Baptists are not Protestants
Origin and the Doctrines of the Anabaptists of the Reformation
By Raul Enyedi
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SUBJECT OF ANABAPTISM of Reformation times is one of the most debated
subjects in world history. Every aspect of their
existence – their origin, their doctrines, their practice, their
influence upon the world – has been affirmed and questioned over and
over again in a number of ways. Both their defenders
and their accusers find that keeping their composure and objectivity while
investigating the Anabaptists is the hardest thing they can do.
The Anabaptists were known as men who shunned compromise, and one
will either love or hate their positions, but he cannot pass them by with
consider that the world has reached a point, especially in the religious
realm, in which there is a need that the doctrines of the Anabaptists be
known and proclaimed. This is an edifying but also challenging task for
those who care for the continuation of pure Christianity and of churches
shaped after the New Testament pattern (Epistle of Jude, vs. 3).
live in an age in which declaring a doctrinal or denominational identity
is considered to be obsolete. One who declares the
Baptist identity is called “narrow,”
common sense.” As Baptists it is imposibile to know who we are and where
we are heading if we do not know our history. No
Baptist can properly know his identity and origin, from where he comes and
where he is
going, unless he is acquainted with the Anabaptists.
Anabaptists significantly marked the history of Christianity and that of
the world. The modern man who lives in a society that
grants him the right of free expression, and the right to believe whatever
he considers proper, is greatly indebted for his priviledges to the
sixteenth century Anabaptists. A great host of them
perished at the bloody hands of the executioner or in the flames of the
heretic’s stake for proclaiming and defending these fundamental rights
the civilized world enjoys today.
the persecuted, hunted and martyred Anabaptist that lived five centuries
ago, the modern Baptist owes his existence, the doctrinal frame upon which
his church is built and also the direction he follows. Having
such an inheritance, any Baptist should glory in his forefathers, and
humble himself before such a great clowd of witnesses.
Baptists ignore or repudiate the Anabaptists, being embarrassed if
identified with them. Moreover, there are some who call
themselves Baptists, but openly confess that they would rather identify
with the Protestant or even the Catholic party than with the Anabaptists.
This sad situation has two main causes. The
first is ignorance; the second is the involvement in the ecumenical
on the part of the common member is due mainly to the fact that the
teaching on our Baptist origins ceased to be proclaimed from the pulpits
long ago. Nevertheless, we remind every member that he
is responsible before God to search for the truth, to judge what is being
preached – and what is not preached, to watch over the doctrinal and
practical purity of the church to which he belongs.
second cause is much more dramatic. Most Baptist
leaders cannot be accused of ignorance – not an innocent one, at least.
The times in which the Baptists were refused access to higher
education or to information are long past. The
information exists and is available for any one who wants to study it.
The teaching on Baptist origins is not preached because it is
unknown, but because it does not fit in the program followed by the higher
Baptist ranks. This is the ecumenical program pursued
by all great Christian denominations. The ecumenical movement does not
look favorably upon the insistence on denominational histories, because it
pursues the bringing of the churches into a post-denominational era.
History (which inevitably emphasizes denominational peculiarities)
is minimized or even changed by those from the large ecumenical circle.
than any other denomination, the Baptists have a history that does not fit
with ecumenical patterns, being thus extremely inconvenient. It
is not to be wondered that once the Baptists became involved in ecumenism
they changed their position regarding their origin. First
they gave up the “succession view” (this view states that the
Baptists are the successors of the original Christians and that Baptist
type churches, though known under different names, existed in every
century of the Christian era); then the “Anabaptist influence view”
was given up, since the Anabaptists were drastically separated from the
Catholics and from the Protestants and were stigmatized as fanatics, being
made responsible for two tragic episodes from the time of early
Reformation: The Peasants’ War (1524-1525) and the
Kingdom of Munster (1535-1536). The “English
separatism outgrowth view” was chosen, which states that the Baptist
origins are found in 1609, when John Smyth baptized himself and then the
others that were with him, organizing the first Baptist church in the
world. Such a view is very convenient to the ecumenical
cause because it places the origin of the Baptists in late Protestantism,
being merely continuers of the Reformation. They are
also in this way separated from the troubled sixteenth century and from
all the medieval dissident parties that opposed Catholicism vehemently,
sometimes even to extermination.
purpose of this article is to bring to light a small part of the history
of the early Anabaptists, of their vision, of their specific doctrines, of
their life standards and struggle for preserving the faith, and of their
sufferings and persecutions. Having access to essential
information, quotes from original sources and quotes from the most
important researchers of Anabaptist history, we hope that the reader can
form a general but fair opinion about the Anabaptists, in such a way that,
at the end of his reading, he would be able to answer two questions: who
were the Anabaptists? And what did they believe?
the Term “Anabaptist”
name “Anabaptist” was given to a movement that blossomed during the
Protestant Reformation of the sixteeth century. Its
main characteristic was the protest against the baptism practiced by the
Roman Catholic and the
also firmly held to the New Testament as sole authority in matters of
faith and practice. They opposed the clergy and
believed in the equality of all church members. They
believed that following Christ meant living a life of perseverance unto
holiness. They believed that every man is free to
choose what he wants to believe and in what church to be a member,
regardless of where he finds himself.
the very first it should be emphasized that the opponents of the
Anabaptists labeled as Anabaptists any party that opposed infant baptism
and the interference of the civil authorities in religious matters and the
ecclesiastical authorities in civil matters. Thus, we
shall meet under this name both peaceful and revolutionary groups, both
evangelical and fanatical. This generalization by their
enemies was not accidental, but intentional, with the purpose of making
all of them hated by the common people. Modern
historians have noted this distinction: “There
are two kinds of Anabaptists, the sober and the fanatical. Failure
to make this distinction has done mischief and caused modern Baptists to
deny their connection with the Baptists of the Reformation, whereas they
are the lineal descendants of the sober kind and have no reason to be
ashamed of their predecessors”
(Schaff, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia,
Vol. 1, p. 370).
attempt in this work to distinguish the different groups catalogued as
“Anabaptist” and to differentiate the “evangelical Anabaptists”
from the revolutionaries and the fanatics.
historian encounters a serious problem when he studies dissent in a
monolithic, totalitarian society. History is written by
those in power, and this is true in the case of the Anabaptists, as well.
In no state did they gain the power – in fact, this was not their
purpose – and their principles were applied only in the small
communities they formed. Schaff notices: “Information
concerning the Anabaptists is largely derived from prejudiced and
deficient sources” (Ibid.).
greatest host of historical sources comes from their enemies, either from
the Catholics or from the Protestants. These did not
hesitate to bring accusations against them of the most horrible and
monstruous crimes, calumny being considered as being part of the arsenal
of the “man of God.” Franklin Littell says: “…the
writings and records of the movement were successfully suppressed, whereas
the polemics of their enemies circulated widely and were early translated
into various languages (including English)”
(The Anabaptist View of the Church, p. 148).
a long time historians built an image of the Anabaptists using the
materials provided by their greatest enemies. Only
their followers and few of those outside their circles did not consider
them the yeast of society, devilish men, arch-enemies of Christ and of the
any age, those who identified themselves with the Anabaptists longed for
their acquittal. C.H. Spurgeon hoped
that “The time will probably arrive when
history will be re-written, and the maligned Baptists of Holland and
Germany will be acquitted of all complicity with the ravings of the insane
fanatics, and it will be proved that they were the advanced-guard of the
army of religious liberty, men who lived before their times, but whose
influence might have saved the world centuries of floundering in the bog
of semi-popery, if they had been allowed fair play”
Story of the Baptists, p. 56)
times Spurgeon longed for have already started, but most of their
successors are not interested anymore in their history.
Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation
their origin and particularities, the Anabaptists distinguished themselves
both from Catholics and Protestants. They formed a
distinct movement that did not identify with any of these parties,
remaining always separate and independent from them. “From
all sides we are coming to recognize in the Radical Reformation a major
expression of the religious movement of the sixteenth century.
It is one that is as distinctive as Lutheranism, Calvinism and
Anglicanism, and is perhaps comparably significant in the rise of modern
Spiritualist and Anabaptist Writers, p. 19).
Anabaptist movement is a part of what historians call “the left wing
of the Reformation” or the “Radical Reformation.” This
wing encircled a broad variety of parties and ideas. There
was little or no cooperation but rather controversy between these parties.
Bullinger, the assistant of Zwingli, tried to distinguish them, suggesting
the existence of thirteen different parties
(see Christian, A History of the Baptists, Vol. 1,
but the number of these parties was even greater. Sebastian
Franck, another contemporary, noted the variety of thought among the
radicals: “…it appears to me that there are
not two to be found who agree with each other in all points”
had the same opinion, writing his Institutes of Ecclesiastical History:
the orgin of this discordant sect which caused such mischief in both the
civil and religious community, is to be sought for in
Schaff, one of the chief figures in ecclesiastical history, states: “We
must carefully distinguish the better class of Baptists and the Mennonites
from the restless revolutionary radicals and fanatics, like Carlstadt,
Muenzer, and the leaders of the Muenster tragedy” (History
of the Christian Church,
Vol. VII., p. 396).
Blanke, in Anabaptism and the Reformation, says: “Beside
the main channel of the Reformation there flowed three other streams:
Anabaptism, spiritualism and anti-Trinitarianism. Although
there were transitions and borderline phenomena between these three
streams, they can nevertheless be held as essentially different.
Anabaptism in turn can be divided into four branches: the Swiss
Brethren, the Hutterian Brethren in
recently, George Williams made one of the most thorough cataloguing of the
different parties that formed together “the left wing of the
Reformation.” “Common to all
participants in the Radical Reformation were disappointment in the moral
aspects of territorial Protestantism, as articulated by Luther and
Zwingli, and forthright disavowal of several of its doctrines and
institutions. Among the dissidents in the Radical
Reformation, there are three main groupings: the Anabaptists proper, the
Spiritualists and the Evangelical Rationalists”
(Ibid., p. 20).
Evangelical Rationalists were in their greatest part unitarians
(anti-trinitarians). They were numerous in
Spiritualists were named thusly because they believed in the immediate
inspiration of the Spirit. They stressed the “inner
word,” considering it superior to the written Scriptures.
They aimed for the creation of a new church, composed of believers,
but a return to the New Testament model of a church they considered
unnecessary. They rejected baptism in general, just
like the other sacraments. They opposed the association
of the Church with the civil powers. They were
nicknamed “Schwarmer,” i.e. enthusiasts,
indentifies three great camps among the Spiritualists: the Rationalists
(Sebastian Franck is the most representative); evangelicals (like Caspar
Schwenckfeld) and the revolutionaries (Thomas Munzer, Andreas Carlstadt
– Luther’s former associate). The Revolutionaries
preached the imminent end of the social order and the establishment of the
Anabaptists, in their turn, were classified by Williams in three great
parties: evangelical, contemplative and revolutionaries. All
of them longed for a spiritual church. All baptized
only adults. All struggled for religious liberty.
All practiced “discipleship,” the following of Christ.
Nevertheless, the three parties differed one from each other in
important points, and the cooperation between them was scarce and limited.
Evangelicals represented the main stream of Anabaptism. Among
their leaders, the most renown were: in the Swiss cantons – Conrad
Grebel (ca. 1498-1526); Felix Manz (ca. 1498-1527);
Georg Blaurock (ca. 1492-1529); in the southern German
provinces, Austria and Moravia – Michael Sattler (ca. 1490-1527);
Wilhelm Reublin (dead after 1559); Balthasar Hubmaier (1480?-1528);
Pilgram Marpeck (d. 1556); in the Netherlands – Menno
Simons (1496-1561); Dietrich (Dirk) (1504-1568) and Obbe (ca. 1500-1568)
Philips, in the first part of his ministry. They
were characterized by high moral standards, and were peaceful and
prosperous. They thought that every individual should
be free to believe according to the dictates of his conscience, and
believed in a church composed of true believers, separated from the state
and from the world of unbelievers. They stood against
the use of weapons and refused to give oaths or to serve as magistrates,
but they subjected themselves to civil authorities. From the main body of
the Evangelical Anabaptists sprung the Hutterites lead by Jacob Hutter,
who preached communitarianism (the common possesion of all the goods of
Contemplative Anabaptists were those who, like the Spiritualists,
emphasized the illumination of the Spirit. They
regarded the “inner word” and the letter of the Scriptures as
the two scales of the same balance. Their prominent
representatives were Hans
Denck (ca. 1500-1527) (for
a time he was the leader of the Evangelical Anabaptists in Augsburg); Hans
Hut (d. 1527) (in his last years, however, he labored
among the Evangelical Anabaptists);
Ludwig Hatzer (1500-1529); Adam Pastor (died
and Hatzer collaborated in the translation of the major prophets from
Hebrew into the German language, five years prior to Luther’s
translation. The death of Denck in exile and the
martyrdom of Hatzer stopped the translation of the whole Old Testament.
