The course of the Anabaptist was so swift, that their doctrines soon overspread the whole land and they obtained much following, baptized thousands and drew many good hearts to them; for they taught, as it seemed, naught but love, faith and endurance, showing themselves in much
tribulation patient and humble. They brake bread with one another as a sign of the oneness and love, helped one another as a sign of oneness and love, helped one another truly with precept, lending, borrowing, giving; taught that all things should be in common and called each other ‘Brother.’ They increased so suddenly that the world did fear a tumult for reason of them. Though of this, as I hear, they have in all places been found innocent. They are persecuted in many parts with great tyranny, cast into bonds and tormented, with burning, with sword, with fire, with water, and with much imprisonment, so that in few years in many places a multitude of them have been undone, as is reported to the number of two thousand, who in divers places have been killed….they suffer as martyrs with patience and steadfastness (Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists, 28).
It is my desire in the closing segments of my contribution to this series to address an issue that is controversial in nature. That subject being Christian separatism. When the average person that shows interests in Anabaptistica surveys the writings and beliefs of the Swiss Brethren they will pause at article IV of the Schleitheim Confession and immediately find some difference of opinion with it’s content. It reads:
We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God, therefore nothing else can or really will grow or spring forth from them than abominable things. Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other.
To us, then, the commandment of the Lord is also obvious, whereby He orders us to be and to become separated from the evil one, and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.
Further, He admonishes us therefore to go out from Babylon and from the earthly Egypt, that we may not be partakers in their torment and suffering, which the Lord will bring upon them.
From all this we should learn that everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.
Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: “you shall not resist evil. (more…)
From its establishment, the Swiss Brethren separated themselves from Roman Catholics and Protestants. Their existential form of Christianity was something that the religious community as well as the general public could not fathom. While some aspects paralleled that of the Reformers concerning belief in other areas it was quite disturbing because of their otherness to outsiders.
The means in which they achieved their doctrinal and applied otherness was nothing new in and of itself. “They had come to their convictions like most other Protestants—through Scripture. Luther had taught that common people have a right to search the Bible for themselves” (Shelley 248). They reasoned if Luther arrived at his biblical and theological conclusions through a search of scripture there was nothing preventing them from doing the same. They began to gather and probe the Bible thoroughly trying their best not to let preconceived notions prevent them from discovering what the genuine will of God was for not just them but for every believer.
When venturing on their journey through Sacred Scripture the Swiss Brethren “discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament. They found no state-church alliance, no Christendom. Instead they discovered that the apostolic churches were companies of committed believers, communities of men and women who had freely and personally chosen to follow Jesus. And for the sixteenth century, that was a revolutionary idea” (Ibid. 248-9).
These men and women did not seek Reformation for the Anabaptists saw the futility in trying to reform something that was beyond correction or change.
Their goal was the “restitution” of apostolic Christianity, a return to churches of true believers. In the early church, they said, men and women who had experienced personal spiritual regeneration were the only fit subjects for baptism. The apostolic churches knew nothing of the practice of baptizing infants. That tradition was simply a convenient device for perpetuating Christendom, nominal but spiritually impotent society (Ibid. 249).
They considered the undisputable church was a community made of disciples that was pursuing holiness and embraced the reality that they were called out by God and set aside for His purpose. The Anabaptists desired to influence the world by their example of “radical discipleship” even if doing so meant martyrdom.
In due course, the group codified their beliefs in order to differentiate themselves from other groups that held to the Anabaptist designation. On February 24, 1527, a conference was held at Schleitheim (Switzerland) and the Swiss Anabaptists adopted unanimously what is known as the Schleitheim Articles or Confession. Originally, it was termed the Brüderlich Vereinigung etzlicher Kinder Gottes sieben Artikel betreffend when translated the Brotherly Union of a Number of Children of God Concerning Seven Articles with Michael Sattler presiding. These articles contained seven points that was eventually dispatched to the Swiss and South German Anabaptist collectives in the form of an epistle. The seven principles addressed the following topics: (more…)
This multi-part post is the second in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.
In this prefatory portion as a substitute for addressing each notable member of the group that is presently known as the Swiss Brethren, I will address the assembly as a whole for to do otherwise would exhaust the allotted time for this entire series of presentations. Each of those member were vivid distinctive characters that laid the foundation of a movement that no only altered the Ecclesiastical world but ironically impacted the country that epitomizes the empire they challenged via their indefatigable ministry.
