The crucial event marking the visible start of the Reformation in Zurich can be traced to the First Zurich Disputation on January 29, 1523, where the mayor and members of the city council decreed “that Master Ulrich Zwingli (may) continue to preach the Holy Gospel and the true divine Scripture as he has done until now for as long a time and to such an extent until he be instructed differently.”

At the Second Zurich Disputation, held October 26–28, 1523, practical reforms of the church had already been discussed which arose out of Zwingli’s biblical preaching which had been officially approved in January. Some of the reforms were adopted, notably the abolition of the images and of the Mass.

During this Second Disputation, Zwingli gave special emphasis to two themes: The absolutely central importance and primary authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God, and the nature of the ministry, which may be understood as our human answer to this Word.

On the third day of the Second Disputation, Zwingli delivered his lengthy message, “The Shepherd,” which actually carried the full title, “How one can recognize true Christian shepherds and also the false, and moreover how one should behave in regard to them.” This sermon was delivered to a large and mixed audience of council members and clergy from town and country, a company of probably about 900 people.

Before looking at the thoughts expressed, we must remind ourselves that his hearers were most acutely aware of this bewildering historical context in which they lived. Vast changes, spiritual and material, were pressing on all sides in almost apocalyptic proportions. In such a world, Zwingli posed the question of how can one recognize the good shepherds as distinct from the counterfeit? ...

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