted by their perverse misuse which can cause their destruction.[v]

If there was anyone who stressed the most Soli Deo Gloria in all aspects of life among the Reformers, it was Calvin. Calvin believed that there is “nothing more perilous to our salvation than a preposterous and perverse worship of God.”[vi] Thus, God must be worshipped purely and in due form, according to His word, as He is graciously present, and presides in the midst of those who worship Him.[vii] He insisted that man is not at liberty to add elements or ideas of his own to the worship of God.[viii]

Calvin asserted that the chief foundation of worship “is to acknowledge Him [God] to be, as He is, the only source of all virtue,

justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation.”[ix] He believed that true worship begins with this correct understanding of who God is, as the self-existent and self-sufficient One, to whom they will “ascribe and render to Him the glory of all that is good, to seek all things in Him alone, and in every want have recourse to Him alone.”[x] This, he said, inevitably leads to prayer, praise, and thanksgiving as “attestations to the glory which we attribute to Him,” which further grows into “adoration, by which we manifest for him the reverence due to his greatness and excellency.”[xi] Calvin’s emphasis is a necessary consequence of his emphasis on God’s glory and sovereignty and it represents fully the views of other Protestant Fathers.


Yet, everyone of them so much emphasised on the need to maintain God’s glory in everything that the other four solas rise and fall on the need for soli Deo gloria. This is their emphasis in the matter of worship but, surprisingly, they disagreed on the following in a bid to maintain God’s glory in Worship:


  1. The Use of Musical Instruments


  1. The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion/Eucharist)


  1. The Place of Icons and Arts in Worship


Their views were antithetical at some point and synthetic at some other points. Yet, their divergent views were to ensure that God’s glory is supreme in the worship of the Church. Zwingli went as far as destroying organs in churches while Luther made use of musical instruments.




Zwingli believed that the use of instruments detracted from the essence of worship, which ought to be done in the spirit. Luther, on the other hand, insisted that all arts can be employed in the service of and to the glory of God who granted wisdom to those who created these arts and produced musical instruments. So, he allowed the use of musical instruments!


Funny enough, both men were trained musicians who composed hymns for worship.


What does this tell us?


The foregoing reveals that the only areas of agreement among the early Protestants with respect to church worship is that God’s glory is ultimate in all matters, the preaching of the Word is primary and everything done in worship must be guided by these two principles. The application of these principles in every practical aspect of worship is what divided them. In the same vein, Christians today should know that we all cannot agree on every details of worship.

Therefore, we should stop deriding one another on aspects of worship which do not detract from God’s glory. Those who do not use musical instruments should relate lovingly with those who do and vice versa. Irrespective of our belief about the Eucharist, we should be willing to tolerate one another during worship. This applies to the wearing of prayer garments, removal of footwear, among many other features of worship as long as they are not assaulting to the Finished Works of Christ. Tolerance is needed to endless divisions which weaken the church.


We can NEVER agree on every details in matters of worship!




You see that the acceptance of one another, in spite of our differences, is TO THE GLORY OF GOD!


As a person, there is HARDLY any Protestant Mainline Denomination in Nigeria, today, that I have NOT worshipped in and that I do not have minister friends with whom I share deep fellowship with. It doesn’t mean that I agree or accept EVERYTHING done in Worship. But when I remember that my own denomination has some activities and practices in her worship that I do not agree with, even as a minister there, I know it’s not worth separating from or antagonising another person for what s/he does in Worship, as long as it does not detract from the glory of God!


The Protestant Fathers did NOT agree! Their maxim was: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty!


We can NEVER agree!


Chew that!


Don’t make enemy of anyone for that reason. Don’t castigate, insult or curse anyone for disagreeing with you. You don’t need to fight anyone, either!


What matters is that our Worship is to the glory of God and God ALONE!







[i] Martin Luther, “The German Mass,” in Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, vol. LIII (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2001), 35.

[ii] James Atkinson, “Huldreich Zwingli, Swiss Reformer,” Churchman, vol. 075 No. 1 (1961):5.

[iii] Neil Stipp, “Music Philosophies of Martin Luther and John Calvin,” American Organist (September 2007):68.

[iv] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeil (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 12.

[v] Ibid; cf. also Sections 7, 8, and 11.

[vi] John C. Olin, ed., A Reformation Debate: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1966), 61.

[vii] Robert Godfrey, “John Calvin’s Views on Worship,” [accessed December 4, 2018].

[viii] John Calvin, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” Selected Works of John Calvin (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 128.

[ix] Ibid, 127.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.


Author: Anthony Fawole

Anthony ia a young Nigerian was trained in Theology and Biblical Studies at Christ Apostolic Church Theological Seminary, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria (Ilesa Campus, popularly known as Babajide School of Prophets and Evangelists), Evangelical Church Wining All Theological Seminary, Igbaja, Kwara State, and Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. He has served as a church pastor in Nigeria before resuming as a lecturer in Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages in Benin Republic. He is also into Christian Apologetics and Muslim Evangelism. He travels around training Christian ministers and workers on how to evangelise Muslims and expose the lies of Islam.

2 Responses to "NONESSENTIAL DOCTRINAL DIVISIONS: A Cue from Selected Protestant Church Fathers"

  1. AYANNIYI DAVID Rev. Posted on November 29, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Nice script here.You have kill it and hurried it here again. The problem we have is what we called HYPERSPITUALISM. We just want to prove We understand God and his word than the other fellow. But to out you again “We can NEVER agree on every details in matters of worship!” “You see that the acceptance of one another, in spite of our differences, is TO THE GLORY OF GOD!”
    Well done Sir

    • Anthony Fawole Posted on December 9, 2019 at 9:46 am

      Thanks so much for this response. It’s an honour to serve in this capacity.

      Every Blessing!

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