In the beginning during their tenure in Zollikon and St. Gallen they went by the designation “Brothers in Christ”, it was not until later they became known as the “Swiss Brethren”. Their antagonists “both Protestant and Roman Catholic, used the label Anabaptist (“rebaptized”) for the radical reformers because they baptized adults who had already been baptized as infants” (Kraybill 10). However, as mentioned formerly from “the beginning in Zollikon and St Gallen they referred to themselves as “brothers in Christ.” Later, from some time in the 1540s, they were called the “Swiss Brethren,” the name being coined by two other Anabaptist groups that wanted to maintain an identity distinct from them – the Hutterites and the Marpeck brotherhood” (Ibid.).
History acknowledges the Brothers in Christ (hereafter Swiss Brethren) as the principal Anabaptists that engaged in the first disciples’ baptism of the movement “in Zurich in January 1525 in an effort to create immediately a complete, uncompromising and uncompromised reformed Church” (Stayer 95). The small group consisted of Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel, and George Blaurock among other like-minded believers. They severed ties from the Magisterial Reformer Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli for the reason that they felt reforms was not progressing in an expeditious fashion.
As mentioned I did some research on the issue of whether the SBC or Baptists in general were Anabaptists or had any historical connection with them. The following is what I uncovered on the matter.
Years ago, when I started investigating Anabaptistica the Anabaptists were still the pariahs of the Reformation. Church History texts relegated them to the inquisitional dungeons of Christendom in the form of an obscure sentence or paragraph generally accompanied by the terms “heretic” or “aberrant”. Now everyone appears to taking on the Anabaptist moniker as mentioned previously principally the Baptists.
Not too long ago Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary held the Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists Conference in which the speakers praised Anabaptism and they passionately made the claim that contemporary Baptists were descended from this group.
However, many scholars find very little connection between the two groups in any significant sense. Contemporary Baptists originated from two streams or individuals namely John Smyth (c. 1565 – 1612) and Thomas Helwys (c. 1570 – c. 1615) around the 17th century.
Just because the designation Anabaptist has “baptist” in it that does not signify that, they are associated or originated with Anabaptists. There is not definitive relationship to the “Anabaptists” but the Waterlander Mennonites briefly influenced John Smyth whereas Helwys (Smyth successor of sorts) had reservations about the Mennonites specifically their Christology thus he severed bonds with the group.
I am sure that many here and elsewhere are overjoyed with the popularity surge that Anabaptism is receiving of late, especially those that stem from Mennonite origins, since it has given them a means to experience more of the glare of publicity.
Some most likely think that this is a good thing, after all others are becoming familiar with that legendary group. Yet I feel that people need to be concerned, particularly when individuals are using Anabaptism for a denominational agenda?
In a blog-post entitled An Anabaptist Infatuation Amongst Some Southern Baptists by Joshua Breland he writes:
There has been an increase of blogging recently regarding how great and wonderful the Anabaptists were/are and how much we modern day Southern Baptists owe to the so called “radical reformers.” Often the Anabaptist “hoorahs” are joined with condemnatory remarks about the evil and oppressive magisterial Calvinist reformers.
The author adds in his opinion, “The narrative seems to be, “anyone but the Calvinist magisterial reformers.”
As of late the Southern Baptist Convention is in a state of fragmentation with the influx of Reformed theology specifically Calvinism or the self-styled “Doctrines of Grace”. It is apparent that the SBC is seeking some sort of Arminian Reformation era link in the same fashion that the Reformed churches call back to John Calvin as their theological forebear.
I just wonder if once all the contention between the Calvinists and Arminians over in the SBC has concluded will the Anabaptists be as popular and will their reputation remain intact. I am going to look into this matter a little more and make a follow up post later.
The original Anabaptists’ intention was to attend to their Lord and their God’s will in a manner that was satisfying. However, there was an accompanying goal that is seamlessly interconnected with the initial one. This objective was to reconstitute the ekklesia in the pattern of the archetypical first century apostolic assembly. To reconstitute something is “to constitute again or anew; especially…to restore to a former condition” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. According to The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology the Anabaptists “saw the church as “fallen” and therefore beyond mere reform, and called for its reconstitution along New Testament lines” (70).
Roger Olson goes into greater detail regarding this objective in The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform when he explains that the Anabaptists were more protestant than Protestants in the sense that the Anabaptists:
“protested what they saw as halfway measures taken by Luther and the other magisterial Reformers in purifying the church of Roman Catholic elements. Their ideal was to restore the New Testament church as a persecuted remnant as it was in the Roman Empire before Constantine. To them, the magisterial Reformers were all stuck in Constantinianism and Augustinianism. These were the two main diseases of medieval Christianity that the radical Reformers wished to eradicate from their own independent and autonomous congregations, if not from Christianity itself” (415).
