Where Did All These Memorialists Come From? Rethinking Zwingli as the Source of A Baptist View

In studies of 19th century British Baptist theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper, the current prevailing understanding is that the 17th and 18th century Baptists held to a view of the Supper that followed the theology of John Calvin and included an acknowledgement of the spiritual presence of Christ. Then, studies show a shift in Baptist understandings of the Supper in the 19th century, where they reacted against a resurgent Catholicism in England and shifted away from acknowledging the spiritual presence of Christ at the Supper and asserting what could be called a mere memorialism. This 19th century view has been labeled as Zwinglianism.

The purpose of this study will be to challenge the identification of this mere memorialist view with Zwingli, proposing instead that Zwingli and Calvin held to a largely unified view of the Lord’s Supper that acknowledged the spiritual presence of Christ by holding to many of the same Christological foundations, exegetical conclusions, and language of spiritual nourishment. Using partitive exegesis, Zwingli articulated a Christology that anticipated what came to be known as the extra calvinisticum and not only allowed for but even assumed the spiritual presence of Christ at the Supper while rejecting any notion of physical presence. Once these aspects of Zwingli’s theology, along with his exegesis of John 6 and his language of spiritual nourishment, have been demonstrated, then this study will show that Calvin agreed with and built upon these foundational truths established by Zwingli, so that what has become known as the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper includes contributions from both Calvin and Zwingli.

Determine the agreement between Calvin and Zwingli in their view of the Supper will help provide a foundation of understanding that can then be applied to later Baptist studies in seeking to understand the motives, sources, and logic behind the transition in the thought of Baptists on the Supper in the 19th century.

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