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360° in 180–The Affair of the Sausages: What Switzerland’s Reformation History Means for Christians Today (Part 20)

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It’s not every day that a single smoked snack can spark a scandal, ignite a revolution, and fuel a reformation that alters the spiritual landscape of an entire nation. Then again, not every day is March 9, 1522. And certainly, not every Swiss priest is ex-military chaplain Ulrich Zwingli.

Due to public health efforts to contain COVID-19, filming for this blog has been temporarily discontinued.

I stood in Zwingli’s cathedral, Grossmünster, in Zurich, Switzerland, during my mission to backpack 360° around the world documenting Christian students’ experiences at secular universities. I didn’t know that 500 years earlier, the man whose preaching echoed off those walls had abetted an incident that would forever impact Western Christianity: The Affair of the Sausages.

Yes, sausages.

What, besides church potlucks, could Western Christianity possibly have to do with a couple of pork products? The answer lies in a little history, tracing right back to the beginning of time.

An Age-Old Deception

From the first chapters of Genesis, Scripture reveals that our enemy the devil loves attacking people by seeding doubts in their minds about God’s Word. Since God is our loving Creator who knows everything, His word is the authoritative revelation for truth, guiding us into the fulfilling life for which He designed us. So, the devil, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy,1 naturally craves for us to self-destruct by elevating our own fallible ideas as the “truth” above God’s Word. Satan first leveraged this tactic in Eden, asking Eve, “Did God really say . . . ?”2 And even in the early church, the Apostle Paul warned Corinthian believers against falling for the same tactic, saying,

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.3
More recently, the classic deception that man’s word can override God’s revelation has manifested as the popular belief that human ideas about “science” supersede the history account God revealed in Genesis.

More recently, the classic deception that man’s word can override God’s revelation has manifested as the popular belief that human ideas about “science” supersede the history account God revealed in Genesis. Because these beliefs turn so many church-raised youth away from trusting Scripture,4 I’d been traveling to research how Christian students keep their faith while being taught unbiblical and unscientific ideas—including human evolution—as fact.

Now that my journey had led me to Grossmünster, I stood near the site where another battle regarding the words “Did God really say . . .” once raged—a battle that began over sausages.

Stirring the Pot: A Reformation Begins

To understand this battle, let’s backtrack into early church history. As Christian students in Greece had reminded me, the Roman world’s original church grew increasingly political in the centuries after Christ. So, when the Roman Empire split, the church itself divided into Eastern Orthodoxy in Greece and Roman Catholicism in Western Europe.

In the West, official church teachings strayed ever further from the simple doctrines of Scripture, often portraying salvation as a reward for human effort rather than God’s gift of grace, made possible only through Christ. As part of the West’s teaching that salvation costs human elbow grease rather than God’s own blood, churches even sold “indulgences,” paper documents which supposedly granted forgiveness for sins.

Martin Luther protested these practices in 1517 when he hammered his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door, kickstarting the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Zwingli soon caught Luther’s newly kindled passion for the unadulterated gospel, recognizing that God’s Word—not man’s ideas—must be the ultimate authority for truth. So, Zwingli began publicly rejecting human ideas that culture had been assimilating into God’s word.

Take fasting, for instance. While Jesus promoted fasting as a spiritual discipline, nothing in the Bible teaches that refusing certain foods on specific days is a prerequisite for following Christ. Yet the Western 16th-century church prohibited the eating of meat during Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, as though this human tradition were the direct command of God.

Because the Swiss government had remained officially connected with the church since the region’s Roman occupation, this fast was no mere suggestion. It was the law. Clearly, Zwingli and his co-reformers recognized that this law didn’t stem from Scripture. But what were they going to do about it?

Bring on the Sausages

Pumping out those Pauline pages presented the perfect pretext for a purely pleasant party—and for a premeditated public provocation.

At that time, Zwingli had written a sermon series on The Epistles of St. Paul, which a printer named Christoph Froschauer was publishing. Pumping out those Pauline pages presented the perfect pretext for a purely pleasant party—and for a premeditated public provocation. See, Froschauer knew his crew would be wiped from their workday. And what better way to relax in the 16th-century than chomping down some hard, year-old smoked sausage?

Under this pretense, Froschauer invited his workers—and several church leaders including Zwingli—for dinner, complete with two sliced up sausages. This felonious feeding stoked such outrage that Froschauer soon found himself arrested.

While Zwingli hadn’t partaken of the scandalous morsels himself, he readily defended Froschauer. Soon after the episode, for instance, Zwingli preached a sermon entitled (in English) Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods. You’ll never guess whose printing press published that sermon. (Hint: his name rhymes with “Shmoschauer.”)

The upheaval that followed the sermon’s distribution—including some good, old-fashioned tavern fights—drew the regional Bishop to intervene. Despite the Bishop’s attempts to quell Reformation preaching in Switzerland, the fires Zwingli lit could not be doused. Only a year later in fact, the Swiss government abolished compulsory fasting altogether. Thus, the Swiss Reformation began, its influence spreading across Western Europe and the New World, through a sermon in defense of sausages.

So, what did this incendiary sermon declare? As Zwingli (or at least, his translators) put it,

In a word, if you will fast, do so; if you do not wish to eat meat, eat it not; but leave Christians a free choice in the matter . . . If the spirit of your belief teaches you thus, then fast, but grant also your neighbour 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 hath commanded.5

The Moral of the Story

Spoken 500 years ago, Zwingli’s call to revere God’s Word as our final authority rings as true today as it did in 16th-century Switzerland. These days, of course, the most widely esteemed authority for truth might not be a government-sanctioned church. The most popular beliefs and practices might not involve extrabiblical religious traditions. And the most politically correct actions may have nothing to do with abstaining from sausages at Lent. But where today’s “truth” authorities (including proponents of evolutionary origins), popular practices, and politically correct beliefs conflict with what God’s Word clearly states, we must not, as Zwingli urged, “make what man has invented greater before God than what God himself hath commanded.”

Now, centuries after the hardships which Swiss Reformers experienced, what challenges do modern Christians encounter in Switzerland’s universities?

That’s what I planned to investigate next.

Stay tuned for Part 21!

Footnotes

  1. John 10:10
  2. Genesis 3:1
  3. 2 Corinthians 11:3-4
  4. Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It, (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Publishing Group, 2009).
  5. Ulrich Zwingli, “Liberty Respecting Food in Lent,” The Latin Works and the Correspondence of Huldreich Zwingli: Together with Selections from His German Works 1510–1522, edited by Jackson, Samuel Macauley, vol. 1, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010), pp. 87.

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