Dutch Blitz and Haystacks: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 1)

Dutch Blitz by Heartlover1717 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/heartlover1717/8220018600/

On Sunday, December 14, CBS will air the television program “World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (link).[1] I don’t know why CBS selected these three particular faith traditions, and I don’t know if this is an on-going series on world religions, but as a Seventh-day Adventist who attended a Mennonite seminary, I find the combination intriguing. A conversation in the Young Anabaptist Radicals Facebook group about the CBS program led to the invitation for me to share a three-part comparison of Adventist and Anabaptist values and views. I thank the YAR blog editors for this opportunity, especially since I’ve appreciated following this blog over the past five or six years.

Before diving into the comparison, I would like to first share a few limitations regarding both me and this series. First, I have little knowledge of the Sikh tradition. I have taken a class in world religions, and I did my MA internship at the Ann Arbor Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, but I have little exposure to the Sikh community, so I will focus here on Anabaptists and Adventists.

Second, I am not an expert in the history and theology of either the Anabaptist or Adventist traditions. I am a life-long Seventh-day Adventist with many years in Adventist education, including an undergrad degree in religion, but I claim no advanced understanding of the nuances of Adventist theology beyond a layperson’s experience. I am not an Adventist pastor or theologian, but I will invite some experts in those areas to read and comment on the series.

Also, rather than earning an MDiv or an MA in theology, I pursued an MA in Peace Studies from the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, IN. I also studied briefly at Eastern Mennonite University, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel College, and the Latin American Anabatist Seminary (SEMILLA) in Guatemala. However, my focus was on peace and justice themes rather than theology or history. While I know or have met members of both sides of the recent Mennonite-Adventist dialogue (Patricia Urueña, Teresa Reeve, Bert Beach, Denis Fortin), I was not present for the conversations.[2] I say this at the start to acknowledge I have much to learn about both communities, and I invite additional observations and critiques in the comment section. I will offer my observations and leave it to others to correct or expand on these posts.

Third, this three-part series is based on a project I developed for Anabaptist History and Theology, a course I took at AMBS. That original project was a three-part Sabbath School lesson designed for Adventists to learn more about the Anabaptist stream in which Adventists float. The class project does not entirely fit the standard blog writing style, so I ask for patience with the lengthy and numerous quotations.

Fourth, it is my understanding that John Howard Yoder advocated for ecumenical conversations that directly address the differences between denominations. While that could arguably be more productive, I will here be noting similarities, attempting to demonstrate many of the common values and beliefs between Anabaptists and Adventists. The differences are numerous and not to be ignored, but those could be the content of a different series.

This fourth point is important because I believe that Seventh-day Adventists would be called Sabbatarian Anabaptists if we had formed in northern Europe in the 1500s instead of the northern United States in the 1800s.[3] Adventists embrace believer’s baptism, separation of church and state (free churches), the role of the Holy Spirit in faithful living, pacifism or nonresistance (especially in early Adventism), the significance of the Constantinian Shift[4], and the symbolism of communion, including foot-washing, as well as other critical elements like an appreciation for playing Rook and Dutch Blitz[5] and eating haystacks.[6] Now if more Adventist congregations could sing four-part harmony! In this series I will not address every topic just listed, but will instead limit myself to the topics I originally addressed in my class project. That is to say this series is by no means exhaustive. (Click here to view a schematic of how Adventism is positioned relative to other major Protestant denominations.)

With those four disclaimers in mind, I want to describe how I will approach this series. Based on my original project, I will compare Adventist and Anabaptist expectations of (a) God, (b) Christians/the church, and (c) the world. (I can anticipate an objection to this framework even before getting to the comparison itself).

In the class project, I compared quotes from a variety of early Anabaptists with statements made by Ellen White (1827-1915). I will continue that approach here, though in a few instances I will add statements from other Adventists in order to make the similarities more concrete. This methodology glosses over the breadth of views expressed by early Adventists but I do this because Ellen White is the most important early and enduring voice in the Adventist movement.[7] Ellen, her husband James, and their colleague Joseph Bates (a former ship captain) were the three most prominent founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the decades after the Great Disappointment, which occurred during America’s Second Great Awakening.[8]

One final comment before beginning the comparison: Some readers may wonder why Adventism fits so well in the Anabapist tradition. I have two theories about this. First, early Adventists were highly influenced by Baptists (as well as Methodists), and I have been told that early Baptists were influenced by Waterlanders[9] in the Netherlands (i.e., Waterlands to Baptists to Adventists).

