September 2020 Newsletter

Dear Saints,

            In our study of the Augsburg Confession, during Christian Education Hour, we have passed over very many historical details so as to come quickly to the Augsburg Confession, itself. One of those details—one of many which deserve greater attention—is the Marburg Colloquy of 1529. This formal, doctrinal discussion (for that is what a colloquy is) took place primarily between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli; they wanted to see if there could be doctrinal agreement between their two churches.

            When we think of The Reformation, which began in 1517, when Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Church door, we are only thinking of one reformation. We call this “The Lutheran Reformation” (or perhaps “The Christian,” or “Orthodox Reformation,” since it is faithful to the Word of God and intent on returning to that Word); theologically, this is the only Reformation that matters. Speaking historically, however, there were several “reformations” that took place at this time—most not orthodox, some not even Christian, but all which wanted to reshape the Christian religion to a particular end.

            Ulrich Zwingli was another reformer who, independent of Luther, began a religious reformation in Switzerland. Zwingli was the teacher and theological predecessor of John Calvin, who is especially known for the doctrine of “double-predestination”, that God decides in advance who will go to heaven and who to hell. In addition, Zwingli taught that the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper were mere representations of the absent body of the Christ.

            By 1529, when the Colloquy took place (less than a year before the Diet of Augsburg), the Lutheran Church was already well established as the church of Germany (obviously not by that name, nor did they yet have a symbol in the Augsburg Confession). By the request and with the support of the German princes, Luther, Melanchthon, and other theologians from the University of Wittenberg, were already actively reforming the German churches to conform to Scripture. This they did by regular visitations, the publishing of sermons and other educational works like the Catechisms, removing worthless clergy and calling others, etc.

            It was especially the desire of one of these German princes, Philip, the Landgrave of Hesse, to seek all possible alliances with other protestants in their joint opposition to the antichristian doctrine of Rome. Being a political figure, not a theologian, Philip of Hesse did not understand the doctrinal differences already apparent between the Lutherans and Zwingli, and so requested that the two meet to discuss a possible alliance—to which Luther was reluctant. To this end, Philip of Hesse hosted the colloquy in his own castle in Marburg and, although he himself was naïve in doctrinal matters, we must compliment him for handing over the discussion itself to Luther and trusting in the judgment of this trained theologian over his own desires.

            There were actually four theologians performing the colloquy. With Luther was also Phillip Melanchthon, the to-be-author of the Augsburg Confession. On the other side, Zwingli was accompanied by his German friend and reformed theologian, Johann Oecolampadius. It was, however, Luther and Zwingli who did almost all the talking.

            Luther and Zwingli were already aware that they would not agree with each other, but they debated their own positions for the benefit of those listening. The chief disagreement was over the true presence of the Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Luther laid all the stress upon the words, “This is My Body,” which he had written in chalk upon the table; while Zwingli insisted that in the sixth chapter of John is found the key to the doctrine. Neither expected that he would make a convert of the other, but contended with a view to the effect to be produced upon the audience.[1]

When it was realized that no doctrinal fellowship could be established, the Margurg Articles were drawn up to confess the agreed upon points. At the end of the colloquy, Zwingli meant to shake hands with Luther in brotherly love. But Luther refused his hand, saying, “You have another spirit,” thus confessing the absolute impossibility of doctrinal fellowship. So important is the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to the right Faith, that it alone properly breaks fellowship. “To have accepted Zwingli’s hand under such circumstances would have meant readiness to defend unto death his explanation of the Lord’s Supper.”[2]

            The Marburg Colloquy is significant for two reasons: first, because the Marburg Articles was one of the documents used by Melanchthon in composing the first portion of the Augsburg Confession. Second, the Marburg Colloquy helps explain our continued separation from the rest of Protestantism.

            Zwingli, along with Calvin, is one of the chief fathers of reformed theology, which is especially known for placing human reason above the clear teaching of Scripture. Today, the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and a handful of others, are all the inheritors of Zwingli’s theology. All of them differ from orthodox Christianity on the matter of the Lord’s Supper, compared with which the many other differences are peripheral. If you deny that the Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper, you are also denying that forgiveness of sins is truly given; you are also denying that Christ’s body can be everywhere His spirit is; you are also denying the truth of His promise, “This is My body”—and it would be truly terrifying if the Christ’s words could not be trusted.

            For this reason, we can never have fellowship with these churches. Not that we judge the faith of individual persons, whose hearts we cannot see, but, with regard doctrine, we stand with the Scriptures, but they are of a different spirit.


[1] Henry Eyster Jacobs, Martin Luther: The Hero of the Reformation 1483–1546 (New York and London: The Knickerbocker Press, 1898), 288.

[2] Jacobs, 289.