Reformation Biographies (03): Ulrich Zwingl

Date: 10/30/2011
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Reformation Biographies (03): Ulrich Zwingli

Proverbs 4:18-19 - But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.

This week we will consider a Swiss Reformer that lived at the dawn of the Reformation, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). Zwingli was trained in the Renaissance University system as a “humanist” - that is as one who read in the sources of Western Civilization. He was ordained in 1506 and began preaching against various corruptions in the Church in his home town of Grossmunster in Zurich about 1518. In 1519 he began preaching from the New Testament Greek text through books of the Bible (lectio continuo). He began challenging the customs of medieval Roman Catholicism which he thought unbiblical. By 1522 there was a public controversy that surrounded his ministry when he attacked Lenten fasting traditions. He personally struggled with clerical celibacy and secretly marriage in 1522. In 1524 he wedded his wife publicly and in 1525 he persuaded the leaders of the city to abolish the Mass and replace it with a simple service that included the Lord's Supper but only as a symbolic memorial. The issue of the “presence of Christ” in the Eucharist proved a stumbling block to Luther when he and Zwingli met in 1529 at Marburg. They agreed on 14 points of doctrine (such as Justification by Faith), but could not agree on the nature of the Lord’ Supper. Luther was most likely the problem here. So there was a split at the ground floor of the Reformation. Sadly Zwingli was killed in battle at age 47.

Zwingli is interesting because he is parallel with Luther, in the midst of the first Anabaptists and the first person to articulate “covenant theology” in response to the “new testament only” approach of the Anabaptists. He seems to have come to many Reformation insights about the same time as Luther and somewhat independently, by a study of Scripture. Some of his followers “went further” than him (as they considered it) and forged a “radical reformation” - namely the Swiss Anabaptists. Zwingli sought to persuade them in meetings held on January 10 and 17, 1525. Even so, Hubmaier, Grebel and Manz, who represented the Anabaptists in the those conferences, did not abandon their position. Civil action to suppress all Anabaptist teaching followed. But in defiance of this suppression, the monumental action took place at Zollikon on February 7, 1525: Grebel re-baptized Blaurock and later Blaurock baptized others. Zwingli’s response is the first formal statements of what we might call, “covenant theology.” He wrote: “The children of Christians are no less sons of God than the parents, just as in the Old Testament. Hence, since they are sons of God, who will forbid this baptism? Circumcision among the ancients ... was the same as baptism with us.”

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more