The Protestant Reformers desired to reform the Church, according to the above-mentioned dictionary to reform means “to put or change into an improved form or condition”. It also means, “to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses” and finally “to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action”.
I am a fan of Greg Boyd’s books and sermons; I really appreciate his stand against Christendom or Constantinianism. Moreover, I value how he is one of the godfathers of contemporary Open Theism since I am an Open Theist as well. However, I recently heard a sermon entitled “We The Church” where his reasoning falls noticeably short. It appears that he forgoes thinking and looking at the matter all the way through because his criticism of others in this area could very well apply to himself. Let me explain the matter fully before continuing with the main point that I want to make.
In the sermon, he relates to his listeners how Woodland Hills Church identifies itself with Anabaptism. He provides a short history lesson on Anabaptistica and he focuses on the nature of the universal Ekklesia from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Eventually he addresses how post-first century Christianity in due course allowed the world to squeeze it “into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips). Resulting in the aligned Constantinian Ekklesia to become analogs of Roman and Grecian worshippers of pagan gods even adopting elaborate temples to worship their god, in other words they started to build elaborate cathedrals. Boyd goes on to admit that the Anabaptists met in homes to worship and that they viewed “the people as the Church” or God’s temple in place of a building in the same fashion as the first-century Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Now we come to the problem, Woodland Hills is a 2,500-member church; technically this church would be qualified as a megachurch. A 2,000 + capacity facility hardly qualifies as someone’s living room. A megachurch is not someone’s home; it is a few marble statues or one ostentatious mural away from being called a cathedral. Just because you are not a member of some form of the Catholic Church that does not give you, a free pass if you know the truth of the matter.
I am a new contributor here and I thought I would take this time to introduce myself and provide a little background information regarding myself and my journey towards Anabaptism.
I have questioned things all of my life, because of my inquisitive nature especially in the area of Christianity and religion I became an atheist at an early age. The reason for this was that I scrutinized the actions of my family. I saw how their behavior was not consistent with the Missionary Baptist faith they professed. During my late teens, I experienced some mood-associated disturbances that eventually led me down the path of faith.
While on this trek, I stopped off for the night at many spiritual inns as it where, I encountered numerous faiths and many Christian related groups. I learned a lot in the process, at one particular spot I was introduced to the Swiss Brethren/Anabaptists. Even though it was a brief encounter, there was something about the ancient group that fascinated me.
Soon after I attempted to look more into these Anabaptists but all I could find at the most was short remarks about them in Church History texts (blink and you’ll miss it). This earnestly irritated me so I went and checked the internet and I found a plethora of information. Shortly after I began to attend Bible College at a school intimately associated with a renowned Southern Conservative evangelical theological seminary.
In the beginning, everything was fine, things even got to the point where I was receiving all sorts of assurances that I would obtain an adjunct position once I entered graduate school. However, at this time I was also delving deeper into the Anabaptist belief system, which led me to question publicly in class certain things I was taught there at the College. As a result, my “friends list” of professors became shorter and shorter. The final straw for them was when I completed my studies and started applying for graduate schools. All the professors that continued to associate with me desired for me to attend the seminary that the College was associated with but by this time, I was too far-gone. I chose a Quaker Divinity School in the area since it was the closest to an Anabaptist institution I could find.
All the promises of a teaching position went out of the window. According to some, they could not have me because those “heretics that only got baptism right” too heavily influenced me. My thinking was “okay well now I know where I belong”. I then looked into the Mennonite Church since they were supposed to be the descendants of the original Anabaptists but what I saw was completely different from the group I read about in practice and doctrine. This was a good thing because I really did not intend to join a Protestant mainline Church because that is what the present-day Mennonite Church resembles to me, at least the ones I have seen.
Presently I am 34 and trying to figure it all out, I am endeavoring to get to the “root” (radix) of Christianity. I hold to the core convictions of Anabaptism (I know this is heavily debated but at least the ones I see as the central ones). Along the way, I have embraced theologies and practices that I think complements or improve upon those principles and teachings of my spiritual predecessors. These teachings have labeled me as an outcast as well but so be it. Since I do not have any links to the Mennonite Church through blood or even membership, I feel that I am a Neo-Anabaptist and I take it as a privilege that I have the ability to contribute to this fine group.