I went to Europe one summer to tour the site of the Protestant Reformation. In the process of learning about Martin Luther, I was also introduced to Ulrich Zwengli. After touring through Geneva, Switzerland and reading about what he did, I was very impressed. Despite major backlash from the Roman Catholic church he stood for truth by trusting in God’s power. Below is his story:
Ulrich Zwingli was involved in the Protestant Reformation. He was born in 1484 in Wildhause, Switzerland. He died in 1531 in Zurich, Switzerland.
After acquiring his university degree in theology while living in Basal, Switzerland, he took a chaplain position in Glarus. Zwingli lived during the same time that Martin Luther did and they did meet in Marburg. They had numerous theological discussions finally agreeing on 14/15 theological issues. The only one they didn’t agree on was the Lord’s supper.
Religious practices during this time (Early Renaissance) were based on tradition more than any understanding of scripture. While Martin Luther was responsible for translating the Bible into the language of the common people of the European continent, John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was responsible for translating the Latin edition of the Bible into English and then getting these editions into the hands of the English populace.
Another translator of scripture was William Tyndale (1494-1536). He was responsible for translating the Bible from Hebrew into common English. Once it was translated, then these copies would be smuggled back into England as well and distributed.
The Beginning of His Ministry
So in the midst of scripture translation going on, Ulrich Zwingli was studying Greek so that he could read Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. As he learned Greek, he also learned sound biblical theology. He soon realized that what he had been taught via tradition (people go to heaven through good works) was not substantiated in the New Testament. He started preaching the truth in his sermons.
He was living in Switzerland, where the government and Roman Catholic canton law were intertwined. So with Zwingli preaching against the practices/beliefs of Roman Catholicism he was in direct conflict with the Pope, who asked that he be expelled from Zurich.
Zwingli was brought before the city leaders to defend his beliefs. He presented his Sixty Seven Articles in his defense of scripture. After hearing his defense, the city leaders in 1523 threw their support behind Zwingli, turning down the pope’s request. As Zwingli continued preaching his understanding of the New Testament, slowly but surely the city of Zurich started changing. Catholicism had met it’s match and lost. As years went by, his influence was so great that even in other cities of Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Glarus, and Schaffhausen) they began to tear away from their Catholic beliefs, removed Catholic icons and began to turn to true biblical beliefs, adhering to truth as opposed to Catholic tradition.
Zwingli was having a dramatic effect upon the Swiss people. But there was still contention with many of the Swiss people holding onto their Catholic beliefs. Finally in 1529 the conflict broke out into an all out armed battle. Peace was negotiated, but it didn’t last. In 1531 a second all out war between the two religious forces broke out. Twenty four pastors along with Zwingli died in this confrontation. Overall, a total of 500 men died in the battle, which lasted one hour.
But this didn’t end the contentious wars. It would break out again and go on for decades.
Adherence to the Truth
Ulrich Zwingli was a man of God. He adhered to scripture, even when everyone around him believed in Roman Catholicism instead. He was willing to stand up for truth and defend it before the city leaders. He knew God and he knew that God was leading Him. He used his intellectual abilities, his speaking abilities to share the gospel of Christ with those around him. And due to his trusting God for the end results, he changed the country of Switzerland.
So do you see the pattern of trust in his life? As Ulrich Zwingli started studying scripture, his faith in God grew. As his faith in God grew, he started preaching the truth of God. As he continued studying scripture, God’s truth took root in his life and started producing fruit. As his belief in God grew, he started composing his Sixty Seven Articles in defense of God’s word. By the time he went before the city leaders he was heavily armed with God’s truth, His righteousness, being able to use His sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:13-17). And the response was the city leaders turning their back on the pope and backing him. God won the victory!
As God encouraged him in his work, Zwingli’s trust in God increased. As he continued to grow in his faith, his influence across Switzerland continued to grow. His life is a study of ‘ripples in water.’ If you throw a small rock into a pond of water, initially the water ripples are small and then they slowly increase until they disappear. Think of this same principle as you think back upon Zwingli’s life. His life was one of increasing ripples, increasing influence. He could not have done this without learning to trust in God. God was his anchor, just like He can become your anchor. But it will take years to learn how to trust Him, it’s not done in a day. But take that step of trust, and tomorrow take another one.
Below is a short video about Ulrich Zwengli: