Mr. President, you have 5 minutes.
Do you have a theological reason for that semicolon?
How do YOU pronounce “ex officio”?
The grumpy old men committee
Historic moment—Rev. Robert Grossmann made a motion to spend more money.
Equally interesting, Rev. Paul Treick moved a substitute motion to buy binoculars for all the delegates to see the numbers on the whiteboard.
Ulrich Zwingli, by William Boekestein (EP Books: Holywell, UK, 2015. 163 pages). [Editor: A copy was given to this reviewer on condition that a book review be published.]
While a student in catechism class years ago, I was frequently told that one of the heroes of the faith is Ulrich Zwingli. However, aside from his unique name (everyone else seemed to be named John: John Wycliffe, John Hus, John Calvin, John Knox) it was hard to find much detailed information about Zwingli. Even the normally excellent video series on Church History from Vision Video gives the impression that there is not much to learn, so they lump Zwingli and Calvin together into one short film.
There is no reason for this lack of information and excitement about Zwingli to continue into another generation. Boekestein’s command of Zwingli’s culture, context, biography, and theology shine through in this book. I heartily recommend it to the confirmation age student and older. It is clear enough to be understood, and detailed enough to excite the adult learner to relive the days of Zwingli through these pages. The stereotypical biography of Zwingli is that he lived a short life and was more radical than the great Protestant Reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. He was against images in worship, against the Anabaptists, against Luther on the Lord’s Supper, and against the Roman Catholic Church—which led him to go off to war as a soldier and die on the battlefield fighting for his Swiss homeland against the advancing Roman Catholic armies. His stress on the Bible as the final authority paved the way for the Biblicism of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, we are often told. Because of the religious and political turmoil of his day, Zwingli was not able to slow down to write, study, and pass on his views. He was not as accomplished theologically as Luther and Calvin, therefore.
This book, however, clarifies and corrects many of the (mis)understandings of Zwingli and his legacy. Members of the Reformed Church in the U.S. should be especially interested in Zwingli, as some of the first historians of our denomination commented on how Zwingli stands right up there with Calvin as one of the great forefathers of our Reformed beliefs and practices.
The basic biography of Ulrich Zwingli includes these details. He was born in Wildhaus, Switzerland, in 1484. After university training as a scholar, he served as priest in Glarus (1506-1516) and Einsiedeln (1516-1518). He was then called to serve as lead priest (later pastor) in Zurich, where he remained from 1519-1531. At the age of 47, Ulrich Zwingli died in 1531 on the battlefield in Kappel, defending his Reformed city of Zurich and its allies from the Roman Catholic forces of other Swiss cities. On that day, over 500 citizens of Zurich died. Of these, 25 were pastors who were selectively killed as heretics by the advancing Roman Catholic army.
Zwingli was musically accomplished, being able to play the lute, harp, violin, flute, and dulcimer. He also was a poet, and wrote poems on occasion to celebrate God’s grace or plead His mercy in light of current events in church and state. A few examples are quoted in the book. During the plague of 1519 which nearly claimed his life, Zwingli wrote 3 poems expressing his spirituality and recommitting himself to the Sovereign God of grace. In one of these, he wrote,
My God! My Lord! Healed by thy hand, Upon the earth once more I stand.
Let sin no more rule over me; My mouth shall sing alone of thee.
Though now delayed, my hour will come, Involved perchance in deeper gloom.
But, let it come; with joy I’ll rise, And bear my yoke straight to the skies. (51)
Zwingli is described as being a very learned scholar, who brought his extensive personal library with him from his first charge in Einsiedeln to his post in Zurich. Yet his learning did not disconnect him from the common man. Zwingli’s preaching was very clear and understandable, using illustrations and applications to current events and the common life of the common man.
