Part 6: Reformation to Now. Lesson 2 of 7
Lesson 35. Zwingli

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will use the Bible with confidence as your source for truth and action, yet be patient with others who love the Bible as much as you do but who arrive at different conclusions from it

1.Zwingli. Some of the people left the Roman Catholic Church had opinions different from Luther.  One important man whose ideas continue up to the present was a man named Zwingli.  At first he was a Catholic priest in Switzerland.  He was so interested in the new edition of the New Testament in Greek that had recently been published, that he memorized it. He felt there were some customs of the Catholic Church were not found in the Bible.  In 1519 Zwingli read writings by Luther and persuaded his city to forbid any teaching that was not based on scriptures.  For example, he affirmed that only the Bible was the source of authority, and that pope or councils could make mistakes.  Strongly influenced by Renaissance humanism, he felt that every doctrine should be in harmony with reason.  (Luther taught certain doctrines even though they seemed to be contrary to reason.)

2.Basic Principle. Zwingli adopted the “sovereignty of God” (God’s authority and standards) as his “first principle.”  (A “first principle” means the basic teaching, to which all the other teachings need to be related).  This means that for Zwingli, God is in charge of everything, even to the point of deciding who will be elected to salvation and who would not be.  (Luther’s “first principle” was “justification by faith,” so Luther used predestination only to give assurance to Christians; Luther wanted believers to know they were saved, and did not want believers to wonder whether or not they were “predestined.”)

3.Customs. Luther had made it a point to retain as many customs as possible, because people were already used to them; his view was that anything not contrary to the Bible could be retained.  Zwingli on the other hand took a more extreme view.  He said that all customs should be ended, and only customs actually found in the New Testament should be retained.  Therefore, in 1525 Zwingli stopped using the traditional church service in his city, and created a simple service not related to the traditional one.  He asked the city council to paint the inside of the church white (to cover up the paintings). Many regions of Switzerland adapted Zwingli’s ideas, but other regions remained Roman Catholic.  The two sides fought a battle in 1531, and Zwingi was killed.  Others carried on his work, and the next lesson will tell how Calvin later came to Switzerland and promoted many of Zwingli’s ideas around Europe.

4.Disagreement. In 1529 Luther and Zwingli had a meeting. They agreed on many things, but divided over how to explain holy communion.   The Lutherans and and the other Reformation churches have continued to have different views about communion since that time.  The Catholics in 1215 had declared that the bread and wine changed into the body and blood of Christ.  All the reformers felt that this view could not be supported by the Bible.  Basing his views on logic, Zwingli felt that the bread and wine in communion was a symbol, reminding us of Christ, but that Christ himself was not in it.  Communion therefore was not able to give us grace or strengthen our faith.  It was a way to show others that we truly were Christians.  Zwingli was very much against saying that communion could bring any power, and to prove his point, he liked to quote John 6:63, “the Spirit brings life, the flesh counts for nothing.” He must have thought that the word “flesh” referred to physical objects, because he reasoned, “the body of Christ was in heaven, so it could not be in the bread and wine.”   Others feel that “flesh” in this verse refers to human striving.  Luther said we should simply believe Christ’s words when he said “this is my body; this is my blood.”  Luther taught that no one can say that the body of Christ cannot be both in heaven and in the bread.  Because Luther was willing to accept the Bible even if it was not logical, he insisted that Christ’s words “this is my body” must be accepted, and that therefore Christ’s body can be present anywhere.  Luther said that since Christ is present in communion, therefore communion assures us of the blessings that Christ brings: forgiveness and eternal life.

5.Baptism. Zwingli also regarded baptism as only a symbol.  Since Zwingli believed that God had already decided who would be saved, he felt baptism had nothing to do with salvation.  Zwingli compared baptism to the circumcision of Jewish boys.  Circumcision did not change the boys into Jews: they were Jews already before they were circumcised.  Circumcision served to remind them and others that they were Jews, and since they were Jews, they were part of God’s covenant.  Zwingli was willing to baptize the babies of Christian parents, assuming that they were already in God’s covenant.  The baptism served to show them and others that these babies were part of the church.  Luther, on the other hand, believed that babies were born outside of God’s covenant.  Luther believed that God had provided baptism as a way to give new life to babies and bring them into his covenant.

