Sunday, November 27, 2016

Seminary PL28: Zwingli: No Compromise?

This is the fourteenth post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the twenty-seventh post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post in this series looked Athanasius as an example of a leader who didn't compromise on an essential matter of dogma. This week continues with a second example from church history: Zwingli, someone who probably should have compromised and didn't.
1. Athanasius stubbornly held on to the Trinity in the 300s even when it seemed all political power--and perhaps even most popular sentiment--was against him. Jan Hus (1369-1415) and Martin Luther (1483-1546) similarly refused to recant their positions, both against some of the problems in the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) of their day. Luther especially refused to recant his belief in justification by faith unless he could be shown from the Bible.

Both Hus and Luther were willing to be convinced on the basis of Scripture. Although they were persistent, they were perhaps still not quite as unbending as Athanasius. Nor do they seem as dogged as another reformer of Luther's day, Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531). Zwingli became a priest of the cathedral of Zurich in 1518, in the Swiss Confederation of that time. [1] This was the year after Luther nailed his ninety-five theses of protest against the thinking and practices of the RCC of that day.

2. At the same time that Luther's situation was playing itself out in the German states, Zwingli was in Zurich pushing back on various abuses and doctrines of the RCC to which he objected. A defiant soul, one such protest took place in 1522 when he and some others cut up a couple sausages during Lent and distributed them (they were supposed to be fasting). He secretly married a widow in defiance of the requirement for priests to be celibate, and was publicly married in 1524. He was able to get away with these things because of the tide of Swiss independence that had become so strong in the decades before.

Zwingli and others in Zurich increasingly pushed back on the veneration of saints and on the rituals and opulence of the church. There were a number of public debates in which Zwingli took part. In the early 1520s, some in Zurich began to push back on the practice of infant baptism, believing it to be unbiblical.

One wonders if Zwingli was of a certain personality that vigorously wanted the right and freedom to air his grievances and make space for his perspectives but who could not allow for anyone else to disagree with his positions and who would not make space for the right or freedom of others to disagree. It was apparently okay for him to push back on the RCC on the basis of the Bible, but when some in his own church had a crisis of conscience, he did not tolerate it. Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock performed the first adult baptisms in 1525. They refused to leave Zurich. The next year a penalty of death was attached to anyone who would rebaptize.

Manz was drowned in the Limmat River for rebaptizing in 1527. More would follow. [2]

3. In 1529, Zwingli met with Luther at what is called the Marburg Colloquy. Zwingli had increasingly come to reject the idea that Jesus was in any way present in the Lord's Supper. [3] Zwingli's view was that the Lord's Supper was merely a remembering of the Last Supper, nothing more. Meanwhile, while Luther had rejected the RCC doctrine of transubstantiation, he still believed that the "real presence" of Jesus was there with the elements. [4]

The two came to a consensus on fourteen of fifteen points, but there was no agreement on communion. Luther had no real expectations of the meeting, although Zwingli thought he could convince Luther of his position. Certain personalities, perhaps like Zwingli's, always think they can convince their opponents if they argue long enough and think you perverse when you remain unconvinced.

What would have happened if Luther and Zwingli had agreed to disagree at Marburg? Might Protestantism have remained a singular alternative to Roman Catholicism? Probably not, for reasons we will explore in the next post.

4. I do not know the heart of Zwingli, nor am I an expert on him. But there is a certain personality that enjoys conflict and is unwilling to compromise on many issues that are neither dogma nor essential. They would rather blow up the world than bend on any point. Conflict obviously follows such individuals everywhere they go unless everyone around them is willing to do what they want.

Zwingli died in battle against five states in the Swiss Confederacy who wanted to remain Roman Catholic and believed that Zurich and the other states were in a process of forcing Protestantism on them. Luther is said to have believed God had a part in the death of Zwingli, saying, "All who take the sword will die by the sword."

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 29: Tillich's Protestant Principle

[1] These thirteen Swiss states were part of a sprawling collection of hundreds of county-sized states that made up the "Holy Roman Empire." These states covered territories that today are part of Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium, Netherlands, and more.

[2] Zwingli was not on the council that enacted these things, but we have every reason to believe that he fully supported and would have promoted this course of action. These "Anabaptists" or rebaptizers were a branch of the Reformation known as the "Radical Reformation."

[3] An influence on Zwingli here was Andreas Karlstadt, who had been a colleague of Luther's at Wittenberg and who, like Zwingli, was more militant in pushing his views than Luther.

[4] Luther's view is called "consubstantiation." Transubstantiation is the belief that the elements literally become the actual body and blood of Jesus in their underlying substance. This view drew heavily on the philosophy of the Greek Aristotle (384-22BC) as passed on through Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) in the Middle Ages.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management

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