Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation

On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Thus began the Reformation, which quickly spread all over Europe, leading multitudes back to Christ and the truth of His Word!!

Martin Luther said: “Unless you are continually baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire you will fall back into unbelief.”(1) The words of the great reformer couldn’t ring more true. So many of the people I knew from way back who played a game of safe Churchianity and warned against being too focused on that “Holy Spirit stuff” are not even walking with God now but have fallen back into the world while pursuing its empty nonsense. There is nothing better you can do for your walk with God than to pursue being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit!! For the Holy Spirit is God, and He leads us into all truth, opens our eyes to spiritual reality, and gives us life.

Luther’s highlighting of Paul’s creed (Rom. 8:1-16; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 3:16-19, 5:17) puts into perspective the reality that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but spiritual forces of darkness who constantly assault the believer on every front. The battle of faith constantly wages on and we need the light and illumination of the Holy Spirit to see clearly the battle we are in.

Like the character Susan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe who crosses over into another world she previously knew not existed and whose eyes open to a reality she beforehand knew nothing of, Luther himself says he entered into the paradise of God’s grace when the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to God’s Word declaring, “I was born again through gates of paradise and the whole of Scripture took on a new meaning,” (2) (click here for an overview of Luther’s life) as he finally understood that Christ had once for all paid for his sins on the cross at Calvary. Luther’s clarity on the finished work of Christ and subsequent confrontation of Catholic errors on things like:

  • Indulgences—the Catholic Church selling documents proclaiming forgiveness to those who rendered sufficient payment, a practice that still continues in the Catholic Church in parts of Italy and elsewhere.

  • Relics—the worship and idolatry of pieces of bone and hair from already-deceased, well-known Christians. This is actually a forbidden practice in the Old Testament called necromancy, yet one that the Catholic Church did and still persists in carrying out.

Confronting these abuses spurred the Reformation forward like wild fire, so many throughout the continent were sufficiently disgusted at the constant unbiblical abuses and money grubbing going on in Catholicism that when Luther’s sharp and clear words regarding the freely given grace offered through Christ’s finished work along with the pointed rebuke at the abuses the Catholic Church was carrying out, the sentiment spread like a wild conflagration.

Luther’s clarity in his writings on Christ’s finished work and confrontation of the errors of the Institutional Church turned many back to the truth of God’s Word and towards real relationship with Christ. Students grabbed hold of his writings and began reprinting them on the recently invented printing press (click here to learn about Gutenberg's printing press), disseminating them all over Europe, which stirred a movement that spread throughout the nations and eventually to the formation of a nation that would become known as America.

One of those impacted by Luther’s teaching and preaching was Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland as well as his contemporaries like Heinrich Bullinger and William Farrel.

Zwingli, a Catholic priest like Luther, was greatly disillusioned with Catholicism as well and yet, unlike Luther, found himself unable to live up to the demands of celibacy (like many priests we see in the news today). Zwingli later, like Luther, turned his back on the unrealistic idea of celibacy and married. He was influenced by Luther’s writings early on and experienced a conversion to Christ and began to disseminate Luther’s teaching in Switzerland. He subsequently began to lead the Reformation in Zurich and brought a great impact to the area and just as Luther, he taught on God’s grace while speaking out against the abuses and errors of Catholicism. (As former priests, all these men were intimately in touch with the damage caused by such institutionalized error.) Luther and Zwingli as well as the other reformers, stressed the authority of God’s Word over against the teachings of man found so much in institutional religion.

Zwingli also proffered great insight into the breaking process one goes through as we learn to lean on the cross of Christ. Faith and grace come forth “when one despairs of oneself and trusts wholly on Christ alone.” Salvation is known and matures when “a man casts himself off and prostrates himself before the mercy of God alone.” Until one stops looking to oneself and one’s own works “you remain yet to know the depths of the grace he offers.” Though Zwingli and Luther saw a few small details differently, on the main essentials their belief were the same: by faith through grace alone—nothing more and nothing less—does one receive the great gift of pardon and mercy God offers in his Son Jesus Christ.

This essential Biblical foundation held in common by all the reformers became the cornerstone of later revivals at: Hernhutt in Germany, in England, and in the American Colonies. Revivals that, because they had a solid Biblical foundation, lasted, flourished, and spread the Gospel, unlike many of the so-called revivals of today that spring up quickly and seem focused more on an individual and his personality and die out just as quickly as they arose. (Can anyone say Lakeland….etc.)

Zwingli also influenced many others in his area that joined the Reformation as well, and these Reformers like Bullinger and Farrel, did much to reach out to the poor and bring reforms to not only the Church but social situations as well. Bullinger made Zurich a refuge for Christians being persecuted by the Catholic Church and fleeing the burning at the stake, especially other Lutherans. Farrel was a fiery preacher who raised up many young preachers and sent them out to reach others with the Gospel of grace as well as reaching out to the poor and sick. He was also a figure who shone the light of Christ and even reached out to the Waldensians who had been persecuted centuries earlier and had taken refuge in Switzerland.

This simple turning back to the fundamentals of the New Testament’s core teaching of Christ’s finished work and the grace he freely offers through faith in His blood, shook not only these regions but also the nations. As even Life Magazine put it, Luther and his influence remain in the top three of most important events over the last one thousand years.

I'll share with you shortly the radical divine appointment story of how the above video on Zwingli came to be made. Stay tuned!

(1) Luther’s Sermons, Volume # 2, Page 182
(2) Martin Luther quoting on his conversion. Here I Stand by Roland Bainton.