Revolutionary Anabaptists were those who insisted on the establishment of
Christ’s theocracy on earth. They based their
doctrine on the Old Testament prophecies and on their own “divine
inspiration.” Their leaders, Melchior Hoffman and Jan Matthijs,
considered themselves to be the two prophets of the book of Revelation.
Matthijs predicted the coming of the apocalypse and of the Kingdom,
whose capital would be the German city of
vast differences in doctrine and practice that existed among the parties
gathered under the flag of the Radical Reformation were not left unknown
to the Protestant and Catholic authorities. Their
identification of all the Anabaptists with a fanatic and revolutionary
minority was deliberate (this custom was old among the Catholics).
Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and the other Reformers cannot be acquitted
for their calumnies that brought repeated waves of persecutions and
executions upon innocent Anabaptists who condemned and abhorred those
abuses as much as the Reformers. “Yet
the major Protestant Reformers and their associates were the bitterest
foes and persecutors of the Anabaptists; and Protestant scholars and
polemicists, beginning with Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Phillip
Melanchton, John Calvin and Henry Bullinger, drew and redrew a composite
portrait of them as fanatics and revolutionaries”
(Williams, Ibid., p. 26).
was the label of the century – and not only among the Radicals.
The Catholic party was divided. Many opposed the
excomunication of Luther and expressed similar sentiments. More
voices, some even from the papal throne, asserted the need for a moral
reformation. Humanism, which flirted with pagan
philosophy, tended toward a rejection of the superstitions and
“mysteries” of the Church. The Cistercians stirred
trouble, pushing for the laymen to have access to the wine in the
was no more unity in the Protestant camp either. A
motley crowd of varied interests gathered under the flag of Luther.
Hutten, Sickingen and Rubianus were pushed by nationalist
emancipation, not by religious sentiment. Some princes
supported him because they hated to see German gold draining toward
Swiss Reformation did not at first know more unity of thought.
Fritz Blanke says: “In
1523-24 Zwingli himself distinguished three different groups within the
population. There were people in Zurich (city and
canton), he said, who were protestant out of hatred toward Catholicism.
There was the category (still extant) of ‘negative
Protestants,’ who are Protestant because they under no conditions wish
to be Catholics. The second group is made up of
libertinistic Protestants, who see in the Gospel nothing but an
opportunity to lead a looser life. But there is also a
third circle: those who ‘work in the word of God,’ who seek to live
according to the word of God and to penetrate ever deeper into the Holy
Scriptures. This last group is Zwingli’s ‘staff,’
the narrow circle of his collaborators” (Hershberger,
Ibid., p. 58, 59).
Evangelical Anabaptists are the predecessors of the Baptists, Mennonites
and Hutterites. Therefore, keeping in mind the
differences between all the parties classed as “Anabaptists,” we will
concentrate our efforts to demonstrate that the Evangelical Anabaptists
did not identify themselves with the Protestant camp, having a different
origin as well as different doctrines and practices. From this point
forward, we shall employ the term “Anabaptist” not in its general
sense, but, if no mention is made, in the sense of “Evangelical
is the Origin of the Anabaptists?
enough, no historian can give a sure and definite answer to this question.
There are two schools of thought that postulate two theories.
The first states that Anabaptism was a “son” of the Reformation
and a constitutive part of it. The movement should be
analyzed in Reformation context, since it had no connection with the
medieval dissident groups, even though they had similar doctrines and
practices. The main arguments of this theory are: 1.
There is no clear historical data that would confirm the descent of
the Anabaptists from the Waldenses, the Bohemian Brethren and other such
parties. 2. Most of the Anabaptist
leaders came from Catholicism to Anabaptism via Protestantism.
3. Anabaptism spread successfully only in the
territories where Protestantism gained the upper hand (this argument is
brought by Fritz Blanke in Anabaptism and the Reformation).
4. There were doctrinal and practical
differences between the Waldenses of Reformation times and the
Anabaptists, and the former united with the Reformation party in 1532, not
with the Anabaptists. Some of the most representative
figures of this school, with some differences among them, are Bender,
Littell, Estep, Blanke, Zijpp.
second theory states that the Anabaptists are the heirs of the medieval
evangelical groups. Some of the most important
representatives of this school are the historians Keller, Vedder,
Christian, Jarrel and Verduin. The absence of undeniable
evidence that points to a direct descent from the medieval groups is
admitted, but the following aspects are found to give enough evidence for
an origin older than 1517 (the beginning of the Reformation):
All historians admit that Anabaptism started at once in
extraordinary growth cannot be explained unless we admit a previously
prepared material. Henry Vedder says: “The
seemingly sudden appearance of the Anabaptists and their rapid growth in
The beginning of Anabaptism cannot be attributed to one leader, not
even to a group. The Protestant churches can
immediately identify the person who founded them. Mosheim
declares: “The orgin of that sect who, from
their repetition of baptism received in other communities, are called
Anabaptists, but who are also denominated Mennonites… is involved in
much obscurity [another translation reads: “is hidden in the remote
depths of antiquity]. For they suddenly started up in
various countries of
specific doctrines are not new. Schaff says: “The
Anabaptists did not invent their rejection of infant baptism, for there
have always been parties in the Church which were antipedobaptists”
(The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, vol. I, p.
370). The translator
of Mosheim’s Institutes says: “Neither
Menno nor the first Anabaptists had such disciplined intellects as to be
able thus systematically
to link together their thoughts. Their tenets had been
advanced long before the Reformation by the Cathari, the Albigenses, and
the Waldenses, as also by the Hussites. This can be
shown by unquestionable documents, from the records of the Inquistion and
from Confessions; and Mosheim himself maintains the fact in sec.
2 of this chapter. Those sects were indeed
oppressed but not exterminated. Adherents to their
tenets were dispersed everywhere in Germany, Switzerland, Bohemia and
Moravia; and they were emboldened by the Reformation to stand forth
openly, to form a closer union among themselves and to make proselytes to
their tenets. From them sprang the Anabaptists, whose
teachers were men for the most part without learning, who understood the
Scriptures according to the letter and, applied the words of the Bible
without philosophical deductions, according to their perverse mode of
interpretation, to their peculiar doctrines concering the church,
anabaptism, wars, capital punishments, oaths, & c. Even
their doctrine concering magistrates they derived from Luke xxii:25 and 1
Corinth. vi.1, and the manner in which they were
treated by the magistrates may have had a considerable influence on their
doctrine respecting them”
Verduin says: “What
erupted at the Second Front [Verduin
calls the struggle between the Reformers and the Catholics the First Front
of the battle of the Protestants, and their struggle against the
Anabaptists the Second Front] was a resurgence
of those tendencies and opinions that had for centuries already existed
over against the medieval order; it was connected with ancient circles in
which, in spite of the persecutions, a body of ancient opinions and
convictions was still alive. It was not a thing arising
without deeper root out of the events that began in 1517” (The
Reformers and their Stepchildren, p. 14). “The
dissent against the medieval order was in 1517 already a millennium old
and extremely widespread”
(Ibid., p. 15). “The
Protestant Left was the heir of the medieval underworld. It
had categories of thought and a vocabulary emerging from late medieval
heresies…, a vocabulary that pre-existed the Reformation and had its own
power and momentum, quite apart from Luther” (Ibid,
“The sources single out no man as the originator of the sixteenth
century rebaptism… How so radical a practice sprang up anonymously is
passing strange – if it is assumed, as the vogue is, that Anabaptism was
simply the product of the sixteenth century.
this silence as to who must be credited with the idea becomes wholly
explicable once it is realized that what was known as Anabaptism in
Reformation times was in no sense a new thing…No one is credited with
having invented the Anabaptism of the sixteenth century for the sufficient
reason that no one did”
(Ibid., p. 189).
“Rebaptizing is as old as Constantinianism [this is the
name by which Verduin calls the doctrine of the union of the Church and
argue that the Anabaptist leaders come from Protestantism, but this is not
true of all. Leaders like Grebel, Manz, Blaurock or
Hubmaier came indeed to the Protestant camp first, and after that they
became Anabaptists, but there were some leaders that came to the
Anabaptists from the Waldenses. Among them were Hans
Hoch, Leonard Meister and others
(see van Braght, Martyr’s Mirror, p. 413).
argue that Anabaptism developed itself only in the territories in which
Protestantism gained the upper hand, making Anabaptism an offshoot of
Protestantism. But the Anabaptists were widely
spread in several Catholic controlled territories, where Protestantism met
with little success (
T. Christian states: “In
those places where the Waldenses floruished there the Baptists set deep
root. This statement holds good from country to
country, and from city to city.”
(Ibid., p. 89). Will Durant says:
“At first, the Anabaptists manifested
themselves in Switzerland, where the peaceful Christianity of the
Waldenses of Southern France or that of the Beghards from the Low
Countries may have slipped in” (Durant,
Civilizatii istorisite [The Story of Civilisation], vol. 18,
p. 85, translated from Romanian).
historian declares: “In the first place, I
believe the Mennonites are not altogether in the wrong, when they boast of
a descent from those Waldensians, Petrobrusians, and others who are
usually styled the Witnesses of truth before Luther. Prior
to the age of Luther, there lay concealed in almost every country of
Europe, but especially in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland and Germany, very
many persons in whose minds was deeply rooted that principle which the
Waldensians, the Wickliffites, and the Hussites maintained, some more
covertly and others more openly…” (Ibid.,
argue that the Anabaptists could not be the heirs of the Waldenses because
of the doctrinal differences between these two parties. Moreover,
they point out, the Waldenses united with the Swiss Reformers and not with
the Anabaptists. It should be noted that only the
Piedmontese Waldenses accepted the pact with the Reformers, and not even
all of them, for the older generation of barbs [pastors] refused
the compromise, considering it an act of treason; sending delegations to
their brethren in Strassburg, Bohemia and Moravia (see Verduin, Ibid., p.
179). The Picards [one of the general names by which
the Waldenses outside the valleys of
Reformers themselves admitted the ancient and distinct origin of the
Anabaptists. Christian quotes Zwingli as saying: “The
institution of Anabaptism is no novelty, but for three hundred years has
caused great disturbance in the Church and has acquired such strength that
the attempt in this age to contend with it appears futile for a time”
Ibid., vol. I, p. 86).
accuses them, saying: “In
our times the doctrine of the Gospel, reestablished and cleansed, has
drawn to it and gained many who in earlier times had been suppressed by
the tyranny of Antichrist, the Pope; however, there have forthwith gone
out from us Wiedertaufer, Sacramentschwarmer und andere Rotengeister [Anabaptists,
fantatics regarding the sacraments, and other faction makers]…
for they were not of us even though for a while they walked with us” (Verduin,
Ibid., p. 18).
the separatist groups saluted the action of the Augustinian monk and hoped
for a great revival. Sola Scriptura were the
words that attracted them and caused them to support Luther. But
when he compromised with the secular power, these groups ceased to support
him and condemned him for stoping half way to a thorough Reformation.
Barclay, who was a Quaker, said about the the Anabaptists:
“As we shall afterwards shew, the rise of the "Anabaptists"
took place long prior to the formation of the Church of England, and there
are also reasons for believing that on the continent of Europe small
hidden Christian societies, who have held many of the opinions of the
"Anabaptists," have existed from the times of the Apostles.
In the sense of the direct transmission of Divine Truth, and the
true nature of spiritual religion, it seems probable that these Churches
have a lineage or succession more ancient than that of the Roman Church”
Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, p. 11,
Anabaptists claimed an origin more ancient than that of the Protestants.
The Reformers and the Catholics also admitted it. Some
of the greatest historians recognized a connection between the sixteenth
century Anabaptism and the medieval dissenters. This is
the historic Baptist position because the Baptists always claimed that
their historical route never intersected with the Catholic or the
Specific Doctrines of the Anabaptists, Compared with their Catholic and
differences between these three camps are most clearly seen on doctrinal
grounds. We shall attempt to present the main
theological differences (together with their practical applications)
between the Catholic, the Protestant and the Anabaptist camps.
The Authority of the Scriptures
fundamental difference between the Anabaptists and all the other parties
is found in the way the Anabaptists perceived the Scriptures. This
concept is the cause of all the other differences between the Anabaptists,
Protestants and Catholics that sprang forth later. This
can be noticed when observing that in the progress of some from
Catholicism to Protestantism and then Anabaptism, the first doctrine they
believed, the doctrine that caused their departure from papacy, was that
of the sufficiency of the Scriptures in matters of faith and practice.