The Zurich leadership exhorted Zwingli to focus his energies on securing tithes from the faithful. Preaching, by contrast was a less important duty in their eyes. Zwingli was expected to assign other pastors to do the preaching. Zwingli had other ideas. In his first sermon, he announced to the congregation his commitment to preach Christ as their only hope. “The life of Christ has been too long hidden from the people. I shall preach … according to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, without human commentaries, drawing solely from the fountains of Scripture, sounding its depths, comparing one passage with another, and seeking for understanding by real and earnest prayer.” The next day, he would abandon his, and the Church’s, tradition of following lectionary readings chosen by the Church; instead he would preach verse-by-verse through the Gospel of Matthew. (45)
In the infamous “Affair of the Sausages,” (where members of Zwingli’s congregation broke the Lenten fast) several historical details are brought out which I never knew. I will save the full details for those who choose to buy the book. Suffice it to say, Zwingli was much more moderate than you might have thought from the chatter of church historians down through the ages. After describing proof of this, Boekestein summarizes, “Still, until the Church should formally change its position—and Zwingli was confident it would— the citizens should not publicly flaunt their freedom lest the strong unduly scandalize the weak. Zwingli’s moderation was unpopular. It failed to satisfy the radicals and infuriated the conservatives.” (59)
We should remember the costs which our forefathers had to endure for preaching the gospel of sovereign grace. Boekestein summarizes it this way, “As tension increased surrounding the reform of Zurich, so did threats on Zwingli’s life. In one plot a would-be kidnapper attempted to wake the pastor to come to the bedside of a “dying friend.” At other times intoxicated men threw stones and curses against Zwingli’s house, breaking his windows and his sleep. When Zwingli dined out with friends he would be escorted by chaperons, sometimes without his knowledge. In great times of unrest the senate placed guards around his house at night. On top of physical threats, he constantly suffered from merciless character assassination (in which he also sometimes participated). The Catholic doctor Johann Eck (November 3, 1486– February, 13 1543) was particularly virulent, calling him, “a most stupid busybody,” a “faith-destroying leader of heretics,” “a blockhead, a dolt, a dunce,” who wrote with “a farmer’s reasoning.” Eck, speaking for his Church, hoped that Zwingli would “go to perdition.” (83) Zwingli once wrote to his family, “Those alone are the true soldiers of Christ who do not fear to bear in their body the wounds of their master.” Ulrich Zwingli was, I every sense of the word, a Christian soldier.
One of the greatest strengths of Boekestein is his balanced approach. He does not ignore reporting some of the sins and shadowy parts of Zwingli’s life and world. He gives a proper context so that we can better understand Zwingli’s rationale, but we are also provided a Biblical and theological framework to understand and critique Zwingli and his day where necessary. He also offers occasional criticism of Zwingli. He questions the pastoral wisdom of Zwingli to start preaching against purgatory and the veneration of saints within the first year he was in Zurich. Yet a bit later, he highlights the pastoral care of Zwingli during the plague, when he rushed back to the city to help minister to his congregants who were sick and dying, and himself became very ill, yet God spared his life.
Another general comment is that the author is a fascinating story teller. Along the way of a specific period of Zwingli’s life, Boekestein brings out details and people who, at the conclusion of the episode, turned out to have influence for that episode and especially the future perspective and actions of Zwingli or his colleagues. He does a superb job at revealing some of the long-term results which God sovereignly brought to pass through the obedience (or disobedience) of Zwingli and his contemporaries.
For example, this reviewer gleaned some lessons for modern preachers through the way Zwingli’s preaching ministry was explained. First, there is enormous value to directly handling the Scripture, including in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Zwingli even copied, repeated, and memorized the Scripture in the original languages! Secondly, the study of the history of Biblical interpretation is necessary and helpful. But be careful that your sermons and teaching flow from the right place. Zwingli later backed off how much he depended upon Church Fathers and the Ancient philosophers. He admitted too often his teachings sprung from the pools of the Fathers than from the springs of Scripture.
One mild criticism of the book is that its desire to show history in a helpful light to the modern reader sometimes suffers from bringing up more questions than it answers. Zwingli lived at the dawn of the great Confessional Age of the Christian Church, when creeds and catechisms and confessions were being hammered out and written to identify the truth that had been lost and corrupted through the centuries, and to prepare and equip church members for the gospel mission for generations to come. According to Boekestein on pages 64-66, Zwingli did not specify a place for creeds and confessions. Rather, we are told that Zwingli had a novel view between that of the Roman Catholic Church and the view of later Reformers, such as John Calvin. Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, backed off from Zwingli and was more confessional along the lines of the views of Calvin.
