Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category
Review by Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The writings of Swiss Brethren Anabaptists have been thus far underrepresented in English translation, compared to Hutterites and Dutch Mennonites. Post-Schleitheim Swiss Brethren history is little discussed – particularly in popular-level treatments. The perception may easily be formed that Swiss Brethren did not produce much literature or do much doctrinal thinking after the first generation.
This volume seeks to correct this perception and the deficit in English translations. Presenting well over 500 pages of translated documents, it helps round out our understanding of Swiss Anabaptism following the Schleitheim Confession and to the border of the seventeenth century. Study of these documents reveals how Swiss Anabaptist thought grew and developed, and how they preserved, used, and adapted earlier works (such as the Schleitheim Confession and the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier) to fill later needs.
The core of this new volume is the translation of Codex 628, composed mainly of a work titled A Short, Simple Confession. This work was written in response to the published minutes of the Frankenthal Disputation (1571) between Anabaptists and Reformed theologians. Some Swiss Anabaptists felt that a more compelling case could be made for the Anabaptist position on the thirteen points which had been discussed. Utilizing earlier writings, such as the Schleitheim Confession and the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, the anonymous editor put together a compelling apologetic for the Anabaptist views on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Christians in the government, etc., including an extensive discussion of the relationship of the Old and New Covenants. The Simple Confession is followed in the codex by an expanded version of an earlier Swiss Brethren writing, Concerning Separation, which explains why the Anabaptists separated from the Reformed state church.
This book would be a valuable contribution to English-language Anabaptist writings if it only included the translation of Codex 628; but thankfully, it presents many additional gems, several of them previously untranslated. These include Wilhelm Reublin’s Confession of Faith, coauthored with Jakob Kautz; Zylis and Lemke’s letter to Menno Simons; a book on excommunication; and the prefaces to three Swiss Brethren hymnals, including (translated for the first time) the preface of the Ausbund. For those interested in Anabaptist hymnody, these three translations and the introductory essay on the origins of the Ausbund are worth the price of the book.
This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in Anabaptist history and theology. It would be hard to overstate its importance to the study of Anabaptism in general and the Swiss Brethren in particular.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Philip of Hesse was an unusual man for his time. While most governments – Protestant and Catholic alike – were violently persecuting the Anabaptists, he took a milder approach, believing that they could be convinced to rejoin the state church by discussion and softer measures.
Among the reformers, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg were the friendliest to such an approach, and in 1538, when Philip wanted to make an attempt to reunite the local Anabaptists with the Lutheran state church, he invited Martin Bucer to come debate with them.
Several local Anabaptists had been arrested and imprisoned, and Philip needed help to persuade them to recant. Martin Bucer had earlier complained of his inability to persuade Anabaptists to rejoin the state church, but he nevertheless accepted Philip’s invitation and came to Hesse. From October 30 to November 3, 1538, Martin Bucer debated with several Anabaptists in the city of Marburg in Hesse, where they were imprisoned. The subjects discussed included several very familiar ones which frequently came up in discussions between Protestants and Anabaptists – church discipline, baptism, the government, separation from the state church, etc. However, in this particular disputation, there were a few surprises.
On the Anabaptist side, there were two main speakers for the debate – Jörg Schnabel and Leonhard Fälber. Schnabel discussed several topics with Bucer, although the main topic between the two was whether the Anabaptists were justified in separating from the state church. Similarly for Fälber, the main topic of discussion between him and Bucer was the validity of the calling of the Protestant preachers.
Why are you Separate?
After the opening formalities, the first question asked of Jörg Schnabel was “why they had separated themselves from our [Lutheran] church.” The record says “His answer came back, that he was repelled by false doctrine.”
Jörg then proceeded to give his testimony of how he left the Lutheran church. After reading the Bible, he realized that usury was wrong, and also came to realize the importance of church discipline. So he went to his pastor and explained his concerns, and his pastor “conceded that things were ill in the church; he would do his duty, and he, Jorg, was answerable before God that he also look to the matter.” Notwithstanding his assurance that he “would do his duty,” the pastor let the issue drop and did nothing. When Jörg mentioned something to the pastor the second time, he received a colder reply with no apparent interest in changing the abuses in the church. So, Jörg concluded, “he declared to pastor, mayor and town council that he wished to separate from them.” Following this, his pastor told the authorities that Jörg “wanted to overthrow kings and punish all evil with the sword” – which was not true. So Jörg had been arrested.
Bucer and Schnabel then went back and forth, arguing the point – were the Anabaptists justified in separating from the state church? Much of the discussion focused on usury and church discipline, since in Schnabel’s mind, these were the two most important issues leading to the Anabaptists’ separation from the Lutherans.
Unfortunately, neither of the two seemed to realize that the whole discussion was pointless, since separation was not the root of their disagreement. Rather, the root of their disagreement lay in their differing definitions of the church. If the two could have openly discussed the nature of the church, they would have understood each other’s positions regarding separation better, and would have been better equipped to critique their respective opponents. As it was, the differing definitions were stated more than once, but the nature of the church was never discussed in its own right.
Bucer twice defined the church during the debate:
Wherever there is a church which gladly hears God’s Word, that is a Christian church.
To this, Jörg replied that
if it were the church of Christ then it would have gone ahead with such an understanding; since it hasn’t done it, it is no believing church and he won’t accept it unless he is convinced by the Bible itself.
In other words, the true church of Christ would have obeyed God’s Word. Jörg further said:
A church would not be condemned which is organized according to the true order of Holy Scripture, namely, with repentance, faith, baptism, doctrine, the laying on of hands, even if it has inadequacies.
On the second day of the debate, Bucer directly asked Jörg “if he conceded it to be a church where they believe in the Word of God.” Jörg replied, “those who commit themselves to the truth and stand obediently in Christ, them he respects as a church.” Bucer contradicted him: “Where teaching is Christian, there is a church.”
Ultimately, the Anabaptists could not be reconciled with Bucer’s state church because the two had irreconcilable views of what the church was. These different views were the foundation of the entire discussion on why the Anabaptists had separated themselves from the state church. The two views stayed behind the scenes in this particular debate, although each view visibly undergirded each party’s approach to the question of separation, and each side did, more than once, clearly define the church in the debate.
To Bucer, the church was the territorial church, and a church was defined or known by its doctrine. He defined the church as the place where the Word was truly preached. The Anabaptist defined the church as that body of people which is obedient to the Word of God.
A True Christian Pastor
After Jörg’s examination was over, Leonhard Fälber was interviewed. When he came to the witness stand, “First he asked Mr. Butzer from whence came his calling to preach according to the rule of Christ.”
This is a surprise! The early Anabaptists were constantly being challenged by the Protestants as to the validity of the calling of their ministers. They were continually challenged to prove that their ministers had been legitimately called and ordained. This is a new twist – in this debate, the Anabaptist turned the tables on the state church, and asked Bucer to prove his own calling! Leonhard added further, “But he [Bucer] hasn’t thereby sufficient evidence as to who sent them.”
Bucer was probably quite unprepared for this line of questioning, and gave some vague answers. Leonhard pressed his point: “When I see you come with such signs as Christ commanded of them [ministers], namely that they should be born again, joined to Christ with the death of sins, then I will believe in you.”
Bucer rejoined that the Lutherans did not allow anyone to be a preacher who was not “at one with Christ,” to which Leonhard answered by quoting John 3:7 and stating, “Now I know none [no Protestant minister] who has been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life; I find that they take the opposite position, do not gather with Christ but rather scatter.”
As with the discussion on separation, the discussion of the calling of the preachers was based on another, deeper disagreement – namely, the definition of a Christian. Bucer defined a Christian: “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians even though they haven’t renewed the baptism.” In other words, even though they have not obeyed all of the teachings of the Word of God, they must be acknowledged as Christians based on their oral confession. Leonhard gave a stinging answer to this:
I feel that you don’t have a living word for which God sent his beloved Son to us; you have a dead word, as evidenced by your fellowship, else you would draw away from the evil.
That is, a true preacher will be known by the fruits of his followers. The Protestant ministers’ congregations were not populated by people who had “been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life” – rather, evil abounded! Thus, the Protestant ministers, in Leonhard’s view, did not have a life-giving word from God, but rather a dead word. When Bucer counter-challenged Leonhard, asking if the Anabaptist ministers “had an act or a living word,” Leonhard responded:
They have a living word that can bring the people from evil to good and totally renew them.
Amen! Drawing people away from evil to good through a total renewal and regeneration of life is the duty of a true preacher of God. Because the Anabaptists saw this truth, and because they knew what a true Christian was, they were able to establish truly holy churches while the Protestant churches sank lower and lower in sin. Why did the Protestant churches degenerate in this way? Remember what Bucer said – “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians”. Confession of faith was all that was necessary to be recognized by them as a true Christian.
This delightful discussion contains a good challenge for us today. How is it for us? How do we define the church? Is it the place where the Word is rightly preached and the sacrament rightly administered – regardless of how the people live, or whether they know God? Or is the church the body of people gathered to obey God’s Word?
What is a Christian? Is it someone who “confesses the faith” with his mouth, who may or may not be living a holy life? Or is it someone who has been drawn from evil to good, and been totally renewed by Christ?
Are we Protestants, or are we Anabaptists?
 Although Bucer did approve of some forms of persecution.
 Translation of the debate minutes in Franklin H. Littell, “What Butzer Debated with the Anabaptists at Marburg: A Document of 1538,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 36(3) (July 1962):256-276. All quotations from the debate in this article are from this translation.
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By Mike Atnip
“Daniel,” I told my 14-year-old son, “it is supposed to be very cold over the weekend. Fill the firewood in the back room up to the windows so we don’t run out when it is cold.”
Since Daniel was feeling cold and a bit sluggish, as boys do sometimes at chore time, he wasn’t exactly excited about my plan. But he eventually made his way to the wood pile and began his task. Not too long afterwards, I made a trip to the back room for some wood to fill the stove. Daniel was finishing up…or at least he thought so.
“Daniel, that’s not near enough wood, you need to fill it up.”
“But I filled it up to the window,” he replied.
I laughed. “That’s what you call legalism! Go fill it up right.”
Yes, he had stacked the wood up to the windows, in a neat stack one piece wide. He had to smile himself, I think. He returned to the woodpile and I went for the camera to record a perfect example of legalism.
Now, before you dump this paper in the trash, thinking I am about to call discipleship “legalism,” hang on a minute. Heartfelt obedience is not legalism. However, heartless obedience is legalism. Daniel obeyed my command to fill the wood to the windows…legally. But his heartless obedience missed the whole point. Legalism can be defined as “trying to get by with as little as is legally possible.” It’s like my aunt, who proclaimed that police do not stop people until they are going at least five miles per hour over the posted speed limit. She wanted to be legal, so she would set her cruise control at 59 miles per hour, in a 55 mile per hour speed zone. She was a legalist to the core, trying to get by with as much as she could and still be “legal.”
Well, legalism runs in the family, in fact the whole human family. I have been guilty of it too many times myself. For example, when we moved to Bolivia, South America, in January of 2000, we knew that it was illegal to import guns into Bolivia. We wanted to take a .22 rifle along to do some hunting, since we planned to live in the country and get some wild game for meat. But, we also knew that it was not illegal to import gun parts into Bolivia. So, we took the rifle apart, and I took some gun parts into Bolivia, and another family took some gun parts. Lo and behold, when we got into Bolivia, we found we had enough parts to make a whole gun!
Legal? Yes. Legalism? To the core! While we obeyed the laws of Bolivia, we missed the point and made ourselves into hardcore legalists.
So how does this fit into the story of Anabaptist history? Christianity was introduced to our pagan Swiss forefathers by dedicated missionaries who lived simple lives, unfettered by a love of money and fame. Those missionaries lived and taught a simple, faithful obedience to Jesus.
