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Zwingli and the Kicker (Part I): “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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Zwingli and the Kicker (Part I):

“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?”

Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible


“I fear that if there is anywhere pernicious error in the adoration and worship of the one true God, it is in the abuse of the Eucharist.”  [1]


“For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” [2]



The Death that Saves

It was a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon–a day many Ohioans gather for football, but for us a drive in the country.  The radio was turned on, and we could scarcely believe our ears.  I said to my wife, “This man is preaching the very message to which the Roman Church stood opposed during the Protestant Reformation.”  Roman Catholic speaker, Larry Richards, was setting forth the relationship between faith and works as they relate to justification, works simply being the evidence of faith.  We could hardly disagree on biblical grounds.  Finally, however, the “kicker” arrived.

As in a poker game, a real estate contract, or the final play of overtime in a football bowl championship, the “kicker” was for us the game-breaker.  When the speaker’s push came to shove, the death that saved the sinner was not the “once for all” death of Christ in space and time.  Rather it was  the sacrificial dying that occurs regularly and repeatedly upon the performance of the officiating priest.  This is the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation whereby “a change takes place of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.” [3]  Despite Richards’ upfront evangelical impression, in the final analysis, he was not preaching about historical redemption but about the so-called “miracle of the mass.”  And that was for us, and hopefully for many others, the game-breaker!  Biblical opposition to this doctrine, for the English scholar/translator John Wycliffe (1330-1384), meant the exhumation and burning of his bones, and for the Bohemian Reformer, Jan Hus (1372-1415), being burned alive at the stake. [4]

Roman Sophistry or Logical Absurdity

Major unsettlement is occurring today among professing evangelical Protestants.  N. T. Wright’s sacramental spin on the doctrine of justification [5] and his designation of the church’s eschatological rapture described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 as a metaphor [6] have merged with Scott Hahn’s  apologetic for the Mass.  Downplaying the eschatological rapture of the church on the grounds that the word “rapture” does not occur in Revelation, Hahn has insisted that the “Mass” is “not just a metaphor, or a symbol, or a foretaste” but that “the Mass is the marriage supper of the Lamb.” [7]

Such a view stands diametrically opposed to that of Swiss Reformer Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531), the author of the first Protestant systematic theology entitled True and False Religion.  Reflecting on Acts 1:11, Zwingli stated,  “When, therefore, they say, ‘shall so come,’ He means in bodily and literal sense and in substance.  But when shall he come?  Not when the Church celebrates the Supper, but when she is to be judged by Him at the end of the world.” [8]

Zwingli’s point here is all the more obvious from the eschatological dimension of the Lord’s Supper seen in Christ’s words: “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death until He comes[9] (italics mine).  For it hardly makes sense that the coming to which Christ here referred was to take place in the Supper itself!  For the timing of the showing forth the Lord’s death via eating and drinking would be governed by the word “until” and thus the eating would precede the coming.  But the coming, according to the transubstantiation concept, would be essential for, and would have to precede, the eating and drinking of Christ’s literal body and blood–thus imposing a logical absurdity!

The Protestant [10] Challenge

Having embraced N.T. Wright’s teachings, many have gravitated toward Rome.   Wright’s teachings, unlike John Calvin’s Institutes, are a welcome part of the curriculum at Roman Catholic institutions.  Meanwhile certain Protestant churches ironically, and often surreptitiously, portray John Calvin as the representative of a “tradition” which needs to give way to N. T. Wright–and this notwithstanding the fact that N. T. Wright considers himself, in some sense, a Calvinist!  Protestant pastors, intoxicated with the trendy, flirt with Rome when they call people forward to receive the bread of Holy Communion by intinction–a practice rooted in Roman superstition and fear that the literal blood of Christ might accidently be spilled onto the floor if communicants were allowed to receive the cup.  And Lutheran liturgies reflect the new sophistry related to 1 Corinthians 11:26 identifying the partaking of the bread with the second coming of Christ, and confusing their congregants in the unholy process.

