Zwingli isn’t a bad guy anymore

The current fashion today, not only among the convertskii, but also among the Reformed, is to treat Huldrych Zwingli (pronounced Zv-ingli) as a gnostic whipping boy. Supposedly, he gutted the sacraments of any “enchanted” meaning (I was going to link to Orthodox Bridge, but I couldn’t establish a connection; I wonder if it is just down or they blocked my IP address).  While Zwingli could be criticized as having too intellectual an approach to the sacraments, I do not think people seriously interact with what he is saying.  As William Cunningham notes with much force,

Zwingle (sic) was deeply persuaded, that the right mode of investigating this subject was not to follow the example of the Fathers, in straining the imagination to devise unwarranted, extravagant, and unintelligible notions of the nature and effects of the sacraments, for the purpose of making them more awful and more influential, but to trace out plainly and simply what is taught and indicated in Scripture regarding them (229).

I can hear the responses, “But that’s just biblicism!   How do you know the Scripture is plainly teaching this?”  A short reply is twofold: which is easier to understand: Romans 4:11, teaching that circumcision was a sign and seal of righteousness by faith, or that in the Eucharist we participate in the Sophianic descent upon the world (I am not criticizing Bulgakov.  I really do enjoy reading him.  I understand he does not represent Orthodoxy, but simply asserting that does not equal a refutation of his concerns)?  And before someone tells me how wonderful Schmemann is, let me point out that many conservative Russo-Orthodox suspected him of Protestant sympathies.

But back to Zwingli.   There are shortcomings in his theology.  That is true.  What I have found interesting, though, and I am certainly open to correction on this, is that one can affirm Zwingli’s sacramental views and be in 100% accord with Westminster (though I grant that WCF probably went deeper than Zwingli).  This is an important point and one of which Federal Visionists are routinely guilty.  As wonderful as Calvin and the others are, and noting truly the broad array of peripheral differences among the Reformers, it is the Westminster Confession (if you are Anglo-American) and not the peripheral differences which are binding on the church.  This is where Doug Wilson errs. I freely grant that men at Westminster did not believe in the imputation of active obedience.  It is simply bad hermeneutics to interpret what was agreed upon as the norm and representative view by what was considered the fringe.

Cunningham, William.  The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation.  Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 1979.

5 comments on “Zwingli isn’t a bad guy anymore

  1. Angela Wittman says:

    Thanks for this post. Due to Providence, I have become a member of a Swiss/German Reformed Church after spending 10+ years in a Reformed Presbyterian congregation (RPCNA) and recently began researching the Swiss Reformers. As a result I’ve come to appreciate Zwingli and Bullinger as much as I do Calvin and Knox. I also love the Heidelberg Catechism and the Second Helvetic Confession as much as I do the Westminster Standards. In order to be a well rounded Christian, I think one must be exposed to these other Reformers and their work, as well as the Westminster Divines and Scottish Presbyterians. I thank and praise the Lord for expanding my reformation knowledge and appreciation. Your blog is also part of my expansion of knowledge and you are greatly appreciated, even though I don’t always agree… 🙂

  2. John says:

    OB down for me too. And I’m using a public library computer.

  3. There were some at the Westminster Assembly who did not believe in the imputation of Christ’s active obedience; fair enough. But the existence of such people does not mean that the Assembly accommodated their views in the Confession and catechisms. After all, there were Erastians at the Assembly, and their views are not reflected in the Standards. FVers need to prove that the documents the Westminster Assembly emitted tolerate their views, simply appealing to the existence of a few divines who held some views in common with them does not constitute proof that their dogmas are confessional.

  4. Angela Wittman says:

    Came across this interesting post about Zwingli at Christian Observer:

    Defining “Real Presence”

    Consubstantiation [3] proved to be the “kicker” at the Marburg Colloquy of October 1529. After German Lutherans and Swiss Protestants had reached agreement on fourteen points of Christian doctrine, Martin Luther rejected Huldreich Zwingli’s offer of the right hand of fellowship. On the game-breaking fifteenth point concerning the Lord’s Supper, the German Reformer appealed to Christ’s words “This is my body” [4] over against Zwingli’s metaphorical understanding of those words. Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette noted,

    Zwingli was willing to concede that Christ is spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper and Luther granted that no matter what the nature of Christ’s presence only faith can make it of benefit to the Christian. Intercommunion might have been attained had not Melanchthon objected on the ground that for Luther to yield might make reconciliation with the Roman Catholics impossible. [5]

    In his Exposition of the Christian Faith published prior to his death in 1531, Zwingli emphasized Christ’s spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper, noting that the “is” of 1 Corinthians 11:24 should be understood in the sense of “signifies.” [6] In this regard, his view of the Lord’s Supper was closer to Calvin than many modern Calvinists realize. Calvin wrote,

    Yet a serious wrong is done to the Holy Spirit, unless we believe that it is through his incomprehensible power that we come to partake of Christ’s flesh and blood. Indeed, if the power of the mystery as it is taught by us, and was known to the ancient church, had been esteemed as it deserves for the past four hundred years, it was more than enough to satisfy us. The gate would have been closed to many foul errors that gave rise to frightful dissensions which both then and in our time have plagued the church, while inquisitive men demand an exaggerated mode of presence, never set forth in Scripture. . . . For us the matter is spiritual because the secret power of the Spirit is the bond of our union with Christ. [7]

    Dr. Clifford M. Drury, the late Professor of Church History at San Anselmo Presbyterian Seminary, characterized the distinction between Zwingli and Calvin as primarily one of emphasis noting that for Zwingli the bread and wine were representative of what was absent, whereas for Calvin the bread and the wine were representative of what was present. [8]

    So, no Zwingli isn’t a bad guy at all, but Doug Wilson and FV proponents are still wrong. I pray they will humble themselves and repent of their wacky, arrogant theology.

  5. Did a search through a few old quotes I possess and came across this:

    “You come to the Lord’s Supper to feed spiritually upon Christ, and when…you share with your brethren in the bread and wine which are now the symbolic body of Christ, then truly you eat him sacramentally,…your soul being strengthened by the faith which you attest in the tokens.”

    Quoted in Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 162.

    This quote is not conclusive, and you would have to track down the original source, but it is worth further investigation.

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