(This article was written by Frank Reed and originally posted here)
One of the most defining moments in Church History occurred in 1523 in Zurich, Switzerland. Ulrich Zwingli had been studying and teaching the Bible with his students. The local authorities eventually realized that this Bible study was bringing division to the community. The whole religious world was Roman Catholic. The Bible study in Zurich was a challenge to the Catholic system.
Actually, the Catholic system had been challenged by Martin Luther in Germany since 1517. Now that challenge had spread to Switzerland. Zwingli, an excellent Bible scholar and priest in the Catholic Church in Zurich, was teaching a group of his students to study the Scriptures. His students would take that study more seriously than Zwingli ever imagined.
The students, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, Simon Stumpf and others’ study of the Scripture led them to accept the Word of God at face value. They took the Bible study beyond the academic approach of their teacher. Their lives were changed. They began to challenge the current religious system of belief and practice. It only seemed logical to them that understanding of the Scripture would produce changes in lives. One of the changes they saw was the need for believers’ baptism. Infant baptism was the practice of the Catholic Church. These men believed that the Bible taught adult, believers’ baptism.
The authorities called for meetings where these differences could be discussed. The authorities wanted to control the changes to be made. At one of these meetings, Zwingli, instead of standing with his students, deferred to the authorities. He said, “my lords will decide” how to proceed with decisions about following the Scripture.
His students were dumbfounded. They were taken aback. How could their respected Bible teacher now defer to and allow authorities to decide about truths which they had learned from the Bible? When Zwingli said, “my lords will decide,” Simon Stumpf responded, “Master Ulrich, the Spirit of God has already decided!”
These young men were committed to following the Spirit of God in the face of what ever the authorities would do to them. Indeed Zwingli, their beloved teacher, had deserted them at a time when they desperately needed him. What would they do? Would they follow their teacher? Would they follow the authorities? Who or what was the authority? Their study of the Bible convinced them that God and His Word was the only authority that was safe to follow.
What authority is safe to follow? The only safe authority is the Scripture as studied under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This was the conviction of Zwingli’s students in 1523. This commitment was the beginning of the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptist movement was the beginning of the Mennonite, Hutterite, and Amish Church groups. This Anabaptist movement greatly influenced the beginning of the Brethren movement in 1708. Alexander Mack had similar convictions about the source of authority. He believed that the source of authority was the Scripture as understood by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The question today is: what is our source of authority? Can we say that it is the Scripture as understood by the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or, have we replaced that conviction with something else? Has a system of authority replaced the ultimate Authority?
May the words of Zwingli’s students continue to be the conviction with which we approach the decisions of life – “The Spirit of God decides!”