Ulrich Zwingli, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(This is part  two of a seven part series on Christology and why it is important for each of us to understand it.)

Shortly after Luther had begun his reformation in Germany another reformer gained prominence in Switzerland. His name was Ulrich Zwingli. He disagreed with Luther regarding the two natures in Christ. Again I would ask that you patiently wade through this theology. There will be a payoff both in terms of the strengthening of your faith and an understanding of the current synodical situation.

Zwingli taught that when God was united with man in Christ this personal union did not mean that the human nature now possessed all the attributes of the divine nature. Rather the personal union “achieved only common names and titles” in Christ and not common attributes, actions and a saving office. Zwingli could not say that Jesus, in his humanity, was almighty, omnipresent or eternal. He could not say that Jesus, in his humanity reigns above all rulers. He could not say that Jesus, even in his humanity is to be worshipped and adored. He could not say that Jesus in his humanity is with us always even to the end of the age. All the passages which said so were interpreted by Zwingli to refer only to the divinity of Christ – not his humanity.      

So, Zwingli was clearly Nestorian. He separated the two natures in such a way that the human nature did not share the divine qualities. Zwingli also taught that Jesus, in his humanity, was able to perform miracles not because of the personal union, but because he had been endowed with an extra measure of the Holy Spirit.

All this is very interesting but is it important? Yes, for at lest five reasons.

First, such a view really does conflict with the Bible quite egregiously. It is offensive to God. The wise men worshiped a baby. The tenth leper returned to specific spot and worshipped God. The mediator between God and man is “the man Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 2:5).

Second, this view denies the depth of God’s love. He came into this world and confined himself to the womb of a virgin, the bow of a ship, the shameful beam of a cross and the cold confines of a rock hewn tomb.  “Ah Lord who has created all, How weak art thou? How poor and small? That thou dost choose thin infant bed Where humble cattle lately fed.” So says Luther. Zwingli could not have sung this hymn.

Third, this view is terribly confusing. We can trust in the divine Jesus but not the human. The human Jesus was crucified and not the divine Jesus. The divine Jesus was exalted but not the human. Which Jesus do we pray to? I suppose it’s the divine Jesus. If you pray to the little baby is that idolatry? It is so much easier and more sublime simply to trust in Jesus, love Jesus, pray to Jesus and hope for the glorious return of Jesus.    

Fourth, this view ultimately makes it impossible for the body and blood of Christ to be present in the bread and wine. Zwingli believed that finite bread and wine simply cannot contain the infinite Jesus. Today, millions of Protestants do not believe Jesus when he says “This is my body. This is the New Testament in my blood.” They insist that we receive with our mouths only bread and wine.

Fifth, this view not only separates the body and blood from the sacrament but it also separates Jesus from the ministry. It is no longer the flesh and blood savior who sends workers into his harvest to proclaim his forgiveness. Rather the Holy Spirit is commissioned to work for Jesus who, according to his humanity is stuck up in heaven much like an injured quarterback who must watch the rest of the game from the sidelines. This last issue was important enough to the first Lutherans that they rejected it explicitly. (FC SD VIII, 52)

But such false doctrine is not being taught in our church today is it? That’s the story for next time.

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