However, I wonder if Zwingli would have specifically allowed for a legitimate role for confessions if he lived longer? Was he directly opposed to them? Was he in favor of the sort of Anabaptistic abuses of the doctrine of ‘private interpretation’ of Scripture? These are questions which are not as directly dealt with as they could have been. They certainly are questions warranting further historical study and reflection by Christians today. Yet I believe the answers can probably be provided from the information in this book itself, along with whatever additional resources and knowledge that Boekestein has gleaned in doing the work of writing this book. The reader is left to “connect-the-dots” for himself as we see mentioned at later points in the book Zwingli’s treatment of the Anabaptists and their radical abuse of Zwingli’s teachings. Or we see answers hinted at when we see Zwingli working for a Christian political alliance based with other Swiss cantons, based on a Reformed evangelical understanding of the Scripture. Or we see answers hinted at in Zwingli’s conduct at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. Or we see answers hinted at in the fact that Boekestein included as an appendix to the book Zwingli’s “Sixty-Seven Articles” of 1523.
While Zwingli may not have directly and loudly promoted confessions, neither can he be called the father of the “No Creed but Christ” movement, in the way that phrase is popularly understood and interpreted by North American Evangelicals today. When one takes a broad look at his whole life and work, we must conclude that Zwingli was hardly anti-confessional.
Just one example of Zwingli being a Reformer, but not a radical Reformer, is in his view towards confession. He did not throw out the entire practice of going to your pastor or fellow Christian to confess your sins. He sought to restore the Biblical truth which had been corrupted through the centuries. In Article 52 of his “Sixty-Seven Articles,” we read, “Therefore, confession to a priest or a neighbor should not be done for the forgiveness of sins, but for the sake of receiving counsel.”
As one reads through the accounts of the various public disputations which were held at the order of the city councils in Switzerland, we truly understand that Boekestein is correct when he states that Zwingli and his colleagues brought Reformation gently, slowly, and because the congregation members generally agreed and accepted the Scriptures once they were actually taught them. Unlike some impressions, the Protestant Reformation in general, and the Swiss Reformation in particular, was not inherently revolutionary and desirous of causing trouble and judging all dissenters as hellbound. As sons and daughters of the Reformation in the RCUS or other likeminded churches, we can take a lesson from our forefathers. We can be firm in our faith, strong and courageous under persecution and trials, and yet still maintain the unity of faith in the bond of peace and display the fruit of the Spirit in love and pastoral sensitivity.
On the matter of the Lord’s Supper, Zwingli is known for promoting what is called “the memorial” view: that the sacrament is a remembrance of Christ’s work in the past, but there is not a specific spiritual reality happening during the time that the Christian is remembering in faith. His successor at Zurich, Heinrich Bullinger, would not agree entirely with Zwingli, but adjusted this view to be more consistent with that of John Calvin and thus the Reformed and Presbyterian Confessions declare the view that Jesus is spiritually present with the believer when he or she partakes in true faith (See Heidelberg Catechism #76, for example). Thus, the Reformed view of the sacraments is not the “Zwinglian” view. However, in terms of practical celebration of the Lord’s Supper, many in the Reformed world do follow Zwingli’s example on the matter of frequency. He was concerned that the sacrament would eclipse the sermon, so he insisted that the Lord’s Supper be celebrated quarterly.
When the Anabaptists took Zwingli’s view of the sacraments into radical directions along with the rest of their theology, Zwingli took them to task. His primary focus in his writings about them was not on their rejection of infant baptism. He certainly believed in infant baptism and could defend it against the Anabaptists. Yet he identified the deeper problem was their refusal to submit to authority in a Biblical way. Zwingli critiqued their focus on the Holy Spirit “guiding” them apart from the Word. To Zwingli, this Anabaptist heresy was bringing shame upon all Protestants in the eyes of the world.