Second, Ellen White was aware of Anabaptist leaders and theology. In her book The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan, she speaks highly of Menno Simons, saying he “labored with great zeal and success” (p. 239). She continues:

For twenty-five years he traveled, with his wife and children, enduring great hardships and privations, and frequently in peril of his life. He traversed the Netherlands and northern Germany, laboring chiefly among the humbler classes, but exerting a widespread influence. Naturally eloquent, though possessing a limited education, he was a man of unwavering integrity, of humble spirit and gentle manners, and of sincere and earnest piety, exemplifying in his own life the precepts which he taught, and he commanded the confidence of the people. His followers were scattered and oppressed. They suffered greatly from being confounded with the fanatical Munsterites. Yet great numbers were converted under his labors. (p. 239)

Although I heard some Anabaptist stories while growing up (like Dirk Willemsz rescuing his pursuer), I was surprised to learn of the many similarities between Adventism and Anabaptists in general and Mennonites in particular when I began studying at AMBS. My wife, on the other hand, was taught these connections in her Adventist elementary school, so she was not surprised when I shared with her the similarities I was finding.

With alternating concerns about saying too much and not saying enough in this introduction, I will now turn to the comparison of the faiths as I understand them.

PART 1 – Expectations of God

Both the Anabaptist and Adventist movements expect God to (a) save us because of the cross of Jesus, our faith, and the work of the Spirit in us, (b) send the Holy Spirit to refine us and guide us, and (c) give us free will to choose or reject God.

A. Salvation

Anabaptists and Adventists see both God’s work and the human response as integral to salvation. Jesus offers saving grace, which Christians must accept and live into. “Anabaptists were one and all agreed that the process of salvation begins with God’s gracious act in Jesus Christ…. Anabaptists, too, believed that man is saved by grace and not through any merits of his own. But they were equally certain that man was not saved in spite of himself. God has graciously provided a way of salvation, but in order to benefit from it man must freely choose it for himself…. The will was set free by God’s grace and then man could choose to do the good that God desires for man.”[10] “For Hubmaier as for other Anabaptists, the faith that would lead to salvation was a faith that bore visible fruit in repentance, conversion, regeneration, obedience, and a new life dedicated to the love of God and the neighbour, by the power of the Holy Spirit (i.e., discipleship). Righteousness was not simply imputed to the sinner for Christ’s sake, as Luther maintained; but rather being saved meant becoming righteous by the power of the risen Christ.”[11]

Balthasar Hubmaier (1526): “Faith alone and by itself is not sufficient for salvation…. Rather, faith must express itself also in love to God and the neighbor. Thus John teaches us when he says: Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth (1 Jn. 3). Faith must be active in love (Gal. 5).”[12]

Melchior Hoffman (1530): “Therefore faith cannot make one justified, if one does not bring in therewith his fruits. As Christ also says [Mt. 7:16 ff.] of all such strong belief, of all such who [will] confidently believe and confess him to be a Lord and say that they had prophesied in his name and cast out devils and had done many mighty acts—these he will nevertheless not recognize…. Of the same kind Saint Paul also writes [1 Cor. 13:1 ff.] that even if one had such faith that he could move mountains, yeah, and spoke with the tongues of angels, and understood all mystery, and gave all his goods for God’s sake, and let his body be burned—in all such cases belief would have absolutely no worth, if love were not present therein.”[13]

Ellen White (1895): “The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people…. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God.”[14]

Ellen White (1890): “Without the grace of Christ, the sinner is in a hopeless condition; nothing can be done for him; but through divine grace, supernatural power is imparted to the man, and works in mind and heart and character. It is through the impartation of the grace of Christ that sin is discerned in its hateful nature, and finally driven from the soul temple. It is through grace that we are brought into fellowship with Christ, to be associated with Him in the work of salvation. Faith is the condition upon which God has seen fit to promise pardon to sinners; not that there is any virtue in faith whereby salvation is merited, but because faith can lay hold of the merits of Christ, the remedy provided for sin.” “Many are losing the right way, in consequence of thinking that they must climb to heaven, that they must do something to merit the favor of God. They seek to make themselves better by their own unaided efforts. This they can never accomplish. Christ has made the way by dying our sacrifice, by living our example, by becoming our great high priest…. But when we accept Christ, good works will appear as fruitful evidence that we are in the way of life, that Christ is our way, and that we are treading the true path that leads to heaven.”[15]

Ellen White (1893): “While good works will not save even one soul, yet it is impossible for even one soul to be saved without good works.”[16]

Ellen White (?): “In one way we are thrown upon our own energies; we are to strive earnestly to be zealous and to repent, to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts from every defilement; we are to reach the highest standard, believing that God will help us in our efforts. We must seek if we would find, and seek in faith; we must knock, that the door may be opened unto us. The Bible teaches that everything regarding our salvation depends upon our own course of action. If we perish, the responsibility will rest wholly upon ourselves. If provision has been made, and if we accept God’s terms, we may lay hold on eternal life. We must come to Christ in faith, we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure.”[17]