Catholic Church did not consider the Bible as normative for their faith
and practice. Her dogmas were founded on Tradition and
on the decrees of the Councils and of the pope (see Neander, History of
Christian Dogmas, Vol. II, p. 623, 624). Since these
dogmas found themselves in contradiction with the letter of the Scripture,
the papacy tried to hide the Bible away from the people. The
Bible was not translated into the common languages, and the laymen were
forbidden to read it. The average priests were ignorant
of it. Menno Simons said that while in the Catholic
priesthood, he avoided reading the Bible, being afraid it would lead him
into error. “‘The Bible
is like soft wax’, said Glapion, the confessor of Carol V to Spalatin,
the chaplain of elector Frederic, warning that no system of faith could be
built, without risks, entirely on the Bible” (Durant,
Ibid., vol. 18, p. 38 – translated from Romanian).
initial position of the Protestants was similar with that of the
Anabaptists. They considered the Scriptures as
sufficient and normative for faith and practice. When
Martin Luther stood before the imperial Diet at
your request to be tried after the Scriptures is that of all the heretics.
You do nothing but to repeat the errors of Wyclif and Huss.
How can you claim that you are the only one who understands the
meaning of the Scripures? Do you think your judgement
to be above that of so many illustrious men and can you claim to know more
than they? You have no right to question the holy
faith ordained by Christ, the perfect lawgiver, spread in
the whole world by the apostles, sealed with the blood of the martyrs,
confirmed by the holy councils, defined by the Church… and about which
the pope and the king forbid us to talk, because such a discussion will go
nowhere. I ask you, Martin, and you answer honestly and
frankly, do you retract or not your writings and the mistakes they
Ibid., p. 41 – translated from Romanian).
answered: “Only if I will be persuaded to do
it by the testimony of the Scriptures or by the reason of evidence (for I
do not believe either in the pope, or in councils: it is certain that they
erred too often and contradicted themselves), otherwise I am bound by the
texts I brought; my conscience is shut in the words of God. To
recant anything I cannot and do not want to do. For
acting against your conscience is dangerous and not honest. So
help me God. Amen!” (Febvre,
Martin Luther, un destin, p. 131 – translated from Romanian).
1521, in Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli, supported by the cantonal council,
requested of the priests from that jurisdiction that they preach nothing
that was not found in the Holy Scripures
(see Durant, Ibid., vol. 18, p. 99).
theses defended by Zwingli in the dispute held on
Scriptura! Only the Scripure! This
was the cry of the Reformers. They always appealed to
it in the disputations against the Catholics. But when
they found themselves before a major decision, that of keeping or
forsaking Tradition, the Reformers wavered. Their cry
decreased in intensity. The Reformers were backed in a
corner. They were still bound by Tradition.
Their vision of church and society was not the one of the
ante-nicean but that of post-nicean Christianity. They
were not prepared to take their Reformation beyond Emperor Constantine.
It was then that Anabaptism raised its voice, appealing to
Scriptures alone and accusing the Reformers of inconsistency, of stopping
half-way to a thorough Reformation. This moment marks a
clear separation between the Anabaptists and the Protestants. “Martin
Luther broke the pope’s pitcher, observed one Anabaptist, but had kept
the pieces in his hands” (Liechty,
Early Anabaptist Spirituality, p. xvi).
Protestants were caught between two fronts. Schaff says
about the Reformation in
Haskell remarks: “Luther, Zwingle and others,
in combating papal corruptions, claimed to stand solely upon the word of
God; but their attempt to apply this principle was only partial.
It was said of them at the time, with cutting truth and justice,
that, when arguing against the papists, they took the Baptist position;
but when arguing against the Baptists, they went over to the Romish
Hierarchs, p. 100, 101).
Anabaptists were quick to remind the Reformers of their initial “Sola
Scriptura” position. In their attempt to prove that
they did not abandon this position and desperately seeking a scriptural
warrant for their doctrines, the Reformers came in numerous occasions to
strange and flexible hermeneutics that could be defended only with great
difficulty. Most of the Reformers were using the
covenants and the theocracy of the Old Testament, which allowed them to
make analogies with their own conception of the church and society.
But in their attempt to formulate a consistent doctrinal system,
the Reformers came to stress more and more tradition, condemning what they
boldly affirmed at first.
Anabaptists were true “Biblicists.” For them, the Scriptures were the
final standard of faith and practice. Depending on the
way that a person regarded the Scriptures they considered him to be a true
Christian or just a nominal one. Grebel wrote the
following to Muentzer: “Just as our
forebearers fell away from the true God and from the one, true, common,
divine Word, from the divine institutions, from Christian love and life
and lived without God’s law and gospel in human, useless, unchristian
customs and ceremonies, and expected to attain salvation therein, yet fell
far short of it, as the evangelical preachers have declared, and to some
extent are still declaring, so today too, every man wants to be saved by
superficial faith, without fruits of faith, without baptism of trial and
probation, without love and hope, without right Christian practices, and
wants to persist in all the old manner of personal vices, and in the
common ritualistic and anti-Christian customs of baptism and of the
Lord’s Supper, in disrespect for the divine Word and in respect for the
word of the pope and of the anti-papal preachers, which yet is not equal
to the divine Word, nor in harmony with it (Williams, Ibid., p. 74).
must not follow our notions; we must add nothing to the word and take
nothing from it” (p.
is much better that a few might be rightly taught by the Word of God,
believing and walking aright in virtues and practices, than that many
believe falsely and deceitfully through adulterated doctrine” (p.
the Anabaptists, the New Testament was normative. The
prescriptions of the New Testament were not only recommendable, desirable,
yet optional, but both obligatory and possible. They
rejected Protestant covenant theology and regarded the Old Testament just
as a shadow of the New. They viewed the
revelation of the Word to be progressive. In the
in 1523, in the
Anabaptists considered the simple letter of the Bible to be normative both
for individual life and for the life of the church. This
view of the authority of the Scriptures was the cause of all the other
doctrinal and practical stands we shall study.
The Doctrine of Salvation
second great doctrine that brought the Anabaptists in direct conflict with
the Catholics and with the Protestants was the doctrine of salvation.
asserted that salvation was contained in the Church and administrated to
all the members through the use of sacraments, of which infant baptism was
the first. The faith, in the Catholic view, was
intellectual consent to the dogmas formulated by the Church. To
the sentiment of guilt due to sin, the Catholic theology answered by the
doctrines of confession of sin and penance. Sinners
could have access to righteousness and paradise because of the surplus of
merit provided by Jesus and the saints: this surplus having been given to
the Church for administration. The Church administered
this surpus to those who fulfilled their duties toward her. Man
could, therefore, obtain salvation by his works.
who considers the Scriptures as normative, will come to question salvation
by sacraments, by works. So did Luther. The
reading of the Scriptures led him to affirm salvation by faith, not by
works, by grace, not by merit, as the Catholic Church claimed.
Sola fide! Sola gratia! Only
faith! Only grace! – cried he.
Salvation comes by grace! Justification is by
faith! Luther’s theology stressed liberation from
guilt. Faith was regarded in its traditional sense,
that of intellectual consent to the work of the historic Christ, but to
this sense Luther added the sense of fide, total trust on God.
Good works, a changed life, were desirable consequences of a
Christian’s experience, but their absence did not mean the lack of
theology contains a major inconsistency, eliminated by the other
Reformers. He regarded infant baptism as a saving
sacrament, while he affirmed salvation by faith. Estep
remarks that “…in Lutheranism there has
always been an irreconciliable contradiction between the theology of
justification and the theological support of infant baptism”
(Estep, p. 145).
Zwingli, too, faith – a gift from God – could exist without works.
He said: “Against
those who unthinkingly accept the idea that signs confirm faith we may
oppose the fact of infant baptism, for baptism cannot confirm faith in
infants because infants are not able to believe”
Anabaptists recognized salvation by grace, by faith, but for them faith
was not merely an intellectual consent of certain truths, but the spring
of a new life in Christ, following the new birth of the Spirit.
In their view, there could be no faith without the new birth –
that total transformation by which the man became pre-disposed to
holiness, hating sin. “It
was this constitutive element [the necessity of the new birth] that
distinguished the Anabaptists from both the Roman Catholic ‘work
righteousness’ and Lutheran sola fides” (Littell, The
Anabaptist View of the Church, p. 84).
in his articles of faith from Waldshut, makes the distinction between
Luther’s theoretical faith and the practical faith of the Anabaptists.
Faith alone makes us holy before God. 2.
This faith is the acknowledgment of the mercy of God which he has
shown us in the offering of his only begotten son. This
excludes all sham Christians, who have nothing more than an historical
faith in God. 3. Such faith cannot
remain passive but must break out (aussbrechen) to God in
thanksgiving and to mankind in all kinds of works of brotherly love.
Hence all vain religious acts, such as candles, palm branches, and
holy water will be rejected”
(Estep, Ibid., p. 145).
the Anabaptists, the faith that brings salvation was a living faith, one
that produced works and could be tried by them. This
faith did not provide only justification, as for the Protestants, but
The Doctrine of Discipleship
The Doctrine of Discipleship
different opinions of the three camps, Catholic, Protestant and Anabaptist
regarding the authority of the Scriptures lead to different perceptions of
the essence of faith and its role in salvation. These
different perceptions resulted in different ways of living.
Church of Rome preached the virtue of good works, but did not practice
them. The laymen were urged to good works and virtuous
life, but the Church also offered sinners alternative means to purchase or
earn the right of paradise.
and the other Reformers replaced good works for meriting salvation with
faith. Faith was the epicenter of Protestant theology.
Luther went so far that he refused to recognize the Epistle of
James as inspired, calling it an “epistle of straw” because it
insisted on a faith validated by works. But the
combination of the doctrine of man’s inability to do something for his
own salvation with the doctrine of a theoretical saving faith had unhappy
consequences and resulted in the moral failure of Protestantism.
“Provided one has
faith, adultery is no sin,”
said Luther in his famous sermon on marriage (Jarrel,
Baptist Church Perpetuity, p. 228).
wrote to Melachton from Wartburg, in a letter dated
message of Luther is shocking, but even if we interpret these statements
as mere exaggeration, after his well known custom, an analysis of the
effect of his sermons among the Protestant population will show that these
things were not taken figuratively by them, but were practiced literally.
The doctrine of the bondage of the will, subjected to the sinful
nature, the doctrine of predestination and the doctrine of salvation by a
historical or theoretical faith were associated in such a manner in the
mind of the Protestant that he found in them only an excuse to sin.
This dangerous combination triggered the assault of the Anabaptists
against Protestant ethics.
Denck wrote: “On the one hand, some say that
they have freedom of the will. Yet they are unwilling
to do even the smallest thing to please God. On the
other hand, there are those who say that [they] do not have free will
because they see they cannot do what is right. Yet they
choose not to allow the Word [that is, the inner Word, in Denck’s
understanding] to work in them (Matthew 23).
themselves, both of these views are true, but they are both false also.
For both speak of the human being as if there were no other
foundation than in himself. One is boastful and
arrogant about human freedom, while the other seeks only excuses –
‘God is finally responsible.’
first view, that the will is free, is an obviously brazen and foolish
claim which gives no place for the fear of God. It
arrogantly assumes I can do whatever I want to do (James 4; Proverbs 12,
28). The second view is a kind of sham humility and
craftiness that would have us believe that honor is being given to God and
not to oneself. Yet it certainly is no denial of self
– in fact, it increases selfishness. This is in the
eyes of God the highest form of arrogance and pride”
Ibid., p. 129-130).
further writes: “Therefore,
the whole of nominal Christendom (Christenheit) is full of
adulterers, misers, drunkards, and more of the same”
(Williams, Ibid., p. 106). “The
Word of God is already with you before you seek it; gives to you before
you ask; opens up for you before you knock. No one
comes to himself to Christ except the Father draw him, which he truly
does, of course, according to his goodness. Whoever on
his own initiative, however, undrawn, wishes to come on his own, presumes
to give God something he has not received from him. He
wishes to be deserving from God in order he need not thank him for his
grace… Therefore, no one can vaunt himself before God for his work or
his faith, for whoever glorifies within himself has in himself sufficient
satisfaction and is one of the rich whom God sends empty away.
The poisoned selffulness of the flesh which man has taken on
himself against God and without God ought and must be mortified.
Where this has begun in a person and he ascribes to himself, such a
one steals from God his honor and slurps up the poison and the devil’s
milk and, more than that, all on his own wishes to be something against
God – which he is not. But whoever does not want to
endure this work of mortification but prefers to practice the works of
darkness will not be able to excuse himself before any creature and much
less before God” (Ibid,
p. 107, 108).
is under just the cloak of these aforementioned half-truths [1.
believe. Faith saves us. 2.
We cannot do anything good, God works in us the willing and doing,
we have no free will’] that all sorts of wickedness, unfaithfulness, and
unrighteousness have completely gotten the upper hand. For
as all histories demonstrate, the world is worse now (to God be our
lament) than it was a thousand years ago. All this
takes place, sad to say, under the appearance of the gospel. For
as soon as one says to them it is written (Ps. 37:27):
Depart from evil and do good – immediately they answer: ‘We
cannot do anything good; all things occur by the determination of God and
of necessity’ – meaning thereby that it is allowed them to sin.
If one says further: It is written (John 5:29; 15:6; Matt.
