Foot-washing and Conscientious Objection: An Adventist Finds His Roots in the Radical Reformation (Part 2)

This is the second in a three-part series comparing Seventh-day Adventists and Anabaptists. The CBS television program “World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonites” (description, program, schedule) provided the motivation for this series. Please see the introduction to Part 1 if you have not yet read it. As I explain in the introduction, this project was initially designed as a way for Adventists to learn about Anabaptist views, rather than the other way around as in this present series.

One additional item I probably should have acknowledged in Part 1 is that this approach may make it appear as though I believe early Anabaptism was uniform, with all believers under that label holding all particulars in common. This was certainly not the case, as readers of this blog know quite well (see the YAR “Anabaptist Streams” series, for example). A more detailed study would note the similarities and differences between the various Anabaptist groups and then compare these with Adventism. However, that approach is well beyond my ability to adequately pull off, so I will continue with the much simpler and less precise comparative methodology I used while taking Anabaptist History and Theology at AMBS.

Part 1 was lengthy because of the extended series introduction. This second installment is long because it covers several expectations about Christians, both individually and collectively. With that warning, let’s get to it. And again, I ask for patience with the lengthy quotes.

Part 2–Expectations of Christians and the Church

Both Anabaptists and Adventists expect believers to (a) voluntarily unite, (b) follow after Jesus in discipleship, (c) be baptized, (d) wash one another’s feet, (e) participate in the Lord’s Supper, (f) form a holy church, (g) study the Bible, (h) show compassion, and (i) not engage in violence.

Voluntary Community of Believers

“Anabaptists worked out their doctrine of the church in the light of an ancient tradition. Hubmaier, Sattler, Schiemer, Rothmann, Stadler, Simons, and Philips had all been priests in the church of Rome. Some had also been Protestant clerics, notably Hubmaier and Rothmann. Roman Christianity had long assumed the validity of the Volkskirche, that is, that with the exception of heretics and Jews everyone in Europe belonged to it by virtue of baptism.” “Protestantism in Wittenburg and Zürich, and later also in Geneva, England, and Scotland, developed variations of the traditional view…. each country had an official faith of which all citizens were assumed to be adherents.” “Anabaptism broke completely with this pattern after initial uncertainty. By 1527 the vision in Switzerland was clear. The church was now identified as the gathered congregation of believers who have voluntarily entered it by baptism upon confession of faith…. Only those can be members who are obedient to Christ.”[1] Believer’s baptism forming a believer’s church was central to this paradigm. This concept of a “free church” is based first on the notion of a “free will” and is developed here in subsequent sections such as Discipleship and Baptism.

Bernhard Rothmann (1533): “The church of Christ is a gathering of the believing children of God who praise the name of God. No one else belongs in it…. Therefore the first thing which all people and each one in particular who are to be brought into the knowledge of God and the holy church of God…must encounter is the preaching and the hearing of the divine Word. It is the source of faith.”[2]

Michael Sattler (1527): “Further, dear fellow members in Christ, you should be admonished not to forget love, without which it is not possible that you be a Christian congregation.”[3]

Ellen White (1902): “The kingdom of Christ does not and cannot bear any resemblance to the kingdoms of the world. In the kingdom of Christ there is no instrument of coercion. In it force has no place. The gospel of Him who gave His life for the life of the world is a gospel of peace. It is the Saviour’s grace, His love, His tender compassion, that breaks every barrier down. The gospel is a power of itself, above all and encompassing all. It is a divine, immutable principle, a well-spring fed by the stream that flows from the throne of God.”[4]

NOTE: While most Anabaptists worship on Sunday (the exception being early groups under Oswald Glait and Andreas Fischer) and Adventists worship on Saturday (The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day, Tonstad), both agree that Christians should make these decisions of association free from any interference or coercion from religious or political power-holders.

Discipleship: Repentance, Yieldedness and Holiness

Both movements expect repentance and a changed life to characterize the experience of believers. Anabaptists believed that fearing “the Lord lies at the beginning of the way to salvation because it requires a genuine humility, and results in unceasing prayer to God for grace. It will bear visible fruit; namely, a people who have experienced a genuine repentance and give evidence of a holy walk–a ‘God fearing’ people.”[5] “All Anabaptists, without exception, were convinced that Scripture…demanded repentance and a new birth, by the power of God. It is this new birth by God’s power…that stands at the very heart of Anabaptist spirituality. The new birth depends upon a prior preparation: genuine repentance…and yieldedness to God. And the new birth will likewise have a concrete result: a life of discipleship and ‘following after’ Christ.”[6]

This notion of discipleship–following after Jesus–has been central to both movements. Anabaptists understood Christians as “disciples who have committed themselves to following Christ on that path, yielding to God’s will in all things as Jesus did, not claiming possessions for themselves, speaking the truth in all circumstances, humbly giving way in the face of evil power, living non-coercively, willing to suffer rather than inflict suffering on others. The visible ‘shape’ of Anabaptist spirituality is discipleship, the ‘following after Christ’ (Nachfolge Christi) in life.”[7] “Discipleship, or ‘following after’ Christ, calls for self-renunciation, self-sacrifice, a dying to self and the world, a ‘yielded’ state of being that is willing to accept God’s will in all things, an embracing of the cross, even at the expense of all that one holds dear in this life.”[8]

“Discipleship in early Anabaptism meant taking the words of Jesus literally, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), to the point that Anabaptists were accused of making the Sermon into a new law. Discipleship included sharing material goods as well as the gospel with others, peacemaking, suffering love, and in everything keeping faith and works together, combining true faith (ortho-doxy) with true Christian living (ortho-praxis).”[9]