B1. Holy Spirit—Refining

Melchior Hoffman “rejected the Reformers’ view of forensic justification, joining other Anabaptists in emphasizing rebirth in the Spirit, regeneration, and a life of actual righteousness. ‘The elect’ were those who had yielded to the living Spirit of their own free will. True believers were those in whom the Spirit of Christ had come to dwell, and they would live visibly new lives according to the Spirit, not the flesh.”[18]

Hans Denck (1526): “Whoever has received God’s new covenant, that is, whoever has had the law written into his heart by the Holy Spirit is truly righteous. Whoever thinks that he can observe the law by means of the Book ascribes to the dead letter what belongs to the living Spirit.”[19]

Ellen White (1892): “While the work of the Spirit is silent and imperceptible, its effects are manifest. If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God, the life will bear witness to the fact. While we cannot do anything to change our hearts or to bring ourselves into harmony with God; while we must not trust at all to ourselves or our good works, our lives will reveal whether the grace of God is dwelling within us. A change will be seen in the character, the habits, the pursuits.”[20]

B2. Holy Spirit—Guiding

Ursula Jost and Ellen White each reported visions given by the Spirit that were intended to encourage and guide believers. Many others in Anabaptism also had visions, but here I will focus only on Jost. White played a much more significant role in Adventism than did Jost in Anabaptism, yet they both appear to have spoken as they were moved. Jost’s visions used “biblical and late medieval images of the wrath of God and God’s future victory over evil. Ursula’s visions helped readers cope with crises by putting them in the context of God’s ultimate plan for the present age.”[21] For both women, “visions were a socially sanctioned activity that freed a woman from conventional female roles by identifying her as a genuine religious figure.”[22] In the following two visions, notice that “many guns” could easily equate with “many trials.”

Ursula Jost (between 1524 and 1530): “Then I saw in the sky many guns, large and small. Between them I saw a path adorned with brightness and with many colors. And it was extremely narrow. And I also saw clouds, which were entirely the color of blood.”[23]

Ellen White (1844): “The dear saints have many trials to pass through…. I raised my eyes, and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were traveling to the city…. They had a bright light set up behind them at the beginning of the path, which an angel told me was the midnight cry. This light shone all along the path, and gave light for their feet so that they might not stumble. If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the city, they were safe.”[24]

The Holy Spirit’s guidance is not limited to special visions and revelations alone.

Hans Hut (1527): “The prophets witness that the Lord will pour out his Spirit over all flesh and all men will be taught of God eternally, live according to the will of God, and filled with all goodness.”[25]

Peter Riedeman (1542): “We believe that in the Holy Spirit we have all comfort, delight and fruitfulness and that he confirms, brings to pass, carries out and perfects all things; that he also teaches, directs and instructs us, assures us that we are children of God, and makes us one with God, so that through his working we thus become incorporated into and partakers of the divine nature and character. And this his work—God be praised!—we experience within ourselves in truth and power in the renewing of our heart.”[26]

Ellen White (1900): “A knowledge of the truth depends not so much upon strength of intellect as upon pureness of purpose, the simplicity of an earnest, dependent faith. To those who in humility of heart seek for divine guidance, angels of God draw near. The Holy Spirit is given to open to them the rich treasures of the truth.”[27]

Ellen White (1913): “The mother should feel her need of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, that she herself may have a genuine experience in submission to the way and will of God. Then, through the grace of Christ, she can be a wise, gentle, loving teacher.”[28]

Ellen White (1898): “In all who are under the training of God is to be revealed a life that is not in harmony with the world, its customs, or its practices; and everyone needs to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must individually hear Him speaking to the heart. When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God. He bids us, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10. Here alone can true rest be found. And this is the effectual preparation for all who labor for God.”[29]

C. Volition

Anabaptists “rejected the doctrine of predestination, understood as the sovereign designation of some to salvation and others to damnation.”[30] “In order for human beings to be able to respond and yield to God’s call in Christ to repentance and a new life, they must be free to respond. All Anabaptists held that human beings were made free (by God’s grace) to accept, or not accept, the call of God in Christ. In this respect also, Anabaptist theology stands closer to late medieval teaching than it does to mainstream Protestantism, as reference to the debate between Luther and Erasmus on the freedom of the human will makes clear.”[31]

“The Anabaptists believed…that the sin that condemns is essentially a matter of the fallen human will, and is thus a human responsibility in the final analysis.”[32] “This understanding of sin formed a central part of the Anabaptist understanding of the spiritual life—if sin involves the will, the remedy for sin also will involve the human will…. Human beings must ‘yield themselves entirely to Christ’, ‘die’ to themselves, ‘abandon’ themselves to the divine will…if God is to work God’s will through them.”[33] “‘Yielding one’s own will to God’s will’ thus stands at the very beginning of the Christian walk, as the Anabaptists understood it.”[34]