By slipping in the doctrine of substantiation at the last moment of his homily, radio preacher  Larry Richards belied everything that had preceded.  For the efficacy of the Roman Mass rests, not upon the finished work of Christ to be appropriated by faith alone, but is considered ex opere operato [from the mere performance of the act, in this case, by the priest who officiates]. [11]  Since, as the Council of Trent affirmed,  the Mass represents the offering of Christ’s literal body, not by Christ Himself, but by one designated a priest, then the officiant effects the salvation of the partakers by his priestly chicanery in effecting a kind of magical transformation of substance and then offering that body time and again.  The expiation of sin thereby becomes the work of men whereby the Gospel is subverted in the unholy event.

The concept of  ex opere operato is based upon a supposed chain of alignment between the Roman Pontiff and the apostle Peter.  Such an alignment is defended by an appeal to Matthew 16:18, insisting that Peter, as distinct from Christ, [12] is the “Rock” upon which the church of Rome, and the church universal under the Roman Pontiff, is built.  While Roman tradition hails Peter as its first bishop, and (in addition to the apostle Paul) as one of the martyrs of that city, such a particular chain of alignment puts an unbearable strain on Matthew 16:18, to say the least.

Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” [13]  To this day, the Roman Pontiff basks in the adoration of the throngs who address him as “the Holy Father”– words which our Savior, in his high-priestly prayer, applied strictly to God:  “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” [14]  Reflecting upon such Roman chicanery, Jonathan Edwards commented,

It seems to be the nature of spiritual pride to make men conceited and ostentatious of their humility.–This appears in that first-born of pride, among the children of men, that would be called his holiness, even the man of sin, that exalts himself above all that is called God or is worshiped; he styles himself servant of servants; and to make a show of humility, washes the feet of a number of poor men at his inauguration. [15]



[1]. Huldreich Zwingli, Commentary on True and False Religion, pp. 198-199

[2]. Rom. 6:10

[3]. The Council of Trent as quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 384

[4]. Dr. Donald L. Roberts, “John Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation,” Christian History Magazine, Volume         II, Number 2, 1983

[5]. N.T. Wright, “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” March 2011

[6]. Wright, “Farewell to the Rapture,” Bible Review. August 2001.

[7]. Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, pp. 155-156

[8]. Zwingli, On Providence and other essays, pp. 251-252

[9]. 1 Cor. 11:26

[10]. The name Protestant should be understood in the positive sense of the Latin Pro Testamentum, i.e., for the written testimony of Holy Scripture.

[11]. For a discussion of this issue as it pertains to baptism, see Chapter 11, “Sign, Sacrament, or Baptismal Regeneration?” in the writer’s online publication: The Ancient Landmark: Biblical foundations of infant baptism.

[12]. 1 Pet. 2:4-8   Note that Peter himself had no doubt as to the identity of the “Rock.”

[13]. Matt. 7:20

[14]. John 17:11b; See 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11.

[15]. Edwards, Religious Affections, Works, 1:296


Works Cited

Brand, David C. 1991-2009. The Ancient Landmark: Biblical foundations of infant baptism.

Calvin, John. 1960. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed., John T. McNeill. 2 vols. The Library of Christian Classics. Vols. 21 & 22. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: With Modifications from the Edito Typica. 1995. New York: Doubleday.

Edwards, Jonathan. 1879. The works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M., rev. & ed., Edward Hickman, 2 vols. 12th edition. London: William Tegg & Co.

Geneva Bible. 1560.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Tenth Edition. 1994. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Roberts, Dr. Donald L. 1983. “John Wycliffe and the Dawn of the Reformation.” Christian History Magazine, Vol. II, No. 2.

Wright, N. T.  “Farewell to the Rapture.” Bible Review. August 2001.

________.  “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” March 2011. (

Zwingli, Huldreich. [1929] 1981.  Commentary on True and False Religion. American Society of Church History.  Reprint.  Labyrinth Press, Durham, North Carolina

——–. On Providence and other essays. [1922]. 1983.  Edited for Samuel Macauley Jackson by W. J. Hinke, ed.            American society of Church History.  Reprint.  Labyrinth Press: Durham, North Carolina.

About the Writer

David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona.  He and his wife reside in Ohio.  They have four grown children and six grandchildren.  With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing.  One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.


Series Navigation<p></br /></p><< Faith, Old English, and the Carpenter’s Apprentice: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Romans 3:3 Geneva BibleZwingli and the Kicker (Part II): “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible >>

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