Hans Hut (~1527): “Whoever wants to do God’s will must set aside his own.”[10]

Peter Riedeman (1542): “Therefore faith is a real divine power, which renews man and makes him like God in nature, makes him living in his righteousness, and ardent in love, and in keeping his commandments.”[11]

Dirk Philips (1556): “In the beginning God desired to have people who are made in his image, and still does…. Hence [Jesus’] disciples also must keep his teaching, do his will and finish his work, that Christ may be glorified in them.”[12]

Ellen White (1888): “Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times.”[13]

Ellen White (1889): “Your will is the spring of all your actions. This will, that forms so important a factor in the character of man, was at the Fall given into the control of Satan; and he has ever since been working in man to will and to do of his own pleasure, but to the utter ruin and misery of man. But the infinite sacrifice of God in giving Jesus, His beloved Son, to become a sacrifice for sin, enables Him to say, without violating one principle of His government: ‘Yield yourself up to Me; give Me that will; take it from the control of Satan, and I will take possession of it; then I can work in you to will and to do of My good pleasure.’ When He gives you the mind of Christ, your will becomes as His will, and your character is transformed to be like Christ’s character.”[14]

Ellen White (1890): “Repentance is associated with faith, and is urged in the gospel as essential to salvation. Paul preached repentance…. There is no salvation without repentance…. This repentance has in it nothing of the nature of merit, but it prepares the heart for the acceptance of Christ as the only Saviour, the only hope of the lost sinner…. But while God can be just, and yet justify the sinner through the merits of Christ, no man can cover his soul with the garments of Christ’s righteousness while practicing known sins, or neglecting known duties. God requires the entire surrender of the heart, before justification can take place; and in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.”[15]

Ellen White (1892): “In the heart renewed by divine grace, love is the principle of action. It modifies the character, governs the impulses, controls the passions, subdues enmity, and ennobles the affections.”[16]

Ellen White (1892): “Many are inquiring, ‘How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?’ You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you; but you need not despair. What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him.

“Desires for goodness and holiness are right as far as they go; but if you stop here, they will avail nothing. Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians. They do not come to the point of yielding the will to God. They do not now choose to be Christians.

“Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, you ally yourself with the power that is above all principalities and powers. You will have strength from above to hold you steadfast, and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life, even the life of faith.”[17]

Ellen White (1905): “The whole heart must be yielded to God…” “The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness.” “The tempted one needs to understand the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man–the power of decision, of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. Desires for goodness and purity are right, as far as they go; but if we stop here, they avail nothing. Many will go down to ruin while hoping and desiring to overcome their evil propensities. They do not yield the will to God. They do not choose to serve Him.”[18]


Both Anabaptists and Adventists view what are generally labeled sacraments as symbols–symbols of Jesus, of faith, of inner convictions and commitments. These actions are important for the believing individual and the community, but the actions in themselves are not believed to mediate grace or forgiveness. For Anabaptists, “baptism was viewed as a sign that the old life of sin had been abandoned and a new life of following Christ begun. This was done voluntarily and after careful consideration. It was assumed by all that man had the capacity to respond to God’s call. Also universal was the view that baptism was the rite by which one entered the church. Most Anabaptists regarded the Christian life as a communal life; all Christians were members of one body. Therefore baptism also involved the acceptance of the process of discipline, of mutual aid both spiritually and materially. Commitment to the ‘rule of Christ’ (Mat. 18:15-18) was necessary since the reality of sin even in the church was taken for granted.”[19]

Conrad Grebel (1524): “The Scripture describes baptism for us thus, that it signifies that, by faith and the blood of Christ, sins have been washed away for him who is baptized, changes his mind, and believes before and after; that it signifies that a man is dead and ought to be dead to sin and walks in newness of life and spirit, and that he shall certainly be saved if, according to this meaning, by inner baptism he lives his faith…”[20]

Balthasar Hubmaier (1525): The person who is to be baptized “indicates to the Christian church…that he has been so taught inwardly in the Word of Christ and that he is so minded, that he has already surrendered himself according to the Word, will, and rule of Christ to live henceforth for him, to regulate all his actions according to him, to fight under his flag unto death, and to allow himself to be baptized with external water in which he publicly confesses his faith and intention: namely, that he believes that he has a gracious, good and merciful God and Father in heaven through Jesus Christ, and that in this he is well satisfied. He has also decided and already inwardly given his intention that from this time on he will change and improve his life, and that he confess this openly in the reception of the water.” “Since however a man knows and confesses that by nature he is a bad and poisonous tree and that in himself he cannot produce any good fruit, this commitment, consent and open witness does not take place in human power or ability, for that would be human presumption, but in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is in the grace and power of God. From all of this follows that the external baptism of Christ is nothing other than an open witness of the inward commitment with which man publicly testifies before everyone that he is a sinner and that he regards himself as guilty. But he also believes fully that Christ has forgiven him his sin through his death and that through his resurrection he has made him just before the face of God, our heavenly Father. Therefore he has also become willing from now on openly to confess faith in the name of Jesus Christ before everyone and has committed himself and decided to live from now on according to the word and commandment of Christ, not from human ability in order that he be not like Peter, for without me you can do nothing, says Christ, but in the power of God, the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”[21]

Balthasar Hubmaier (1526): “I confess three types of baptism: that of the Spirit given internally in faith; that of water given externally through the oral confession of faith before the church; and that of blood in martyrdom or on the deathbed.”[22]

Michael Sattler (1527): “Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and [who] believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with him in death, so that they might rise with him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us; hereby is excluded all infant baptism…”[23]

