{13}     Zwingli, Calvin & the Anabaptists

ERA 5 << Modern Church (1): Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700) >> SESSION 2

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 5-7

13.1  Zwingli in Switzerland

        13.1.1  Zwingli’s entry into Reformation

·         Life: In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531) reached the same conclusion on the gospel independently from Luther. He became a priest in Zurich [1518] and attacked the abuses of the papacy. He prepared the Sixty-Seven Articles [1523] summarizing his doctrines, condemning unscriptural practices in the RCC. He received support from the Zurich City Council and established reforms.

·         Reformed Church founded: The Zwinglian forces (German-speaking) merged with the Calvinistic forces (French-speaking) to form the Reformed churches of Switzerland [1549].

        13.1.2  Zwingli’s theology

·         On the Bible: Zwingli insisted on the Bible as the final authority. We can understand the Bible without any human instruction because the Holy Spirit illuminates us and enables us to see God’s word in its own light.

·         On reason: Zwingli felt that no doctrine should be contrary to reason.

·         On baptism: He defended infant baptism, because it is the sign of the covenant for the whole family.

·         On communion: The bread and wine are only signs or symbols of spiritual reality, symbolizing Christ’s body and blood. The communion is a thanksgiving memorial.

o        Marburg Colloquy: Luther and Zwingli met at Marburg [1529] to settle the difference. There was agreement on 14 out of 15 propositions but they could not agree on how Christ is present at the holy communion.

        13.1.3  Martin Bucer (1491–1551)—Father of Calvinism

·         Life: Bucer was a Dominican friar. He heard Luther and became an instant convert. He became the leader in Strasbourg which became the major centre of the Reformation. Later, he taught at Cambridge.

·         Influence: At Cambridge, he influenced the English Reformation through Thomas Cranmer. His position on the communion influenced Calvin. He introduced small groups for spiritual edification.

        13.2.1  Calvin’s Life (1509–1564)

·         Life: Calvin studied theology in Paris and was familiar with the doctrines of the reformers. In his studies of the Bible [1532], he agreed with Protestantism. Because of persecution, he moved to Switzerland. He became the leader of Reformation in Geneva [1536]. Calvin was influential in the government of the city. The church even supervised the theology and morals of the community. Protestant flocked to Geneva from all of Europe.

·         Institutes: He started to write a summary of Christian faith from a Protestant viewpoint into a cohesive whole, called it the Institutes of the Christian Religion [1536]. It was revised many times in his life, the last edition in 1559. It has influenced all subsequent studies of systematic theology.

        13.2.2  Calvin’s theology

·         On Scripture: Calvin stressed the authority of the Bible and the source of all doctrines as the author is God.

·         On predestination & election: Calvin followed Augustine in emphasizing the sovereignty of God. He believed that God has predestined some to salvation and others to destruction (double predestination).

·         On sanctification: While Luther’s theology was overwhelmed by the doctrine of justification, Calvin’s theology finds a balance between the doctrines of justification and sanctification.

·         On communion: Calvin took the intermediate position between Luther and Zwingli. He affirmed that the presence of Christ in communion is real, although spiritual so it is not merely symbolic.

        13.2.3  Calvin’s influence

·         Heidelberg Catechism [1563]: This is the official creed of the German Reformed churches.

·         Extension of Calvinism: Calvinist churches were established in the Netherlands, Scotland, Hungary, France.

        13.3.1  Distinctives of Anabaptist beliefs

·         Magisterial Reformers: Luther and Zwingli were magisterial Reformers. Their aim was not to found a new church but to reform the old state church.

·         Radical Reformers: They desired a more thorough reform and rejected the idea of a state church.

·         Different types: The Anabaptists had 3 variations: [1] Biblical Anabaptists, who depended totally on the authority of the Bible and emphasized no influence of the government on the church and vice versa, represented by the Mennonites in Holland, and the Amish Brethren in Pennsylvania; and later the General Baptists in England; [2] Communal Anabaptists, who favoured the separation of Christians from the world and lived in distinct communities, represented by the Hutterites; [3] Eschatological of Revolutionary Anabaptists, who believed that the godly should establish the kingdom of God by force, represented by the Munster rebels.

·         Beliefs of Anabaptists: The name means “rebaptizers”. Their doctrines were similar to other Reformers. They held that Scripture alone is the supreme and final norm for all doctrine. Their distinct beliefs were:

o        [1] No state church: There must be a marked contrast between the church and the society. Christian faith should be free and voluntary, not to be coerced.

o        [2] No infant baptism: They held that Christian belief is a personal decision.

o        [3] Pacifism: Christians must be pacifists based on the literal reading of the Sermon on the Mount.

o        [4] Congregational government: They support a congregational church government—independence of each congregation.

        13.3.2  Beginning of the movement

·         Beginning: A group in Zurich called themselves the “brethren”. When Zwingli would not agree with their doctrines, they mutually baptized each other [1525] (not by immersion, though later it became the standard mode). They were led by George Blaurock (1491–1529) and Conrad Grebel (1498–1526).

·         Persecution: They believed in the separation of church and state, absolute pacifism; they opposed oath-taking, military service, and religious coercion. They were regarded as a threat to the established social order and were severely persecuted in most of Europe. Emperor Charles V ordered in an edict to kill them [1528].

·         Schleitheim Confession [1527]—Anabaptist leaders met to produce a statement on their beliefs.

        13.3.3  Revolutionary Anabaptists

·         Radicalization: With persecutions, some Anabaptist turned to radical beliefs. They supported violent revolution.

·         Münster Rebellion: The Anabaptists took over the city of Münster [1535] but it eventually fell.

        13.3.4  Later Anabaptists

·         Mennonites: Menno Simons (1496–1561), a Dutch Catholic priest, became an Anabaptist [1536]. His followers were called Mennonites. Some of them live in close-knit communities (colonies) even today.

·         Hutterites: Another group was the communal Anabaptists, led by Jakob Hutter (1500–1536) in Germany.

·         Migration: Persecutions forced them to scatter in Europe and migrated to other parts of the world.

·         Legacy: Various beliefs of Anabaptists survived in the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Quakers.


[1] treasure our heritage

Strong theology established strong foundation for the church.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

God raised up reformers like Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer, Farel who were both strong leaders and strong theologians.

[3] avoid past errors

The lack of cooperation between Luther and Zwingli on the question of real presence in communion was a mistake.

[4] apply our knowledge

There are different views on the communion and on predestination, and they should not be a cause for disunity.

[5] follow past saints

Leaders with strong teaching skills such as Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer, Simons produced great impact on the Reformation.