Calvinism (also called the Reformed tradition or Reformed Protestantism) is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice set down by John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians. It emphasises the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Bible.
Calvinists broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. Calvinists differ from Lutherans (another major branch of the Reformation) on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, theories of worship, the purpose and meaning of baptism, and the use of God's law for believers, among other things. The term Calvinism can be misleading, because the religious tradition which it denotes has always been diverse, with a wide range of influences rather than a single founder; however almost all of them drew heavily from the writings of Augustine of Hippo twelve hundred years prior. In the context of the Reformation, Huldrych Zwingli began the Reformed tradition in 1519 in the city of Zürich. His followers were instantly labeled Zwinglians, consistent with the Catholic practice of naming heresy after its founder. Very soon, Zwingli was joined by Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Capito, William Farel, Johannes Oecolampadius and other early Reformed thinkers.
The namesake of the movement, French reformer John Calvin, renounced Roman Catholicism and embraced Protestant views in the late 1520s or early 1530s, as the earliest notions of later Reformed tradition were already espoused by Huldrych Zwingli. The movement was first called Calvinism, referring to John Calvin, in the early 1550s by Lutherans who opposed it. Many within the tradition find it either an indescriptive or inappropriate term and would prefer the word Reformed to be used instead. The most important Reformed theologians include Calvin, Zwingli, Martin Bucer, William Farel, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Theodore Beza, and John Knox. In the twentieth century, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Karl Barth, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, R. C. Sproul, and J. I. Packer were influential. Contemporary Reformed theologians include John MacArthur, Timothy J. Keller, David Wells, and Michael Horton.
The Reformed tradition is largely represented by the Continental Reformed, Presbyterian, Evangelical Anglican, Congregationalist, and Reformed Baptist denominational families. Several forms of ecclesiastical polity are exercised by a group of Reformed churches, including presbyterian, congregationalist, and some episcopal. The biggest Reformed association is the World Communion of Reformed Churches with more than 100 million members in 211 member denominations around the world. There are more conservative Reformed federations such as the World Reformed Fellowship and the International Conference of Reformed Churches, as well as independent churches.