But remember how I said above that legalism runs in the human family? As time went on, legalism towards the teachings of Jesus began to infect the descendants of the original Christians in the Swiss territories. Instead of fully surrendering in Gelassenheit (yieldedness) to King Jesus, and obeying His teachings, people began to look for loopholes. As more people squeezed through the loopholes, the holes were made larger so they could be passed without any effort. Finally, the holes were turned into large gates through which everybody passed through without even realizing that they were never intended to be passageways.
For example, from Jesus’ teaching about nonresistance, people began to say that revenge was fine as long as it was done “justly.” You can kill someone in self-defense, as long as you love the person while you hacked his head off with a sword. From there, it was broadened into outright warfare, as long as you were doing it in the name of Jesus. By this means, you could join a crusade to take back the Holy Lands. In fact, you could even get an indulgence for all your sins if you joined these crusades!
Strange, isn’t it, how a little loophole becomes a gate to the broad way? But that is exactly what happened in the centuries after Beatus and Gallus preached to our Swiss forefathers. And it was this very spirit of legalism, a.k.a. compromise, which the Anabaptists stood up to.
P.S. Daniel did a good job filling up the firewood. He has filled the room previously, on several occasions, to the windows and even beyond. Like all boys and a lot of men, he just had a spell of legalism that day.
To be redeemed means to be rescued. Redemption is often spoken of in terms of a hostage. When the hostage is set free he is said to be redeemed, whether that redemption came by paying a ransom in money or by someone of superior strength simply liberating the hostage by force.
In this article we are not going to redeem a person, but rather a precious doctrine and Christian experience, from those who have taken it hostage and are forcing it to say and do things that it was never intended to say and do. We are speaking of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and its captor, Pentecostalism.
The mere mention of the baptism of the Holy Ghost sets some people into jitters. They have seen and heard so much commotion and unbiblical practice associated with the Holy Spirit that they automatically get suspicious just hearing the phrase “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” We understand that concern and have felt some of that same jitteriness. But at the same time, we must not react and throw out either the doctrine or the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We simply need to rescue it from those who have mangled it so badly that it is hardly recognizable. Like Abraham who rose to the occasion and redeemed his nephew Lot from Amraphel and his three sidekicks (Ge. 14), may we rise up and rescue this precious truth and experience from those who have taken it captive.
In the recent issues of The Heartbeat of the Remnant we have focused pretty heavily on the kingdom of God and the neglect of the kingdom teachings in today’s “gospel.” The salvation aspect of the kingdom has been separated from the kingdom itself, and a “gospel” has been made out of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. This is a false gospel, because it almost totally neglects the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of God. In the same way, some have taken the biblical teachings about the baptism of the Holy Ghost and separated it from the kingdom teachings. In reaction, it is possible to just toss completely the doctrine and experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Rather than react, we want to act and rescue this much-twisted teaching and experience from perversions.
Let God be true and every man a liar. We will use extensive quotes from early Anabaptism in this article. The Anabaptists spoke more about the work and power of the Holy Spirit than any other Reformation-era group. Pilgram Marpeck, for example, seems to mention the Holy Spirit on an average of about once per page in his writings. Yet, he was not even remotely a “Pentecostal.” We use these quotes not because they are Anabaptists and we are trying to be like the early Anabaptists, but rather because they reflect a biblical view of the work and experience of the Holy Spirit among God’s people.
In 1527, in the very earliest days of the Anabaptist revival, some Anabaptists told the Zurich council, “[Believers are those] who have died to the will of the flesh and are now walking in the will of the Spirit, with the fruit of the Spirit.” Amen! ~The problem and the promise
The problem is quite simple to define: sin. When man willfully and knowingly disobeys God, God has to leave. God and sin cannot coexist in the same place.
So what do we do to remedy our situation? By nature we are all born corrupted, that is, with a self-centeredness that is contrary to the nature of God. This self-centeredness causes us to sin, to do actions that are contrary to God’s will. But beyond these actions is the problem of human nature: the very nature of man and the nature of God cannot mix. So how do you reunite man and God?
In an effort to get man to see his sin, God gave Moses a set of laws. These laws gave a basic—but incomplete—framework of what God had declared as the right way for man to live. These laws even became known as “God’s righteousness” to those who held to them.
So now man knew—in a provisional form—what God expected of them. The “schoolmaster” was given to teach them these things. But a problem still existed. These laws had provisions for forgiveness of sins, but not for the restoration of the life of God within man. In other words, there were no ceremonies or sacrifices given in the Mosaic Law where the final result (upon doing them) would be the infilling of God’s Spirit back into the human heart. There was not a ceremony of which the end result was that God said, “When you do this ceremony just right, I will pour My Spirit back into you.” Paul wrote to the Galatians:
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
There was simply no law given, no sacrifice or ceremony available, which could fill a man with the Holy Spirit. That was the weakness of the Mosaic Law, and that was why it had to be replaced by something better.
In the Old Testament, only the prophets and a few select other people are ever spoken of as being full of the Spirit. But there were promises given of a time when the Spirit of God would be poured out on every believer. Let’s look at some of them briefly, in the order they appear in our Bibles.Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. Ps. 104:30 This verse’s context is of the creatures in the sea. But the part we want to focus on is how that the sending of the Spirit of God “creates.” The last Adam is called a “quickening spirit.” 1 Co. 15:45 The word quickening is old English for life-giving or life-imparting. This verse references the fact that the Messiah would impart life through His Spirit. Of course, He would not be doing it to the fishes in the sea, but to men dead in trespasses and sins. “And you hath he quickened …” Ep 2:1 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. Is. 4:4-5 We find in Isaiah 4 some promises for the gospel day. We find cleansing and purging “by the spirit of judgment … and of burning.” Then we find the promise of comfort and guidance. When the Messiah came, it was prophesied by John the Baptist that Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” as well as Jesus himself promising to send His Spirit to guide and comfort His people. Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Is. 32:15 The context of this verse is an outpouring upon God’s people that would bring about a change from barrenness and desolation to a fruitful and abundant life … when “the spirit be poured upon us from on high.” And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ez. 11:18-20 The context is a restoration of God’s people. We find a promise of cleansing, of unity, of a new spirit, and of a new heart. This would have to be a supernatural work of God, since a man cannot give himself a new spirit. The end result of this change of spirit/heart would be that the recipients would be obedient to God, and reunited with Him. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. Ez. 36:26-28 It is hard to know where to stop quoting in this section of Scriptures! Such rich promises! But to keep the article short we will only quote these two verses. We again see the promise of a new heart, a soft heart. We also find God motivating (causing) the recipients to obedience. And again we see a reunification between God and man. And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD. Ez 37:14 The context (which we will not print here for the sake of space) is a rebirth or resurrection of a bunch of old, dry bones. The powerful promise is that “ye shall live,” and the quickening (life-giving) force is “my spirit.” Again we see the Spirit of God imparting new life. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28-29 These verses are the most quoted in reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The important point is the words “all flesh.” As mentioned earlier, before the coming of the Messiah only a few select prophets and other individuals were given the Spirit of God. With the coming of the Messiah, the ability to be baptized with that Spirit was opened to “all”; even lowly-valued slaves could be recipients. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Ze. 4:6 The promise connected with this verse is the context of two olive trees which (as we learn later in Revelation) had a direct connection to the lamps. In other words, the lamps had a direct pipeline direct from the olive trees, a never-ending supply of oil straight from the source. This would be the power supply, so to speak, for the candlestick. The “energy” would be from God, not from man’s own abilities and efforts.
From these prophetic utterances we get a glimpse of the working and power of the Spirit of God. The Law also spoke in shadows of the Spirit, most clearly in the “anointing oil.” For this present study, however, we will skip over these types (for the sake of space) and move right into the time of the promise of the outpouring.Holy Ghost and fire
John could not have said it any plainer. He baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize His converts with something more powerful than water: the Holy Spirit and fire. I am sure that puzzled the hearers of those words when they heard them. Baptized with fire?
On the day of Pentecost it happened. Physical tongues of fire sat upon the first recipients of the above-mentioned promises. But something happened deeper than the physical flames. A fire of divine love was lit within them, purging out the old self-centeredness. Water can only wash off exterior filth; fire purifies the actual elements themselves. Wash a silver spoon in water and the food bits come off. Throw the same spoon in a fire and the impurities come out of the silver. In the same way, when a man was baptized with John’s baptism, he could have his sins remitted. But baptize that same man with the Holy Ghost and his sins would be burned out of his heart.
By saying He would baptize with fire, Jesus was using the illustration of the interior cleansing that the Spirit of God would work in a man. Of course, in the very initial outpouring a physical flame was also seen, but that was only a sign or symbol of the invisible flame kindled in the spirit of man. Those physical flames were not necessary to accomplish the interior cleansing, and very, very rarely (if ever) have been seen again since the first outpouring.A second birth
But not only did the Messiah call it being baptized with the Holy Ghost, He spoke of being born of the Spirit. When a leading Jew came to him by night to check Him out, Jesus started talking about being born of the Spirit. He told Nicodemus that unless one was rebirthed, one could not enter His kingdom. When Nicodemus showed obvious confusion, Jesus explained that man’s spirit had to be born of God’s Spirit. In other words, there had to be a renovation on the inside before a man could enter the kingdom. Jesus also explained that although one cannot actually see the Spirit, one could see the results of His work … just like the blowing of the wind. This teaching was not just a parable; the new birth was an actual, but unseen, spiritual birth experience that was just as real as a physical birth.
Jesus then moved right into talking about having eternal life. One thing to remember here is that the name Jehovah is not found in the New Testament. But it actually is there … because Jehovah means “always existent.” When Jesus spoke of giving eternal life, He was speaking of giving Jehovah Himself, the “Eternally-Living.” Whoever would believe on Jesus would receive that Always-Existent Life as a free gift.
It is here that much of modern theology falls short. Too often people read Jesus as saying, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have forgiveness. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have forgiveness.”
Not so! Jesus came “that they might have life; and that they might have it more abundantly!” Jn. 10:10 (Note again that it doesn’t say forgiveness.) While forgiveness is needed and included in the gospel, we need to remind ourselves that being forgiven and being given the Always-Existent Life are not synonymous: being given Eternally-Existent Life goes way beyond a mere forgiveness. And that life is the Spirit of God, Jehovah himself, coming into man’s heart to dwell there. This was something the Mosaic Law had no provision for. Forgiveness could be obtained under the Law, but not a restoration of the life of God within the human spirit. What a difference! God and man so reconciled that God actually moves into, and becomes reunited with, the spirit of man!This is that!
Then it happened. Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem until a supernatural power would be poured into them. They waited, praying. Suddenly that “wind” blew and the promises of the Father—which we looked at earlier in this article—were fulfilled. The stony hearts were taken away, and soft, new ones given. A supernatural love was shed abroad in their hearts. There was meekness and brokenness, but at the same time a great boldness. This was Eternal Life! This was a spiritual resurrection! This was a rebirth of their inner man, something they could never have worked up in their own strength. This was the grace of God!
And, of course, on that occasion there were special gifts given also, among them the ability to speak in languages they had never known before. And they could not but help to speak about “the wonderful works of God.” There were, on that occasion, also visible flames sitting above their heads. But these gifts and the visible flames and the roaring sounds were sort of beside the point. Something was happening here that had never happened in the history of mankind. A kingdom was being formed, a kingdom where the King ruled from the inside, not the outside. Eternal Life was being poured into them; Jehovah was sitting on His throne in man’s heart once again.
It was probably a very emotional scene, but the emotions were also beside the point. Many diverse things cause people to get emotional. The emotions of that day were “neither here nor there.” But evidently the emotional outbursts and the speaking in foreign languages caused the scene to appear as if they had just had a full-blown party with too much whiskey and wine flowing.
