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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Ulrich Zwingli, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 10 Comments

  1. Pilate had Jesus nailed to a cross unto death. But neither the cross nor the grave could hold him. Now, Zwingli has tried to nail Jesus to the royal throne next to God’s right hand. He will not succeed for Christ can overcome the cross, death and Ulrich Zwingli.

  2. You left us at a cliff-hanger! No Fair!

    I have recently began attending a Lutheran Church after falling in love with it’s teachings about Christ, it’s glorying in the cross of Christ, and learning about the rich heritage that we share with Christians through the ages in the liturgy. Before this I was Calvinist Presbyterian (and before that I grew up Assembly of God) I can see in hindsight the road the Lord has brought me upon to get me to this point. I know I am finally home!

    I have heard that Calvin was in the Zwingli camp and wonder if modern day Calvinists believe the same way as Zwingli did about these things. In my years in the PCA I have never heard it taught as such (but then again I didn’t hear the cross of Christ preached much either).

  3. Don D,

    By modern day Calvinists do you mean classic 5-point TULIP Calvinists or the watered down Calvinism that is still sort of present in American Evangelicalism, aka the Bapticostals?

    They both end up pretty much in the same place theologically in terms of the sacraments, i.e. they do not believe in the real presence. However, the traditional Calvinists at least retain some sense of worship decorum and reverence because of their belief in the glory of God and his double predestination of the elect and lost. The “new” Calvinists, such as in most of the PCA churches I am familiar with, are more interested in relevance and so have lost much of the sense of reverence and decorum. These Calvnists, if you can call them that, are really more like the Zwinglians Pastor Preus has described. Traditionally, Zwinglians were distinct from Clavinists but in the melting pot of American Evangelicalism they are hardly insdistinguishable because of their devotion to relevance, emotionalism, and practice.

    BTW – welcome to Lutheranism. The memberhsip of folks like you will help the rest of us fight off these same tendencies that sadly are making headway in Lutheranism.

    Hope that helps.

    Pastor Rossow

  4. To which of the three ecumenical creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian), if any, did Zwingli subsribe?

  5. Calvin and Zwingli were different on several particulars. Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was quite different than Zwingli’s, although, as Pastor Rossow points out, they both end up denying the Real Presence. Interestingly, although modern Reformed Christians generally follow Calvin over Zwingli, they tend to follow Zwingli on Holy Communion. Nevertheless, the PCA and other still officially Calvinist Reformed church bodies are more Calvin than Zwingli. Really, as far as I’m concerned, actual 5-point Calvinism is a fast-dying breed in the US. Nearly all evangelicals are firmly Arminian, although interestingly enough there is a resurgence of Calvinism among the younger ministers of the Southern Baptist Convention.
    In any case, it would be an interesting addition to this series to see a rebuttal of Zwingli’s contention that Luther endorsed the heresy of Eutychianism. Of course (being a Lutheran) I don’t think that is the case, but I did hear that charge on occasion when I was in college (at Calvin College). We could all brush up on our Cyril of Alexandria. 🙂 Of course I suppose that would be a bit off topic.
    Interesting series – I’ll be interested to see where it goes.

  6. Bethany,

    Thank you for your subtle and accurate treatment of and response to David’s question.

    It is good to hear that there is a new interest in traditinal Calvinism. At least someone is taking propositional truth seriously, even though their “TULIP” is a heterodox hybrid. (Sorry for the bad pun. I guess I’ve been to Holland, MI too many times.)

    I would be very interested in you writing up a brief survey of the Calvinist scene today to enlighten our readers. Sounds like you have a good handle on it. Let me know what you think – [email protected].

    Pastor Rossow

  7. Unfortunately, Bethany’s answer was a little too subtle for someone as dull as me. Can someone please explain?

  8. David Busby,

    Somehow, I seriously doubt that you are dull at all – I’ve just spent entirely too much time around Calvinists I suppose. Basically pure “Zwinglianism” barely exists today. Around the time of the Reformation after Zwingli’s death many of his followers also became followers of another reformer, Jean Calvin. As a result, most Zwinglians became absorbed into Calvinism. So what we talk about today as Reformed Christianity or “Calvinism” is really a combination of the teachings of both Zwingli and Calvin. This works out perfectly well most of the time, since Zwingli and Calvin generally agreed on the basics. But they did disagree about certain doctrines. In most cases of disagreement the Reformed Christians followed Calvin, not Zwingli. The most glaring exception is on the sacraments and the Lord’s Supper in particular. In this case, most Reformed have followed Zwingli (not Calvin) by making the sacraments laregly symbolic. So if you want to see Zwinglianism alive and in action today, the place to look is in the Lord’s Supper theology of both Reformed and evangelical Christians.
    Bethany Tanis

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