Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Zwingli's Poor Judgment

There is much to appreciate about the leading reformers of the Sixteenth Century. Luther, Zwingli, Farel, Bucer, Calvin, Beza, Knox and others were used of God to bring reformation and revival to God's people.

But these men were flawed human beings as well. No one demonstrates this reality better than Ulrich Zwingli, the first great Swiss reformer. Zwingli served as a priest at Grossmunster in Zurich and became continually persuaded the Roman Church was in need of reformation. His expositional handling of the Word of God was blessed and the faith of many Christians grew under his pastorate. He bravely confronted the manifold problems of the Roman Church and entertained numerous disputations with various church representatives in order to prompt genuine reform in the Church. The majority of Zwingli's efforts were godly and well-intentioned.

There was another side to Zwingli, however, that seemed blind to the danger of mixing the politics of the State with the ministry of the Church. Indeed much of the corruption in the Roman Church was due to it's longstanding relationship with the State. Zwingli wrongly believed the health and success of the Reformation depended in part on making the civil magistrate "Christian". This belief drove him to advocate using military force against the State (and duly aligned Romanists). J.H. Merle D'Aubigne describes Zwingli's poor judgment in honest fashion-

The Reformation (in Switzerland under Zwingli) had already entered, with all her sails set, upon the stormy ocean of politics, and terrible misfortunes were gathering over her.

Zwingli's proud and piercing eyes- his harsh features- his bold step- all proclaimed in him a resolute mind and the man of action. Nurtured in the exploits of the heroes of antiquity, he threw himself, to save Reform, in the footsteps of Demosthenes and Cato, rather than in those of St. John and St. Paul.

We have already seen Zwingli, while observing how all the powers were rising against the Reformation, had conceived the plan of a Christian State, which should unite all the friends of the Word of God in one holy and powerful league. This political phasis of Zwingli's character is, in the eyes of some persons, his highest claim to glory; we do not hesitate to acknowledge it as his greatest fault. The reformer, deserting the paths of the apostles, allowed himself to be led astray by the perverse example of Popery. The primitive Church never oppose their persecutors but with the sentiments derived from the gospel of peace. Faith was the only sword by which it vanquished the mighty ones of earth.

Zwingli felt clearly that by entering into the ways of worldly politicians, he was leaving those of a minister of Christ.

Zwingli's judgment in this area eventually led to his death, an event I will outline in a future post.


Woody Woodward said...

Tony, would it be fair to compare Zwingli’s passion for righteous politicians with Dr D. James Kennedy? I liked Dr Kennedy, but most of the times, it seemed to me, he was more interested in trying to straighten out our crooked politicians, calling forth their sins, than preaching the Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the One to straighten out hearts and point sinners away from sin.

Reepicheep said...

Woody, that's an interesting comparison. At first blush I can't think of too much comparable about these two men. I will say they both seemed to view the Church/State as needing to be together in order to be a Christian State. I think that's fair to say about both?

I'm all for "Christianizing" a country, but I share the Puritan Hope- as the Church grows in her piety and faithfulness (through preaching, prayer, sacraments, evangelism) God may see fit to grant her greater influence over society. I think attacking the sins of a nation before addressing the Church's need for repentance (like Kennedy seemed to do) is backwards. Perhaps the moral sickness of America is due to the weakness of the Church here? Something to ponder.

Rick Calohan said...

Woodster Dr. D. James Kennedy was more akin to John Knox than Zwingli

Woody Woodward said...

Thanks Bros! I burn to learn.