As 1522 dawned there was a difference in Zwingli’s preaching. Up until then he had preached only the Gospel of Christ from the Bible, but now he determined to show the difference between the principles found in God’s Word and those that came from man.
When Lent season arrived, Zwingli preached with increased vigor. He reminded the people that their hearts had been touched as the Holy Scriptures were taught to them, but now they had to choose between staying true to the Bible or following man-made traditions like the one forbidding the faithful from eating meat during the 40 days of Lent. People who keep Lent fast from certain foods or activities for 40 days before Easter. It is a form of penance that is supposed to prepare a person for Easter.
Lent is a tradition that came into the church with many other pagan practices in the fourth century[i], during the time of Emperor Constantine’s compromises. Lent and Easter were not created by Jesus’ disciples to celebrate Jesus resurrection.
Long before Jesus was born on earth, people were already celebrating Easter. “Easter” comes from the word “Ishtar,” the name of a pagan goddess, also called the Queen of Heaven. Her son, Tammuz, the sun god was a counterfeit of Jesus who died and rose again.[ii] Having a knowledge of God’s plan of redemption, Satan counterfeited that plan by inspiring people to create the story of Ishtar and Tammuz so that people would worship the sun and idols instead of God. In Old Testament times, God’s people were already mixing pagan worship with the worship of the true God. (See Ezekiel 8:14 and Jeremiah 7:18, 44:25, where the women were weeping over the death of Tammuz and baking cakes to the Queen of Heaven.)
Sun worship was still very popular about 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection. When Constantine adopted Christianity, he did so with a mind to blend it with paganism.[iii] New “Christians” were allowed to bring many of their festivals and worship rituals into the Christian church. This made it easier for pagans to “become” Christians.
Constantine also built many “Christian” churches where pagans had worshipped their gods. For example, he built a church over the cave in Bethlehem that had been a shrine to Tammuz. The church is now called the Church of the Nativity and is said to be the birthplace of Jesus.[iv] In these ways, Bible truths were eventually replaced with the errors of Satan’s counterfeit religions.
So, when the reformers started studying the Bible, they found that many church practices did not come from Christ or His disciples. They were man-made traditions which Jesus condemned when He said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Some reformers wanted to throw out all such traditions, as soon as they were discovered. Others, like Zwingli, were careful about introducing change too suddenly.
Although bold, Zwingli was cautious and wise. While he preached against the Roman church’s traditions he continued to say mass and even refrained from eating meat on the appointed days to avoid causing a negative reaction against necessary reforms.
In Basle, a priest named William Rubli was not as careful as Zwingli. He proudly attacked the church’s traditions. Each Sunday, 4 000 listeners filled his church. He preached against the mass, purgatory, and praying to saints. Unfortunately, Rubli did not preach the truth as much as he attacked the church’s errors.
Rubli liked the attention he got from criticizing the church. On days the church required fasting from meat, Rubli and his friends got together and ate meat. When other priests rebuked them for defying the church’s traditions, Rubli reminded them that they did the same thing. The priests piously replied that they had paid for special permission from the pope to eat meat on holy days. Laughing, Rubli said he had paid also – the only difference was that he paid the butcher rather than the pope. This open confrontation did not help the cause of truth. Eventually, Rubli upset so many people that he was forced to leave Basle.