Hans Hut (?): “The [outer] baptism which follows preaching and faith is not the true reality (wesen) by which man is made righteous, but is only a sign, a covenant, a likeness, and a memorial of one’s dedication, which [sign] reminds one daily to expect the true baptism, called by Christ ‘the water of all tribulation.’”[24]

Menno Simons (1539): “Here Peter teaches us how the inward baptism saves us, by which the inner man is washed, and not the outward baptism by which the flesh is washed. For only this inward baptism…is of value in the sight of God, while outward baptism follows as an evidence of obedience which is of faith.”[25]

Peter Riedeman (1542): “Now because it is a testament of the recognition, knowledge and grace of God, baptism is also, according to the words of Peter, the bond of a good conscience with God, that is, of those who have recognized God. The recognition of God, however, comes…from hearing the word of the gospel. Therefore we teach that those who have heard the word, believed the same, and have recognized God, should be baptized–and not children.”[26]

Pilgram Marpeck (1542): “Baptism is received and accepted as a sign and co-witness that he has died to his sins and has been buried with Christ; henceforth, he may arise into a new life, to walk, not according to the lusts of the flesh, but obediently, according to the will of God.”[27]

Dirk Philips (1564): “From all of this it is now evident that the apostles first taught the people and preached the gospel. Those who amended their life and believed the gospel (Mk. 16:15) were, upon confession of their faith, baptized by them. Hence it is incontrovertible, both according to the ordinance and institution of the Lord, and the custom of the apostles, that teaching the gospel must precede baptism. From the teaching come repentance and faith. The true, penitent faith must be confessed, proved, and sealed, so to speak, in Christian baptism. Moreover after Christian baptism must follow a consistent, good, and pious Christian life. This is the true order of the Lord Jesus Christ and the custom of the apostles.” “Inasmuch as infants know, understand and possess nothing of all that baptism signifies or that belongs to it, baptism is not for them, nor is it necessary for them, because faith, a right understanding, and essence of the sacrament are lacking. Therefore the sign does not follow.” “That the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children we believe without a doubt, as we have already declared. But that the salvation of children lies in their baptism and is bound to it we do not believe…”[28]

Ellen White (?): “The vows which we take upon ourselves in baptism embrace much. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we are buried in the likeness of Christ’s death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection, and we are to live a new life. Our life is to be bound up with the life of Christ. Henceforth the believer is to bear in mind that he is dedicated to God, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. He is to make all worldly considerations secondary to this new relation. Publicly he has declared that he will no longer live in pride and self-indulgence. He is no longer to live a careless, indifferent life. He has made a covenant with God. He has died to the world. He is to live to the Lord, to use for Him all his entrusted capabilities, never losing the realization that he bears God’s signature, that he is a subject of Christ’s kingdom, a partaker of the divine nature. He is to surrender to God all that he is and all that he has, employing all his gifts to His name’s glory.”[29]

Ellen White (?): “Take up your work with earnest prayer and faithful endeavor. Teach your children that it is their privilege to receive every day the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Let Christ find you His helping hand to carry out His purposes. By prayer you may gain an experience that will make your ministry for your children a perfect success.[30]

Ellen White (?): “Never allow your children to suppose that they are not children of God until they are old enough to be baptized. Baptism does not make children Christians; neither does it convert them; it is but an outward sign, showing that they are sensible that they should be children of God by acknowledging that they believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and will henceforth live for Christ.

“Parents whose children desire to be baptized have a work to do, both in self-examination and in giving faithful instruction to their children. Baptism is a most sacred and important ordinance, and there should be a thorough understanding as to its meaning. It means repentance for sin, and the entrance upon a new life in Christ Jesus. There should be no undue haste to receive the ordinance. Let both parents and children count the cost. In consenting to baptism of their children, parents sacredly pledge themselves to be faithful stewards over these children, to guide them in their character building. They pledge themselves to guard with special interest these lambs of the flock, that they may not dishonor the faith they profess….”[31]

Ellen White (?): “For the daily baptism of the Spirit, every worker should offer his petition to God.”[32]

Ellen White (1899): “You need a daily baptism of the love that in the days of the apostles made them all of one accord. This love will bring health to body, mind, and soul. Surround your soul with an atmosphere that will strengthen spiritual life. Cultivate faith, hope, courage, and love. Let the peace of God rule in your heart.”[33]


Both Adventist and Anabaptist members perform the ritual of washing one anothers’ feet. “Here was a visible sign of Gelassenheit [or yieldedness], ordained by Christ, in which members visibly submitted one to another, promising to serve one another, thus following in the footsteps of Christ by conjoining the outward rite to a genuinely changed nature.”[34]

Leonhard Schiemer (1527): “Now you great scholars, doctors, academics, monks and priests, who care nothing for ‘external things,’ just how would you demonstrate to others that you are true disciples and followers of Christ except by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the poor, comforting the sick and imprisoned, washing feet and showing love for one another?”[35]

Dirk Philips (~1560): Jesus commanded footwashing “to give us the knowledge that he himself must cleanse us in the internal person, and we must let the sin which clings to us so closely…be washed away by him.” Furthermore, “we should humble ourselves to one another…and hold the companions of our faith in great esteem…[for] they are the saints of God and members of Jesus Christ…”[36]

Ellen White (1898): “These ordinances are regarded too much as a form, and not as a sacred thing to call to mind the Lord Jesus…. It is on these, His own appointments, that He meets with and energizes His people by His personal presence. Notwithstanding that there may be hearts and hands that are unsanctified who will administer the ordinance, still Jesus is in the midst of His people to work on human hearts. All who keep before them, in the act of feet-washing, the humiliation of Christ, all who will keep their hearts humble, and keep in view the true tabernacle and service, which the Lord pitched and not man, will never fail to derive benefit from every discourse given, and spiritual strength from every communion. These ordinances are established for a purpose. Christ’s followers are to bear in mind the example of Christ in His humility. This ordinance is to encourage humility, but it should never be termed humiliating, in the sense of being degrading to humanity. It is to make tender our hearts toward one another.

