- Switzerland was one of the two countries where the Reformation began and from which it spread. The call for reform began in Zurich, where Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) had in 1518 been called as the people's priest for the Grossmünster or Great Church, the center of the canton's religious establishment. Under Zwingli, the Reformation spread through German-speaking cantons, though after his untimely death in 1531, the center shifted to Geneva, where John Calvin (1509-64) took the leading role in developing French-speaking Protestantism. Calvin also offered a viable compromise interpretation of the sacraments between Zwingli's acts of remembrance and Martin Luther's almost Catholic sacramentalism. Calvin's solution, which affirmed Christ's spiritual presence in the sacrament, unified the various segments of Swiss Protestantism.in the 1520s, the German-speaking cantons of Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Schaffhouse become predominantly Protestant. in the 1530s, French-speaking Neuchâtel and Geneva were added to the Protestant camp. The single italian-speaking canton remained Roman Catholic. Geneva's peculiar role in the development of Protestantism was further accented in 1559, when Calvin founded the Academy for the training of pastors and other church leaders. It quickly developed an international student body.Switzerland remained split between Protestant and Roman Catholic establishments at the start of the 19th century, but the country later became radically pluralistic. From the beginning of the Reformation, Switzerland had been home to dissenting Protestant Free Church groups, initially the Swiss Brethren and then the Mennonites. Later the Amish movement was begun by a Swiss Mennonite, Jacob Amman (b. c. 1644). However, serious challenges to the authority of the Reformed Church did not take place until the 19th century. Switzerland was one of the first lands into which the Plymouth Brethren movement spread, founder John Nelson Darby having resided in the country for several years in the 1830s. It now exists in both its exclusive and open (Christian Brethren) branches. The Baptist Union dates to the 1840s.The Reformed Church had always existed as a set of different churches, one in each canton (whether the established or a minority church). In the 19th century, these churches began to cooperate more closely, resulting in the present Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches. It now includes the 22 cantonal Reformed Churches, the Evangelical-Methodist Church of Switzerland, and the Free Church of Geneva. The Helvetic Confession (1558) serves as a common statement of faith. In the 19th century, the swiss became heavily involved in the worldwide Protestant missionary endeavor through such groups as the Basel Mission, founded in 1815. The first major break in Protestant unity in switzerland occurred in the Canton of Vaud, where a group of Reformed ministers and members left in 1846 in protest against state intrusions into church life.in the 20th century, a spectrum of Protestant and Free Church groups settled in Switzerland, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Pentecostals being possibly the largest. The Assemblies of God (based in the United States) now report some 25,000 members, just behind the Fellowship of Pentecostal Free Churches. Both groups were founded in the 1960s. In 1919, the Jehovah's Witnesses suffered a schism that led to the formation of the Friends of Man under Alexander Freytag (1870-1947), which has remained the largest Free Church group in the country. As many as 100 additional Protestant and Free Church groups now have congregations in switzerland, some serving expatriate communities.Following World War II, Switzerland took on an additional significant role in the Protestant world when the headquarters of the World Council of Churches was located in Geneva. The WCC's presence further attracted the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to locate their headquarters and the World Methodist Council to place its European office in the same building. Although the World Evangelical Alliance chose to locate its regional headquarters in London, it has affiliated members among the many swiss Free Churches that organized locally into the Schweizerische Evangelische Allianz.Switzerland divides almost equally among residents with Protestant and Catholic sympathies, with some 44 percent of the population in each group. The remaining population adheres to Eastern Orthodox Christian or non-Christian groups.Further reading:■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds., The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)■ Claude Bovay, Ilévolution de l'appartenance religieuse et confessionnelle en Suisse (Bern: Office Fédéral de la Statistique, 1997)■ Pamela Johnson and Robert W. Scribner, The Reformation in Germany and Switzerland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)■ Lukas Vischer, et al., Ökumenische Kirchengeschichte der Schweiz (Freiburg-Basel: Paulusverlag-F Reinhardt, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.