6.Baptizing Again.  Some of Zwingli’s followers in Switzerland disagreed with both Luther’s and Zwingli’s views on baptism.  They were called the Anabaptists, which means “baptize again.”  They received this name because they insisted that infant baptism did not have value, so they taught that anyone who had faith in Christ should be baptized again. They also disagreed with Zwingli’s methods of using the city council to reform the entire city; they felt that church should be independent of government.  In fact, they felt the church had become a political institution, and that it should not be one.  Against the will of the city council, in 1525 Conrad Grebel and others formed their own independent churches and later baptized one another again.  Anabaptists were persecuted by both Lutherans, Catholics, and Reformed for many years.  One reason was that most people felt that government should be used to help religion and that each region should have only one kind of Christianity.  Today most Christians accept the position that many kinds of denominations can exist in the same region, but Christians today are still divided between those who promote infant baptism and those who denounce it.  Because one of the principles of the Reformation was “Bible only,” both sides use the Bible to defend their positions:

7.Age of Accountability. The Anabaptists point to the Bible teaching that people are saved by faith, and say that a person must reach a certain age to understand enough before he can have faith.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says that by grace you are saved through faith, and the Anabaptists said that a baby cannot have faith, and therefore babies should not receive baptism.  Luther taught that no one can say that God cannot give faith to infants.

8.Confess faith. The Bible tells people to make a confession of faith.  Anabaptists stressed that a person must be old enough to speak before he can make a confession.  Romans 10:10 says that if we confess with our lips, we shall be saved.   In Matthew 28:19, God commanded baptism for all nations.  “All nations” includes people of all ages.  The Anabaptists denied baptism to babies, since they could not talk and confess faith.  Luther taught that Jesus welcomes small children, and the only Biblical way to bring small children to Jesus is through Baptism.

9.True Believers Only. Anabaptists stressed that the local church should have only true believers.  They said that waiting until after someone has confessed faith before letting them join the church is a good way to prevent nominal Christians from entering the church.  Luther said it was impossible to guarantee who the true Christians were and who the nominal Christians were.  Luther defined the church not as a gathering where there were no nominal Christians, but as a group who heard the word of God and received baptism and communion. According to the parable of the weeds, Jesus taught that those who are true Christians and those who are not will not be revealed during this life, but rather at the day of judgment.  If you pull up the weeds, you may harm the wheat at the same time. 1

10.Human Condition. Luther made the same point as Augustine had, that infants are born in an unsaved condition, and baptism is needed to bring salvation to them.  Paul writes that lease we are all dead in our disobedience and evil before Jesus calls us to life, 2  Paul also writes that because we all are descendants of Adam, we all will die,  but those who become united to Christ will rise. 3  The Anabaptists countered that sin is not inherited from Adam, but rather, we choose to sin and that is when we become sinners.

11.Point by point Comparison. This argument has continued over these past 500 years.  Each side points out inconsistencies in the other side’s views:

(1)  Those who defend infant baptism point out that the other side has created a ceremony called “dedication,” which is not found in the Bible.  The Baptists counter by saying that the infant baptizers have created a ceremony called  “confirmation,” which is not in the Bible.

(2)  Those who defend infant baptism point out that the other side teaches that there is a certain age at which someone becomes responsible for their actions.  The Bible does not teach about any such age.

(3)  Anabaptists say that the Bible does not command infant baptism.  Lutherans counter that the Bible does not forbid infant baptism, and in fact that babies must be included in Christs command to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” 4

(4) Lutherans teach that baptism brings salvation, because baptism is a method by which God’s grace is applied to the recipient.  Anabaptists teach that baptism is an act of obedience carried out by someone who is already saved, and that it does not bring any grace or power. The “double predestination” view of some Calvinists is that since God already has decided who is save, then baptism is the outward mark of this salvation.

(5) Anabaptists feel it is very important that the person is submerged into water when baptized.  Most other Protestants teach that the amount of water does not affect the spiritual reality of the action.

Here is a list of quotations about infant baptism from the early church.

12.Daily life. No matter when one was baptized, it is important to continue to live as a baptized person.  Luther taught that a person can reject Christ and lose salvation.  Luther advocated living as a baptized person by living a life of repenting and trusting Christ.  Many who follow the Anabaptists have adopted the stance that a Christian cannot reject Christ and lose salvation.  But all can receive comfort from the promises that the Bible gives us about baptism that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, 5  and that you can know you are united to Christ because of  two things: faith and baptism. 6

13.Influence. The Anabaptist  teachings have continued to have influence.  The idea of separation from government is now accepted by most churches.  The idea of pacifism was continued by the Mennonites and Quakers.  English people who came into contact with the Anabaptists established the Baptist churches.  Many of the new denominations that began in the 1800’s did not accept infant baptism. They will be introduced in lesson 38.  Apart from infant baptism, most of these churches follow the other ideas of Zwingli.

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1 Matthew 13:24-29.
2 Ephesians 2:1
3 1 Corinthians 15:22
4  Matthew 28:19
5 Mark 16:16
6 Galatians 3:26-27