Melchior Hoffman (1533): “Thirdly it was his witness from proof of holy Scripture that according to the true illumination of God’s Word man has a free will to choose good or evil even as Adam had.”[35]

Ellen White (?): “Men act out their own free will, either in accordance with a character placed under the molding of God or a character placed under the harsh rule of Satan.”[36]

Ellen White (?): “Christ was tempted in all points like as we are; but His will was ever kept on the side of God’s will. In His humanity He had the same free will that Adam had in Eden. He could have yielded to temptation as Adam yielded. And Adam, by believing God and being a doer of His word, could have resisted temptation as Christ resisted it.”[37]

Ellen White (1896): “In striking contrast to the wrong and oppression so universally practised were the mission and work of Christ. Earthly kingdoms are established and upheld by physical force, but this was not to be the foundation of the Messiah’s kingdom. In the establishment of his government no carnal weapons were to be used, no coercion practised; no attempt would be made to force the consciences of men.”[38]

Discussion Questions

  1. What similarities or differences between the groups stand out to you the most?
  2. Based on these short quotes, what do you think about how the Anabaptists and early Adventists viewed salvation? Do you see these issues differently in any respects?
  3. How have you experienced the Holy Spirit guiding and refining you? How would you describe this process?
  4. What would you think if a church member today claimed to have visions? How would you attempt to determine if these claims were valid?
  5. What is the significance of this emphasis on free will in Anabaptism prior to the Enlightenment?
  6. Is the concept of “free will” important in your spiritual journey? If so, in what ways? If you believe God has created us with the ability to make free choices, how do you understand Scriptural passages that speak of believers being “predestined”?
  7. With your understanding of Luther and Zwingli, in what ways did the Anabaptists see God and the spiritual life differently than these other reformers?

Jeff Boyd is the assistant news editor at Adventist Today, research coordinator at Tiny Hands International, and secretary for the Adventist Peace Fellowship. Jeff completed an MA in Peace Studies with a concentration in International Development at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and he also has an MBA from Andrews University and undergraduate degrees in religion and psychology from Union College. Jeff lives in Flint, MI, with his wife, Charissa.

– – –

[1] http://www.cbspressexpress.com/cbs-news/releases/view?id=41288

[2] http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2011-07-11/first-conversation-between-adventists-mennonites-focuses-on-living-christian-life/ and https://www.mwc-cmm.org/content/warmth-honesty-mark-mennonite-adventist-dialogue?language=en

[3] Consider Andreas Fischer and Oswald Glait, http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sabbatarian_Anabaptists, http://store.mennomedia.org/Andreas-Fischer-and-the-Sabbatarian-Anabaptists-P252.aspx, and https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1987/01/sabbatarian-anabaptists.

[4] Compare chapters three and four in John Howard Yoder’s Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution (2009) with Ellen White’s third chapter in The Great Controversy (1888/1911, http://www.whiteestate.org/books/gc/gc3.html). Both White and earlier Anabaptists had a few things to say about the Catholic Church, a reality that comes across in this Great Controversy chapter.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rook_%28card_game%29 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Blitz. I will never understand how my wife can see every card on the table at once.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haystack_%28food%29#Composition

[7] http://spectrummagazine.org/article/jared-wright/2014/11/29/smithsonian-names-ellen-white-one-100-most-influential-americans-eve

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Disappointment

[9] http://www.gameo.org/index.php?title=Waterlanders

[10] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Herald Press, 1981), 41.

[11] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: Pandora Press, 1995), 88.

[12] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 44.

[13] Ibid., 58.

[14] Robert J. Wieland, The 1888 Message: An Introduction (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1980), 24-25.

[15] Ellen White, Selected Messages: Book One (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1958), 366-368.

[16] Ibid., 377.

[17] Ellen White, Faith and Works (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing, 1979), 48.

[18] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 357-358.

[19] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 73.

[20] Ellen White, Steps to Christ (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1892), 38/56-58.

[21] “Ursula Jost and Barbara Rebstock of Strasbourg” in Profiles of Anabaptist Women: Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers, C. Arnold Snyder and Linda A. Huebert Hecht, eds. (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996), 277.

[22] Ibid., 282.

[23] Ibid., 283.

[24] Ellen White, Early Writings of Ellen G. White (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1941.

[25] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 74.

[26] Ibid., 78.

[27] Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1900), 59.

[28] Ellen White, The Adventist Home (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1952), 206.

[29] Ellen White, The Desire of Ages (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1898), 633.

[30] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 41.

[31] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 89.

[32] C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 39.

[33] Ibid., 40.

[34] Ibid., 41.

[35] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 59.

[36] Ellen White, The Faith I Live By (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald, 1958), 155.

[37] Ellen White, Our High Calling (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald, 1961), 107.

[38] Ellen White, “The Kingdom of Christ,” Review and Herald (August 18, 1896), paragraph 2.

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