Reading 1 – Friday, December 2, 2016

Ulrich Zwingli– Combating Error

By Jose Vicente Giner, Switzerland


In all ages, Christ’s message has been preached in this world by men and women chosen by God. Every era received the light of the gospel that was necessary for its time. In the days of Noah, there was a very specific message of salvation and eternal life with a specific time of grace. Genesis 6:3. The people of Israel were instrumental in giving to the nations the light of the knowledge of the true God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8; 7:6), a work that the Jews should have carried on at the time of Jesus (Acts 3:25, 26); but unfortunately the chosen people refused to accept this responsibility and ended up rejecting the messiahship of the Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world. John 8:12. Jesus founded His church with a remnant of the Jewish people to carry on the work of spreading the saving truth to  every  nation,  tribe,  language,  and people. Mark 16:15; 1 Peter 2:9.

Over the centuries and throughout the history of the seven churches of Revelation, the gospel light shone in every period, with human instruments being selected for that purpose. Every generation of the Christian era received precious rays of light with special emphasis on aspects of the message that were necessary for each time. For example, in the period of Thyatira, spanning the Sixth to Sixteenth Centuries (Revelation 2:18-29), terrible errors and heresies in- filtrated Christianity, and the truth was trampled underfoot and  ignored.  In the Sixteenth Century, with the beginning of the prophetic period of Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6), men of courage were inspired to fight for the faith once de- livered to the saints; they were willing to face death to defend and preach the gospel truth, suffering terrible opposition and atrocious persecution.

The most curious and, we can say, surprising and paradoxical thing was that all of these brave Reformers had to face a prevailing religious system that claimed to serve God and love Christ, while  denying  Him  in  their  actions. What stand out most about the papal system, that held virtually all political and religious power in the greater part of Europe, were the upholding of human doctrines in the place of Biblical truth, its persecuting character, and its open enmity against God’s holy law.

The known world was impregnated with the error, and divine intervention was necessary to meet the satanic advances. At that time, God raised up spokesmen for the gospel in different parts of the old world who dedicated their lives to counteract the error and whose efforts through the grace of God made it possible for the light of Christ to reach thousands of sincere hearts.

Switzerland and the influence of Zwingli

This was the case for Huldrych or Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), the Swiss Reformer, who is considered one of the three most prominent Reformers with Martin Luther and John Calvin. Zwingli, whom we will consider in this Reading, was born in 1484 in Wildhaus, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. His family was well off, which made it possible for him to study at the universities of Basel and Vienna for a career as a clergyman, being ordained to the priesthood in 1506. He obtained the degree of Magister Artium (Master of Arts). He received a thorough education that included music studies, grammar, philosophy, theology, etc. Luther would be ordained as a priest a year later. In 1518, Zwingli became a preacher in the cathedral of Zurich, a year after Luther wrote his 95 Theses. It is very interesting to note how the Spirit of God works. Zwingli attacked the sale of indulgences and influenced the government in this matter to expel those who sold them. Luther in Germany and Zwingli in Switzerland were doing a similar work, both being moved by God.

Zwingli was influenced by the humanist thinking of Erasmus and also by Swiss patriotism. He became a professor and was a chaplain for the Swiss army for a short period. Note that in this time Switzerland was famous for producing a special class of mercenaries–men of war who provided good cash income for various Swiss districts; in fact, the character of William Tell was known as a man of courage and bravery who op- posed the power of the Habsburgs and later become a source of inspiration for the mercenaries. Glaris was like a military base, a breeding ground of soldiers for the army of the pope. For a while, Zwingli was moved by the ideal of serving the Holy Father and the Holy Mother Church as an army chaplain of the pope; but in 1515 in a confrontation, some ten thousand Swiss soldiers died. This carnage made a huge impact on Zwingli and probably greatly influenced his view of the Christian faith, questioning the practice of serving Christ with weapons. In 1519, the plague swept through the city of Zurich, and Zwingli became seriously ill. In this situation, he clung to God’s mercy and miraculously regained his health. History says that from that moment on he decided to completely put his trust exclusively in the Creator, not in images, saints, relics, or sacraments invented by human beings.