Peter, who only a few days before had vehemently denied that he even knew Jesus, now was empowered to boldly stand in front of a crowd and proclaim, “This is that which the prophet Joel prophesied about!” When the crowd asked what they needed to do, Peter told them the simple steps to take: repent of their disobedience, be baptized in the name of Jesus (being “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” implied a total submission to Him as King of their life) … and they too could experience the baptism—the spiritual rebirth—of the Holy Spirit.The fruits of that experience
Beginning in Acts 2:41, which is right after the end of Peter’s sermon on that great day, we will pull out a list of results of that baptism of the Spirit: People added to Christ’s kingdom, steadfastness in pure doctrine, daily fellowship, prayer, unity, godly fear, healings, selflessness in sharing of material possessions (freedom from materialism), joy, contentment, boldness for Christ …
Paul, who was not involved in the initial outpouring of the Spirit, later laid out a list of fruit that one would see in the life of the recipient: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Ga. 5:22-23
The thing to notice in this list is that all the fruit mentioned has to do with character attributes, something that takes place in the spirit of man. Let me say before proceeding any further that it is totally erroneous to say that “only the inside counts.” Spiritually rebirthed people are not spiritual schizophrenics who lead a double life, a life where the inside doesn’t match the outside. But on the other hand, it is possible to do the right things with the wrong spirit, or attitude. For example, a person can give all his goods to feed the poor, but he can do that because he really wants to get some praise from men. Or, because he wants to make himself feel good. So he can do the right thing, but from a wrong spirit. When a man is born again of the Spirit, he will begin to do the right things with the right motive.Banjos for Jesus?
Let’s look, but very briefly, at what happens today in many places. A group of people gather. The music starts, the rhythm picks up, the bodies start swaying to the beat, a repetitious phrase rings out (even a very godly phrase), and soon the emotions are boiling fervently. Someone falls to the floor and starts rolling back and forth, back and forth, shrieking out something. The person falling to the floor may be living in adultery, married to someone who has a living spouse from a previous marriage. He may be a member of the Air Force bomber squadron, or perhaps a Hollywood actor. Their jewelry flashes as they roll. As they roll back and forth shrieking, perhaps the pastor will announce, “Look, there are God’s banjos!”
After a while the emotions slow down. The music stops. Everyone goes home, including the “banjos,” who go home to continue living in adultery or dropping bombs on innocent children. The “pastor”—dare we use that term for false prophets?—begs everyone to “give money to the Lord.” He tells them that God intended for His children to live like kings, since they are kings and priests. That is why he drives a Cadillac and lives in a house worth half a million dollars. If you want, he will lay his hands on you and you too can experience being “baptized with the Holy Ghost” and become a banjo for Jesus.Reactions to banjos
For serious disciples of Jesus, the above-described scene is almost disgusting. In reaction, we can easily come to the place where we don’t even want to hear about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. But dear brethren! We must not let the false prophets steal a precious truth and experience from us. There is a genuine baptism of the Holy Ghost, a real rebirth of the human spirit, that Jesus told us that we must go through to enter His kingdom. And we must keep in mind that the kingdom is the goal, not the experience. Being born again by the Spirit is a means to an end, not an end in itself.The genuine experience
For a look at the genuine experience of being born again of the Spirit, we will now turn to some quotes from the early Anabaptists. By using these quotes, we are not saying the early Anabaptists were a perfect people who understood and experienced the Spirit in a perfect way. But we do find their teaching and practice to match closely the biblical teaching and experience. We will start with Dirk Philips, who colabored with Menno Simons.
Therefore, Christ also says he “who believes in me” has eternal life. Jn. 3:16; 11:25 Why? Because he has received a divine power, yes, a quickening power of eternal life—creating life in his heart which so thoroughly penetrates, purifies, and renews, and finally drives, leads, and transposes to the origin from which it has sprung, namely, eternal divine life itself.
So now if anyone who thus believes in Jesus Christ has received such a living power of God and who feels this throughout himself, he is a true believing Christian and confesses Christ according to the Spirit, for he is one Spirit with him. Jn. 3:18; l Co. 6:17. He also actually understands what the flesh of Christ is; for he himself is flesh of the flesh of Christ and bone of his bone. Ep. 5:30 In addition, he has in the Spirit and true faith eaten the flesh of Christ and drunk his blood. Jn. 6:54 Through this he has become united in one common nature with Christ. This knowledge of God and of Christ is eternal life. Jn. 17:3
But whatever anyone says about Jesus Christ without such an inner power of God, without such an enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and without such fellowship and impartation of the divine seed of the character and nature of Jesus Christ, this is idle chatter and like the speech of a blind person who (according to the common proverb) disputes and discusses about color which he has neither seen nor can see. For this reason we wish to have everyone who claims to be a Christian to be faithfully admonished that he thus learn to know Jesus Christ, believe in him, and receive him in order that Jesus Christ on the last day may confess him before God his Father and before the elect angels for his brother, sister, and mother, and receive him into his eternal kingdom. Mt. 12:50
Menno Simons puts the same thing in a bit different wording:
Regeneration … is an inward change, which converts a man by the power of God, through faith, from evil to good, from carnality to spirituality, from unrighteousness to righteousness, out of Adam into Christ, which can in no wise take place with infants. The regenerated live by the power of the new life; they crucify the flesh with its evil lusts; they put off the old Adam with his deeds; they avoid every appearance of evil; they are taught, governed, and influenced by the Holy Ghost. Ro. 1:17.
Behold this is true regeneration with its fruits, of which the Scriptures speak, and comes through faith in the word of God, without which no one, who has arrived to the years of understanding, can be saved; as Christ says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Jn. 3:3. Yea, it is all in vain, if one were even baptized of Peter, or Paul, or Christ himself, if he were not baptized from above with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Mt. 3:11 As Paul says, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature,’’ Ga. 5:6; 2 Co. 5:17. All who are thus born of God, changed and renewed in the inner man, and translated from Adam into Christ, are ready to obey the word of the Lord, and say with holy Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” They deny themselves with all their minds and hearts; they submit to the word and ordinances of the Lord, without dislike or opposition; they receive baptism according to the command of the Lord, Mt. 28:19. They become and manifest themselves as fruitful branches of Christ, the true Vine, and joint heirs in the church of the Lord, John 15:5. They receive forgiveness of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Concerning 1 Peter 3:21, Menno had the following to say:
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, as already stated, is of value in the sight of God, while outward baptism follows only as an evidence of obedience which is of faith; for could outward baptism save without the inner washing, the whole Scriptures which speak of the new man would be spoken to no purpose. The kingdom of heaven would be bound to elementary water; the blood of Christ would be shed in vain, and no one that is baptized could be lost. No, no! Outward baptism avails nothing so long as we are not inwardly renewed, regenerated, and baptized of God, with the heavenly fire and the Holy Ghost.
Peter Riedemann, sometimes called “the second founder of the Hutterites,” wrote a large explanation of his beliefs while imprisoned. Concerning whether the transformation of man is a work of man or a work of God, Peter explained it with these words:
Even though a person speaks with the tongue of angels, (1 Corinthians 13:1) if God does not speak through him, he does not speak God’s Word, (Jeremiah 23:21) because God is the Word. (John 1:1) But when God speaks through a person and wishes to build his temple in that one, God first cuts away what is coarse and wild and is not fitting for his house. He does this through the preaching of repentance. (Luke 3:1-14 Mark 1:1-8 Matthew 3:1-12) When any receive the Word and repent, God places them on the foundation of Christ, (1 Corinthians 3:11) provided they die to sin and become like him in death. They will then be revived through faith and restored to a new life, (Romans 6:1-4) which comes about not through human power (Zechariah 4:6 Deuteronomy 8:1-3) but by God’s grace and work. (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Since this is done not by human effort but by God’s action, (1 Corinthians: 15:20-28), Paul exhorts us as follows: “Yield your members to be instruments of God and his righteousness, so that they may be holy.” (Romans: 6:19) If God is to do anything good in a person, that person must surrender himself to God. (Proverbs 1:22-31) Otherwise, the good cannot be done in him. Just as a person cannot do anything good of himself, so God does not want to do anything in him, unless he gives himself with all his heart to be God’s instrument. Then that person’s surrendered will interweaves itself with the divine will in such a way that the divine will and the human will become one. From now on, God desires, chooses, and works everything in that person. The person allows himself to become God’s instrument (John 15:4-5) and thus may say with the beloved apostle Paul, “Now I live no more, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) This is the way God works in people.
On the other hand, if a person keeps back anything, chooses for himself, or wants or undertakes something on his own and not with God, God’s work is hindered and can make no progress. Such a person remains unprepared for this building and will not be suitable for it. God works in the person who surrenders himself, and God gives proof of his power (Deuteronomy 8:1-4) in the person’s renewal. (Titus 3:1-7) Through this work God enables the person to partake of his Son’s (1 Corinthians 2:9-10) nature and character, (2 Peter 1:3-8) and even, in part, of his unlimited power. This we read in the words, “All things are possible to the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)The proof is in the pudding
So how do we know that the spirit that comes upon us is really God’s Spirit? This is where Pentecostalism erred from day one. Someone decided that the proof of the baptism of the Holy Ghost was speaking in tongues; if the recipient did not speak in tongues he was not baptized with the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, they seemed not to realize that the Bible is quite clear: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Mt. 7:16 Notice that it does not say, “by their gifts.” Nor, “by their emotions.” Nor, “by their zeal.”
None of the three things just listed are evil in themselves, and all three are desirable. Yet Pentecostalism as we know it today has been built upon the false premise that one has not been baptized with the Holy Ghost unless he speaks in tongues as proof.
There can be little doubt that the first outpouring of the Spirit mentioned in Acts was an emotional experience. Tears of joy were probably flowing quite freely. Loud shouts of victory may have resounded up the street. Yet Christians are not known by their emotions. In the same way that Pentecostalism was built upon a false premise, others have tried to say that unless you have an extremely emotional experience, you have not been baptized with the Spirit. Our emotional makeup is quite diverse, and we need to exercise extreme caution in trying to make other people respond emotionally just like we do. That said, it does seem strange to think of being forgiven, released from the power of sin, filled with joy, have love spread around in our hearts … all that without some sort of emotion arising within us.
Most likely the men and women in that upper room were zealous (by nature) for God. But the gifts, the emotions, and the zeal are all beside the point. I have seen people who had an emotional experience, but who missed the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And I have seen extremely zealous people, zealous for God, who also missed the rebirth of the Spirit. It usually shows in the attitude, since many are zealous for biblical truths, and are practicing the correct ordinances, and have laid aside the gross sins of the flesh like drinking, swearing, and fornication. Many even practice modest dress, head coverings, and may have even taken up the doctrines of nonresistance and nonaccumulation of wealth. But Christians are not known by their religious zeal.
Zealots often fail in the sins of the spirit, in their attitudes. Others can try to talk to them about the spirit in which they operate and they just simply cannot see it … they have not the Spirit of Christ within to “see the kingdom of God.” All they can see is that they have conformed themselves outwardly to many of Jesus’ teachings—which is wonderful that they have!
But the Holy Spirit does a work of transformation on the inside that cannot be imitated or worked up in the flesh. Great enthusiasm propels zealots onward and they mistakenly believe that they are being compelled by the Spirit of God, when in fact they are compelled only by their religious zeal. And I reiterate that there is nothing wrong with having a great zeal for God. Simply put though, great zeal and the Holy Ghost are not synonyms. Pilgram Marpeck, a South German Anabaptist, explained it this way:
Ah my brethren, how diligently and carefully we have to take heed that we do not consider our own impulse [to be that] of the Holy Spirit, our own course [to be] the course and walk of Christ. …
I have experienced that in myself, also through the narratives of biblical writings, that natural piety hates evil, and is zealous about the good … that [unconverted zealots] are overpowered therein and driven with zeal, exerting themselves considerably.