25:41) that they who do evil will go to eternal fire, immediately
they find a girdle of fig leaves to cover their crimes and say: ‘Faith
alone saves us, and not our works.’ Indeed, I have heard from many
people that for a long time they have not prayed, nor
fasted, nor given alms because their priests tell how their works are of
no avail before God and therefore they at once let them go” (Ibid.,
leans on them [on the Reformers] will be misled, for their doctrine is
nothing but faith and goes no farther… Oh, how lamentably do they in our
times mislead the whole world… with their false and trumped up faith, a
faith from which no moral improvement follows”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 105).
Michael Sattler condemned
the Reformers for the same things, saying that they “throw
works without faith so far to one side that they erect a faith without
no other respect were the Anabaptists more prominent than in this
practical aspect. Philip of Hesse, on whose domains the
Anabaptists enjoyed more tolerance than in any other German territory,
said: “I verily see more of moral improvement
among them than with those that are Lutheran” (Verduin, Ibid., p.
108). So great was the difference between the Anabaptists and all
the others that any one who attempted to live a clean life was suspected
of being an Anabaptist. Harold Bender, in his famous Anabaptist
Vision, quotes a positive testimony given by a fierce opponent of the
the Roman Catholic theologian, Franz Agricola, in his book of 1582, Against
the Terrible Errors of the Anabaptists, says:
the existing heretical sects there is none which in appearance leads a
more modest or pious life than the Anabaptist. As
concerns their outward public life they are irreproachable. No
lying, deception, swearing, strife, harsh language, no intemperate eating
and drinking, no outward personal display, is found among them, but
humility, patience, uprightness, neatness, honesty, temperance,
straightforwardness in such measure that one would suppose that they had
the Holy Spirit of God’”
(Hershberger, Ibid., p. 45).
Reformers themselves were forced to admit this fact. Capito,
the Reformer of Strassburg, testifies that the radicals “guard
themselves against the offensive vices which are very common among our
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 108). The
Reformed preachers of Bern noticed: “The
Anabaptists have the semblance of outward piety to a far greater degree
than we and all the other churches which in union with us confess Christ;
and they avoid the offensive sins that are very common among us”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 109). Luther
admits it, but he tries to take it lightly: “Doctrine
and life are to be distinguished, the one from the other. With
us conduct is as bad as it is with the papists. We
don’t oppose them on account of conduct. Hus and
Wyclif, who made an issue of conduct, were not aware of this… but to
treat of doctrine, that is to really come to grips with things”
(Verduin, ibid., p. 108).
Schwenckfeld, a follower of Luther who latter became a Spiritualist, said:
“I am being maligned, by both preachers and
others, with the charge of being Anabaptist, even as all others who lead a
true, pious Christian life are now almost everywhere given this name"
Ibid., p. 46-47). “Bullinger
himself complained that there are those who in reality are not
Anabaptists but have a pronounced averseness to the sensuality and
frivolity of the world and therefore reprove sin and vice and are
consequently called or misnamed Anabaptists by petulant persons.
The great collection of Anabaptist source materials, commonly
called the Taufer-Akten, now in its third volume, contains a number
of specific illustrations of this. In 1562 a certain
Caspar Zacher of Wailblingen in Wurttemberg was accused of being an
Anabaptist, but the court record reports that since he was an envious man
who could not get along with others, and who often started quarrels, as
well as being guilty of swearing and cursing and carrying a weapon, he was
not considered to be an Anabaptist. On the other hand
in 1570 a certain Hans Jager of Vohringen in Wurttemberg was brought
before the court on suspicion of being an Anabaptist primarily because he
did not curse but lived an irreproachable life” (Ibid.).
Anabaptists were dedicated to “discipleship theology.” For
them, the Christian was saved from his sins, not in them. The
Christian could fall into sin, but he could not live in it. Whoever
lived in sin was considered to be lost, no matter how straight his
doctrine was. The guidance of the Spirit was not
limited only to guidance in true doctrine, but also in its application in
everyday life. Bender
says that “The
great word of the Anabaptists was not ‘faith’
as it was with the reformers, but ‘following’
( Hershberger, Ibid., p. 43).
them, loving the neighbor was the proof of the new birth. Thomas
Manz wrote while in prison, in one of his last letters: “Therefore,
following Christ in the true way which he himself showed us, his true
servants should also hate no one. We have before us
this light of life and we rejoice to walk in that way. But
whoever is full of hatred and envy, whoever villainously betrays, accuses,
beats and quarrels, cannot be a Christian”
(Liechty, Ibid., p. 19).
kind of life attracted the sympathy and the adherence of many.
Wenger quotes Sebastian Franck, who wrote as early as 1530: “There
arose from the letter of Scripture, independently of the state churches, a
new sect which was called Anabaptists… By the good appearance of their
sect and their appeal to the letter of Scripture to which they strictly
adhered, they drew to themselves many thousand God-fearing hearts who had
a zeal for God”
Ibid., p. 175). Harold Bender quotes
Anabaptists… soon gained a large following,… drawing many sincere
souls who had a zeal for God, for they taught nothing but love, faith, and
the cross. They showed themselves humble, patient under
much suffering; they brake bread with one another as an evidence of unity
and love. They helped each other faithfully, and called
each other brothers… They died as martyrs, patiently and humbly enduring
(Hershberger, Ibid., p. 46).
Anabaptists were struggling, like the parties before them, against the
moral standard commonly accepted by society/Church
[“conductual-averagism,” as Verduin called it]. This
struggle was one of the reasons they were identified with the Donatists
and the Cathars.
Anabaptists were accused by the Protestants as thinking themselves to be
sinless or saints. But they always rejected
perfectionism. Menno said: “Think
not that we boast of being perfect and without sin. Not
at all. As for me, I confess that often my prayers are
mixed with sin and my righteousness with unrighteousness”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 103). Hubmaier
answers to the same accusation: “But
the charge that we boast that we can sin no more after baptism, and such
like things, is a monstrous injustice. For we know that
both before and after baptism, we are poor and miserable sinners, and if
we say we sin not, we are liars, and the truth is not
(Estep, Ibid., p. 155).
following of Christ, His imitation, brought them hatred, contempt,
sufferings, persecution, and many times even the tragic end by the hands
of the executioner. The experience of the “bitter
Christ,” as they called all these sufferings, was for them a
positive proof of true discipleship. Persecution and
martyrdom strengthened their conviction that they are the true flock of
Christ, since He prophesied that His followers shall be persecuted.
Indeed, many of them died the martyr’s death with a prayer, a
song or an exhortation for the spectators on their lips, dignified and
unmoveable in their decision to follow their Lord to the end.
three great camps each promoted a “Christianity” that was different
not only in appearance, but in essence. Catholicism
regards the essence of Christianity the reception of grace by the
mediation of a sacramental-sacerdotal institution. Protestantism
has as an essence the experiencing of the grace of God in the depth of the
heart by faith. For the Anabaptists, the essence of
Christianity is the transformation of life by faith, in imitation of
Christ. These three concepts could not be fused
person of Jesus Christ, as described in the Scriputures, was taken by the
Anabaptists as their moral standard. They regarded the
Catholic and Protestant world as fallen into sin and separated from God,
being thus a hindrance in their attempt to come as close as possible to
their standard. Therefore, trying to persevere unto
holiness, the Anabaptists promoted a separation of the believer from the
unbelievers. In the Schleitheim Confession they
We are agreed [as follows] on separation: A separation shall be
made from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the
world; in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them
[the wicked] and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations.
This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk in the obedience
of faith, and have not united themselves with God so that they wish to do
His will, are a great abomination before God, it is not possible for
anything to grow or issue from them except abominable things. For
truly all creatures are in but two classes, good and bad, believing and
unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who [have come] out
of the world, God's temple and idols, Christ and Belial; and none can have
part with the other” (Noll,
Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation, p. 52,
since they did not believe in an isolation of the individual from society,
the doctrine of separation lead them to the greatest “radical”
doctrine they preached:
The Doctrine of the Church
the doctrine of the authority of the Scriptures, the doctrine of the
church is the second greatest point of difference between the Anabaptists,
the Catholics and the Protestants. This particular
doctrine distinguishes the Anabaptists proper from the rest of the
Church membership. All
the parties admitted that society could be divided into believers and
unbelievers. The disputes started from the attitude of
each toward the unbelievers. Should these be accepted
into the membership of the church and then taught, hoping for their
improvement? Or should the church be made of believers
only? In this point there were only two camps, for the
Protestants and the Catholics held the same position.
was not a matter of importance for the Catholic Church whether a member
was virtuous or not, if he fulfilled his duties towards the Church.
No change in life was required for membership in the Roman Church,
which incorporated members from their birth.
matter was more delicate for the Protestants, since they tried to build
their churches using the Scriptures [We underline “using,”
because the Reformers were never devoted to the Scriptures alone, since
they were not able to break loose from Tradition. Rather, they used a part
of the Scriptures and tried to reconcile it with the Tradition].
The Scriptures showed a church of believers in a world of
unbelievers. The Reformers seemed tempted by such a
perspective, but they were afraid to adopt such a radical position, since
it meant the loss of the support of the authorities and of the population.
According to their view, the Church was not ready to exclude
unbelievers. Society was not ready to be excluded from
the Church. The Reformers chose to retain unbelieving
members within their Church ranks. At least for a
while, until they would be taught true Christianity, Luther thought.
He even had a project according to which the lives of the members
were carefully watched, and the names of those who proved to have
Christian conduct to be written in a separate registry, these persons
being gathered apart from the rest and taught the Scriptures more deeply.
Ecclesiola in ecclesia, Luther suggested. He
was forced to abandon the project, since he did not find enough people to
fulfill the conditions.
contrast, the Anabaptists, who were building a church after the apostolic
pattern, claimed that believers only are proper candidates for chuch
membership. The church had to be kept pure and purify
itself continually. This difference was one of the
causes of the rupture of the ties between the Anabaptists and the
Protestants and the migration of many Protestants to the radical camp.
of their struggle for purity both at an individual and at a church level,
the Anabaptists were accused of being Donatists and Cathars. Justus
Menius, Luther’s associate and one of the greatest enemies of the
Anabaptists, said about them: “Like the
Donatists long ago, they seek to rend the Church because we allow evil men
in the Church. They seek to assemble a pure Church and
wherever that is undertaken the public order is sure to be overthrown, for
a pure Church is not possible, as Christ cautioned often enough – we
must therefore put up with them”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 104).
stated: “From the beginning of the Church
heretics have maintained that the Church must be holy and without sin.
Because they saw that some in the Church were the servants of sin
they denied forthwith that the Church was the Church and organized
sects… This is the origin of the Donatists and the Cathars… and of the
Anabaptists of our times. All these cry out in angry
chorus that the true Church is not the Church because they see that
sinners and godless folk are mixed in her and they separated from her
[…] The Schwarmer, who do not allow tares among them, really bring about
that there is no wheat among themselves – by this zeal for only wheat
and a pure Church they bring about, by this too great holiness, that they
are not even a Church, but just a sect of the devil”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 107). Later,
Calvin states the same: “Long ago there were
two kinds of heretics, Cathars and Donatists. These,
the former as well as the latter, were in the same phantasy in which the
contemporary dreamers are when they seek for a Church in which there is
nothing to censure. They cut loose from Christendom so
as not to be soiled by the imperfections of others. And
what was the outcome? Our Lord confounded them and
their understanding so presumptuous. Let this be proof
for us all that it is of the devil, who under cover of zeal for perfection
inflates us with pride and seduces us by hypocrisy so as to get us to
abandon the flock of Christ… For since there is no forgiveness nor any
salvation anywhere else, Acts
[Calvin twists the
meaning of this verse which states that there is no salvation outside the
person of Jesus, not outside a church]. Therefore
even though we should have the appearance of a sanctity more than angelic,
if by such a presumption we come to separate ourselves from a Christian
society we have become devils” (Verduin,
Ibid., p. 102).
arguments of Luther and Calvin, if taken further on their logical path,
will come to bizzare conclusions: if living a life as imaculate as
possible is a clear proof that one is lead by the devil, the reciprocal
proposition must be true: the more depraved one is, the
clearer proof he brings that he is lead by God.
the opposite in the Schleitheim Confession: “From
this we should learn that everything which is not united with our God and
Christ cannot be other than an abomination which we should shun and flee
from. By this is meant all Catholic and Protestant
works and church services, meetings and church attendance, drinking
houses, civic affairs, the oaths sworn in unbelief and other things of
that kind, which are highly regarded by the world and yet are carried on
in flat contradiction to the command of God, in accordance with all the
unrighteousness which is in the world. From all these
things we shall be separated and have no part with them for they are
nothing but an abomination, and they are the cause of our being hated
before our Christ Jesus, Who has set us free from the slavery of the flesh
and fitted us for the service of God through the Spirit Whom He has given
us” (Noll, Ibid., p. 53).
