In modern theology the term “Calvinism” is loosely used to refer to those group of people that proposes the T.U.L.I.P. concept. It is especially the adherents to Arminian theology that uses this term, and it seems that it is generally accepted by those who believe in the 5 Points of the little flower. But history tells us another story as to the origin and meaning of this term.

After Martin Luther’s break with Roman Catholicism, there followed a time of growth in the followers of the so called “reformed theology”, but very soon It became evident that the “reformed theology” did not consist in a uniform set of views. There were definite agreements on core viewpoints, but also definite disagreements on others. The protestants in Germany held to the doctrines as Martin Luther taught them. They were later known as the Lutherans. For them Luther’s teachings as embodied in his catechisms, and the Confession of Augsburg, were authoritative. 

On the other hand, the cities and towns of the Rhineland and Switzerland felt more inclined to the teachings of John Calvin as embodied in his Institutes, and specifically the Heidelberg Catechism. There was a growing consciousness that the two groups, namely the followers of  Luther’s teachings and the adherents to Calvin’s doctrines, differed in many aspects of theology – enough to distinguish them as two different theological groups. The development of confessionalism made this distinctions very clear.

In the 1560’s, the Lutheran theologian Joachim Westphal, used the term “Calvinism” for the first time to refer to the theological viewpoints of the Swiss Reformers and John Calvin specifically. It was the different views on the Lord’s Supper that would occasion this coinage by Westphal. His purpose was to belittle the followers of John Calvin, rather than to be a positive contribution to the discussion. Frederick III changed his allegiance to the Lutheran views to accept the Reformed theology, especially the Heidelberg Catechism. This would fire the fuel amongst the Lutherans in the adoption of the term with its negative perceptions. Thus “Calvinism” as movement and its theological views was branded negatively in Germany. Calvin tried to oppose this negative view as an attempt to discredit Frederick III’s adoption of the Reformed theology, but being sick and dying, the effort to correct it died with him.


See McGrath, Alister E. The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation, Blackwell Publihers, 2004

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