That is not therefore the compulsion of the Holy Spirit of Christ, nor do they become children through it. … Even today … many persons act because of zeal concerning good, who do not know or suppose otherwise than that they are driven by the Holy Spirit. …
I write all this in order that each one may well see for themselves what drives them, from what source it flows, from what source their drive stems. This the servants do not know. The friends or children, however, know what their Lord does and why the compulsion of the Holy Spirit is in them.Partakers of the divine nature
Thomas von Imbroich was a Swiss Brethren in the early days of the Anabaptist movement. Although he was martyred in his late 20s, he had preached and helped to start a number of congregations up and down the Rhine River. While imprisoned he wrote a widely-used expression of his faith. He has the following to say about the proof of a rebirth by the Holy Ghost:
By these words [Jn. 3:6-8] Christ indicates that the regenerated person becomes spiritual and is born of the Spirit having a spiritual nature, as Peter says. (2 Pe. 1; Ro. 8; Acts 17; Jn. 14) “You may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” By this everyone may know whether he is born of the Spirit, namely, if he has the characteristics of the Spirit, just as the person who is born of the flesh has the characteristics of the flesh—each in his sphere (Jn. 3; 1 Co. 15). Birds have their peculiar nature; so also, wild animals; likewise humans. Each person is minded according to that from which he is born. The person born of the Spirit is therefore spiritually minded (Ro. 8), as Paul says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
Those who are thus born of this spiritual seed of Abraham will bring spiritual fruits; that is, all kinds of kindness, righteousness, and truth: They are obedient to their Father; they keep his commandments and follow his precepts (Ep. 5; Jn. 10, 14, 15; Is. 55); they abandon ungodly living (Ro. 12), and are not conformed to the world; they seek the things that are above, where Christ is, and not those things that are on earth; they mortify and crucify their sinful flesh (Co. 3): they follow in the footsteps of Jesus (their predecessor) in grief, in wretchedness, in persecution, and are obedient to him unto death (Ga. 3; 1 Pe. 2; He. 11). We therefore say that those who are thus driven by the Spirit of God are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and are children of God (Ro. 4, 8).
You have likely heard the typical definitions of grace. Hans Betz, an early Anabaptist who wrote a number of the songs that formed the core of the original Ausbund, defined grace in simple terms. In song number 88 he writes:
God’s grace is the Holy Spirit, Who is also called the Comforter …
Now if the Holy Spirit leads you, So that you do not yield to sin, God has birthed you anew, In Jesus Christ His Son.
Now I am sure that Hans did not mean that grace and the Holy Spirit are always synonymous. Yet I challenge you to read through the New Testament and put “the Holy Spirit” in every place you read the word “grace.” For example, “For by the Holy Spirit are ye saved, through faith …” Ep. 2:8 The Holy Spirit saves us in the true sense of salvation, which is to rescue or to salvage. By an infilling of the Holy Spirit, we receive power to conquer self, the flesh, the world, and even the devil himself. Now that is grace, truly a free gift! Ac. 2:38; 10:45
“For ye are not under the law, but under the Holy Spirit …” Ro. 6:14 Remembering that the weakness of the Law was that it had no provision to be reunited in spirit with God, we can understand how that the New Covenant is so much superior than the Old. Now the believer can live under the power of the Holy Spirit! Under the Spirit, but over the Law!How to get the Spirit
One of the biggest battles of the early church was the battle against those Jews who did not understand that the Mosaic Law was not to be put on the Gentile believers. Called Judaizers, they felt that the Law was to be kept even after it had been fulfilled. In battling against this idea, Paul asked the Galatians a thought-provoking question: “Did you get baptized with the Holy Ghost because you kept the Law so perfectly, or did you get baptized with the Holy Ghost because you believed on Jesus?” Ga. 3:2
Of course, they all knew that the free gift of the Spirit was because of their faith in Jesus as the promised Prophet, Priest, and King; the Law had no provision to receive an infilling of the Spirit. Paul then followed the first question with a similar one: “The person who led you into the experience of the infilling of the Spirit, did he do that through preaching obedience to the ceremonial laws, or did he do that by preaching faith in Jesus?” Again, they knew it was because of Jesus, not because of keeping the ceremonial laws.Die to live
Hans Betz, the hymn writer mentioned earlier, had the following to say in one of his hymns:
Understand what’s happening: when death occurs, as a man denies his flesh, then man receives from Jesus Christ the life-giving baptism. The same is called fire and spirit, John does tell us; this alone makes holy and pure and makes fellowship with God.
The secret to receiving the “life-giving baptism” of the Holy Spirit is to die; die to our own will in faith that Jesus would lead him aright. This “formula”—if we dare even call it a formula—was foundational throughout early Anabaptism; we could probably fill this magazine with their quotes on the topic. They used the German word gelassenheit to describe it; a “letting loose” of our own will, placing that will into the hands of God. This is death to controlling our own life; we simply submit ourselves to obedience to whatever God, through Christ, has said. If you believe in someone, you will do what that person says.
This is also a renunciation of materialism, fame, and plain old-fashioned pleasure seeking. Jesus, to whom we submit our will, has told us that unless a man “forsake all that he hath,” he cannot be His disciple.The dearth in our day
That word “all” is the key to understanding the dearth of real Holy Spirit power in our churches today. Materialism runs rampant, so rampant that if anyone even suggests that Jesus really meant—I mean really meant—a renunciation of wealth, he may well get his ears boxed … even in conservative Anabaptist churches. To suggest that “all” means for youth (and older ones as well) to renounce sports and pleasure seeking may get a person tagged as “legalist.” To suggest that “all” really means “all,” and that “forsake” really means “forsake,” and that “cannot” means “impossible” seems to put one into the “fanatic” class.
But Jesus really did mean what He said. It is impossible to be His disciple without forsaking all. We may take up a zealous obedience to certain biblical teachings, yet never truly die to self. We may find the perfect theology and expound it ever so clearly, yet never die with Christ. We may go to the ends of the earth, preaching to the unreached tribes in remote corners, denying ourselves of the comforts of modern life … and yet never have forsaken all. Forsaking all is the cross we must take up, the cost we must count before becoming a disciple.
Leonhard Schiemer was an Austrian convert to Anabaptism. He lived but nine months as an Anabaptist before martyrdom, but managed to bring in about 200 others in that short span of time. While in prison he wrote several tracts and a letter to the congregation where he had been ordained as elder. In that letter, he says the following concerning taking up the cross:
“Whoever will be my disciple,” says Christ, “must follow me.” In another place He says, “Without me you can do nothing.” Peter says, “Whoever suffers in the flesh ceases from sin.”
The first light has been our schoolmaster until the other—Christ, who is the light of the world—came. When His Spirit enters me I am no longer under the schoolmaster, but under grace. When this happens the law of works, sin, death, and members ceases, and the law of the Spirit, faith, life, and the heart begins.
But this Spirit is given to no one except he first submit himself to the cross and the chastisement of the Lord.Entering the kingdom of God
Dirk Philips wrote a long tract called “The New Birth and the New Creature.” He had the following to say as a conclusion, and he says it so well that we use that conclusion to conclude this article:
I say this in conclusion: the born-again children of God and new creatures in Christ Jesus are those who are born again out of God the heavenly Father through Christ Jesus and are renewed and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, who have become participants of the divine nature, of the being of Jesus Christ, and of the character of the Holy Spirit.
They are those who have died to sin and still daily die more and more, and experience righteousness; those who never boast in themselves but only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to them and they to the world; those who in true faith walk according to the rule of Christ and follow in his footsteps, who know no one according to the flesh; those who do not have an appetite for what is human but for what is divine.
In summary, these are righteous and do righteousness just as God out of whom they are born is righteous; these are minded like Christ Jesus and are motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Where this takes place, there one sees the kingdom of God, there one comes into the kingdom of heaven; there is a new creature in Christ Jesus.
This article is far from being a complete exposition of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. Much could be said of the continuing work He accomplishes; teaching, convicting, leading, and comforting. More could be said of the gifts of the Spirit. More could be said of the unity of the Spirit. More could be said of how the Spirit works in a congregation better than in an individual.
In short, this article focuses mostly upon the initial reception of the Spirit in the believer. This is the beginning, the birth, not the end!
 There are reports of people seeing similar things, but I take a neutral stance as to if it has really happened again. There is nothing to prohibit God from having physical flames appear again when someone is baptized with the Spirit, and I would “put God in a box” to say He will never do it again. But it is beside the point to argue whether God has ever had physical flames appear again.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Martin Weninger
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Martin Weninger “Lingky,” a Swiss Brethren Anabaptist leader, explaining to the (Reformed) state church why the Anabaptists could not fellowship with the state church. The basic answer – that the state churches did not require following Christ in holiness in accord with His Word, but rather allowed every kind of sin and vice to go unpunished – was a standard answer across many types of Anabaptists all across Europe. In the case of the Swiss Reformed churches, the state church leaders confessed that the charges were true and (at least in the canton of Bern) tried repeatedly to reform the populace – apparently without much success.
Weninger’s tract is an excellent apologetic for a holy church and a holy Christian life, following the commands of Jesus and the Apostles. It is an excellent apologetic for avoiding those teachers who would discount the need for holiness and obedience. Even if they have some good things to say, if they do not require holiness and obedience, we are not to listen to them! Of course, neither the Scriptures nor the early Anabaptists (Weninger included) believed in the possibility of sinless perfection on earth, but it is still a fact that Christians are “dead to sins, [that we] should live unto righteousness” (I Peter 2:24).
It is sad but true that the historical record reveals that in 1538, Weninger recanted his faith. Whether he repented afterwards and rejoined the persecuted Swiss Brethren church or not is not known. “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13).
This English version of Weninger’s tract was translated by John C. Wenger and was originally published in the July 1948 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of the Mennonite Historical Society to use it.—AVS.
The knowledge of and obedience to the will of God, that righteousness which springs from faith in Christ and also results in works (Phil. 1, 3, Titus 3, Heb. 11, James 2) wish I, Martin Weninger, called Lingky, to all those who seek to worship God in the spirit, with their hearts in the truth, and to serve Him with words and works unto His praise in Christ, Amen (Col. 3, I Cor. 10).
I have been admonished by Brother Galle Hafner to prepare a vindication respecting the church attendance of the children of the world who walk in the uncleanness of impure lusts like other heathen (I Thes. 4, I Pet. 1 and 4). This I am inclined to do, to show to everyone who asketh the reason of the hope which is in me.
Christ commands us to guard ourselves from the mixed teaching of the Pharisees and the befuddled expositors who pose as teachers of the Scripture but know not what they set forth or say (Matt. 16, I Tim. 1) and teach what is not profitable—just as the teaching of the priests does not profit—for base gain. Tit. 1: [They are] lazy bellies which may not produce works, all with deceitful minds, just like our priests. David says, They teach only sins, and glory in their pride and speak vain contradictions (Ps. 59), just as our priests also do now, teaching sins and hardening [people] in sins with their frivolous teaching, as it stands in Ezekiel 13 and Jeremiah 23. They minimize to the people the shadow of the wantonness of their life of sin (Jer. 8, 6, II Pet. 2), saying peace when there is no peace and promising freedom to those who ridicule God with their doings and walk after the lust and desire of their evil heart (Jer. 23, II Pet. 2), and they themselves are servants of corruption and sin (Rom. 6, John 8). They are called the Christians, even pious Christians and Brethren, who walk in darkness and have no fellowship with the light of Christ (I John 1), and whom the apostle of God calls children of the devil, as he says: He who does the right is of God and has the new birth of the Spirit, but he who does not do the right, but commits sin, is of the devil and not of God, because sin is also not of God. He has never known God and will also not see Him (I John 2, 3, 5 and III John 1). He who transgresses the teaching of Christ has no God (II John 1), and all his piety will no longer have any significance (Ezek. 18, 33, James 2).
By such evident witness it is now clear that the doctrine of the priests is not of God, and that it does not correspond with the doctrine of Christ and the apostles. Furthermore it is no wonder that such false apostles and deceptive workers pose as apostles of Christ, because the god and prince of this world himself (II Cor. 4, John 12, 14, Eph. 2), the devil, poses as an angel of light. It is no wonder that his servants also, who draw the wanton people to themselves (II Pet. 2, Jer. 23) and harden them in sin so that they so much the less repent (Ezek. 13) and live, pose as preachers of light, whose end will be according to their works (II Cor. 11).