Anabaptists envisioned the true church as being composed of believers
only, as serving Christ in sound doctrine and purity of life, watching
constantly to purify itself for her Head’s sake.
of the church
Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, he used the old
argument Augustine brought in his debates with the Donatists. Luther
claimed the existence of an universal invisible Church, upon which
the pope has no power. The Lutheran interpretation of Ecclesia
Catholica [Universal Church] from the Apostle’s Creed was that the
Church was “a community of men that are
scattered throughout the World, but who agree with one another in the
Gospel, who have in common the same Christ, and Holy Spirit, and
Sacraments, whether they adopt the same or different usages”
(Neander, Ibid., p. 686). Zwingli
developed the idea even further. He taught that the
Church is the “community of men all bound
together by one faith and one spirit” (Neander, Ibid., p.
686). He distinguishes between the visible
Church, composed of all the nominal believers, and the invisible one,
composed of the true believers only. Calvin understands
the Church to be composed of all the elect that lived, live or shall live.
the visible organization of their churches, the Reformers preserved the
Catholic formula. They organized the masses into
territorial churches, which included all the citizens of those territories
[Volkskirche]. Their visible churches looked
very much like the Catholic Church, except they were not “universal.”
In the Protestant states, the administrative frontiers were the same with
the religious ones. The Church confounded itself with
was a difference of opinion among the radicals as well regarding the
nature of the church. The Spiritualists Frank and
Schwenckfeld saw a purely invisible church, ungathered, spiritual, that
had no external rite. Munzer and the revolutionary
Anabaptists identified the Church with the
Anabaptists generally rejected the idea of an “invisible
church.” Franklin H. Littell says: “I
agree wholeheartedly with Robert Friedmann’s denunciation of the
doctrine of ‘the invisible church’ as alien to Anabaptism… This
teaching, which is spiritualizing in effect and perhaps in origin, has
been from the 16th century to the present day the major
underground tunnel by which leaders of established Protestant churches
have been able to escape from the position to which their biblical
insurgency at first has led them”
(Hershberger, Ibid., p. 122, [note]).
Bender writes: “The original Anabaptist
movement rejected the idea of an invisible church, which was the invention
of Luther holding that the Christian community in any particular place is
as visible as the Christian man, and that its Christian character must be
‘in evidence’” (Mennonite
Encyclopedia, under Church, doctrine of).
place of the universal invisible church and that of the church of the
masses [Volkskirche, Corpus Christianum], the Anabaptists put the
local, visible church, the “gathering of believers” [Gemeinde,
a visible church could be only a voluntary association of
believers. The Anabaptists were averse to the usage of
force. The idea of forced membership by forced baptism
[the Catholics and the Protestants practiced it with the Jews and the
Anabaptists] was foreign and repugnant to them. Hans
Denk said: “…in matters of faith, everything
should be free, voluntary and without compulsion”
Grebel and his
Anabaptists followed the New Testament principle, building independent
churches composed of believers only, voluntarily associated for the common
purpose of worshipping God, continuing the work of Christ, and ministering
one to another.
The Doctrine of Baptism
historians consider that the principal doctrine that marked the
Anabaptists as different from the Catholics, Protestants and the rest of
the Radical parties was the doctrine of baptism. Some,
though, like Bender, consider their main doctrine to be discipleship,
while Estep thinks it is that of the church. This
author’s opinion is that the Anabaptist fundamental characteristic is
their attitude towards the Scriptures. The recognition
of the supreme authority of the Scriptures and its literal interpretation
logically led to all the other differences. If the
Reformers had applied completely, not just partially, the Sola Scriptura
principle, as they started doing initially, there is no doubt that they
would have arrived to positions similar – to say the least – with
those held by the Anabaptists.
doctrine of baptism was derived from the doctrine of the church and was
secondary in importance to it. Says Schaff: “Radicalism
writes: “Their real interest was not in
baptism, but in the church… The baptism of believers was simply the most
striking external manifestation of this new kind of church”
(Hershberger, Ibid., p. 60). This is
the true reason why they considered it so important.
Catholic Church practiced the baptism of infants. It
was associated with salvation, because it was thought to confer grace to
the participant. It meant the integration of the infant
in the Church and in society. The
Catholic clergy arrogated to itself the right of being the proper
administrator of Christian baptism. In the Council of
Trent, which marked the tactics of Counter-Reformation, the canons
regarding the sacrament of baptism state: “Whoever
shall affirm that baptism is indifferent – that is – not necessary to
salvation – let him be accursed.” “Whoever shall affirm that the
true doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is not in the Roman Church,
which is the mother and mistress of all churches: let him be accursed”
(Cramp, History of the Council of Trent, p. 129).
Protestants eliminated the useless rituals, spittle, salt and oil.
But they kept the practice. Even though few
Reformers thought that infant baptism had saving power, they accused those
who opposed it of preaching that the children who died before reaching the
years of discretion were eternally lost.
the Lutherans, baptism was the seal of faith, grace being received by it
(Neander, Ibid., p. 688). The
Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530 states under the ninth article, on
baptism: “It is taught among us that baptism
is necessary and that grace is offered through it. Children,
too, should be baptized, for in baptism they are commited to God and
become acceptable to him.
this account the Anabaptists, who teach that infant baptism is not right,
are rejected” (Noll,
Confessions, p. 90).
did not consider infant baptism as saving, but rather as a sign of the new
covenant, being thus the continuation of the circumcision of the old
convenant. He alluded to 1 Corinthians 7:14, where
apostle Paul discussed the holiness of the believer’s children.
The Anabaptists asked Zwingli to bring scriptural proofs in support
of infant baptism. Hubmaier wrote to him: “You
said in opposition to Faber [the general vicar of the bishop of
his book against the Anabaptists, On Baptism, Re-baptism and Infant
Baptism (1525), Zwingli tried to bring these proofs. But
his hermeneutics made many to question the validity of his arguments.
The following is an example: “In
Matthew 3 we read: ‘In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in
the wilderness of
order to escape from the problem of re-baptism of the disciples in
answer was not late to come. He answered Zwingli in Christian
Baptism of Believers, a treatise thought to be one of the best
apologies for believer’s baptism ever written.
pious Christian can see and comprehend that he who wants to purify himself
with water must previously have a good understanding of the Word of God,
and a good conscience toward God; that is, he must be sure that he has a
graciously kind God, through the intercession of Christ…
baptism in water is not what cleanses the soul, but the ‘yes,’ [of] a
good conscience toward God, given inwardly by faith.
the baptism in water is called a baptism in Remissionem Peccatorum
(Acts second chapter), that is, for the pardon of sins. Not
that through it or by it sins are forgiven, but by virtue of the inward
‘yes’ of the heart, which a man outwardly testifies to in submitting
to water baptism, saying that he believes and is sure in his heart that
his sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ” (Estep,
Ibid., p. 59).
Protestants were, again, in a delicate position. The
Catholics freely admitted that the Scriptures do not offer a basis for
infant baptism. They did not need one from the
Scriptures. They based their argumentation on
Anabaptists also claimed that the Scriptures do not offer a basis for such
a baptism. Since they based their faith on the
Scriptures alone, they rejected infant baptism.At first, the Protestants
were inclined to reject it, as well. Zwingli complained
in the beginning of his career: “Nothing
grieves me more than that at the present I have to baptize children, for I
know it ought not to be done”
(Verduin, ibid., p. 198). “I
leave baptism untouched, I call it neither right nor wrong; if we were to
baptize as Christ instituted it then we would not baptize any person until
he has reached the years of discretion; for I find it nowhere written that
infant baptism is to be practiced…”
(Ibid., p. 199).
the Anabaptists were quick to remind Zwingli of his earlier stand.
Hubmaier wrote to him: “You used to
hold to the same ideas, wrote and preached them from the pulpit openly;
many hundreds of people have heard it from your mouth. But
now all who say this of you are called liars. Yes, you
say boldly that no such ideas have ever entered your mind, and you go
beyond that, things of which I will hold my tongue just now” (Verduin,
ibid., p. 200).
back, Zwingli admits it hesitantly: “…For
some time I myself was deceived by the error [of baptism as a sign
of faith] and I thought it better not to baptize
children until they came to years of discretion. But I
was not so dogmatically of this opinion as to take the course of many
today, who although they are far too young and inexperienced in the matter
argue and rashly assert that infant baptism derives from the papacy or the
devil or something equally non-sensical”
(Bromiley, Ibid., p. 139).
Protestants chose to retain infant baptism, but there was difference of
thought among them regarding the benefits of the rite, “…they
united certain invisible benefits with baptism: some supposed it a
physical cleansing from sin; others, a conveyance of moral qualities; and
others a seal or sign of a contract between Almighty God and the faithful
and the children of the faithful; or, as they by a Jewish figure expressed
it, the seed of the godly, implying that godliness, and expressly
declaring that sin, were both propagated by natural generation”
(Robinson, History of Baptism, p. 478).
the arguments of the Reformers failed to prove the scriptural propriety of
infant baptism, they betrayed their Sola Scriptura position. Luther
surprisingly stated: “There is not sufficient
evidence from Scripture that one might justify the introduction of infant
baptism at the time of the early Christians after the apostolic period…
But so much is evident, that no one may venture with a good conscience to
reject or abandon infant baptism, which has for so long a time been
Ibid., p. 203, 204).
cried out against
the Anabaptists using very un-Protestant terms: “I
know only too well that you keep calling ‘Scripture, Scripture!’ as
you clamor for clear words to prove our point… But if Scripture taught
us all things then there would be no need for the anointing to teach us
ibid., p. 204).
vindicated infant baptism with Tradition (see Neander, Ibid., p.
brings the argument of silence, saying that the Scriptures do not cleary
forbid infant baptism.
on behalf of the Anabaptists, answers sarcastically: “It
is clear enough for him who has eyes to see it, but it is not expressed in
so many words, literally: ‘do not baptize infants.’ May one baptize
them? To that I answer: ‘if so I may baptize my dog
or my donkey, or I may circumcise girls… I may make idols out of St.
Paul and St. Peter, I may bring infants to the
Lord’s Supper, bless palm branches, vegetables, salt, land and water,
sell the Mass for an offering. For it is nowhere said
in express words that we must not do these things”
(Estep, Ibid., p. 60).
the Anabaptists, baptism was the entrance door into the church – the
gathering of believers. Hubmaier said: “Where
baptism in water does not exist, there is no Church, no brother, no
sister, no fraternal discipline, exclusion or restoration… By receiving
baptism the candidate testifies publicly that… he has submitted himself
to his brothers and sisters… that is, to the Church”
Ibid., p. 60).
the Schleitheim Confession, they declared:
Observe concerning baptism: Baptism shall be given to all those who
have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that
their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who walk in the
resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so
that they may be resurrected with Him and to all those who with this
significance request it [baptism]
of us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all
infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the Pope.
In this you have the foundation and testimony of the apostles.
Matt. 28, Mark 16, Acts 2, 8, 16, 19.
This we wish to hold simply, yet firmly and with assurance”
(Mark Noll, Ibid., p. 51, 52).
the church as the assembly of believers and baptism as the entrance door
into the church, infants could not be regarded as proper candidates for
this act. They could not find any allusion to infant
baptism in the Scriptures, therefore they condemned it as an invention of
the devil. They did not associate salvation with
baptism, therefore they did not believe, as they were slandered, that the
infants that die unbaptized will go to hell. Some
believed all infants that die will be saved. Hubmaier
left the matter “in the hands of a gracious
Father.” He continued: “Into His
hands will I commit them. […] His will be done.
And there I leave the matter. Without his will
it would do no good for me to be baptized a thousand times. For
water does not save”
Ibid., p. 158, 159).
all the Anabaptists insisted upon this truth, water does not save.
“Not to be baptized does not damn… But not to believe, that
damns,” said Hubmaier
(Estep, Ibid., p. 158). They
insisted that baptism is a sign of existent faith, of Hubmaier’s
“yes” to the teaching of God. For them, baptism was
a pledge to God and to the church in which they were entering, that they
will live a life of obedience toward the Words of God to the end of their
turn, Luther raged: “How can baptism be more
grievously reviled and disgraced than when we say that baptism given to an
unbelieving man is not good and genuine baptism! …What,
baptism rendered ineffective because I do not believe?... What
more blasphemous and offensive doctrine could the devil himself invent and
preach? And yet the Anabaptists and the Rottengeister [faction
makers] are full up to their ears with this
teaching. I put forth the following: Here is a Jew that
accepts baptism, as happens often enough [Luther refers to the
forced baptisms, when, under threats, many Jews allowed themselves or
their children to receive baptism], but does not
believe, would you then say that this was not real baptism, because he
does not believe? That would be to think as a fool
thinks not only, but to blaspheme and disgrace God moreover”
(Verduin, ibid., p. 201).
