It Depends on What You Mean by Win

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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History, someone has said, is written by the winners, not the losers. Ever hear of Casper Schwenckfeld (shvenk-feld) von Ossig? As a protestant reformer and contemporary of Martin Luther and John Calvin, he made a modest mark on church history and receded into obscurity—little more than passing reference in textbooks on the Protestant Reformation. But if you study what he stood for, you wonder that his fame is not greater and his impact on church history not more profound.

In the volatile, violent religious wildfire that swept across 16th century Europe, Casper Schwenckfeld labored to induce the Church to tolerance and Christian love. He wanted all Christians to understand their union in the Body of Christ, to transcend doctrinal differences, and always, above all, to glorify the Christ. Calling themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ, his followers simply went about encouraging fellow Christians of any persuasion to live in harmony, love one another, and seek, as Schwenckfeld summarized his theology, to “grow in the peace, love, and unity which are in Christ, and live and walk in the fear of God.”

For their efforts, Schwenckfeld’s followers were ostracized and persecuted. They were anathematized by Catholics and Protestants alike, primarily over Schwenckfeld’s belief that Christians should suspend partaking of the Lord’s Supper as long as they were in enmity toward other Christians. After nearly two centuries of struggle to survive, some 180 descendants of the original Schwenckfelder disciples fled Europe for Pennsylvania, where William Penn welcomed them warmly, himself having been persecuted for religious nonconformity. The refugees settled around Lansdale, Pennsburg, and other parts of what is now Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Today, six congregations of Schwenckfelder Christians total some 2,800 followers. Since the late 19th century, their Schwenckfelder Library has collected the founder’s voluminous writings and related rare books and manuscripts, including Schwenckfelder’s well-annotated German Bible.

Some 2,800 Pennsylvanians, and perhaps many more people, do not evaluate Schwenckfeld in terms of winning or losing. Casper Schwenckfeld persevered in love and acceptance; he ran the race marked out for him. And who knows but that his vision of “peace, love, and unity” in the whole Body of Christ may yet come to be.