“The object of this service is to call to mind the humility of our Lord, and the lessons He has given in washing the feet of His disciples. There is in man a disposition to esteem himself more highly than his brother, to work for himself, to serve himself, to seek the highest place; and often evil-surmisings and bitterness of spirit spring up over mere trifles. This ordinance preceding the Lord’s Supper is to clear away these misunderstandings, to bring man out of his selfishness, down from his stilts of self-exaltation, to the humility of spirit that will lead him to wash his brother’s feet. It is not in God’s plan that this should be deferred because some are considered unworthy to engage in it. The Lord washed the feet of Judas. He did not refuse him a place at the table, although He knew that he would leave that table to act his part in the betrayal of his Lord. It is not possible for human beings to tell who is worthy, and who is not.”[37]

Ellen White (?): “This ordinance is Christ’s appointed preparation for the sacramental service. While pride, variance, and strife for supremacy are cherished, the heart cannot enter into fellowship with Christ. We are not prepared to receive the communion of His body and His blood. Therefore it was that Jesus appointed the memorial of His humiliation to be first observed.”[38]

Lord’s Supper

Anabaptists rejected the complex of doctrine and drama which characterized the Roman Mass as a sacrament. Because the Mass was at the very heart of Roman Christianity, this rejection was sufficient to brand Anabaptists as heretics…. Anabaptists equally rejected the Protestant discussion about the nature of the presence of Christ in the bread and wine. They regarded such a discussion as totally beside the point, and switched the discussion to a consideration of the presence of Christ in the ‘body of believers,’ for which there was clear scriptural warrant.” “All strands of Anabaptism give evidence of a twofold interpretation of the Supper. It was, on the one hand, a remembrance of the love of Christ which expressed itself in dying for his own. Jesus and his sacrifice were the foundation of Christian life and of the church. On the other hand, the Supper was seen as a celebration of the oneness and unity of the church brought about by Christ’s death. The body of Christ, understood by Anabaptists in a very literal sense as the visible community of believers, was the presence of God in the world. The new peaceful, reconciling community was reality. The Supper was a joyous recognition of that fact.”[39]

Balthasar Hubmaier (1525): “Here you must see clearly that the bread is bread and the wine wine as other bread and wine, but nevertheless thus instituted by Christ to an admonition and a remembrance that as often as we break the bread with another, distribute it and eat it, that we remember in faith his broken body give for us on the cross. Thus one can see clearly that the bread is not the body of Christ, but only a remembrance of the same. Similarly, the wine is not the blood of Christ, but also a remembrance that he has shed his blood on the cross for the cleansing from sin for all those who have faith…. From this follows and we clearly learn that the Last Supper is nothing else than a remembrance of the suffering of Christ, who has given his body for our sake and shed his red blood on the cross for the cleansing of our sins…. Whoever now observes the Supper of Christ in the fashion described and regards the suffering of Christ in firm faith, the same will also thank God for this grace and goodness and will surrender himself to the will of Christ, which is what he has done for us. We also now should make our life, body, material goods and blood available to the neighbour. That is the will of Christ.”[40]

Michael Sattler (1527): “Concerning the breaking of bread…: all those who desire to break the one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ and all those who wish to drink of one drink in remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism.”[41]

Hans Schlaffer (1527): “The body of Christ is the faithful community of Christ. Whoever eats of this bread in the Supper of the Lord, testifies that he desires to have fellowship with and to participate in all things with the body of Christ. That is, he commits himself to the community in all things, in love and suffering, wealth and poverty, honour and dishonour, sorrow and joy, death and life, indeed, that he is ready to give life and limb for the brothers, as Christ gave himself for him. Similarly with the cup in the blood of Christ: whoever drinks of this cup has first surrendered himself and testifies with it that he is prepared to pour out his blood for the sake of Christ and his church insofar as faith and the test of love demands it.”[42]

Pilgram Marpeck (1532): “Fourthly, in the commemoration of the body of the Lord, a testimony for us to his death, the believers and baptized are to remind one another to be mindful of such love and of his new and eternal commandment. He is the first among them; he died and was given for us for the sake of love in order that we might live eternally. He commanded that we love one another as he loved us, and he goes on to point to death as the culmination of his love: no one has greater love than he that stakes his soul on behalf of his friend.”[43]

Menno Simons (1552): “Similarly we believe and confess concerning the Lord’s holy Supper that it is a holy sacramental sign, instituted of the Lord himself in bread and wine, and left to his disciples in remembrance of him. Mt. 26; Mk. 14; Lk. 22; 1 Cor. 11…. And it also serves as a remembrance how he offered his holy flesh and shed his precious blood for the remission of our sins. Mt. 26.27; Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:19. Second, it is an emblem of Christian love, of unity, and of peace in the church of Christ.” “Since it is a sign of such force which is left of Christ, that it is to represent and admonish us of his death, the love, peace, and unity of the brethren, and also the communion of his flesh and blood as was said, therefore none can rightly partake of this Supper except he be a disciple of Christ, flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, who seeks the forgiveness of sins in no other means than in the merits, sacrifice, death, and blood of Christ alone; who walks in unity, love, and peace with brethren, and who leads a pious, unblamable life in Christ Jesus, according to the Scriptures.”[44]

Ellen White (?): “The Passover was ordained as a commemoration of the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. God had directed that, year by year, as the children should ask the meaning of this ordinance, the history should be repeated. Thus the wonderful deliverance was to be kept fresh in the minds of all. The ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was given to commemorate the great deliverance wrought out as the result of the death of Christ. Till He shall come the second time in power and glory, this ordinance is to be celebrated. It is the means by which His great work for us is to be kept fresh in our minds.