Chapter 8 narrates “An uneasy peace (1526-1528).” In my opinion, this chapter is worth the price of the whole book. The information here is unknown to but a few scholars, and yet incredibly enlightening. Did you know that in the age of the religious wars a pastor named Zwingli, who would eventually be killed on the battlefield of one of those wars, helped to forge a peace treaty which allowed each territory to decide democratically whether it would be Roman Catholic or Protestant?
Eventually, we know that such a decision was made in the Holy Roman Empire—but for them the decision was made by one man—the prince of the region. Furthermore, the options were only Lutheran or Roman Catholic with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. It wasn’t until 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia that finally it could be legal to be Calvinist/Reformed within those countries.
While the peace treaty which Zwingli helped to forge was not kept ultimately by either side, what a remarkable historical development this was, for both church and state. The people themselves could choose what their religion would be. This was over 25 years before the Lutherans got this freedom, and 120 years before Zwingli’s fellow Reformed brothers in the Holy Roman Empire experienced this freedom. In a letter to a fellow minister, Zwingli cautiously rejoiced, “We have brought peace with us, which for us, I hope, is quite honorable; for we did not go forth to shed blood.” (115)
Zwingli was not a pacifist. Neither was he thirsty for war. When it came to the renewal and reformation of society and of the Church, Boekestein says it very well. “Zwingli teaches the church today a truth that sometimes seems lost: reformation requires patience. Zwingli insisted that ‘Hundreds of times I have said openly: ‘I beseech you by Jesus Christ, by our common faith, not to make any change rashly, but to show to all men by your endurance … that you are Christians.’’” (149)
What is the legacy of Ulrich Zwingli? I will leave the details for you to discover in this book. For now, we note the summary which the author provides. Zwingli loved the Church, loved the gospel, loved the Bible, and loved the Lord. May each Christian today leave the same legacy of four-fold love as this forefather of our faith.
[Editor: A similar, though not identical, amendment to the Constitution of the RCUS, was passed in May 2015 without a single dissenting voice. That amendment needs to first be ratified by the classes and then that result be reported to Synod in 2016. The Standing Rule found below, however, is fully in force and binding upon all congregations and ministers of the RCUS as of the moment it passed at the Synod meeting in May. It is reproduced here for the benefit of all our readers.]
Standing Rule 21: Marriage is a union ordained by God. It was first instituted by God in Genesis 2:18-25, codified in the Levitical law (Leviticus 18-20), the Old Testament prophets compared it to a relationship between God and his people (Hosea 1-3; Ezekiel 16), examples of it are in the historical narratives (Genesis 11:27-30; Genesis 24), and the wisdom literature discusses the unique unity of this relationship (Proverbs 5 and 7, Song of Songs). Jesus explained the original intention and core elements of marriage (Matthew 19:1-10), and several New Testament Epistles give explicit instructions on this union (Ephesians 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7). Marriage is a typology of Christ and the Church. As such, the Reformed Church in the United States views marriage as a profound spiritual institution established by God. Due to the importance of marriage in the biblical witness, the Reformed Church in the United States adopts the following policy.
- Only Ministers of the Word shall officiate at marriage ceremonies conducted on church property.
- Ministers of the Word employed by the church shall be subject to dismissal and/or loss of ordination for officiating a same gender marriage ceremony.
- Applicants wishing to have a ceremony performed by a Minister of the Word employed by the church, or to use the church facilities, shall affirm their agreement with the Article 195 of the Constitution of the Reformed Church in the United States and shall conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent therewith.
- Applicants shall receive premarital counseling by a Minister of the Word or counselors employed by the church or other persons who, in the sole opinion of the Spiritual Council, have appropriate training, experience, and spiritual understanding to provide such counseling and for a duration to be determined at the sole discretion of the Spiritual Council.
- Any marriage performed on church premises shall be officiated by a Minister of the Word.
- Ministers of the Word officiating marriage ceremonies on church premises, whether or not employed by the church, shall affirm their agreement with Article 195 of the Constitution of the Reformed Church in the United States and shall conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent therewith.