Now when such hirelings, shepherds who have bargained for a definite wage, see the wolf coming they flee and do not lay down their lives for the sake of the sheep (John 10). Such shepherds the little sheep of Christ will not hear. But the foolishness of such shepherds who are come as from Christ whether [or not] He sent them, will be manifested to many people in the Free Territories [of Aargau], moved as they are by a seditious, blood-thirsty spirit which brought destruction in the rebellion of Korah, etc. Also many Zwinglian priests have turned back to the pope in Turgau, disregarding how it went with those for whom they had promised to stake their lives, and having been found to be liars (Apoc. 2). He who had not wished to recognize this must now see that it is true.
They teach contrary to Paul (Rom. 6) that one cannot be free of sin and live in righteousness: “One must sin to the grave; no one can keep the commandments of God” (I John 3, 5) which is not true. The apostle of God testifies, Christ bore our sins on His back that we might be without sin and live in righteousness. How can the priests dare to say that no one can do the right and not live without sin? (John 1, I Pet. 2, 3): Christ took away our sin and undid the work of the devil. The work of the devil which Christ undid was sin, the sin of death, the death of damnation: as Paul testifies in Hebrews 2 that Christ took away the power of the devil, who had the power of eternal death, so that He might deliver us who all our life had been in fear of death and in bondage to slavery, that is, sin: as it stands in Titus 2: He delivered us from all kinds of unrighteousness. How would He have delivered us from the power and imprisonment of the devil if we lived in sin to the devil and had not received power, grace for grace, to oppose the devil by the firm faith of Christ? We who seek to be justified through Him, if we yet lived in sin, what would we have from Christ? (Gal. 2) For He broke the bond and led captivity captive and gave gifts to the people, and we are released (Psalm 124, II Tim. 2, Eph. 4). Sinners will not stand in the judgment of God nor remain in the congregation of the righteous (Psalm 1, 5). Sinners will be destroyed with one another and be wiped out (Psalm 37, I Cor. 6, II Pet. 2, Matt. 7, 13, Luke 13).
Therefore beware of the fickle man and the sinner who walks in two streets (Eccl. 2, Luke 16), and beware of him who is bound by and entangled in sin, for at the last he will be taken and burned in the fire (IV Esdr. 16, John 15). Now observe how the poor priests weaken the passion of Christ and employ it for lasciviousness and a cloak of wickedness (I Pet. 2, Jude 1). Peter says: As those who are free and yet not using the freedom for evil. As also Paul admonishes (Gal. 5): Stand fast in your freedom and cast it not from you for its reward is great (Heb. 10). As Jesus Christ has set you free do not allow yourselves to be joined to the servile yoke. For where the Spirit of Christ is there is freedom, and the body is dead for the sake of sin (Rom. 8, II Cor. 3). He who hath not the Spirit is not of Christ (Rom. 8). For those who are Christ’s have crucified their flesh and destroyed their evil desires by desisting from the lusts of error (Gal. 5, Eph. 4). Therefore as the kingdom of Christ is internal (Luke 17), firmly within us, we have grace to do God’s will and service, and to please Him with discipline and fear (Heb. 12, Ezek. 36, I John 5). Since therefore we are under grace sin cannot reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6). For this reason did Christ die for all, that all who live should not live unto themselves, nor in their lusts, but unto Him who died for us and rose [from the dead] (I Cor. 6, II Cor. 5, I Thes. 5). We do not shun the light. For whoever is of God hears God’s Word (John 8, 18, I John 4). The priests wander and are not in the light for their works are evil (John 3, 7, 8). For there is no darkness in the light (II Cor. 6). It also has no fellowship with the darkness. Those who teach others and do it not themselves, from them the wrath of God will not long be withheld (Rom. 2, Matt. 7, Luke 6, Psalm 50). “Lord, we have preached….” But He will profess to them: “I know you not. Ye have done evil (Matt. 7). Depart from me.” Christ calls those His brethren who hear God’s Word and do the will of His Father.
Dear one, How many are now Christ’s brethren who do God’s will? Therefore your fellowship is not a brotherhood of Christ. For you have as brethren: adulterers, heavy-drinkers, blasphemers, misers, usurers, dancers, carnival [masqueraders], alley ruffians: without a ban to make any difference, whether a person do evil or good. Dear one, Why? For this reason, that the priests who ought to discipline the people are themselves just like the people (Hosea 4). Therefore Paul teaches and admonishes us to keep clear of such people (II Tim. 2). For we may not be in the devil’s fellowship (I Cor. 10). The devil has fellowship with those who obey him in sin. But from those who withstand him he flees (James 4, I Pet. 5). David says, I dwell not with the wanton people, and have not fellowship with the hypocrites, and hate the assembly of the wicked (Psalm 26).
Now since they do not preach the doctrine of Christ, and consent not to the saving words of the doctrine of godliness, Paul teaches us to shun them (I Tim. 6, Rom. 16). For they could pervert the faith of many, like Philetus and Hymenaeus, of whom Paul teaches us to keep clear (II Tim. 2). He who brings not the doctrine of Christ, receive him not into your house and greet him not (II John 1). He who greets him has fellowship with his evil works. How should I follow him into a temple or to other places? If he would follow me, I should have nothing to do with him so as not to have part in his evil works. A teacher [minister] shall be an example of the flock in love, faith, purity and good works, and care for the sheep (John 10, I Tim. 4, 3, II Tim. 1, Tit. 2, I Pet. 5, Matt. 5). This is completely lacking among them, as the Scripture testifies. Who would regard those as God’s apostles who lack the witness of an apostle? Now it is evident that the priests have neither the doctrine nor manner of life of apostles; yet they say they are apostles and that the Lord is among them.
They call the Gospel a burden which no one can keep, contrary to the word of Jeremiah 23: Thou shalt not call my Word a burden. For Christ says (Matt. 11): My yoke is sweet; my burden light. John testifies, His commandments are not severe (I [John] 5). And we keep His commandments, and do what is pleasing before Him (I John 3). It is He who hath made us acceptable, and worketh in us both to will and to accomplish [it] (II Cor. 5, 3, Phil. 2, Ezek. 36). He hath created and prepared us unto good [works] that we should walk therein (Eph. 2). Therefore the might and all the glory belong to God alone (II Cor. 4, Dan. 9). Christ teaches that we should guard ourselves from those of this world who lead astray, for if it were possible they would lead astray even the elect (Matt. 24, II Pet. 3). Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, not from men nor through men but sent of God alone (Gal. 1). The rulers of the world have chosen the priests and commissioned them for a specified wage. Therefore it is of the world, and the [world] heareth them (I John 4). Thereby is fulfilled that which Paul prophesied (II Tim. 4): They will choose teachers for themselves who will tickle their ears, and [they will] not hear the truth, the saving doctrine of Christ, as also now the sect of the Nazarenes is everywhere spoken against (Acts 24, 28). John says, He who saith that he hath fellowship with Christ, and walketh in darkness, that is, in sin (Eph. 5), doth lie and speaketh not the truth. Therefore the priests tickle their ears with lies, in that they attribute to them the name and fellowship of Christ while they nevertheless still walk in darkness. And Paul testifies that He is become the Cause of salvation for those who obey His will in His death or suffering (Heb. 5, I Thes. 5).
Those who hold fast to the beginning of the nature of Christ (as He then has imparted His nature in those things, for those who are God’s, from youth to the end of life), [it is] they [who] partake of Christ (Heb. 3). Therefore Christ says, He that endureth unto the end (Matt. 10) shall be saved. But not by doing wrong, but by doing right, as it stands in Ezekiel 18. But those who persevere in wrongdoing until the end Christ calls false Christians and false apostles who lead many astray (Matt. 24). As Paul also testifies: Evil men and those who lead [men] astray shall wax worse and worse, leading astray and allowing themselves to be led astray (II Tim. 3). It is true that they say they know God, and [yet] they are disobedient and an abomination before God and unfitted for all good works (Tit. 1, I John 1, 2). These are they who love the sensual pleasures of temporal life more than God, and have no love for the good, and have the appearance of a godly manner of life but deny its power (II Tim. 3). Paul admonishes us to turn away from such a spurious faith. Concerning separation read II Corinthians 6, Apocalypse 18, Acts 19, Ephesians 5, II Timothy 2, I Peter 4, John 15. One is to separate oneself from their evil works, and not from the world, in so far as one may keep oneself unspotted from them (I Cor. 5, James 1, II Pet. 1, 4, Eph. 4). The preaching of the priests is also an unfruitful work, when they give testimony from the pulpit; [their] preaching does not help; people are getting worse and worse; no one is improving. And the testimony is true, also of the priests, that the wrong is getting the upper hand (Matt. 24). As the Lord said of the time of Lot and of Noah, so it is in [our] country; let Him come when He will.
Now you have testimony that the priests, and Christ and His apostles, do not have one doctrine. For the priests speak vain contradictions, as has been noted and proved sufficiently on the basis of the truth. Paul teaches us to judge spiritual things spiritually and not according to appearances (I Cor. 2), and not like the Jews did (John 7). He who lives carnally and is carnal-minded can neither perceive God’s ways nor the things of the Spirit. To him it is foolishness and a conundrum for he cannot know it, for it must be judged spiritually. Therefore everyone is lying [when he says] that he does not wish to judge, that it is not given to him; it is blasphemy (I Pet. 2) [when he says] that he does not recognize [the truth]—he is passing judgment on himself, receiving the reward of unrighteousness.
If it [Anabaptism] is of God no man can withstand it. But if it is not of God it will disappear of itself (Acts 5, Matt. 15). Those of Zurich did not wish to be lords ; and if it should cost them their land, it must be dug out by the roots. Basle, too. Behold, it is getting green again in their land first. Psalm 124: If the Lord were not with us they would have swallowed us up alive; our bones would be no more. Our shield and protector is God. Through the faith and patience of Christ we overcome our enemies, following the example of Christ. All glory and honor be to God alone in His church in Christ Jesus.
God’s Seal: II Timothy 2[:19]
The right done from the fear of God is acceptable to God
Acts 10, etc.
My concern for this message is to expose a detour that our Anabaptist churches took in the past century. As I was growing up, the message that I heard was what I call a “save ME gospel.” Now the term “kingdom of God” was used very loosely—as it is in many church circles—but I don’t think I ever heard, in all my growing up years, a message specifically on the kingdom. In this message I want to make it very clear what the kingdom of God is.
It is not about us! That is where the problem came in the shift of focus when I was growing up. The main thing in the messages that I heard was “We need to get saved!”
That certainly is true, but “getting saved” is a means to an end; not an end in itself. Unfortunately, “getting saved” was made an end in itself, and much of the revival preaching was focused on that end. Therefore, I would like to make it clear what the original gospel of Jesus Christ really was.
The original gospel message
The original gospel was the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Repent …” Now, the classic words usually following this would be, “… or you will be lost,” or “you will go to hell!”
But Jesus did not say that. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, “The kingdom is right there for you to grasp, it’s at hand.” Six verses later, after calling His first four disciples, it says He “went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” Mt. 4:23 Do you know that Jesus never called the gospel anything else but “the gospel of the kingdom”? In every instance where you find the content of the gospel described, it is “the gospel of the kingdom.” Every time, in the entire gospel record!
Jesus’ two most important statements were the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Both of these begin and end with an emphasis on the kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of God.” “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Referring to the end of time, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” I ask you a searching question: Has the gospel of the kingdom been preached unto the ends of the earth, or has it been a “save ME gospel”?
Now I want to make one thing clear before proceeding: God uses imperfect means. I believe the gospel has been preached in many parts of the world, and despite a wrong emphasis, many people have been reconciled to God.