“In partaking with His disciples of the bread and wine, Christ pledged Himself to them as their Redeemer. He committed to them the new covenant, by which all who receive Him become children of God, and joint heirs with Christ. By this covenant every blessing that heaven could bestow for this life and the life to come was theirs. This covenant deed was to be ratified with the blood of Christ. And the administration of the Sacrament was to keep before the disciples the infinite sacrifice made for each of them individually as a part of the great whole of fallen humanity.” [45]

Ellen White (1898): “But the Communion service was not to be a season of sorrowing. This was not its purpose. As the Lord’s disciples gather about His table, they are not to remember and lament their shortcomings. They are not to dwell upon their past religious experience, whether that experience has been elevating or depressing. They are not to recall the differences between them and their brethren. The preparatory service has embraced all this. The self-examination, the confession of sin, the reconciling of differences, has all been done. Now they come to meet with Christ. They are not to stand in the shadow of the cross, but in its saving light. They are to open the soul to the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. With hearts cleansed by Christ’s most precious blood, in full consciousness of His presence, although unseen, they are to hear His words, ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’ John 14:27.”[46]

Congregational holiness

The medieval church had claimed that the Body of Christ was made physically present to humankind in the elements of the Mass. This the Anabaptists denied. They argued that Christ had ‘ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father.’ But all the same, many Anabaptists insisted that there was a physical presence of Christ on earth, and that was the true church itself, present in Christ’s members.”[47] “Historically speaking, it was the conception of the church without spot or wrinkle that became the consensus view in the surviving Anabaptist groups, and that was passed on to succeeding generations as the ecclesial tradition.”[48]

Peter Riedeman (1542): “We confess also that God has, through Christ, chosen, accepted and sought a people for himself, not having spot, blemish, wrinkle, or any such thing, but pure and holy, as he, himself, is holy. Therefore is such a people, community, assembly or church gathered and led together by the Holy Spirit, which from henceforth rules, controls and orders everything in her…”[49]

Dirk Philips (1562): “Therefore, the church of God is a church of holy beings, namely, of the angels of heaven and of the believing reborn men on earth, who have been renewed in the image of God. These are all united in Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:6; Col. 1:27)…”[50]

Menno Simons (?): Menno listed seven characteristics for knowing the church of Christ. “By an unadulterated, pure doctrine.” “By a scriptural use of the sacramental signs.” “By obedience to the Word.” “By unfeigned, brotherly love.” “By a bold confession of God and Christ.” “By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word.”[51]

Ellen White (1900): “By the wedding garment in the parable is represented the pure, spotless character which Christ’s true followers will possess. To the church it is given ‘that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white,’ ‘not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.’ Revelation 19:8; Ephesians 5:27. The fine linen, says the Scripture, ‘is the righteousness of saints.’ Revelation 19:8. It is the righteousness of Christ, His own unblemished character, that through faith is imparted to all who receive Him as their personal Saviour.”[52]

Ellen White (1900): “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.”[53] [This strong statement has generated much debate within Adventist circles. Regardless, it demonstrates that White, like Anabaptists, held a high expectation for the church.]

Ellen White (1911): “He encouraged the believers to look forward to the time when Christ, who ‘loved the church, and gave Himself for it,’ would ‘present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing’–a church ‘holy and without blemish.’ Ephesians 5:25, 27.”[54]

The Bible

Both Adventists and Anabaptists expect members to study their Bibles diligently. Both are committed to knowing and following the Bible, as guided by the Holy Spirit, though there was significant diversity in Anabaptists approaches to this topic. “Anabaptists joined Protestants in rejecting the authorities of popes and councils and elevating the Scriptures into the vacancy.”[55]Small group Bible study was the heart of their communal life. The persecution which made large group meetings impossible during the early decades was thus a blessing forced on them which helped shape their ethos. Former priests and clergy were part of many of these groups, but basically they were lay study groups which believed that Scripture, Spirit, and believers prayerful study would lead them to know the will of God step by step.”[56]

Both groups also advocated the reality of the outer Word (the Bible) needing to be enlightened and enervated by the inner Word (the Holy Spirit; see Session 1), though it could be argued that Anabaptists emphasized the latter, while Adventists stressed the former. “The Anabaptist emphasis on the active working of the Spirit of God meant that Anabaptist ‘biblicism’ always was mediated by the expectation that the Spirit would illuminate and provide the proper understanding of Scripture.”[57]

Bernhard Rothmann (1534): “The divine, unquestionably Holy Scriptures which are called the Bible alone have the fame that they are needful and sufficient for teaching, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness, for which purpose also almighty God has given them, in order that the man of God be without error and equipped for every good work…. We are minded, by the grace of God to hold to this, since God’s actual will is sufficiently expressed in them. It is God’s earnest command that we should not stray from them to the right nor the left in word and action. Christ himself points to the Scriptures that we should search them.” “However, since God’s kingdom does not consist in words but in power, I will never achieve the power of the knowledge of God unless God’s Spirit drives me with power, teaches me, and leads me into the Scriptures.”[58]

