Tuesday, October 31, 2017


The Reformation opened the door to all sorts of wild theories about the church, the end of the world, and the kingdom of God and how it would be established. Some said the kingdom of God would be established by God’s people taking up the sword, slaying the wicked and establishing righteousness by force. Others said it would be established by a “second commissioning” of apostles and prophets who would go forth with such power, signs and wonders that no one would be able to resist them.
It was within this milieu of religious fervor and expectation that Luther had his notorious run-in with the “Prophets of Zwickau.” And it was in this conflict that Luther coined the word scharmer to describe these individuals whom he considered to be irrational spiritualists led astray by the thoughts and feelings of their own heart.
Luther Confronts the Schwarmer
While Luther was hiding in the Castle of Wartburg, after his condemnation at the Diet of Worms, three men from Zwickau came to Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg, which was the center of the Reformation. Led by a weaver named Nicholas Storch, they claimed divine visions, dreams and visits from the angel Gabriel. They became known as the “Prophets of Zwickau.”
Storch and his two friends wowed the people with their revelations and began taking the reform movement in Wittenberg in a radical direction that was not compatible with Luther’s desire or with Scripture. Luther was for gradual change as a result of the people’s hearts being changed by the preaching of the word.
These new prophets, however, demanded instant and radical changes in the church services and the long-held traditions and practices of the people. They began smashing statues, images and paintings. Their basis of authority was not Scripture, but the visions and angelic visitations, which they claimed.
Although many, including some of Luther’s colleagues, were won over by the sensational claims of these men, their presence and message caused unrest in the city, prompting Melanchthon to send a message to Luther about what was happening.
Luther Returns
When Luther read the message, he put his life at risk, left the Castle at Wartburg, and returned to Wittenberg. He preached eight sermons on eight consecutive days, challenging with Scripture the visions and dreams of the prophets from Zwickau. It was at this time that he coined the word schwarmer as a derogatory designation for these individuals whom he considered to be irrational dreamers led astray by the imaginations of their own heart. Concerning Luther's eight sermons, the historian, Philip Schaff, wrote,
The ruling ideas of these eight discourses are: Christian freedom and Christian charity; freedom from the tyranny of radicalism which would force the conscience against forms, as the tyranny of popery forces the conscience in the opposite direction. In plain, clear, strong, scriptural language, he refuted the errors without naming the errorists.”
A Personal Encounter with a Schwarmer
This reminds me of how, during the midst of a series of meetings, I received a phone call from one of the participants. The voice on the other end of the line said, “I was lying by the pool meditating and God spoke to me and said, ‘Call Eddie Hyatt and tell him to start a church and call it ‘The Gateway to Heaven.’”
I did not need a special revelation from heaven to know that the message was not from God. I also knew he was not a false prophet, just a mistaken one who had not learned to distinguish the voice of the Spirit of God from his own thoughts, feelings and over-active imagination. He was a schwarmer, but an honest one who was willing to receive correction.
The Schwarmer Leave Wittenberg
The schwarmer in Wittenberg, however, were unwilling to receive correction. Through Luther’s preaching and influence, it soon became obvious to the people that the “prophets” were in error. Realizing they had lost their influence, the three men departed Wittenberg. One of Luther’s colleagues wrote to the Elector of that region,
Oh, what joy has Dr. Martin’s return spread among us. His words, through divine mercy, are bringing back every day misguided people into the way of truth. It is as clear as the sun, that the Spirit of God is in him, and that he returned to Wittenberg by His special providence.
Although Luther was not prefacing what he said with a “thus saith the Lord,” his message was obviously more prophetic than the dreams and visions of the schwarmer. Always remember that just as Solomon’s temple was constructed quietly without any sound of a hammer or tool (I Kings 6:7), God’s word and work can flow forth without hype and fanfare.
How Not to be a Schwarmer
Luther’s experience serves as a reminder of the importance of following the Biblical admonitions to test the spirits and to judge prophecy. Because false miracles and prophets are predicted for the last days (Matthew 24:11,24), we must be especially vigilant. Concerning the supernatural, we must be open without being na├»ve, and critical without being judgmental. Here are five characteristics of a schwarmer we must avoid.
1.     A schwarmer is proud of his spirituality. Pride, however, is the stronghold of deception and we must avoid like the plague any temptation to spiritual pride or a holier-than-thou elitism.
2.     A schwarmer is unteachable. Unteachableness is a fruit of pride. Nurture a humble and teachable heart.
3.       A schwarmer has no sense of the distinction between soul and spirit and tends to attribute every thought, feeling and impression to the Spirit of God. Learn to distinguish your own soulish thoughts and feelings from that which is from the Spirit of God.
4.     A schwarmer loves the limelight and will proclaim visions and prophecies to draw attention to themselves. Keep the attention off yourself and on Jesus
5.       A schwarmer tends to exalt visions and prophecies over and above God’s word and common sense. Instead of being a schwarmer, be a Berean. The Bereans were commended by the Holy Spirit because they searched the Scriptures daily to find out if the things spoken by Paul and Silas were so (Acts 17:11)

This article was derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt’s latest book, The Charismatic Luther, with the subtitle, Healings, Miracles & Spiritual Gifts in the Life of the Great Reformer, now available from Amazon in Kindle, and soon to be available in paperback. Check out his website atwww.eddiehyatt.com.

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