Parables of the kingdom
Basically all of Jesus’ parables focus on the kingdom: the kingdom is as a treasure in a field, the kingdom is as a merchant, the kingdom is as a net, the kingdom is as leaven, the kingdom is as a mustard seed …
I want to ask you a question: If I were to ask you what the seed was in the parable of the sower, what would you say?
[Response from someone in the audience: “The Word of God!”]
That’s what most people say! And that is true in a general sense, but specifically it says it is the “word of the kingdom”! I never noticed that until recently. We are so used to reading our Bible through certain lenses. Six months ago I would have probably said the same thing [as the responder from the audience.] When Jesus interprets the parable of the tares, He says the seed is “the children of the kingdom.” That excites me!
Here I am, speaking to approximately 400 seeds! What should happen is that all you seeds will go out there and be planted and grow up to be a kingdom expression of the gospel! Not just a personal experience of people getting ready to go to heaven, but a kingdom expression of the gospel should grow up around every kingdom Christian. Because you are the “seed of the kingdom.”
The kingdom in church history
But, when we turn to the history of the church, it is not very far along before we see a drastic change in focus. How many of you can recite the “Apostles’ Creed”? [A few raise hands.] Tell me, what is the word that the Apostles’ Creed begins with?
That’s interesting! The Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father.” Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor any of those other major creeds after the first centuries say a single thing about the kingdom. Only the Creed of Constantinople says at the end, “… and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” It places the kingdom “out there” somewhere in the future, but says nothing about its present reality.
The result of losing the kingdom centrality in the gospel is a difference in a person’s outlook. If the focus is on ME, then the preaching I heard all my life was truly “gospel preaching,” where the most important thing in the world is for me to “get saved.” And before I proceed, I want to make it clear that “getting saved” is a very important thing, and heaven and hell are two very important realities we must resolve in the right way.
But that is not God’s most important concern for the present age. What God wants is a corporate expression, a society of the redeemed. Thus, personal salvation is an important means to an end and not an end in itself. God cannot express His kingdom until He has redeemed people that He can use to show to everyone what the whole world would be like if everybody obeyed the King!
That’s what Christianity is all about. We are talking about community, society, corporate relationships, so that the world looking on can say, “Wow!” It is like what the queen of Sheba said when she saw Solomon’s court: “What a great God they must have! What a beautiful kingdom! I cannot believe what I see! I did not know that human beings could live together this way!”
That’s what kingdom is all about!
But you see, if you concentrate only on your personal salvation and you don’t really make the kingdom to be the heart of your gospel—as did Jesus, Paul, and the others labored to teach it—then you have individual Christians who have no vision for submission to a corporate practice. I wonder just what the world looking on does see?
The great paradigm shift
Now, I stand here guilty with all of you; we have all been involved in this paradigm shift. It is because we have not been taught that the end of our salvation is to be involved in something larger than ourselves.
The kingdom of God is the society of the redeemed. As I mentioned, this gospel of the kingdom was lost in the early centuries to an individualistic salvation. And during the last century Anabaptism swallowed it also, and we wonder why we have so much individualism now. It is the fruit of a distorted gospel. We need to get back—it is a burden of my heart—to the kingdom gospel, instead of a “save ME gospel.”
Jesus used the word “kingdom” (in reference to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God) at least 124 times, and He never referred to the gospel as anything else. If Jesus focused on the kingdom, then that is the centrality of His message, not a marginal issue. He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.” Lk. 4:43 He tells us very explicitly why He came—to preach the kingdom!
Is the kingdom ever taught today? Well, in dispensationalist circles, the kingdom is to happen somewhere off in the future. You know, I think the Devil has used every strategy he can think of to get the focus off the kingdom. I really do! So the dispensationalist has put the kingdom off into the future … it is coming. This makes Jesus’ teaching irrelevant for today. That is what some people do with the teaching about the kingdom.
Other people, such as Augustine and Calvin, made the kingdom the central theme of their teaching, but it was a carnal kingdom ruled by force. Thus we have these two distortions, two wrong concepts, of the kingdom of God. So the message is lost.
Why did Jesus focus His message on the kingdom of God? Because that was God’s original purpose; that is why man was created. Salvation was not the main theme of God’s original work with man. Man was not “lost” when he was created. God created man so that he would have dominion and express God’s authority on this earth.
The first use of the word kingdom in the Bible is in Exodus 19:6, where it states, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests …” That makes it very clear what serving God is all about. We are mediating God’s rule on earth. He is the King; we are simply His subjects expressing His rule and authority, first of all in our own lives and fellowships, and then to the conscience of the world around us. Notice God says “ye shall be unto me,” not unto us (as humans) a kingdom of priests. The purpose of the kingdom is to show God’s benevolent rule, through us.
The world does not understand God. When they think about God, they view Him as a negative entity, as some sort of grumpy sovereign out there who enjoys giving lots of rules to make life hard … His ways are not good, and if you follow them, you will never be happy. That is the world’s concept of God. Therefore God’s purpose is that through this society of the redeemed, this little colony of heaven on earth, the world would get a glimpse of His true attractive character and have a desire to respond properly to Him.
Now the Devil has perverted the idea of the kingdom, which is why people have difficulty with it. Some leaders have perverted the idea of God’s kingdom and left a bad taste in our mouth. In the Old Testament, God initially wanted all men to be that kingdom of priests, but this purpose got lost, so He chose a nation. We will not take the time to do so now, but it is an interesting study to go through the Old Testament and see what God wanted to do with that nation. He told them, “I want to lift you up on high, so that all the nations will say, ‘What a God they have! What laws they have! What nation has been more blessed?’” He said, “I will make you the lender and not the borrower. You will be number one among the nations … if you keep all of my commandments.”
You see, that is the only way people will be blessed, by a total surrender. Now, I told you of the fragmentation that has taken place in our churches. We don’t understand submission of our lives to God and to each other for the sake of the kingdom of God.
We saw that in the Old Testament that God wanted a kingdom that would demonstrate to the whole world what a nation would look like if God was the King. And only briefly did the world ever see that, under David and somewhat under Solomon. That was it. Then we come into the New Testament.
I want to show you that the preaching of the gospel as being the gospel of the kingdom didn’t end with Christ. My goal with this message is to make all of you passionate church builders. I want you to forget about yourself, and get your relationship with God established, and then lose yourself in something bigger than yourself!
Look in Acts 19:8. What did Paul preach? “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God was Paul’s message; it was not a “save ME gospel.” Now look at Acts 20:25. “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.”
I want to ask you another searching question. When you “preach the gospel,” do you preach the kingdom of God? I hope so, and if you haven’t been doing so, I hope you start! Now let’s go to the end of Paul’s life, described in Acts 28:23. “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God.” Again, we see that the kingdom was the message! Then after Paul ends up a prisoner in his own rented house, what is he preaching in the very last verse of Acts? “The kingdom of God!”
Now, I think if Paul’s gospel had been a “save ME gospel” it would not have been stated that way. The coming of the kingdom of God was the message.
A present reality
This kingdom is a present reality, and the effects of the kingdom show, as in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. This is what should happen when the kingdom is genuinely expressed.
If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
This is the kind of authority that the gathered body has when it is gathered in unity. It is a true kingdom expression of authority. Psalm 89:7 tells us that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.”
What is the church, as denoted by the Greek term ekklesia? If you ask most people what that means, they will say, “the called out ones.” My question is, “called out to what?” Are they called out just to enjoy each other’s fellowship?
In Acts 19, when the uproar took place in Ephesus, the town clerk came on the scene and said, “We are going to be criticized for this disorder. If something needs to be resolved, there is a proper order. If anything needs to be done, it shall be determined in a lawful ekklesia (assembly).”
If you had gone to a Greek town and asked for the ekklesia, they would have taken you to the town council! It was a governing body; ekklesia means a body of people called out to govern (guide, lead). Now suppose you went to the U.S. Congress when they were dismissing, and asked them what had happened that day. Suppose they said, “We had a wonderful fellowship together! We were so encouraged! We had a fellowship meal, and it was a wonderful potluck dinner; you should have seen it! I was so glad I came to Congress, because I was so discouraged, but now I am really inspired!”
You would probably say, “That is not the reason you were supposed to be meeting together! You were not supposed to be there for yourself! You were supposed to be there to make good laws for this country, for yourself, for the assembly, and for the whole nation.”
A kingdom of peace
And that is why we are here, to give guidance to the nations. The early church demonstrated that. Concerning the Pax Romana, history books tell you that it was because the Roman army was so formidable and its punishments so terrifying that other nations dared not resist Rome’s rule. But if you read the early church writings, you get a different story. They say the reason for those 200 years of peace—which coincided with the first centuries of the church—was that the Prince of Peace had come and established a kingdom of peace, and this kingdom’s prayers and influence were keeping the world at peace! Interestingly, those 200 years of peace ended about the same time that the early church began to lose its practice of nonresistance.
The most tragic compromise the church ever made was its compromise of nonresistance.
Since that time, some of the most horrible things have happened “in the name of Jesus”: the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery in America, the American Civil War, and World Wars I and II.
People say, “What do you do with a man like Hitler?” Well, most of the people in Germany were Lutherans. If the church had never lost its stand on nonresistance, Hitler would have had no army! Almost none of the wars in Western civilization would have ever occurred. Do you see now what happened to this kingdom? It got messed up with tragic and unspeakably horrible consequences.
I have to tell you—and I have heard this in testimonies from various people—that the most powerful testimony of the church has been its testimony of nonresistance. We live in a world that is sick of war, hatred, violence, killing, and all the things that go along with war. To hear that there is a group of people—the Anabaptists—who for 500 years has been able to live together in peace without the sword is about the most appealing message we could ever give to the world.
I hope that by now you understand what the gospel of the kingdom is: a gospel that says, “Yes, God wants to save human beings and take them to heaven, but the most important part is that He wants them to be an expression of His kingdom here on earth.” I will again state my definition of the kingdom of God: A group of people who show to everyone what the whole world would look like if everybody obeyed the King!
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (September/October 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Editor’s Note: Because of the nature of this article, several people or groups are mentioned before they are fully described. We suggest you read this article twice to get an understanding of how the different groups and people were inter-related during the Radical Reformation.
Who were the early Anabaptists? For centuries after their origin in 1525, their enemies have villainized the early Anabaptists and attempted to create bias against them. Names like “the radical left wing of the Reformation” were employed against these people, who were supposed to have been “antitrinitarian” (according to some accounts), “did not believe in the government”, “heretics”, or even immoral (polygamous). Although scholars have long since sorted out (albeit incompletely) the many Reformation-era groups which practiced adult baptism, confusion on the topic of who the Anabaptists were persists. This article will attempt to give an introduction to the various Anabaptist groups as well as show why generic references to “the Anabaptists” should be avoided.
What Does “Anabaptist” Mean?
The word “Anabaptist” (Weidertauffer in German) simply means “rebaptizer”. It was a term of derision used for the groups of radical Christian brethren who refused to be satisfied with the magisterial (state church) reform efforts of the Protestants. The name was also applied to other groups who practiced adult baptism. Therefore, it was from the beginning an extremely generic term.
Two Major Divisions of Anabaptists
Because of the generic nature of the term “Anabaptist”, it makes sense that there would be some variation amongst those who were thus named. The name was applied by their enemies, and it applies across the entire European continent and across fifty years of church history. With so much time and space encompassed by the name, quite a bit of variation is to be expected.
All of the early Anabaptist groups can be divided into two major categories: the Scriptural or evangelical Anabaptists and the fringe Anabaptists. The Scriptural Anabaptists were those whose main concern was to establish pure churches after the New Testament pattern. They held to “sola Scriptura” (although in a different manner from the Reformers) and believed in the New Birth. The fringe Anabaptists were all the other Reformation-era groups which practiced adult baptism but were not Scriptural in orientation like the evangelical/Scriptural/normative Anabaptists. As such, they make what paleontologists call a “wastebasket taxon” – a group where any difficult fossil is thrown! Of course, a few folks, such as Hans Hut and Hans Denck, are hard to group into either class, further complicating the picture. In this article, I will first discuss in turn the major beliefs of all the Scriptural Anabaptists, then the distinctives of the different groups of Scriptural Anabaptists. The same will then be done for the fringe Anabaptists.