Menno Simons (1539): “We certainly hope no one of a rational mind will be so foolish a man as to deny that the whole Scriptures, both the Old and New Testament, were written for our instruction, admonition, and correction, and that they are the true scepter and rule by which the Lord’s kingdom, house, church, and congregation must be ruled and governed. Everything contrary to Scripture, therefore, whether it be in doctrines, beliefs, sacraments, worship, or life, should be measured by this infallible rule and demolished by this just and divine scepter, and destroyed without any respect of persons.”[59]

Ellen White (1888): “The word of God is like a treasure-house, containing everything that is essential to perfect the man of God. We do not appreciate the Bible as we should. We do not have a proper estimate of the richness of its stores, nor do we realize the great necessity of searching the Scriptures for ourselves. Men neglect the study of the word of God in order to pursue some worldly interest, or to engage in the pleasures of the time. Some trivial affair is made an excuse for ignorance of the Scriptures given by inspiration of God. But anything of an earthly character might better be put off, than this all-important study, that is to make us wise unto eternal life.”[60]

Ellen White (?): “God desires man to exercise his reasoning powers; and the study of the Bible will strengthen and elevate the mind as no other study can…. A sense of the power and wisdom of God, and of our inability to comprehend His greatness, should inspire us with humility, and we should open His Word, as we would enter His presence, with holy awe….”[61]

Ellen White (?): “Let the youth be taught to love the study of the Bible. Let the first place in our thoughts and affections be given to the Book of books, for it contains knowledge which we need above all other.”[62]

Ellen White (?): “If we would study the Bible diligently and prayerfully every day, we should every day see some beautiful truth in a new, clear, and forcible light.”[63]


Both movements emphasized compassion and mercy, though many early Anabaptists embodied this in communal economic solidarity that was not generally matched in Adventism.

Menno Simons (1539): “You say, we are inexpert, unlearned, and know not the Scriptures. I reply: The Word is plain and needs no interpretation: namely, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy strength, and they neighbor as thyself. Mt. 22:37, 39. Again, You shall give bread to the hungry and entertain the needy. Is. 58:7.”[64]

Menno Simons (1552): “Is it not sad and intolerable hypocrisy that these poor people boast of having the Word of God, of being the true, Christian church, never remembering that they have entirely lost their sign of true Christianity? For although many of them have plenty of everything, go about in silk and velvet, gold and silver, and in all manner of pomp and splendor; ornament their houses with all manner of costly furniture; have their coffers filled, and live in luxury and splendor, yet they suffer many of their own poor, afflicted members…to ask alms; and poor, hungry, suffering, old, lame, blind, and sick people to beg their bread at their doors.” “O preachers…where is the power of the gospel you preach? …. Shame on you for the easygoing gospel and barren bread-breaking, you who have in so many years been unable to effect enough with your gospel and sacraments so as to remove your needy and distressed members from the streets, even though the Scripture plainly teaches and says, ‘Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion for him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?’”[65]

Balthasar Hubmaier (1526-1527): “Always and everywhere I have said as follows about the community of goods: that each man should have regard for his neighbor, so that the hungry might be fed, the thirsty refreshed, the naked clothed, etc. For we are not lords of our own property, but stewards and dispensers. Assuredly no one could say that we claim that one should take his own from anybody and make it common property; rather we would say: if anyone would take your cloak, give him your coat also.”[66]

Pilgram Marpeck (1542): “Even though they control their possessions, such true believers do not say in their hearts that these are theirs; rather, their possessions belong to God and the needy. For this reason, among true Christians who display the freedom of love, all things are communal and are as if they had been offered, since they have been offered by the heart.”[67]

Menno Simons (1539): “For true evangelical faith…cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it…clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”[68]

Menno Simons (1552): Those who follow the Spirit “show mercy and love, as much as they can…. They entertain those in distress. They take the stranger into their houses. They comfort the afflicted; assist the needy; clothe the naked; feed the hungry; do not turn their face from the poor; do not despise their own flesh. Isaiah 59:7, 8. Behold, such a community we teach.”[69]

Ellen White (1892): “Those who have acquired riches have acquired them through the exercise of the talents that were given them of God, but these talents for the acquiring of property were given to them that they might relieve those who are in poverty. These gifts were bestowed upon men by Him who maketh His sun to shine and His rain to fall upon the just and the unjust, that by the fruitfulness of the earth men might have abundant supplies for all their need.”[70]

Ellen White (1894): “Christ identifies His interest with that of suffering humanity. He reproved His own nation for their wrong treatment of their fellow man. The neglect or abuse of the weakest, the most erring believers He speaks of as rendered to Himself. The favors shown them are accredited as bestowed upon Himself…. Will the church arouse? Will its members come into sympathy with Christ, so they will have His tenderness for all the sheep and lambs of His fold?”[71]

Ellen White (1902): “It is only by an unselfish interest in those in need of help that we can give a practical demonstration of the truths of the gospel…. Much more than mere sermonizing is included in preaching the gospel…. The union of Christlike work for the body and Christlike work for the soul is the true interpretation of the gospel.”[72]

Ellen White (?): “God has placed among us the poor, the unfortunate, the sick, and the suffering. They are Christ’s legacy to His church, and they are to be cared for as He would care for them. In this way God takes away the dross and purifies the gold, giving us that culture of heart and character which we need.”[73]

Ellen White (?): “In the great cities there are multitudes living in poverty and wretchedness, well-nigh destitute of food, shelter, and clothing; while in the same cities are those who have more than heart could wish, who live luxuriously, spending their money on richly furnished houses, on personal adornment, or worse still, upon the gratification of sensual appetites, upon liquor, tobacco, and other things that destroy the powers of the brain, unbalance the mind, and debase the soul. The cries of starving humanity are coming up before God, while by every species of oppression and extortion men are piling up colossal fortunes.”[74]

Ellen White (?): “Please read Isaiah 58…. This is the special work now before us. All our praying and abstinence from food will avail nothing unless we resolutely lay hold of this work…. The fast which God can accept is described. It is to deal thy bread to the hungry and to bring the poor which are cast out to thy house. Wait not for them to come to you.”[75]

NOTE: A sampling of Ellen White’s views on social ethics has been collected in Welfare Ministry (Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing, 1952).

