ZURICH AND THE ANABAPTISTS
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Ulrich Zwingli led the Swiss Reformation in a parallel universe to Luther’s Reformation in the German states. Zwingli’s Swiss Reformed church would ultimately serve, with Calvin’s work in Geneva some years later, to form the basis of the Reformed polity and theology of today’s Presbyterian church.
Zwingli had numerous positive traits, not least of which was the power of his preaching and vast import in translating the Bible into German, the first of its kind – even before Luther…huge influence in creating a new sense of Swiss identity: preaching in the language of the people instead of masses conducted in Latin.
Zwingli also was a Swiss patriot and a proud Protestant (at least as it had become to evolve). He was a student of Erasmus, that strident and even cynical Dutch humanist. He wrote In Praise of Folly as a lighthearted but stinging rebuke of the Catholic church, its abuses and pettiness and poor theology.
Zwingli surely had some of this same tenacious wit and insight; however, he also had a zeal that would come to haunt him – his passion for the gospel done his way and the his love of the Swiss way of life created in him an inability to see beyond his own reforms.
A group of protestors sympathetic to the very kinds of issues of faith Zwingli espoused had become convinced that faith should be proclaimed openly by consenting adults through public baptism just as Jesus had done at the Jordan River at the hands of John the Baptist. On the basis of this theological stance, this group, soon to be derisively called Anabaptists (or baptized again) were actively persecuted. For, as Zwingli and others would conclude, if a civil society allows anyone and everyone to believe anything they choose just because their conscious dictates it, than chaos ensues, public order breaks down, and the church and civil society loses its power.
This way of thinking began a tragic century of persecution on his fellow believers looking for what the first American Baptist, Roger Williams would call: “soul liberty.” These Anabaptists remain alive today in the Amish, Mennonites and various strains and branches of the larger Baptist family. Though not directly traceable to these first Swiss protestors and persecuted, the first Baptists in Holland and England had been through “cross pollenation” profoundly influenced by Anabaptist thought and theology.
So, blessed are the meek; they had no power and were run out of Zurich after numerous martyrdoms; and yet, today, their testimony speaks to invaluable truths of the conscience and soul liberty.