When Zwingli was privileged to have the Holy Scriptures, he investigated them with unusual zeal; in fact, it is said that he decided to copy almost all the epistles of Paul and memorized the New Testament in Greek. He also studied Hebrew to understand the language of the Old Testament. He found in the Bible the raison d’etre of his life.

He was familiar with the works of the Reformer Martin Luther, but actually Zwingli followed a personal direction in the work of Reformation that began in Switzerland. He and the German Reformer had points of dis- agreements, but what was outstanding about these two men was their sincere and deep desire to bring about reform in the religious fabric of their time. They both faced a system that sought to devour anyone who did not submit to it; but, imbued with a burning zeal, they carried forward a work that greatly affected the thinking of their day.

When someone examines God’s word without prejudice and sincerely seeks the gems of truth, God reveals Himself to him, according to the Biblical promise (Jeremiah 29:13); only the truth revealed in the sacred pages of the Bible can make an individual free and enlighten his mind. John 8:32. The error, heresy, and falsehoods taught in God’s name distract the soul, unite it with darkness, and threaten one’s eternal salvation. Isaiah 8:20. How important it is to make sure that we stand on the plat- form of eternal truth, not on human traditions and doctrines! Matthew 15:8, 9.

Zwingli understood that the church that he represented and served was teaching enormous errors. His heart burned with holy fervor, and he began to denounce the customs and Catholic teachings, such as image worship and the veneration of saints and relics; He attacked the abuses of  indulgences and defended the primacy of Scripture against Catholic dogma, as did Luther, rejecting the magisterium of the church and its submission to Rome. Today we see this as normal and logical, but in his time it was something very daring and dangerous that was a risk to one’s life. Nevertheless this is the heart inspired by God and moved by His word; nothing and no one frightens him.

One  cannot  accuse  the  Reformers of being separatists and fanatics or of wanting to start their own churches, because this was not their original aim. When the leaven of truth penetrates the heart, it cannot be indifferent to abuses, errors, and false doctrines. To comply with the system and adjust to it is synonymous with participating in it; there- fore, the universal and timeless message that must be applied to any movement that does not lift high the truth as stated clearly in Revelation is: “… Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4.

“Those who have too little courage to reprove wrong, or who through indolence or lack of interest make no ear- nest effort to purify the family or the church of God, are held accountable for the evil that may result from their neglect of duty. We are just as responsible for evils that we might have checked in others by exercise of parental or pastoral authority as if the acts had been our own.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 578.

“As the light and life of men was rejected by the ecclesiastical authorities in the days of Christ, so it has been rejected in every succeeding generation…. When the Reformers preached the word of God, they had no thought of separating themselves from the established church; but the religious leaders would not tolerate the light, and those that bore it were forced to seek another class, who were longing for the truth…. Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teaching of the word of God. And many times those who are seeking for light are by the same teaching obliged to leave the church of their fathers, that they may render obedience. “ –The Desire of Ages, p. 232.

This was the case with Zwingli, Luther, and other Reformers who had no thought of leaving the church they loved and served. The only desire that motivated them was to reform what was in- correct, according to the Scriptures. Pope Adrian VI forbade Zwingli to preach; the Reformer was considered a heretic; consequently in 1523, the rupture with the Catholic Church took place.

His educational work

As did Luther, Zwingli wrote a thesis containing 67 points. In these he attacked the prohibition against marriage for the clergy (the doctrine of celibacy, point 49), arguing that marriage was lawful for all men (point 28). In point 3, he emphasized the fact that Christ alone is the way to eternal salvation, rejecting any other intercessor. To Zwingli, only God can forgive sins through Jesus Christ (point 50); moreover, the Reformer denied the existence of purgatory, saying that it had no Biblical basis (point 57), and encouraged all Christians to spread the light of the gospel throughout the world (point 14), among other things. Zwingli agreed with Luther that the supreme authority is Scripture.

It should be noted that his desire was to give the people the knowledge of God’s word, which the church he served had denied. Therefore, he ex- changed Latin for German in the religious services and translated the Bible into the language of the people. His translation is known as the Zurich Bible. His influence was noticeably strong in German-speaking Switzerland; he was the main Reformer and leader of the people of Zurich, Bern, and Basel. Calvin would later do the same for the French-speaking area. The Zwinglians and Calvinists were united by the time of the Helvetic Confession.