- The Minister of the Word assigned by the church to implement the procedures contained in this Marriage Policy may, in his discretion, decline to make church facilities available for, and/or decline to officiate at, a ceremony when, in his judgment, there are significant concerns that one or both of the applicants may not be qualified to enter into the sacred bond of marriage for theological, doctrinal, moral or legal reasons.
Rev. Eric Bristley
While at the recent Synod meeting at Menno, I was hoping to acquire some local history of the RCUS for the Archives. Unexpectedly, a letter was discovered which told of a friendship between two men—the famed theologian Dr. Klaas Schilder of the Netherlands and Rev. William Korn, pastor at Menno from 1939 to 1964.
When I heard elder Robert Korn introduced at the meeting, I figured that he was a descendant of Rev. William Korn. I knew that name because while a student at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, I had seen many books on the library shelves that were part of the “William E. Korn Collection.” Dr. Schilder was also well-known to me as an important Dutch Reformed theologian who had made some corrections to the views of Dr. Abraham Kuyper.
Fast forward to 2015 in Menno. I met Robert Korn during the break, who verified that he was William’s grandson. I asked him for information or photos about his grandfather. The next day he came up to me with a sense of amazement, telling me that his mother had found an important letter his grandmother had written to him while he was still a child. It explained the significance of a gold watch that was in his possession. This letter, written by the wife of Rev. Korn, spoke about a friendship between her husband and Dr. Schilder of such character that they had even exchanged watches. Robert told me that he had not realized the watch’s significance. Upon reading the letter, I felt that this story needed to be shared. As we were to hold a worship service that evening, I asked our president, Rev. James Sawtelle, if I could share it with Synod at the end of the meeting. Agreed. So Robert came with the watch, and I read the letter.
For me, the letter spoke not only about a very personal friendship between two men long ago, but carried a much larger message. On one hand it emphasized the value of cultivating and treasuring Christian friendships. On another level it showed that the kinship between the RCUS and the Canadian Reformed churches had deep roots, since Schilder is held in high esteem among them. Toward the end of Synod it was moving to hear one of the Canadian Reformed fraternal delegates use this story to describe the current friendship between our two churches.
This pocket watch that I’m giving you for your birthday is something special to me, your father, and your uncles; but also for you. Your grandfather Korn used to pacify you with it when you were a baby, because you loved to hear it tick. This watch was worn by your grandfather Korn as a great timepiece but more than that as a token of friendship between two people with a common belief in the Trinity of God and His teachings as found in the Bible and as maintained in the Reformed faith. This watch was worn by a Professor Dr. Schilder from Holland, who came to visit your grandfather about 25 years ago. He and your grandfather exchanged watches as a sign of friendship that they had found while being together. This watch had been given to Dr. Schilder by a relative who had been the Ambassador from Holland to India. So you can see the watch has great value not only because it is almost pure gold; but more as an heirloom of friendship and I want you to have it to keep and pass on to your son or grandson as an heirloom. But always keep in mind it is to be kept with the understanding of what a true gift of love and friendship is and that it can never be a true love or friendship without the grace of God and the love of His Son Jesus. This is the kind of friendship your grandfather and Professor Schilder had and I hope this watch will always be a sign of love and friendship between God and man.
With love, [Grandmother]
The Pastor: Rev. William Emil Korn (1907–1964)
William Korn was born in Northern Germany at Wuppertal-Elberfeld on September 6, 1907. There he became a member of the Evangelical Reformed Church at Opladen. After attending a high school at Cologne, he pursued theological training at the Mission Haus Seminary at Barmen and the Theological School in Elberfeld, completing his studies in 1931. He married Pauline Verthaler (Hanna) in August of that year and soon afterwards accepted a call to serve a Reformed congregation in Canada, immigrating there with his young wife. Ordained by the Reformed Church in the U.S. in September, he began serving the rural congregation at Vegreville, Alberta. After five years of ministry he moved in 1936 to the United States to take up a pastorate at Alpena-Highmore, South Dakota. He served there until 1939 when he became the pastor at the dual charge of the Menno and Kassel congregations for the next twenty-five years. As a side note, among his catechumens was the young Maynard Koerner (a current minister in the RCUS).
