The Mantle and Ruth who brought out the boomsticks of church reform.
The Superman and Batman of the Justified League.
Their names are mentioned in the same breath with the word “Reformation.”
Oh yeah. He was around too.
Like an Aquaman of Reformers, he remains a tad obscure. Most of us have a ripple of awareness he’s in the League.
And this will be true of most young, aspiring pastors. We’re often daunted by the big names because we know (in our most honest moments) that we won’t be joining the majors on the conference circuit or in the history books.
Ulrich Zwingli’s story helps us be okay with that.
Zwingli’s road to salvation and ministry began with a desire to read the Bible. Young Ulrich was exposed to the Bible’s entirety after learning Greek in a secular humanist college. He subversively read its text cover to cover (recall in those days the Catholic Church did not allow lay persons access to the full text of Scripture). This caused him to reevaluate his view of the Bible as a mere book of moral virtue. It was into its fountain that he dove and met Christ. This was the headspring of an eventual overflow that would affect a small congregation in Zurich, Switzerland, forever.
Zwingli’s enthusiasm for the Bible saturated his life of devotion, study and preaching. He believed, against the tide of culture, that the gospel of Scripture was within the grasp of any ordinary intelligence. So God placed this mild-mannered man in the pulpit of a local cathedral in Zurich where he announced that he would ignore preaching from commentaries and preach from the Bible, for it was there that the true gospel would shine – and cause true reformation.
Luther and Calvin’s voices carried. Zwingli’s people reportedly complained of not being able to hear him. But the message of the gospel resounded nonetheless. The established church and unsaved souls of the Swiss people would be forever changed by the following years of steady, gospel-centered preaching and counsel to come.
Dubbed “The People’s Priest,” Zwingli swam against the tide of aloof priests and believed every preacher should be a watchman of the flock entrusted to him. A lover of the Old Testament, Zwingli repeatedly rehearsed the image of the shepherd as descriptive of the call of God upon the minister. He took frequent audiences with church members and even stood for the gospel in civic affairs. Over time, he noticed that this steady diet of biblical preaching and counseling increased the depth of biblical literacy in his people and altered their flow of desire to fidelity for the Savior. God became famous in Zurich and throughout the country of Switzerland because an ordinary man decided to dig in to his local church and, over years, show His people Christ in the Scriptures.
Zwingli didn’t leave us near the volumes of writing and commentary that Luther and Calvin did. Perhaps that’s why we hear less of him. But his story of faithful gospel ministry serves as reminder to us all of the exclusive means of true reform in the local church. He knew that if any influence flowed from him, it came from the primary fount: the very words of God.
You and I will likely never be a Luther. But we can be a Zwingli, quietly epic in our own stewardship of the gospel entrusted to us.