Anabaptists saw that once this baptism was enforced by law, the nature of
the church would be drastically changed. The church
would cease to be the assembly of believers in the midst of an unbelieving
society, but an institution that would include the whole society,
believers and unbelievers as well. The wheat and the
tares from Jesus’ parable would not represent any more the assembly (the
wheat) and the society (the tares), but believers and unbelievers in the
church-society. Infant baptism would become not merely
a sign of church membership, but also a sign of society citizenship.
To reject it would mean the rejection of the whole social order.
Grebel and Manz knew this well. Grebel stated
that the medieval order “…can
be laid low with nothing as well as with the termination of infant
Ibid., p. 205). Another
Anabaptist leader, Hans Seckler from
the Protestant mind, the Church and the State were one. For
them, the demolition of the Church meant also the demolition of the social
order. “They don’t want
to hear of infant baptism nor allow it; but this will at the last put an
end to the secular rule,” said a clerk of Courts about the
Anabaptists viewed the church as a faction of society, and baptism as the
sign that distinguished between believers and unbelievers.
mode of baptism
practiced by the Anabaptists has caused a fiery debate. Protestant
historians claim that there was no prescribed mode, that the Anabaptists
insisted only upon the candidate, not upon a certain mode, therefore they
might have regarded it – immersion, pouring or sprinkling – as a
matter of indifference, just as the Reformers.
Mennonites today practice pouring, and the Mennonite historians are
inclined to regard immersion as being an exception from the general
custom. The Baptists practice immersion exclusively,
and their historians try to prove the fact that this was the only way the
Anabaptists practiced baptism. What can we learn from
Grebel’s party separated from Zwingli on
month after Grebel reportedly was baptized by pouring, he was found in the
canton of St. Gall, preaching and teaching adult
immersion on profession of faith as the only valid baptism. Kessler,
the reformed preacher from St. Gall, bears witness to
this, telling about: “Wolfgang Ulimann, how he
being taught earlier by Laurence Hochrutiner against infant baptism,
pressed forward on a journey to Schaffhausen to Conrad Grebel, and coming
through him to such a high knowledge of Anabaptism, would not be merely
watered with a dish with water, but, fully unclothed and naked, he was
drawn under and covered over out in the Rhine by Grebel” (Sabbata,
vol. 1, p. 266 – translated from
German). [It should be noted that being naked was not part of the rite,
but they practiced it sometimes, in isolated cases, when they baptized at
rivers, when the candidates did not have another change of clothes].
is here called “a high knowledge of Anabaptism.” In this knowledge
they rejected sprinkling or pouring. It should be noted
that it was not Ulimann’s previous knowledge that made him unwilling to
be baptized by pouring, but the knowledge he received from Grebel.
would be strange, to say the least, for Grebel to strongly reject in
February what he practiced in January. Moreover, the
season of Ulimann’s baptism was winter. Considering
the medieval man’s fear of cold water, if they thought the mode was not
important, they would have used anything but immersion in the freezing
cold waters of the Rhine. So we are inclined to doubt
the report that Grebel baptized by pouring.
Arx, the Swiss historian, writes about the practice of Grebel in St.
Hochrutiner] sought to persuade everybody to
allow themselves to be baptized once more and preached in St. Gallen
under the linden trees of Multerthore, in fields and forests. They
were so successful that the people of the St. Gall
territory, from Appenzell and from Toggenburg swarmed to the city of St.
Gall asking about the baptistery and allowing themselves to be
baptized there. The number of converts became so great
that the baptistery could not contain the multitude of the candidates for
baptism and they had to use the streams and the Sitter river; to which on
Sundays those who desired baptism walked in similar numbers, their march
in procession making them to be immediately noticed” (Geschichten
des Kantons St. Gallen, vol. 2, p.
501 – translated from German).
events took place in March. The baptistery was a great
wooden cask. “Augustus
Naef, Secretary to the Council of St. Gall, in a work
published in 1850, records the success of the Baptist movement.
He says: ‘They baptized those who believed with them in rivers
and lakes, and in a great wooden cask in Butcher's Square before a great
Ibid., p. 119). The
only reason they needed a cask and not a dish was because they practiced
also bears witness to the practice of baptism among the Anabaptists when
he sarcastically answers them: “Good
news! Let’s all go for a plunge in the Limmat!”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 217). Quoting
Manz, who spoke of baptism as “going under,” Zwingli said: “Let
him who talks about ‘going under’ go under [the water]”
words inspired the law issued by the Council who stated: “Qui
mersus fuerit mergatur,”
dipps shall be dipped.”
Under this law Manz perished having been sentenced to drowning in the
waters of the river Limmat (Christian,
Ibid., p. 122).
the southern German territories, the Anabaptists practiced immersion.
“The Anabaptist leaders, Hubmaier,
Denck, Hetzer, Hut, likewise appeared in
quotes the definition Hubmaier gives to baptism in Christian Baptism of
Belivers: “To baptize in water is to cover
the confessor of his sins in external water, according to the divine
command, and to inscribe him in the number of the separate upon his own
confession and desire” (Ibid.,
few years later, Menno says: “…after
we have searched ever so diligently, we shall find no other baptism
besides dipping in water [doopsel inden water] which is acceptable to God,
and maintained in his word”
(Robinson, Ibid., p. 499).
Protestants generally looked with indifference upon the mode, but they
nevertheless preffered immersion. Luther
recommended it. When defining the word baptism,
wrote: “First it is used for the immersion in
water whereby we are pledged individually to the Christian life”
Bromiley, Ibid., p. 132).
Schleitheim confession does not mention the mode, but this because the
Anabaptists were not condemned on account of practicing immersion, not
because they regarded the mode as indifferent.
was important to the Anabaptists because of its meaning. “The
baptism of a believer is a symbol of the sinking in the death of Christ
and of being raised again (“new birth”) in His resurrection.
No one can come into the Kingdom unless he be born again (John
3:3), and this was the spiritual event symbolized by water baptism into
(Littell, Ibid., p. 84). Immersion
was the only mode of baptism that could properly symbolize “the sinking
in the death of Christ” and the raising in His resurrection.
Neither pouring nor sprinkling of water symbolizes properly the
spiritual event portrayed in baptism.
proofs in favor of immersion are overwhelming. If there
were indeed exceptions from immersion in Anabaptist practice, these were
scarce and were due to the transition period of the persons involved from
Catholicism or Protestantism to Anabaptism.
Anabaptists considered adults only as proper candidates for baptism, as a
certain understanding of the responsibilities of a Christian was required;
they thought the water to be a mere symbol of inward washing and
cleansing; they thought immersion to be the proper picture of the inward
work of the Spirit of Christ in regeneration; and they considered that
only churches like theirs were baptizing and doing Christ’s work aright.
The Doctrine of Church Discipline
doctrine of church discipline was another important point of difference
between the Anabaptists and their opponents. In that
age this doctrine was an Anabaptist distinctive since they were the only
ones who practiced it after the New Testament pattern.
Catholic Church practiced only excomunication, by which it taught the loss
of salvation. No moral purification was enforced among
its ranks, but only a doctrinal one. The “heretics”
were confronted with the dogma, and if they did not conform, they were
condemned to death, which punishment was most of the time carried through.
But no one was ever burned for being depraved and immoral.
issue of discipline among the Protestants was similar with the one from
the Catholic camp, even though the Reformers wished for a moral
improvement in their converts. But, keeping the vision
of the sacral society, they could not exclude one from the church unless
he was also excluded from society. They preffered to
try to correct this handicap from within, but their failure is well known.
local assembly of believers was, in the Anabaptists’ vision, Christ’s
representative in the world, and therefore, it had to be preserved pure.
The Anabaptists applied the New Testament model, found in Matthew
18, for the purging and purification of the assembly. Anyone
who lived in sin or erred from the biblical faith was first taught, and if
no change occurred, such person was excluded, or “left alone,” as
Grebel said. Exclusion was necessary both for the
perseverance unto holiness of the members and for the maintance of
spiritual and scriptural leadership of the church.
Schleitheim Confession states:
We are agreed as follows on the ban: The ban shall be employed with
all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His
commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of
Christ and who are called brethren or sisters, and yet who slip sometimes
and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken. The
same shall be admonished twice in secret and the third time openly
disciplined or banned according to the command of Christ. Matt.
18. But this shall be done according to the
regulation of the Spirit (Matt. 5) before the breaking
of bread, so that we may break and eat one bread, with one mind and in one
love, and may drink of one cup” (Mark Noll, Ibid., p. 52).
doctrine of discipline throws a supplementary light on the Anabaptist view
of the church. First, such a practice shows that the
Anabaptists did not think the church to be just a fellowship of believers
in which significant differences in doctrine and practice were tolerated.
For them, the church was a body whose unity and purity was kept by
a strict discipline. This was the main purpose of
secondary purpose of the ban was the straightening of the disciplined.
It was not a revenge of the community against the one fallen into
sin, but a means to restoration, by helping the disciplined to return to
the blessed fellowhip of the church, which he lost by being excluded.
among the Dutch Mennonites, the ban came to affect not only the
relationship of the excluded with the church, but also with his family.
It was recommended that no kind word should even be said to the
excluded by his family until he repents and returns to the church.
But this form of the ban, called “shunning”, was not the
general practice of the Anabaptists.
Anabaptists the disciplining was performed publicly, by the whole
congregation who acted democratically. Hubmaier said, “By
receiving baptism, the candidate testifies publicly that… he has
submitted himself to his brothers and sisters… that is, to the Church”
(Estep, Ibid., p. 60). “In
the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and
for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the
flesh to death - simply the warning and the command to sin no more”
(Schleitheim Confession, Noll, Ibid., p. 54).
doctrine of church discipline was one of the Anabaptist particularities
that kept them from gross sins, contributing to their living virtuous
The Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper
the Catholics, the Eucharist, or the Mass, was a perpetual sacrificing or
offering of Christ by the clergy. Under the
intercession of the priest, the bread and the wine were transformed
miraculously into the body and the blood of Christ. This
dogma is called transubstantiation. The
congregation had access only to His “body,” the “blood” being
consumed only by the priests. The Mass was considered a
sacrament, meaning that it conferred grace to the participants.
It was one of the most important rites, since it united around it
the whole society, whose borders were confounded with those of the Church.
rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, but proclaimed Christ’s
real presence to be with and around the elements. This
doctrine is called consubstantiation. This is
the way Luther explained it: “Just as in a
red-hot bar the fire and the metal do not lose their identity, he
reasoned, so is Christ in, with and under the elements of the eucharist.
Or, just as God and man became one in Christ, so do the elements
and Christ’s body become one, both retaining, however, their distinct
essence” (Loewen, Luther and the Radicals, p. 41).
rejected both the Catholic and the Lutheran doctrines, this being one of
the reasons why the Lutherans and the Zwinglians never collaborated.
For Zwingli and for the Swiss reformers, the Supper represented
only a symbol, a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice. This
was one of the doctrines Zwingli defended from the very beginnings of his
reformation. One of the theses defended by Zwingli and
his partisans, among which there were at that time Hubmaier, Grebel, Manz
and others who later became Anabaptists, was the following: “18.
Christ, who has once offered himself as a sacrifice, is for
eternity a perpetual enduring and efficacious sacrifice for the sins of
all believers. Therefore we conclude that the Mass is
not a sacrifice but a memorial of the one sacrifice and a seal of
redemption that Christ made good for us” (Mark Noll, Ibid., p.
41). This came to be the chief distinctive of
Zwingli’s theology. “’Zwinglianism’
came to be identified not with any positive theological or liturgical
construction, but with a denial of the presence of Christ in the
Eucharist” (Lindberg, The Reformation Theologians, p.
157). According to Zwingli, Christ is
spiritually, not physically present in the Supper. The
rite presents the past work of Christ, but also the present one – this
making the rite important. “…‘This
is my body,’ that is This represents my body, the eating of this bread
being the sign and symbol that Christ, the soul’s true consolation and
nourishment, was crucified for us” (Bromiley,
Ibid., p. 226).
Radicals rejected the doctrine of the real presence as held by the
Catholics and the Protestants. The most ardent opponent
of it was Carlstadt, who published treatises against this doctrine.
“Carlstadt must be held responsible for
initiating the so-called sacramental controversy which caused so much
strife among the Protestants. Carlstadt’s views on
the Lord’s Supper were shared, with minor variations, by most radicals
and Anabaptists of the sixteenth century” (Harry Loewen, Luther
and the Radicals, p. 40). Some
historians consider that Luther never gave up the doctrine of the real
presence because of his ongoing controversies with Carlstadt. In
fact, this is was one of the main causes that changed Luther from a
persecuted “heretic” into a persecutor “pope”. All
who opposed him, Protestants, Spiritualists or Anabaptists were persecuted
by Luther and his followers on this account.
though the Anabaptists believed, like Zwingli and Carlstadt, in the Supper
as a memorial, in the elements as symbols, they went further than them.
