Not as famous as Martin Luther or John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli is often treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Protestant Reformation. But Zwingli was neither late to the game nor insignificant in its playing.
Zwingli, it turns out, is far more important to modern Christianity than Luther or Calvin. But you hardly ever hear his name anymore because Luther was more bombastic and Calvin more dictatorial.
Zwingli, the spiritual father of Baptists, was born on Jan. 1, 1484, in Wildhaus, Switzerland. In 1515, he served as chaplain to the Swiss at the Battle of Marignano. That battle changed his life and his theological perspective. He began to question everything that the Roman Catholic Church taught, including the Mass, church practices like the music used in worship and the inclusion of women in the liturgy, and the mercenary sale of Swiss youth to foreign powers to conduct their wars.
The most contentious theological issue of the burgeoning Reformation was the question of the meaning of Communion, or Lord’s Supper. Was Christ literally present in the bread and wine, or was he not?
The Catholic Church, Luther and — to a certain extent — Calvin all accepted the notion that Christ was indeed physically present in the elements of the Supper. Zwingli disagreed….A flurry of pamphlets was exchanged between Luther and Zwingli and a meeting called to heal the rift concerning the Supper’s meaning between the Reformers in Marburg, but by the end of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, it all had come to nothing.
Luther, always contemptuous of anyone who disagreed with him, left the meeting refusing to shake hands with the Swiss delegation led by Zwingli. Zwingli left with tears in his eyes.
By early 1531, Zwingli was suffering immensely from the years of conflict to which his cheerful soul had been subjected. But his zeal for the Gospel never flagged, and he so desired the unification of the Swiss under the banner of the Gospel that he was willing to go to war against the Catholic Cantons.
The Reformed army met the Catholic army on the field of battle at Kappel am Albis on Oct. 10, 1531. Zwingli was there, serving, once more, as a chaplain to the troops of Zurich. He was struck down the next day by advancing Catholic forces, who at the time had no idea who he was.
Zwingli was dead. But his Reform was just getting started. And it continues today in the theology of the majority of American Protestants….Jesus’ words “Do this in remembrance of me” are the core of their understanding of the Supper: It is a memorial meal at which Christ is present spiritually with his gathered worshippers.
(West, "Luther, Luther, Luther: He Didn’t Reform Christianity as Much as This Guy Did,” ChristianHeadline Online, 11/27/17)