Studying the Swiss Reformation
In January 2017, I was 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, reading a short introductory book on the reformer, Martin Luther. As someone who didn’t know much about church history, this was also my first real exposure to what happened to Christianity in the sixteenth-century. I had no idea the book would open me up to a love for history and the Reformation. (Kasey just finished reading this book, so I may have got her hooked too?!)
If you are a Christian of the Protestant heritage (which is basically anyone who is not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) then Martin Luther is your heir in the faith. The reason most of us are outside of the Roman Catholic Church is because of the movement Luther started back in the sixteenth-century. Though he was a sinner who needed Christ just like the rest of us, his faith-legacy is large and influential. I am thankful for how God used Luther in his time.
The Reformation changed the world, not just the Christian world. It is not only Christians who mark the end of the Middle Ages at the Reformation. Something dramatic happened in the first fifty years of the 1500’s, and the Western world hasn’t been the same since. The more I dig into the time period, the more fascinated I am.
I hope to study this time period for a long time.
Luther was not the only reformer, there were many others who played a big role in the religious and cultural upheaval of the time--and they all did so in different ways. It is a relatively new thing in Reformation studies to talk about Reformations (plural). There were different groups of people looking to reform the church in different ways. You can distinguish between reformers who expected help from the civil authorities in their reforms (the magisterial reformers) and those who thought reform should proceed regardless of the views of the civil authorities (radical reformers). You can also distinguish geographically between the German, Swiss, and English reformations which were all different in their own way. And these aren't the only ways to divide up the Reformations.
The reformation in Switzerland is what has piqued my interest recently. These reformers were influenced by Luther, but they were unique in their own right. Even amongst themselves there was diversity. But what is known today as the "Reformed Tradition" within Protestant Christianity began in a handful of Swiss men in the early 1520's. Most forms of Protestantism today, at least in America, have some semblance of this Swiss-Reformed faith behind them.
While the heritage of these Swiss Christians has branched off and includes its own wide scope of diversity, they remain important to a true understanding of our Christian history. Yet, their legacy is largely unknown to the average Christian today.
Zwingli and Bullinger
Ulrich Zwingli was the first Swiss Reformer. He was a pastor in Zurich, Switzerland until 1531 who began his reform efforts at least by 1519. He was a zealous student and teacher of God's word. Zwingli's successor, Heinrich Bullinger, took up the pastoral duties in late 1531 and served there for 44 years. He outlived all of the first-generation reformers, and most of the second generation, helping to solidify and unify the Reformed Christians in Switzerland. His efforts are a large reason why we can speak of a unified Swiss Reformation today.
I could list more names--and I am still learning about them all--but Zwingli and Bullinger in particular interest me because they were some of the first to begin articulating a reformed faith, and because their influence was broad, yet remains buried in history for most people. Most Christians know the name "John Calvin". But Calvin's influence during his lifetime was not any greater than these two who were already well known and influential before Calvin was converted to Protestant Christianity. Calvin is a worthy study, but these others, I think, will be worth studying in their own right too.
I am working on diving into the historical world of the Swiss Reformation. I am taking a class on John Calvin right now which will thankfully give me a lot of time to live back in 1500's Switzerland. I love it! Calvin was a French refugee who fled to Switzerland because of his faith, so he remains part of Swiss-Church-History.
Both in the class and in my own time, I am trying to read more about the people and the world of the Swiss Reformation. Bruce Gordon is the expert in the field, so I am trying to read as much of what he has written as I can. But I am also trying to read the primary sources, the things these reformers actually wrote themselves. Especially exciting to me is Bullinger's Decades pictured below.
Studying the history of Christianity has not only scratched my nerdy-history itch, but has also been encouraging for my own faith in Christ. I want to help others experience this too. Part of the way I would like to do that is to find people (who are sinners, yes) who are worth remembering for what they did and how God used them in the past, and reintroduce them for Christians today. These Swiss Christians are worth just that.
Books I am Working on Reading
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God."