Zwingli could only go as far as declaring that those who partook of
it in an unworthy manner condemn themselves. For the
Anabaptists, the Supper represented not only the remembrance of the death
of Christ, but also the unity of the church. The
Schleitheim Confession states:
In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed (as
follows): All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the
broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a
remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by
baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is
Christ. For as Paul points out, we cannot at the same
time drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of the devil. That
is, all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no
part in the light. Therefore all who follow the devil
and the world have no part with those who are called unto God out of the
world. All who lie in evil have no part in the good.
it is and must be (thus): Whoever has not been called by one God to one
faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children
of God's church, cannot be made (into) one bread with them, as indeed must
be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of
Christ” (Mark Noll, Ibid., p. 52).
Anabaptist stand implied the purification of the church before the rite,
by admonition, discipline or the exclusion of those who were not in
spiritual unity with them. The church unity that was so
much desired by the Protestants – yet so absent in their churches as a
whole – was magnificently and most simply attained by the local
congregations of the Anabaptists.
The Anabaptist Public Worship
worship was an important part in the religious life of the Anabaptist
people. Their church service differed largely from
those of the other camps.
public worship was a complex ritual, announced in the community by the
sounding of bells. The places of worship, of a unique
and meaningful architecture, were decorated with many representations of
God and the saints (statues, paintings and coloured glass windows).
The services were liturgical, that is, they were carried on
according to specifically prescribed rites. Their
yearly liturgy was developed according to the celebrations of the Church.
They chanted their prayers, Scripture reading and certain ritual
keeping a clergy, in the performing the rite of infant baptism, in keeping
the holidays, in their liturgy, in taking over the Catholic church
buildings where they gained majority of population, the Protestants had a
public worship that was similar with the Catholic one. The
Reformers, however, opposed images and chanting, though they continued to
keep them for some time. They emphasized preaching
instead of rituals.
worship was a central element of the Anabaptists’ church life, as well.
Their meetings were not announced with bells, but were most of the
time, held in the utmost secrecy, because of persecution. They
never took over a church building, but met in private houses, in forests,
in fields and sometimes on boats. Because of this they
were nicknamed “Winckler” – people who gather in a corner or in
hidden away places and their preachers were nicknamed
“hedge-preachers.” They opposed the use of images of God and did not
need any images of saints since they rejected the doctrine of the
saints’ intercessions (they held that each believer had direct access to
God by Christ). They had no sacerdotal class, since
they thought that every believer is a priest before God.
though they opposed the chanting of sermons and prayers, they did sing in
their services. The tunes were taken from popular folk
songs of the day. Their songs expressed, probably even
better than their writings, their spiritual and emotional state.
Several songs were written during imprisonments, in expectation of
the authors’ execution. The following is an example.
The song from which the following excerpts were taken was composed
by Annelein of Freiberg. Nothing is known about this
woman except that she was drowned and then burned in 1529, some sources
indicating that she was only seventeen years old when imprisoned.
Father in Heaven,
call on you so ardently,
not let me turn from you.
me in your truth
my final end.
God, guard my heart and mouth
watch over me at all times,
nothing separate me from you,
it affliction, anxiety or need,
me pure in joy.
everlasting Lord and Father,
and teach me,
unworthy child that I am,
I heed your path and way.
this lies my desire.
walk through your power into death
sorrow, torture, fear and want,
me in this,
God, so that I nevermore
separated from your love.
have imprisoned me
wait, O God, with all my heart
very great longing,
finally you will awake
you would only stir
set your prisoners free. …”
and Hecht, Profiles of Anabaptist Women, p. 199, 200)
Anabaptist church service was of an amazing simplicity. It
had three distinct elements: prayer, singing and the preaching or
exposition of the Bible. They were most emphatic on the
latter, since knowing the Scriptures was necessary in order to be faithful
to Christ in all things, as their desire was.
a church of the Anabaptists, all members were equal. The
preachers and the pastors were considered to be the servants of the
church, and they did not form a special class, a ruling clergy.
These had the responsibility of watching over the “flock,” for
its spiritual and moral wellness.
churches of the Anabaptists thought their ministers had to know a craft
that could bring them an income if the church was unable to support them.
They opposed taxes for the support of the clergy, considering that
the needs of the ministers and the expenses of the ministry should be met
by the local churches. “This
one [the pastor] moreover shall be supported of the church which has
chosen him, wherein he may be in need, so that he who serves the Gospel
may live of the Gospel as the Lord has ordained” (Schleitheim
Mark Noll, Ibid., p. 54). All
the Anabaptists felt a strong aversion toward preachers paid from the
public budget. Hans Hut wrote: “Therefore
I admonish all godly people who seek after and love righteousness to
earnestly guard themselves from all usurious, haughty and hypocritical
scholars who preach for money. They do not look out for
your good, but only for their own bellies”
(Liechty, Ibid., p. 65).
have been an Anabaptist preacher or pastor in that time meant to be in
constant peril. If ordinary members were fined or
banished, the leaders were always executed. They did
not enjoy priviledges or recognition from either the civil or
ecclesiastical authorities of the established religions. Repeatedly,
the Anabaptist ministers were called to seal their testimony with their
own blood. Even in such times, they sought to honor
their King, to be an example and an encouragement for their little flock.
The Roles of the Believer and of the Church in Society
seen only from outside, Anabaptism best strikes the eye because of its
radical stand on the place the Christian and the church must occupy in
Catholic Church preached the doctrine of Constatine the Great, the merging
of the borders of the Church with those of the State. The
Church was “Corpus Christianum,” the totality of Christians.
Since infant baptism was enforced by law, Corpus Christianum
also meant the totality of the citizens in a “Christian society.” The
civil authority was considered to be vassal to the ecclesiastical power,
since the former was temporal and the latter eternal. In
the Middle Ages, the pope installed and dethroned kings. The
civil authority also had to serve the ecclesiastical one. The
king had to serve the pope. The magistrate had to serve
Aquinas stated: “The State, through which
earthly objectives are reached, must be subordinated to the Church; Church
and State are two swords which God has given to Christendom for
protection; both these swords however are by Him given to the pope and the
temporal sword is then by the pope entrusted to the rulers of State”
(Verduin, Ibid., p. 43). This
doctrine was not a mere theoretical scholastic subtlety, but an instrument
frequently used by the papacy to reach its goals, when negotiation or
persuasion failed. This concept made innumerable
victims among those classed by the Catholics as “heretics.”
Reformers could not free themselves from this Constantinian doctrine.
In this respect they always remained tributary to
Rhegius, Protestant leader of
as in the case of infant baptism, when the Anabaptists requested from the
Protestants Scripural proofs for this doctrine, they brought the most
fanciful interpretations in order to support the union of church and
state. Beza, Calvin’s colleague, found a support text
for this doctrine in the book of Acts. “With
what power, pray, did Peter put to death Ananias and Sapphira?
And with what power did Paul smite Elimas blind? Was
it with the power vested in the Church? Of course not.
Well, then, it must have been with the power that is vested in the
magistrate, there being no third kind of power” (Verduin, Ibid.,
Anabaptists believed in the complete separation of Church and State.
They affirmed in the Schleitheim Confession:
We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is
ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It
punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good…
the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and
for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the
flesh to death - simply the warning and the command to sin no more (Mark
Noll, Ibid., p. 54).
Anabaptists did not try to overthrow the social order. They
were not anarchists, neither were they revolutionary fanatics, even though
they were accused of these things. Hubmaier’s words
are representative of their stand: “We confess
openly that there should be secular government that should bear the sword.
This we are willing and bound to obey in everything that is not
Ibid., p. 160).
opposed a sacral, monolithic society, in which there was no difference
between the church and the world. They recognized the
civil authorities as being ordained by God, but “outside the perfection
of Christ,” that is, outside the church. They
distinguished between “general grace” given by God to society and
represented by the social order and the “special grace” given to
believers only and represented by the church. But
in the society to which they belonged, in which the church meant the
totality of the citizens, and the state meant the totality of the
Christians, the true believer could not serve the state as a magistrate,
since that meant also to bring service to a church that he thought to be
apostate. Therefore, the Anabaptists affirmed
that a Christian could not occupy public offices.
Anabaptists required nothing from the authorities. They
did not long for financial benefits, nor for the state’s recognition.
They only requested the right – banal now, but unacceptable then
– to be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of their
conscience. They taught that a Christian cannot
persecute, but rather suffers quietly all things. The
church’s role in society was to represent Christ, whom, though
persecuted and killed, did not strike back, nor speak evil of his
persecutors. They envisioned a society different from
all the orders of the day – a society in which the civil authorities
supervised only social matters, a composite society in which all its
citizens could exercise the right to choose if they wanted to be part of a
certain church or not.
The Struggle for Freedom
always have been the champions of human rights and liberties. In
this, they followed their Anabaptist predecessors. Anabaptist
thought was superior to the age in which they lived. The
whole of modern free society is based on the principles for which the
sixteenth century Anabaptists lived and died.
sacral society, in which the authorities recognize one state
religion/church, cannot allow its citizens to be free to choose their own
religion. It cannot allow dissidence, faction, sect
[this word comes from the latin sequor which gives the idea of
following, and in religious context – following other ways than the one
recognized or imposed]. It cannot allow the luxury of
granting freedom to the individual to judge for himself and make a
decision regarding his faith. In this vision, a
centralized and controlled religion is absolutely necessary for the good
order of the society. In such a society there can only be tolerance at
best, and this only where Church-State relationship is less
“intimate.” But tolerance is not freedom. By its
definition, tolerance is an allowable deviation from the standard.
In a sacral society, the State recognizes as valid only one faith.
The rest of them are considered deviant.
Catholic Church is the best example of this monolithic mentality.
Armed with the doctrine of the two swords, the papal church started
the battle of converting all those who differed from it. It
is thought that during the dark ages millions of
1529, waves of persecution led to the beheading of early Anabaptism.
In the Catholic territories, Michael Sattler, Balthasar Hubmaier,
Georg Blaurock and Wolfgang Ulimann were burned at the stake and Hans Hut
was killed in prison. Numerous other local leaders were
also killed. Words cannot describe the cruelty of these
acts. The trial and execution of Michael Sattler, on
May 21st, 1527, is an illustrative example. This
account is in the Martyr’s Mirror, p. 416-418.
The sentence passed by the judges was the following: “In
the case of the Governor of his Imperial Majesty versus Michael Sattler,
judgement is passed, that Michael Sattler shall be delivered to the
executioner, who shall lead him to the place of execution, and cut out his
tongue; then throw him upon a wagon, and then tear his body twice with red
hot tongs; and after he has been brought without the gate, he shall be
pinched five times in the same manner.” Estep,
quoting another source adds “…and then burn
his body to powder as an arch-heretic” (Estep,
Ibid., p. 40). He
goes on describing the scene of the martyrdom: “The
torture, a prelude to the execution, began at the market place where a
piece was cut from Sattler’s tongue. Pieces of flesh
were torn from his body twice with red-hot tongs. He
was then forged to a cart. On the way to the scene of
the execution the tongs were applied five times again. In
the market place and at the site of the execution, still able to speak,
the unshakeable Sattler prayed for his persecutors. After
being bound to a ladder with ropes and pushed into the fire, he admonished
the people, the judges, and the mayor to repent and be converted.
Then he prayed, ‘Almighty, eternal God, Thou art the way and the
truth: because I have not been shown to be in error, I will with thy help
to this day testify to the truth and seal it with my blood.
soon as the ropes on his wrists were burned, Sattler raised the two
forefingers of his hands giving the promised signal to the brethren that a
martyr’s death was bearable. Then the assembled crowd
heard coming from his seared lips, ‘Father, I commend my spirit into Thy
Ibid., p. 47).
1529, not only the leaders were executed, but ordinary Anabaptists as
well. Seeing that the public executions only thickened
their ranks, the authorities of Suabia called a special militia for the
tracking down of the Anabaptists. This militia had
authority to kill on the spot, with no trial and indifferent of sex and
age, all those suspected of being Anabaptists. Many
thousands Anabaptists perished this way. C.A.
Cornelius, the Roman Catholic historian, described part of the
results of the persecution that followed the Diet of Spires.
Anabaptists did not face a better treatment in Protestant territories.
The initial position of the Reformers, when they were threatened by
the Catholics, was similar to that of the Anabaptists. Luther
said in 1520, “We should overcome heretics
with books, not with fire, as the old Fathers did. If
there were any skill in overcoming heretics with fire, the executioner
would be the most learned doctor in the world” (Vedder, Ibid., p.