In 1941 he received his B.A. degree from Yankton College in South Dakota and did post-graduate work at the University of South Dakota at Vermillion. In 1963 he was chosen to be a US delegate to the 400th anniversary celebration of the Heidelberg Catechism at Heidelberg Germany. He wrote “Die Lehre von Christ Person und Werk” (the Doctrine of the Person and Work of Christ) in the book Handbuch Zum Heidelberger Katechismus (Neukirchener Verlag, 1963).
Pastor Korn was known as a man of considerable erudition. At his death Peter Grossman wrote, “William Korn was long known as a faithful exponent of the infallible Bible as the Word of God, the Word which preaches Jesus Christ as the only way to life eternal. He will be missed in the Reformed Church because of his faithfulness to the Word and for his truly great scholarly achievements.” During Korn’s ministry, he acquired a valuable library, particularly in German Reformed literature. A large portion of his library became “The William E. Korn Memorial Collection” at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia.
During his active ministry he served the broader church as president of the Dakota Synod of the Evangelical-Reformed Church and later as vice-president of the Eureka Classis. He was a founder and editor of the Reformiertes Gemeindeblatt and a contributing editor to its English-language successor, the Reformed Herald. He was the co-editor of the German–English edition of the Heidelberg Catechism published by the Eureka Classis in 1950. At the time of his death he was in the process of writing a commentary on the Book of Job for the International Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by Edward J. Young. The story is told, however, that the manuscript was lost on a return trip from Europe and, sadly, was never published. He died in 1964 on Thanksgiving Day at the age of fifty-seven from a heart condition. Mrs. Korn, the author of our letter, fell asleep in Jesus in 1973. She was the mother of four sons, Albert, Karl, Ralph, and Gerhardt.
The Professor: Dr. Klaas Schilder (1890–1952)
Klaas Schilder was born December 19, 1890, at Kampen, the Netherlands, where his family had joined the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland or GKN) when he was a child. After graduating from a Reformed gymnasium (high school), he took his theological studies at the Theologische School of his church in Kampen and graduated cum laude in 1914. During the next fourteen years Schilder pastored five congregations before being called, in 1928, to one of the largest congregations in the denomination in Rotterdam. His sermons drew large crowds, who recognized him as one of the greatest preachers of the day.
During this period Schilder published his three-volume work, Christus in Zijn lijden, commonly known in English as the Schilder Trilogy (Christ in His Sufferings, Christ on Trial, and Christ Crucified). This massive work was an expansion of a series of sermons he had preached in Kampen, and it received international acclaim, especially in its English translation. In 1933 he was awarded his doctorate, this time summa cum laude, from the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, with the dissertation critiquing the Barthian dialectic view of theological paradox. In that same year he was appointed Professor of Systematic Theology at the Kampen Seminary.
Dr. Schilder published numerous books and articles. Beginning in 1920, he contributed regularly to the weekly Reformed journal De Reformatie (the Reformation). Schilder maintained firm opposition not only against theological and ecclesiastical errors but also against the dangerous anti-Christian ideology of National Socialism. Recognizing him as an enemy of the Reich, the Nazis halted publication of The Reformation in 1940; Schilder was arrested in August 1940 but later released. He went into hiding until a month before the end of World War II, and was considered one of the most hunted criminals by Hitler’s occupying forces.
During his years as a fugitive, his opponents in the church brought him up on charges because of his stand for orthodoxy. He and Dr. S. Greidanus were suspended for being “schismatic” and then deposed from the ministry. This took place while Holland was at war being trodden down by the Nazis. The result was a schism within the GKN and the continued (re)formation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated.) The Gereformeerde Kerken (vrijgemaakt) was formed in 1946 with 216 congregations, 152 ministers, and 77,000 members. Undaunted, after the war Schilder resumed teaching again at Kampen and his editorship of De Reformatie. On March 23, 1952, Klaas Schilder died of a massive heart attack at 61 years of age. The biography by Rudolf van Reest, Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church, is available from Inheritance Publications, which is currently working on publishing Schilder’s writings.