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An Independent Work


Martin Luther is universally considered the father of the Reformation, and with good reason: he was the first, and suffered the wrath of Rome to a greater extent. All Reformation roads, however, do not lead back to Luther. In Switzerland, a priest named Ulrich Zwingli (less than two months younger than Luther), before having heard of Luther, was pursuing even more extensive reforms in the church. This is where the Swiss Reformation began.

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In December 1518, Zwingli’s growing influence secured for him the office of “people’s priest” at the Grossmünster (Great Cathedral) at Zurich. This pastorate was a significant position. Zwingli immediately broke from the normal practice of preaching according to the church calendar. Instead, he announced he would preach sequentially through whole books of the Bible. On January 1, 1519, his thirty-fifth birthday, Zwingli began a series of expository sermons through Matthew that were drawn from his exegesis of the Greek text. He continued this consecutive style until he had preached through the entire New Testament. This ambitious project took six years and prepared the ground for the work of reform that was to follow.

. . .

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As Zwingli preached through the Bible, he expounded the truths he encountered in the text, even if they differed from the historical tradition of the church. This kind of direct preaching was not without challenges. In 1522, some of his parishioners defied the church’s rule about eating meat during Lent. Zwingli supported their practice based on the biblical truths of Christian liberty. He saw such restrictions as man-made. That same year, he composed the first of his many Reformation writings, which circulated his ideas throughout Switzerland.

In November 1522, Zwingli began to work with other religious leaders and the city council to bring about major reforms in the church and state. In January 1523, he wrote Sixty-seven Theses, in which he rejected many medieval beliefs, such as forced fasting, clerical celibacy, purgatory, the Mass, and priestly mediation. Further, he began to question the use of images in the church. In June 1524, the city of Zurich, following his lead, ruled that all religious images were to be removed from churches. Also in 1524, Zwingli took yet another step of reform—he married Anna Reinhard, a widow. All of this appears to have happened before Zwingli ever heard of Luther. This was truly an independent work of God.

By 1525, the Reformation movement in Zurich had gained significant traction. On April 14, 1525, the Mass was officially abolished and Protestant worship services were begun in and around Zurich. Zwingli chose to implement only what was taught in Scripture. Anything that had no explicit Scriptural support was rejected. The words of Scripture were read and preached in the language of the people. The entire congregation, not merely the clergy, received both bread and wine in a simple Communion service. The minister wore robes like those found in lecture halls rather than at Catholic altars. The veneration of Mary and saints was forbidden, indulgences were banned, and prayers for the dead were stopped. The break with Rome was complete.

—Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 431–433.



Posted 2018·10·03 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · Pillars of Grace · Steve Lawson · Ulrich Zwingli

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