Major Beliefs of the Scriptural Anabaptists
Most Scriptural Anabaptists held strongly to the following beliefs:
1. Regeneration or the new birth is a radical event which completely transforms a filthy sinner into a truly holy saint.
2. Baptism is for regenerated people only.
3. They emphasized following Christ in life.
4. The church is a voluntary association of the regenerated, kept pure by the ban or excommunication, which has the purpose of giving the light of Christ to the world and helping each member on in following Him. This was accompanied by a belief in the separation of church and state (the church free from the interference of the state, the church not trying to run the affairs of the state).
5. All worldly force was rejected (nonresistance) as was serving in the government for Christians.
6. The swearing of oaths is rejected.
Groups of Scriptural Anabaptists
The Scriptural Anabaptists can be further subdivided into two smaller divisions before the level of individual groups: the non-communitarian and the communitarian. The communitarian Anabaptists favored full community of goods, where private property was totally eliminated. The non-communitarian Anabaptists favored brotherhood sharing and aid, but allowed private property to a certain extent. They said that all goods were “common” in the sense of being available for the use of the brotherhood. The non-communitarian groups will be outlined here first.
Date of Origin: 1525 Major Leaders: Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, Michael Sattler Where name originated: Unknown; possibly because they originated in Switzerland and called each other “brothers” Geographical Locations: Switzerland, southern Germany, Moravia Mode of Baptism: Pouring & Immersion Modern Descendants: Amish & most American Mennonites, Swiss Mennonites
The Swiss Brethren were the original group of Anabaptists. They originated in Zürich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli was leading the Reformation. A group of zealous young men – most notably Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz – followed Zwingli and enthusiastically supported him. Eventually, their study of the Scriptures showed them that they could no longer support Zwingli’s program, especially because he consistently capitulated to the demands of the Zürich Council in matters of church reform. The group finally stepped aside from Zwingli’s program in a visible way when they accepted water baptism by pouring in Felix Manz’s mother’s courtyard.
The Swiss Brethren group grew greatly in the early days and continued to grow for more than 100 years. Remnants of the Swiss Brethren (now called Mennonites) still persist in their native Switzerland. Most Mennonites and essentially all Amish in North America are descended from the Swiss Brethren. The Swiss Brethren believed in nonresistance, nonswearing, the authority of the entire brotherhood in making decisions, the responsibility of the brotherhood to meet the needs of its own members, etc. They were heavily persecuted and met in barns, woods, etc. There is a cave near Zürich called the “Täuferhöhle”, or Anabaptist Cave, because of the Swiss Brethren meetings held there. The origin of the name “Swiss Brethren” (German Schweizer Bruder) is unknown. It is sometimes assumed that the group received this name because they originated in Switzerland and called each other “brother”. The first known use of the name is in the Hutterite Chronicle, where it is stated that in 1542 that some former Philipites (who will be discussed later) joined the Swiss Brethren. The Hutterites seemed to use the term “Swiss Brethren” as a term of derision for the Philipites because the latter had abandoned community of goods and reverted to ownership of private property. One Moravian document says that the Schweizer Bruder received their name from Hans Schweizer, about whom nothing more is known. Wherever the name came from and regardless of whom it was first applied to, the term “Swiss Brethren” came to refer to that group of primarily Swiss and South German Anabaptists represented by Grebel, Manz, Blaurock, and Michael Sattler.
Date of Origin: 1530s Major Leaders: Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, Leonaert Bouwens Where name originated: from Menno Simons; invented by the Anabaptists’ enemies Geographical Locations: the “Low Countries”, including the Netherlands and Northern Germany Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: a few American Mennonites, Dutch Mennonites, Russian (Old Colony) Mennonites
The Dutch Mennonites originated out of the confused mass of fringe Anabaptism in the Low Countries in the early to mid-1530s. Obbe and Dirk Philips, both illegitimate sons of a Catholic priest, joined the Anabaptist fellowship of the Melchiorites-turning-Münsterites. Obbe was baptized and ordained by Münsterite missionaries and began to baptize and ordain others, such as his brother Dirk, whom he ordained. When the Münsterites began to turn revolutionary, Dirk and Obbe stood – almost alone – against such ideas. The small circle of peaceful Anabaptists who stood against the revolutionary excesses of the Münsterites et al. became known as “Obbenites”, after Obbe Philips. It was this brotherhood which ordained other bishops, including David Joris, Adam Pastor, Gillis of Aachen, and Menno Simons. After the fall of the “Anabaptist kingdom” of Münster, Obbe’s conscience was tormented by the fact that he had been deceived by these people and allowed himself to be baptized and ordained by them. He felt that his ordination was invalid. He eventually left the brotherhood which he had helped lead during its turbulent years. Leadership was left in the hands of Menno Simons and Dirk Philips. Menno proved to be a capable leader, and the Anabaptists’ enemies dubbed the church the “Mennist” or “Mennonist” church. The Dutch Mennonites developed completely independently of the Swiss Brethren. During the Mennonites’ early years, there was no contact between them and other Scriptural forms of Anabaptism. They developed their convictions on the New Birth, separation from the world, the sword, the oath, etc., from the Scriptures. When they finally did contact the Swiss Brethren in the mid to late 1500s, they both had already formed their sets of basic convictions and found that in all but two points they agreed. The first of these points was how the excommunicated should be treated. The Swiss Brethren interpreted Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 5:11, “with such an one no not to eat,” as applying only to “eating” the Lord’s Supper. The Dutch Mennonites believed that this “eating” meant any eating, and that the excommunicated should be shunned. The second point of difference was that the Dutch ministers held to a different view of the Incarnation than the Swiss. However, not all of the Dutch Mennonites held this view; after the death of Menno and Dirk, the view seems to have died out among the Mennonites. The Dutch Mennonites also had a slightly different congregational practice from the Swiss. They were otherwise quite similar.
The Dutch Mennonites endured horrible persecution through the 1570s. Burning at the stake was the usual mode of execution, although beheading, drowning, and burying alive (for women) were also used. Once persecution stopped, the church began to relax, the people became rich and happy, and all that they had stood for amidst persecution began to slowly melt away. The group also began to splinter, beginning quite soon after Menno’s death and even before.
These groups of Anabaptists were either strictly communitarian or were communitarian at some point in their history.
Date of Origin: 1526 Major Leaders: Jacob Weidemann, Pilgram Marpeck Where name originated: Stäbler = staff-bearers, after nonresistance; Austerlitz Brethren, after the city they lived in; Pilgramites, for Pilgram Marpeck Geographical Locations: Moravia & southern Germany Mode of Baptism: pouring & immersion Modern Descendants: none; the Hutterites are indirect descendants
The Stäbler originated in a dispute between Balthasar Hubmaier and Hans Hut. Both were trying to establish Anabaptist congregations in the city of Nikolsburg. Hubmaier wanted a state church and did not accept nonresistance. Hut was nonresistant and refused to accept a state church. The congregation Hut founded became known as the Stäbler, staff-bearers, because they refused to carry swords. This group was left under the leadership of “one-eyed Jacob” Weidemann.
Weidemann soon began to teach community of goods, claiming that it was the mark of the true church. Nevertheless, his group did not practice it until they were expelled from the territory of the lords of Liechtenstein, who were members of the Schwertler (Hubmaier) group. The now very poor group put community of goods into practice as they left. Weidemann spread out a coat on the ground and his entire congregation put their goods in a heap on it. They thus earned another name, “those of the little heap”. Their most often-used name, however, was “Austerlitz Brethren”, because they moved to Austerlitz. Pilgram Marpeck, an important early Anabaptist leader, appears to have originally been a member of the Austerlitz Brethren after his conversion and before his leaving the area for Strasbourg (southern Germany). Marpeck was, in a sense, a “bridge Anabaptist”. He tried to work for the reconciliation of all Anabaptist groups. His efforts, unfortunately, were unsuccessful. He was rebuffed by the Hutterites. He considered the Swiss Brethren to be legalists who were not a true church.
The Austerlitz Brethren and the other (Pilgramite) congregations associated with them seem on the whole to have been a bit more lax than other Anabaptist fellowships, particularly on separation from the world and the oath. The Austerlitz Brethren believed a Christian could swear oaths without sin. Marpeck’s view is unknown, but some of his associates accepted swearing on certain occasions. The Austerlitz Brethren/Pilgramites (who may have referred to all of their churches by the name “Fellows of the Covenant”) eventually went extinct. The Austerlitz congregation itself scattered when the Anabaptists were expelled from Moravia; Jacob Weidemann was martyred in Vienna, Austria. After his death, remnants of his congregation joined the Hutterites. They had, before this, abandoned community of goods, with the other congregations they were in fellowship with. Marpeck’s congregations in southern Germany came to an end in about 1573; the last remnants of these churches were snuffed out by the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation in about 1620.
Although they have no direct modern descendants, the Hutterites – who still live in community of goods – are in a roundabout way the descendants of the original “ones of the little heap”.
Date of Origin: c. 1527 Major Leaders: Gabriel Ascherham Where name originated: from Gabriel Ascherham Geographical Locations: Silesia, Moravia, Poland Modern Descendants: none
Gabriel Ascherham was an Anabaptist leader who established a communitarian church similar to the Hutterites. In 1531, at the suggestion of evangelist Jakob Hutter, the Gabrielite, Philipite, and proto-Hutterite communities bound themselves together in a loose union with Gabriel serving as bishop over all three communities. In 1533, upon Jakob Hutter’s return to Moravia, the union disintegrated in the Schism of 1533. When the Moravian nobles banished the Anabaptists from their territories, the Gabrielites abandoned community of goods and fled. Little is known of the development of Gabriel’s life and thought, but it is clear that he became a spiritualist in his later days – i.e., one who believes that if one’s heart is right and he has the Holy Spirit, everything is fine, regardless of what he does with Scriptural commands. Thus he justified infant baptism and even said that the unsaved children of believers could be baptized. He denounced the Hutterites for “legalism” and their view of community of goods. It seems that his followers, as a whole, were unwilling to go in Gabriel’s direction, and defected to the Hutterites. At the time of his death, Gabriel was a “shepherd without sheep”, as some have said. Most of the remnants of his followers eventually joined the Hutterites.
Date of Origin: c. 1527 Major Leaders: Philip Plener, Blasius Kühn Where name originated: from Philip Plener Geographical Locations: Moravia Modern Descendants: none
Philip Plener was the elder of the Philipite community, another group of communitarian Anabaptists living in Moravia. His community grew because of the great numbers of Anabaptists coming to tolerant Moravia from other lands. Plener’s community eventually settled in Auspitz and established community of goods in 1529. In 1535, when the Anabaptists were expelled from Moravia, Plener and his assistant, Blasius Kühn, went about on horseback looking for a place to settle. Finding none, they announced to the group that each man would have to fend for himself. One group of Philipites went back to southern Germany, where they were probably absorbed into the Swiss Brethren. Others eventually joined the Hutterites.
One group of Philipites intended to return to Germany via the Danube River. Philip ordained Michael Schneider as the elder of this group. The Roman Catholics were alerted of the coming of these Anabaptists and caught the entire group and imprisoned them in the castle at Passau. Here they were imprisoned for five years. Although some were tortured, none were executed. A few died in prison and a few recanted and were released; others escaped. During their imprisonment, these Philipites wrote many hymns. These hymns were later used by the Hutterites and later by the Swiss Brethren as the core of the Ausbund, the German hymnbook still used by the Amish.