Pacifism/Nonresistance/Conscientious Objection
While a few radical reformers did not advocate pacifism or nonresistance, most groups did reject the sword. Because I have only selected statements against the sword–which I believe represent the majority of the movement–it could be argued that I am smoothing over some measure of diversity of thought.

Early Adventism did not allow members to join the military, and two members were disfellowshiped for enlisting with the northern forces in the U.S. Civil War. Over time, however, this noncombatant stance has softened and is no longer a requirement of being a member in good standing. The Adventist material presented here reflects these earlier commitments. For more on Adventist history relating to military participation, see the list of resources I have posted on my blog or see the resources available on the Adventist Peace Fellowship website.

Conrad Grebel (1524): “Moreover, the gospel and its adherents are not to be protected by the sword, nor are they thus to protect themselves…. Neither do they use worldly sword or war, since all killing has ceased with them…”[76]

Michael Sattler (1527): “The sword is an ordering outside the perfection of Christ.”[77]

Hans Denck (1527): “No Christian, who wishes to boast in his Lord may use power to coerce and rule.”[78]

Jacob Hutter (1535): “Rather than wrong any man of a single penny, we would suffer the loss of a hundred gulden; and sooner than strike our enemy with the hand, much less the spear, or sword, or halbert, as the world does, we would die and surrender life. We carry no weapon, neither spear nor gun…”[79]

Menno Simons (1535): “All of you who would fight with the sword of David, and also be the servants of the Lord, consider these words, which show how a servant should be minded. If he is not to strive, and quarrel, how then can he fight? If he is to be gentle to all men, how can he then hate and harm them? If he is to be ready to learn, how can he lay aside the apostolic weapons? He will need them. If he is to instruct in meekness those that oppose, how can he destroy them?”[80]

Menno Simons (1539): “We teach and acknowledge no other sword, nor tumult in the kingdom or church of Christ than the sharp sword of the Spirit, God’s Word…. But the civil sword we leave to those to whom it is committed. Let everyone be careful lest he transgress in the matter of the sword, lest he perish with the sword. Mt. 26:52.”[81]

Peter Riedeman (1542): “Now if vengeance is God’s and not ours, it ought to be left to him and not practised or excercised by ourselves. For, since we are Christ’s disciples, we must show forth the nature of him who, though he could, indeed, have done so, repaid not evil with evil.” “[O]ne ought neither to avenge oneself nor to go to war, but rather offer his back to the strikers and his cheeks to them that pluck off the hair–that is, suffer with patience and wait upon God, who is righteous, and who will repay it.”[82]

Menno Simons (1552): “The Scriptures teach that there are two opposing princes and two opposing kingdoms: the one is the Prince of peace; the other the prince of strife. Each of these princes has his particular kingdom and as the prince is so is also the kingdom. The Prince of peace is Christ Jesus; his kingdom is the kingdom of peace, which is his church; his messengers are the messengers of peace; his Word is the word of peace; his body is the body of peace; his children are the seed of peace; and his inheritance and reward are the inheritance and reward of peace. In short, with this King, and in his kingdom and reign, it is nothing but peace…. O beloved reader, our weapons are not swords and spears, but patience, silence, and hope, and the Word of God.”[83]

Pilgram Marpeck (?): “With gentle patience, love, and truth He overcame evil with all goodness, love, faithfulness, truth, and mercy, and [for evil] returned passionate intercession for His enemies… This is the universally hallowed cross of Christ–and no cross of guilt–by which in the innocence of Christ all the followers of Christ overcome, and through which they have free access in and to God, provided their hearts do not accuse them in guilt.”[84]

NOTE: The Seventh-day Adventist Church formed in the northern United States during the U.S. Civil War. Ellen White admonished Adventists not to enter the Civil War even though she and most others supported the cause of the North. She also gave advice to those who would refuse military service entirely when drafter, even in the threat of capital punishment. Adventists did not turn a blind eye to the injustice of slavery. Before the Civil War broke out and before the church officially formed, White told Adventists to ignore the Fugitive Slave Act and instead support African-Americans who were escaping slavery.[85] The first leader of the newly formed Seventh-day Adventist Church, John Byington, used his farm as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Ellen White (~1860s). In regard to those who rejected military service when drafted: “Those who would be best prepared to sacrifice even life, if required, rather than place themselves in a position where they could not obey God, would have the least to say. They would make no boast. They would feel deeply and meditate much, and their earnest prayers would go up to heaven for wisdom to act and grace to endure. Those who feel that in the fear of God they cannot conscientiously engage in this war will be very quiet, and when interrogated will simply state what they are obliged to say in order to answer the inquirer, and then let it be understood that they have no sympathy with the Rebellion.”[86] “I was shown that God’s people, who are His peculiar treasure, cannot engage in this perplexing war, for it is opposed to every principle of their faith. In the army they cannot obey the truth and at the same time obey the requirements of their officers. There would be a continual violation of conscience. Worldly men are governed by worldly principles…. But God’s people cannot be governed by these motives.”[87]