Of his different literary works, we mention especially the Commentary on True and False Religion (1525), which includes 29 chapters explaining the evangelical doctrine; this is considered Zwingli’s basic work. That same year, he began writing a course in exegesis that interprets the Bible; and in 1531, in close collaboration with Leo Jud, he published the Zurich Bible in German with special characteristics of the Swiss language.

A doctrine in which the teaching of Zwingli stands out is that of the Lord’s Supper. He rejected the idea of transubstantiation (change of substance), which was taught by the church of Rome. He stated that one cannot speak of the actual, literal presence of Jesus in the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper.  Based  on  the  words  of  Jesus, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke  22:19),  the  Reformer  repeated the words of the apostle Paul: “… Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25); he concluded correctly that the Lord’s Supper is not a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice but a “commemoration,” a reminder of His sacrifice. In keeping with this principle, Zwingli explained that Jesus’ words, “This is My body,” meant “This represents My body.” He also confirmed this by saying that the Saviour often used the verb “to be” figuratively, such as when He said: “I am the bread, of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the door,” “I am the way,” and “I am the vine.” In fact, on this subject, he had more light than did Martin Luther.

Referring  to  this  sacred  ceremony, the Spirit of prophecy states: “The symbols of the Lord’s house are simple and plainly understood, and the truths represented by them are of the deepest significance to us. In instituting the sacramental service to take the place of the Passover, Christ left for His church a memorial of His great sacrifice for man.‘This do,’ He said, ‘in remembrance of Me.’ “ –Evangelism, p. 273).

Death  overtook  Zwingli  in  1531 at the Battle of Kappel, where he was serving  as  a  preacher  for  the  troops of Zurich when the six Swiss Protestant cantons battled against five Swiss Catholic cantons. The influence of this Reformer was very significant and has affected the politics and religion of the country up to this day. The Protestants in Switzerland are the second largest religious  group  after  the  Catholics. Protestantism in modern Switzerland gives great importance to diligent work and attributes its material prosperity to divine grace, things that the great Reformer Zwingli emphasized.

Our time and challenge

We want to emphasize the fact that the great Reformers were not perfect people. God chose them despite their imperfections, because of their spiritual zeal. God does not choose perfect men and women to do His work, but He does His work through people who, despite their frailty, place themselves in His hands to be molded. The glory belongs completely to God; the human instrument must remain silent, hidden under the wings of the Almighty, his work only thus being effective. Zechariah 4:6; Ephesians 2:8, 9.

It is true that some of the Reformers’ actions are surprising to us, and they did not preach all of the truth that we know today, such as the Sabbath, health reform, pacifism, the investigative judgment, etc.; but they upheld the light that was needed for that time. They ardently defended what was necessary then, especially the doctrine of justification by faith. The world is dying for lack of this light, and the Reformers completed their work. Others have to continue the work until the perfect day. Proverbs 4:18.

Today, God’s people must preach the threefold message of the three an- gels. It is His message for a world that is coming to its end (Revelation 14: 1-13); it is the eternal message, the present truth (Revelation 14:6), but with specific application to our time; it includes forgotten and distorted truths and invites people to take their place among the remnant people of God, who up- hold the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. It is a last call to repentance and an opportunity to board the ark of salvation.

Waldo, Wycliffe, Huss, Jerome, later Zwingli, Farel, Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, Knox, Tyndale, and others paved the way for the final reformation; it is up to us to finish what they began. The work is enormous and complex; but it is necessary and urgent, for we are on the threshold of eternity. Despite being a small and insignificant people in the country of Switzerland, the Adventist Reform Movement still owes a great deal to the heroes of faith, having received the baton in the spiritual re- lay race. We are not alone. As those Reformers, we have the help of our God. Deuteronomy 31:8. He is bringing His final work to an end and gives us the privilege of cooperating with Him.

Each of us, no matter in what country we are, will be weighed in the balances of the sanctuary, and the result of our work will be seen at the end. Our prayer to God is that we will be found righteous through the merits of Jesus Christ. I invite you to continue to build on the foundation that has been laid (1 Corinthians 3:10, 11), for many souls need to be given the warning message. May the Lord bless His people. Amen!