162). In 1527, writing against the Anabaptists,
Luther maintained that
“It is not right, and I am very sorry, that such wretched people should
be so miserably murdered, burned, and cruelly killed. Every
one should be allowed to believe what he pleases…” (Vedder,
Ibid., p. 162, 163). But the
Muenster rebellion caused Luther to recommend the usage of the sword
against all Anabaptists, peaceful or revolutionary (see
Durant, Ibid., p. 92).
in the beginning of the Reformation, declared: “One
cannot and should not use force to compel anyone to accept the faith, for
faith is a free gift of God. It is wrong to compel
anyone by force or coercion to embrace the faith, or to put to death
anyone for the sake of his erring faith. It is an error
that in the church any sword other than that of the divine Word should be
used. The secular kingdom should be separated from the
church, and no secular ruler should exercise authority in the church.
The Lord has commanded simply to preach the Gospel, not to compel
anyone by force to accept it. The true church of Christ
has the characteristic that it suffers and endures persecution but does
not inflict persecution upon anyone” (Hershberger,
Ibid., p. 31).
as soon as the reformers gained the support of the authorities in a
certain region, they went back on their words and promoted the old
Catholic doctrine. The persecution suffered by the
Anabaptists in Protestant territories was as cruel as the Catholic
persecution. In Protestant territories, Felix Manz was
condemned to death by drowning, Grebel and Denck, hunted and weakened
physically, fell pray to an epidemic, escaping, thus from the hands of the
executioners. Balthasar Hubmaier reproached the
Protestants of Zurich for locking up in a tower some twenty Anabaptists,
men, young women, pregnant women, and widows, sentencing them to be left
there, on bread and water, without ever seeing the sun again, until they
will all die in that cell. “‘O
God,’ he further writes, ‘what a terrible, severe, and rigorous
sentence against pious Christian people, of whom none could say any evil
thing, only that they, according to the commandment of Christ, had
received water baptism!’” (van
Braght, Martyrs’ Mirror, p. 465). After
Zwingli gained control of the religious affairs in
in his turn, was just as intolerant: "Whoever
shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to
death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This
is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a
perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that
he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he
commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers,
relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of
their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal.
Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that
God is defrauded of his honor, unless the piety that is due to him be
preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted,
humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories?"
(Schaff, Ibid., vol. VIII, p. 545,
did not hesitate to reproach the Protestants their inconsistency: “They
who are so very urgent that heretics should not be put to death.
did yet capitally punish the Anabaptists, who were condemned for
much fewer articles, and were said to have among them a great many who had
been converted from a very wicked life, to one as much amended; and who,
however, they doted on their opinions, had never possessed themselves of
any churches, or cities, or fortified themselves by any league against the
force of princes, or cast any one out of his inheritance or estate” (Epistolarum
de Erasmus, XXXI. 59. A.
D. 1530, quoted by Christian, Ibid., p.
position is that of all the Anabaptists. In a book
called Of Heretics And Those Who Burn Them, he pleaded not only for
the Anabaptists, but even for the atheists and the Muslims. “The
burning of heretics cannot be justified by the Scriptures. Christ
Himself teaches that the tares, should be allowed to grow with the wheat.
He did not come to burn, or to murder, but to give life, and that
more abundantly. We should, therefore, pray and hope
for improvement in men as long as they live. If they
cannot be convinced by appeals to reason, or the Word of God, they should
be let alone. One cannot be made to see his errors
either by fire or sword. But if it is a crime to burn
those who scornfully reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how much more it
is a crime to burn the true expounders and exemplars of the Word of God.
Such an apparent zeal for God, the welfare of the soul, and the
honor of the church is a deception. Indeed to every one
it must be evident that the burning of heretics is a device of Satan”
(Christian, Ibid., p. 102). He
continues: “Hence it follows that the
inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, since they against the
doctrine and example of Christ condemn heretics to fire, and before the
time of harvest root up the wheat with the tares… And now it is clear to
everyone, even the blind, that a law to burn heretics is an invention of
the devil. Truth is immortal” (Vedder, Ibid.,
Anabaptists were among the first defenders of human rights. They
militated for all the people, not only for those of the same faith with
them. The Anabaptist martyrs, whether illustrious
scholars or unknown peasants, sealed with their own blood their plea for
liberty. If their cry had been heard, the history of
the world and of Christianity would have been different in these past five
were the Anabaptists, and what was their place in history? Bender
quotes the answer given by Rufus Jones: "Judged
by the reception it met at the hands of those in power, both in Church and
State, equally in Roman Catholic and in Protestant countries, the
Anabaptist movement was one of the most tragic in the history of
Christianity; but, judged by the principles, which were put into play by
the men who bore this reproachful nickname, it must be pronounced one of
the most momentous and significant undertakings in man's eventful
religious struggle after the truth. It gathered up the
gains of earlier movements, it is the spiritual soil out of which all
nonconformist sects have sprung, and it is the first plain announcement in
modern history of a programme for a new type of Christian society which
the modern world, especially in America and England, has been slowly
realizing – an absolutely free and independent religious society, and a
State in which every man counts as a man, and has his share in shaping
both Church and State" (Hershberger,
Ibid., p. 29).
hope Spurgeon had, and many like him, that “The
time will probably arrive when history will be re-written, and the
maligned Baptists of Holland and Germany will be acquitted of all
complicity with the ravings of the insane fanatics…”
has been fulfilled. We
salute the arrival of those times, and rejoice that the Anabaptists are
finally aquitted from the many calumnies brought against them.
We salute the enthroning of human rights and of the freedom to
chose, the liberation of the State from servitude to a religious or
political dogma, and the constitution of a democractic and composite
flourishes in freedom!!!
does the Anabaptist movement mean to us? A dramatic
chapter of history, buried in the dust of time? In what
measure are their doctrines, practices, and vision still actual?
Schaff concludes: “The
blood of martyrs is never shed in vain. The Anabaptist
movement was defeated, but not destroyed; it revived among the Mennonites,
the Baptists in
though the Anabaptist positions are largely deserted, they are as true
today as five hundred years ago, the attacks of their opponents are just
as furious as then, the controversies they raise are just as fiery.
Their followers are under the same siege and are called today to
stand and defend the doctrines of their predecessors, the doctrines of the
fundamental Anabaptist doctrine – The Scripture as final authority –
is mightly assaulted. Never was the authority of the
Bible so much discredited and undermined as it is now. Even
those who call themselves “Baptists,” who were supposed to be
“people of the Book,” accept unbiblical doctrines and practices,
forsaking the old Anabaptist position. For instance,
the liberal theological view of “once saved always saved” gained huge
popularity, replacing the old theology of discipleship, causing the
spiritual and moral standard to be in continual regression…
doctrine of separation is assaulted by those involved in the ecumenical
movement. Baptist leaders seek and accept the support
of secular authorities, they recognize false churches as sisters, as
equals, and work together with them, betraying the position for which
their predecessors lived and died! Those who take a
stand for separation are accused of legalism, hypocrisy and
narrow-mindedness. But this is the old Baptist
Schleitheim Confession declares: “From this we
should learn that everything which is not united with our God and Christ
cannot be other than an abomination which we should shun and flee from.
By this is meant all Catholic and Protestant works and church
services, meetings and church attendance…”
Noll, Ibid., p. 53).
describes their separation from the Protestant, “evangelical”
perspective: “From the beginning it was
principally a matter of separation for the purpose of creating a divided
church…, because they wished to abandon the Papists and the
Evangelicals… and live in a new Baptist order, which they call the true,
blessed, Christian church, therefore their leaders received baptism… as
a sign of the separation”
Ibid., p. 208).
modern Baptist movement denies this separation and cooperates with the
“papists” and with the “evangelicals.” But doing this, do they not
abandon the very “Baptist order,” thus switching camps?
was for the Anabaptists a sign of separation, of identity. They
refused to accept the baptisms practiced by the parties that did not stand
doctrinally with them, they did not recognize them to be true churches,
and their rites were considered null and void. For this
stand they met with hatred, calumny and persecution from the evangelicals.
along, live as Christian-like as you please…, only lay off on the
re-baptizings, for it is as plain as day that with it you are making a
(Verduin, Ibid.). What
are the implications of the compromise offered by Zwingli? To
accept it meant to trespass a part of the Scriptures and to repudiate the
most important Ana/Baptist doctrines (the authority of the Scriptures –
by accepting or tolerating something condemned by the Scriptures; the
whole doctrine of the church – its nature, ordinances, leadership,
discipline, etc.; the doctrine of separation – from civil authorities,
from false churches, from the so-called brethren, etc.).
their origin, doctrines and practices, the Anabaptists could not be
integrated in the Protestant camp. Luther, Zwingli,
Calvin tried to reform the old Catholic Church, which they considered the
true church, though polluted and corrupt. Like their
predecessors, the Anabaptists regarded Catholicism, and later
Protestantism as different forms of the same apostasy. They
denounced the Reformation as semi-popery, and the reformed doctrines as
half-truths, thought to be worse than error.
are not Protestants. Those who accept the compromise of
Zwingli cease to be Baptists, even though they may keep the name and the
appearance. They can be anything, Protestants,
Neo-protestants, Evangelicals, but not Baptists, not in the same sense
their forefathers were Baptists. Not all the Baptists,
though, accepted Zwingli’s compromise, the Protestant, “evangelical”
baptism. A minority still refuses it with the same
stubbornness as their Anabaptist predecessors refused it.
Anabaptist vision calls us today to take a stand. To
take the Anabaptist stand means to live a life of discipleship, to
persevere unto holiness, to depart from anything that is evil, be it
worldy amusement, wicked company or false doctrine. It
means to separate from compromised churches that either fell from the
truth of the Scriptures or never held it, and to unite with the true
churches of Christ, that stand for His teachings, and faithfully put them
into daily practice!
the struggle of the Anabaptists was wrong, if they died in vain, let us
change camps, let us abandon the Baptist faith, for we fight against God!
But if they suffered for a right cause, for the truth, for God,
then we are called to follow their example, to walk on the same path, for
it leads to the desired destination!
Baptists, The Only Thorough Religious Reformers, Backus Book
Publishers, New York, 1980
The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, Hodden and
Stoughton, London, 1877
Thieleman J. van,
Martyr’s Mirror, Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 1950
Zwingli and Bullinger, Westminster John Knox Press, Philadeplhia,
A History of the Baptists, Vol. 1, Bogard Press
The Story of the Baptists, The Baptist Standard Bearer, Paris, AR,
A Brief History of the Council of Trent, published by Daniel
Appleton, New York, 1831
Will and Ariel,
Civilizaţii istorisite [The
Story of Civilisation],
vol. 18, published by Prietenii Cartii, Bucharest, 2005
The Anabaptist Story, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids,
Martin Luther, un destin [Martin
Luther: A Destiny],
published by Corint, Bucharest, 2001
and Hierarchs, American
Baptist Publication Society,
The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, The Baptist Standard Bearer,
Paris, AR, 1957. This is a compilation of several
writings of important historians on the Anabaptists. The
following works were quoted here: Harold S. Bender, The
Anabaptist Vision; Fritz Blanke, Anabaptism and the Reformation;
N. van der Zijpp, The Early Dutch Anabaptists;
Franklin H. Littell, The Anabaptist Concept of the
Baptist Church Perpetuity, publicată de autor, Dallas, TX, 1894
Sabbata, vol. 1, Scheitlin & Zollikofer, St.
Early Anabaptist Spirituality, Paulist Press, New York, 1994.
This is a compilation of English translations of original writings
of several Anabaptist leaders. The following works were
quoted here: Thomas Manz, Letter from Prison; Hans Hut, On the
Mystery of Baptism; Hans Denck, Divine Order
Reformation Theologians, An Introduction to Theology in Early Modern
Period, Blackwell Publishing,
The Anabaptist View of the Church, The Baptist Standard Bearer,
Paris, AR, 2001
and the Radicals: Another Look at some Aspects of the Struggle
Between Luther and the Radical Reformers, published by Wilfrid Laurier
Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, William Tegg, Londra, 1867
Lectures on the Christian Dogma, Vol. II, published by
Henry G. Bohn, London, 1858
New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,
Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Book House, 1951,
Vol. 1, Christian
Classics Ethereal Library
Mark A., Confessions
and Cathechisms of the Reformation,
Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 2004. From
this work Zwingli’s Sixty Seven Articles of 1523, the Anabaptist
Schleitheim Confession of 1527 and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession of
1530 were quoted.
The History of Baptism, Press of Lincoln and Edmands, Boston, 1817
History of the Christian Church,
Second Revised Edition, vol. VII şi VIII.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, www.ccel.org
C. Arnold and Linda Agnes Hubert Hecht,
Profiles of Anabaptist Women: Sixteenth Century Reforming Pioneers,
Published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, ON, 1996
Short History of the Baptists, The American Baptist Publication
Reformers and their Stepchildren, Eerdman’s Publishing Company,
Williams, G. and A. Mergal, Spiritualist and Anabaptist Writers, Westminster John Knox Press, Philadelphia, 1957. This is a compilation of several writings of the most renown leaders of the Radical Reformation. The following works were quoted here: Conrad Grebel, Letters to Thomas Muntzer; Hans Denck, Whether God is the Cause of Evil; Balthasar Hubmaier, On Free Will