Ellen White (1888): “Satan delights in war, for it excites the worst passions of the soul and then sweeps into eternity its victims steeped in vice and blood. It is his object to incite the nations to war against one another, for he can thus divert the minds of the people from the work of preparation to stand in the day of God.”[88]

Ellen White (1911): “Earthly kingdoms rule by the ascendancy of physical power; but from Christ’s kingdom every carnal weapon, every instrument of coercion, is banished. This kingdom is to uplift and ennoble humanity. God’s church is the court of holy life, filled with varied gifts and endowed with the Holy Spirit. The members are to find their happiness in the happiness of those whom they help and bless.”[89]

SDA General Conference (May 17, 1865): “While we thus cheerfully render to Caesar the things which the Scriptures show to be his, we are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed as being inconsistent with the duties enjoined upon us by our divine Master toward our enemies and toward all mankind.”[90]

Douglas Morgan (2007): “In summary, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, during its formative era, understood the ‘remnant’ vocation as a call to utter seriousness about the biblical mandates against taking human life and for loving one’s enemies. They believed that the prophetic witness to ‘the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ,’ for which their movement came into being, required their doing so when the overwhelming majority of Americans in the era of the Protestant empire would not. What their stand means for us is, of course, another matter. In any case, the Seventh-day Adventist Church began as a peace church.”[91]

Discussion Questions

  1. What similarities or differences between the groups stand out to you the most?
  2. Do you find the zeal for holiness to be encouraging or discouraging? How do you relate to this?
  3. What was your baptism like? How did you understand it theologically? Why did you choose to be baptized?
  4. Have you had a special experience in foot-washing that prepared you for the Communion, the Lord’s Supper?
  5. What role has the study or memorization of Scripture played in your spiritual development?
  6. How do you and your local congregation live out the call to be compassionate to those in need? When has service, generosity, hospitality or advocacy been especially meaningful to you?
  7. What do you think about pacifism or nonresistance today? How do you understand these words, and how do they relate to the teachings of Jesus?
  8. How can Christians promote peace and justice in society if they refuse violent methods?

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.

Featured Image Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons, Interior da Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar.

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[1] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 101.

[2] Ibid., 105.

[3] Ibid., 103.

[4] Ellen White, “Christ’s Method of Imparting Truth,” in Manuscript Releases, Vol. 21, No. 1531 (Washington D.C.: E. G. White Estate, 1993), 152.

[5] C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 33.

[6] Ibid., 51.

[7] Ibid., 138-139.

[8] Ibid., 47.

[9] Cornelius J. Dyck, ed., Spiritual Life in Anabaptism: Classic Devotional Resources (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995), 16.

[10] C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 41.

[11] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 64.

[12] Ibid., 67-68.

[13] Robert J. Wieland, The 1888 Message, 21.

[14] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1889), 515.

[15] Ellen White, Selected Messages: Book One, 365-366.

[16] Ellen White, Steps to Christ (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1892), 40/59-60.

[17] Ibid., 42, 47-48.

[18] Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1905), 176.

[19] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 162.

[20] Ibid., 164.

[21] Ibid., 165-166.

[22] Ibid., 166.

[23] Ibid., 168.

[24] Ibid., 170.

[25] Ibid., 187.

[26] Ibid., 181.

[27] Ibid., 182.

[28] Ibid., 184-185.

[29] Ellen White, Counsels for the Church (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1991), 295.

[30] Ellen White, Child Guidance (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing, 1954), 69.

[31] Ibid., 499.

[32] Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1911), 50.

[33] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 8 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 191.

[34] C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 104.

[35] Ibid., 105.

[36] Ibid., 107.

[37] Ellen White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, MD: Ministerial Association, 1995), 170.

[38] Ellen White, Counsels for the Church, 300.

[39] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 190. See also C. Arnold Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ, 108-110.

[40] Ibid., 193.

[41] Ibid., 195.

[42] Ibid., 196.

[43] Ibid., 199.

[44] Ibid., 208-209.

[45] Ellen White, Counsels for the Church, 298.

[46] Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, 659.

[47] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 355.

[48] Ibid., 363.

[49] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 111.

[50] Ibid., 113.

[51] Ibid., 116.

[52] Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 310.

[53] Ibid., 69.

[54] Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 470.

[55] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 140.

[56] Cornelius J. Dyck, ed., Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, 14.

[57] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 88.

[58] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 149-150.

[59] Ibid., 151.

[60] Ellen White, “The Value of Bible Study,” The Review and Herald (July 17, 1888).

[61] Ellen White, A Call to Stand Apart (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002), 47.

[62] Ellen White, Child Guidance, 513.

[63] Ellen White, Counsels for the Church, 87.

[64] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 151.

[65] Ibid., 241.

[66] Ibid., 233.

[67] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 245.

[68] Menno Simons, Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539).

[69] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 245.

[70] Ellen White, Welfare Ministry (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald, 1952), 15.

[71] Ibid., 23-24.

[72] Ibid., 32-33.

[73] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, 261.

[74] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, 12.

[75] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2, 33-35.

[76] Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, 267.

[77] Ibid., 268.

[78] Ibid., 270.

[79] Ibid., 275.

[80] Ibid., 275.

[81] Ibid., 276.

[82] Ibid., 277-278.

[83] Ibid., 280.

[84] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 190.


[86]Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, 357.

[87] Ibid., Vol. 1, 361.

[88] Ellen White, The Great Controversy (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1888), 589.

[89] Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, 12.

[90] Douglas Morgan, “The Beginnings of a Peace Church: Eschatology, Ethics, and Expedience in Seventh-day Adventist Responses to the Civil War,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 45, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 36.

[91] Ibid., 43.