Reformation Day Potluck Devotional

One of the joys of being a pastor who loves Church History is seeing patterns echoed throughout the life of the Church. Now there are wonderful examples of pastors who have cared for their sheep, praying for them when they wouldn’t pray for themselves, or when God, in spite of wicked pastors, comforted His people through unexpected ways.

When we consider the life of the Church with our eyes wide open, we will notice these patterns. One central pattern is that God’s people are always involved with food. Whether we consider the great Passover Feast in the days of Moses, or the first miracle of Christ occurring at the Wedding at Cana; food has always been involved in some way.

During the time of the Reformation, it was no different. The Protestant Reformation had several factors that enabled its success, and one of those factors was the printing press. One printer in the town of Zurich, Switzerland named Christopher Froschauer, had been working excessively on printing a new edition of St. Paul’s epistles. In order to celebrate this accomplishment, Froschauer and his men decided to cook up some sausages for supper. This was one of the most unexpected moments of greatness, whereby God began to transform a whole city. In Zurich, Reformation did not come through a hammer, or an army, or even a new book. Reformation came because a group of guys got hungry after work, and wanted sausage for dinner.

You might ask, “What is the big deal about having sausage?” Well, there were several factors that made this scandalous. The year was 1522, and the seeds of the Reformation had begun, but Zurich was still under Roman Catholic influence. And these printers wanted to dine upon sausages on a Friday during Lent. Under Roman Catholic Church Law (even today!) you are forbidden to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and any Friday during the season of Lent. Now people have always felt free to break various rules, but something was unique about this supper. The local priest was present, and didn’t speak out against it, he had the audacity to serve these sausages! This priest’s name was Ulrich Zwingli, priest to the people of Zurich, serving at the church of Grossmünster, or the “Great Church”.

History records that Zwingli was present at the meal, but he didn’t eat any of it himself. But as is often the case, Zwingli was guilty by association. And so, this simple feast, on one Friday evening in March, led to a great scandal in the city. Zwingli had already been slowly introducing church reforms in his parish. He starting preaching through whole books of the Bible – for example, he started by preaching through the Gospel of Matthew, verse by verse, in January of 1519. He had been preaching against many of Rome’s practices including worshiping the Virgin Mary, Indulgences, Severe Asceticism, Celibacy for the Clergy, and fasting. So as we consider this “affair of sausages” as it is known to Church history, this was not a unique or unexpected moment.

As the scandal bubbled up in his town, Zwingli did what pastors do best; he preached. On March 23, 1522, delivered his sermon, “Concerning Choice and Liberty Respecting Food…” For you and me, this may just seem odd for a sermon topic but it was the most relevant topic for the Swiss Reformer. The food indulged had become a symbol against the Roman Catholic Church. Zwinglie preached that Rome had invented rules that were not found in the Bible. They had demanded of God’s people things that God Himself had not demanded of them. And so, in this simple moment of protest, Zwingli had seen a group of men, honor their God-given Christian right of liberty. Zwingli said in his sermon,

To sum up briefly: if you want to fast, do so; if you do not want to eat meat, don’t eat it; but allow Christians a free choice…If you would be a Christian at heart, act in this way. If the spirit of your belief teaches you thus, then fast, but grant also your neighbor the privilege of Christian liberty, and fear God greatly, if you have transgressed His laws, nor make what man has invented greater before God than what God Himself has commanded…

Zwingli didn’t care about the nutritional benefits of eating vegetarian on Fridays. Nor was he concerned about cholesterol. At the heart of the matter were the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul. Jesus had said to the Pharisees, “…it is now what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…” (Matt. 15:11 ESV) The Apostle Paul adds,

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath…Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels…If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 1:16, 18, 20-23 ESV)

Zwingli reminded the people in his sermon, and in the subsequent public debates with Rome that followed, that “Christ is the only way to salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” (Article 3, from The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli). In addition, Zwingli would continue to teach Zurich that God’s people are called to regard no other teachings of men as equal to or greater than God’s Word. As God’s people hear God in the Scriptures, God reveals Himself clearly so that His people might be conformed into the image of Christ through His Spirit. And only God’s Word can accomplish such an end, meaning then, “Every Christian is free of any of the works which God did not command and is allowed at all times to eat everything.” (Article 24, from The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli).

Following the public debates, between Zwingli and Rome, the town of Zurich would vote to become a Reformed city, one of the first to be free from the power of Rome. God used ordinary men, with ordinary stomachs to bring the light of the Gospel. God raised up such a man to redeem His people from the traditions of men by pointing them back to the Word. So today, as people who are purposefully and joyfully united to the Reformers, we enjoy sausage any day of the week – and especially on Fridays during Spring. We remember how God can take something as ordinary as meat to remind us, “…that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 2:16a ESV) May we always seek to embrace only those things which God has revealed in Scripture, never submitting to another master than the Lord.