The Sausage Revolution
Having begun his new ministry in 1519 with an innovative Erasmian approach to preaching, Zwingli had advanced beyond Christian humanism by 1520. In that year he renounced his papal pension and was beginning to read, interpret and evaluate Luther. Like many of his contemporaries, Zwingli was particularly drawn to Luther’s Freedom of the Christian (published November 1520). If we are justified by faith and not by works then we are no longer bound to obey canon law. Right at the start of the treatise Luther declares:
A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.
Taking and applying this principle to his Zurich context, Zwingli developed a clear sense of the liberating grace of God in Christ. This theology persuaded a group of his supporters to deliberately defy canon law during the Lenten fast of 1522 and deliberately ate two smoked sausages at the house of a local printer, Christoph Froschauer. This may all sound a little trivial, even silly, to us, but to them it was a deliberate declaration of their liberty in the Gospel. Zwingli was present at the event which became known, of course, as the “Affair of the Sausages”, but he did not actually eat the sausages himself. However, he defended the defiance of his supporters in a sermon on 23 March arguing that, since breaking a fast was not a sin, those involved could not be punished by the Church:
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 are a person of leisure, you should fast often and abstain from food that excites you; the worker moderates his desires by hoeing and ploughing in the field. You say, ‘but the idlers will eat meat without needing to.’ The answer is that these very same people fill themselves with even richer foods, which enflame them even more than the highly-seasoned highly-spiced meats.
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 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 has commanded.
The grace of God is so foundational to our understanding of the Gospel. Without it, we have no Gospel at all (Galatians 1:6). But we need to be crystal clear as to what grace is and is not. Neither Luther nor Zwingli uses grace as an excuse for licence. The battles that were fought in the Reformation to establish the doctrine of grace in the 1520s needed to be re-fought in the 1970s and 80s. I grew up in a Church that preached salvation by grace but living the Christian life quickly became pettifogging rule-keeping. Today, however, I think there are different battles to fight. We need to preach grace for all it’s worth. I am not suggesting that we dumb down that message one little bit. The battle for grace needs to be fought in every generation. However, as Andrew Wilson warned six months ago, there are some today who have perverted grace into hyper-grace. This can have huge impact on our churches. A few months ago I asked a pastor-friend of mine what was the greatest pastoral challenge he was facing right now. He explained that in his church he was increasingly finding that there were a significant number of students coming from a variety of different church backgrounds who in lifestyle and conduct had sold out to a hyper-grace message. They knew, he said, what the Bible taught on sexual ethics but were quite happy to sleep with their boyfriend/girlfriend because in their home church “Everyone was doing it and no one took that bit of the Bible seriously.” As Paul makes abundantly clear in Titus 2:12 grace teaches us to say “No!” Grace and holiness are not mutually exclusive. They are actually part of the same Gospel!