Date of Origin: c. 1527 Major Leaders: Jakob Hutter, Hans Amon, Peter Reidemann Where name originated: from Jakob Hutter Geographical Locations: Moravia, South Tyrol Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: Hutterites
The Hutterites had a rough starting as a group. Wilhelm Reublin, a Swiss Brethren evangelist and one of the original Zürich circle, joined the Austerlitz Brethren (Stäbler) and soon grew discontented with some of the rules and the actions of the leaders. He led a group away from the Austerlitz Brethren. Unfortunately, they soon found out the fact that they were united in their opposition to Jacob Weidemann did not mean they were united enough to be a church together. They experienced problems and Reublin was expelled as an Ananias because he preached community of goods but had kept some money secretly for himself. Jakob Hutter’s converts fleeing from South Tyrol then began to join the group, called at this point by historians the “proto-Hutterite community”. The group suffered through several other leaders and the Great Schism of 1533. After Jakob Hutter’s martyrdom, they came to be called Hutterites. They held to strict community of goods and nonresistance. They also opposed the paying of war taxes, as had Hans Hut and the Austerlitz Brethren. Unfortunately, some or perhaps many of them looked with scorn on all other groups of Anabaptists – particularly the Swiss Brethren. Although the Hutterites had a rough start, they proved to be a very vigorous and zealous group of Anabaptists. Their missionaries roamed far and wide across Europe, even long after the Swiss Brethren had, for the most part, stopped evangelizing. Their well-organized communities made ambitious missionary projects possible which could not have been carried out by the less structured Swiss Brethren or Dutch Mennonites. The Hutterites survive today, chiefly in the western United States and Canada.
There are many themes which recur several times among the fringe Anabaptists. These did not all occur in every fringe group, but they are common to more than one of these groups.
1. Belief in an invisible church. This means that they did not believe in an organized, “visible” church. Each person could do just fine all by himself, without Christian fellowship or organization being necessary. Thus all church authority was rejected as well as gathering together for fellowship and instruction.
2. Marginalization of baptism. Because of spiritualist/invisible church tendencies, baptism was often marginalized, up to and including outright rejection of adult/believer’s baptism. Thus in a sense, some of these groups hardly qualify for the label “Anabaptist”, even if we use that title very loosely.
3. Allowing the use of the sword.
4. Extra-biblical revelation, particularly in the form of special dreams and visions given to the prophets and prophetesses of the group.
Date of Origin: 1520s Major Leaders: Balthasar Hubmaier, Hans Spittelmaier Where name originated: Schwertler = sword bearers; from rejection of nonresistance Geographical Locations: southern Germany, Nikolsburg Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: none
Balthasar Hubmaier was an able defender of the principle of believer’s baptism and is known as “the theologian of the Anabaptists”. He was perhaps one of the most well-educated Anabaptists of all, having been at one time head of a university. Although he fellowshipped for a time with the Swiss Brethren, he never agreed with them on nonresistance. He participated in the Peasant’s War of 1525 and even had two nonresistant Anabaptists banished from his Anabaptist city of Waldshut.
Hubmaier eventually attempted to establish an Anabaptist state church from his new home in Nikolsburg. He broke with Hans Hut over this issue and over the use of the sword. His opponents, the Stäbler, eventually developed into the Austerlitz Brethren and far outlasted his Schwertler party. Hubmaier was imprisoned in 1527 by the Roman Catholics and recanted what he felt were secondary points of minor significance, i.e., concerning Mary. He hoped thereby to obtain release, but his plan did not work. He was later burned at the stake, leaving his followers confused as to what direction he wanted them to take. His churches died out in 1529.
Date of Origin: 1530s Major Leaders: Hans Denck, Ludwig Haetzer Where name originated: over-emphasis of inner spiritual life at the expense of following Biblical commands Geographical Locations: principally southern Germany Modern Descendants: none
The Spiritualists were a group of Anabaptists principally associated with Strasbourg in what was then part of southern Germany (now in France). Hans Denck, a friend of Hans Hut, was perhaps one of the most important of these Anabaptists. He baptized others for a time but soon decided that inner baptism was all that mattered. Not long before his death, he promised to never baptize anyone again and also approved of the swearing of oaths. His spiritualistic thinking, that only what was inside mattered, led him to forsake some or all of his Anabaptist convictions.
These Spiritualists descended from the medieval Mystics, who had emphasized the rebirth of the spirit and other internal aspects of the Christian life. When these Spiritualist/Mystic Anabaptists encountered persecution because of baptism, they seem to have easily slipped back into the mentality of “outward things do not matter; only inward things do”.
Ludwig Haetzer was a friend of Hans Denck. Denck may have baptized him. He was a scholar who did much writing, including hymn writing, and translating of Old Testament and Apocryphal books into German. His connection to the Anabaptists is rather ambiguous; he was finally executed for adultery.
Date of Origin: c. 1528 Major Leaders: Oswald Glait, Andreas Fisher Geographical Locations: Silesia Modern Descendants: none
This is one group which it takes a “judgment call” to put in the fringe group or the Scriptural group. With no judging whether the people involved were born again or not, it was decided to place them in the fringe group because their making a significant issue of the Sabbath question was certainly not normative for most Anabaptists. In addition, they rejected, at least in part, a basic belief of the Scriptural Anabaptists – that the New Testament has superseded the Old.
About 1528, Oswald Glait, who had been an active Anabaptist leader for a short time, published a book defending the view of a literal observance of a seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath rest. Andreas Fisher also wrote in defense of this view. Caspar Schwenckfeld, an opponent of Pilgram Marpeck, wrote a reply to Glait’s book and Martin Luther also wrote against these Anabaptists. When this movement died out is not certain, although it did not last long.
Date of Origin: 1530 Major Leaders: Melchior Hoffman Where name originated: from Melchior Hoffman Geographical Locations: Holland, Germany, England Mode of Baptism: Pouring Modern Descendants: none
Melchior Hoffman became a Lutheran early in life and in 1523 became a Lutheran preacher. He began to develop his ideas on prophecy, one of his favorite subjects, during his time as a Lutheran. His ideas on eschatology (end-times events), in addition to his lack of education (he was a simple furrier), resulted in his lack of acceptance among the Lutherans. In Strasbourg, he met and joined the Anabaptists. He was particularly drawn to a man and woman who claimed to have received prophetic visions. He soon published their “revelations”. Hoffman progressively grew convinced that he was Elijah who was to herald the coming of Christ. He visited the Netherlands and introduced Anabaptism there. When some of his followers were martyred, he recommended that baptism be suspended for two years because the building of the Second Temple had also been delayed for two years. Meanwhile, he continued to write and publish. He claimed that no one in his day preached the true Gospel. He looked with scorn on the Swiss Brethren. Finally, an aged Anabaptist from Friesland “prophesied” that Hoffman was indeed Elijah, that he would be imprisoned in Strasbourg for six months, then would be released and (with the help of other ministers) would spread Anabaptism over the whole world. Hoffman excitedly rushed back to Strasbourg, had himself arrested, and swore an oath that he would eat and drink nothing except bread and water until he could point to Jesus Himself. Ten years later, Melchior Hoffman died in prison. Despite his strange teachings, Hoffman did embrace nonresistance and warned his followers against sedition, rebellion, and polygamy. After his death, his followers continued a policy of “invisible church” – conforming to accepted state church practices to avoid persecution. They eventually died out, although they still existed as late as 1560.
Date of Origin: 1530s Major Leaders: Jan Mathys, Jan van Leiden, Bernhard Rothmann Where name originated: from Münster, city which they believed would be the “New Jerusalem” Geographical Locations: Netherlands, primarily Münster and Amsterdam Modern Descendants: none
While Melchior Hoffman was convinced that he was Elijah, he and his followers could not for sure decide who should be recognized as “Enoch”. Caspar Schwenckfeld and Cornelius Polterman were the main contenders for the position. While Melchior Hoffman was imprisoned (before his first six months had expired), a new competitor for the title of “Enoch” appeared – a Dutch baker by the name of Jan Mathys. When he heard from some of the other Melchiorites that Polterman was Enoch, he threatened with hellfire any who dared to reject his claims. In this way, he was able to procure the submission of some of the Melchiorites.
Meanwhile, in the town of Münster, in Westphalia, Germany, a reformer named Bernhard Rothmann was dissatisfied with the Lutheran doctrines he was being forced by the town council to uphold. When Mathys arrived at the city, Rothmann joined the Anabaptists along with many from the city. Following a vision of three suns (probably just a display of sundogs), the Münster Anabaptists resorted to force and captured control of the city government. They promptly banished all who would not submit to rebaptism. Mathys then issued a call to all Anabaptists to come to the “New Jerusalem”, which, he claimed, was not to be Strasbourg as Melchior Hoffman had said but was actually to be Münster. He invited all oppressed Anabaptists – indeed, everyone – to come join the “Kingdom” at Münster, and thousands answered the call.
It was not long before a combined Catholic and Protestant army under the leadership of the Catholic Bishop of Münster had besieged the “Anabaptist Kingdom”. Mathys “prophesied” that the world would end on Easter Sunday, 1534. On that day he took a few of his men and tried to drive away the bishop’s army in Old Testament style. They failed and Mathys was killed.
After Mathys’ death, another man, Jan van Leiden, took over leadership of Münster. He had himself crowned king, eventually built himself a throne in the town square, and called himself the “third David” (Jesus being the second) and the “joyous king of all”. Leiden introduced polygamy into the “Kingdom” because of a shortage of men in the besieged city. As starvation set in, Leiden held amusements in the market place – such as dancing and theatricals – for the public amusement. This, of course, did not make the people forget their hunger. A revolt inside the city was brutally suppressed. Finally, due to a betrayal from inside the city, the bishop’s armies were able to successfully invade Münster. Leiden and two of his associates were captured, put in iron cages, and toured around Europe for display. Leiden finally recanted his errors and admitted that he had never received revelations from God. The three were finally tortured to death and the cages were hung from the church tower in Münster, where they remain to this day.
Date of Origin: 1535 Major Leaders: Jan van Geelen, Jan van Batenberg Where name originated: from the Oldeklooster (Old Cloister) which they seized Geographical Locations: Bolsward, Freisland, in the Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
It is perhaps somewhat of an exaggeration to put the Old Cloisterites in a separate group from the Münsterites; indeed, Jan van Geelen, their leader, was one of the “twelve prophets” of Münster. Nevertheless, their story is distinct from the Münster story.
On March 30, 1535, some Melchiorites/Münsterites seized the Old Cloister in Bolsward, Friesland (Netherlands). They then wanted to take, by force, the entire province of Freisland. An imperial officer was given the task of retaking the monastery, a job which he found more difficult to do than he had supposed. He had to besiege the cloister, bombard it with artillery fire, and charge it three times. It fell on April 7. About 300 Anabaptists died in the fighting. Of the rest, 37 were instantly beheaded and 132 were taken prisoner. Of these, 55 were later executed. Jan van Geelen escaped harm!
It is a possibility that one of the participants in the Old Cloister event, Peter Simons, was a brother of Menno Simons.
Davidjorists or Davidians
Date of Origin: 1540s Major Leaders: David Joris Where name originated: from David Joris Geographical Locations: primarily the Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
As a young man, David Joris joined the Lutherans, then the Melchiorites, and finally the Obbenites. Among the Obbenites he was ordained a bishop. Before long, unfortunately, he became convinced that he was a “third David” who was receiving direct revelation from God. He claimed that Christ did not bring in a full revelation of truth, but that instead both Old and New Testaments were now superseded by his own writings. He believed in an invisible church and also believed that sin of the body does not affect the spirit. He allowed polygamy. Despite these weaknesses, he refused the use of the sword and did not agree with the Batenbergers on this point.
When Menno Simons warned against the false prophet in his famous book Foundation of Christian Doctrine, Joris took offense and wrote to Menno challenging him to a great battle. Menno replied in a brief letter, telling Joris in effect to not write to him anymore until he would accept the absolute authority of the Scriptures.
Tired of persecution, Joris finally took his family to Basel where, under the pseudonym Jan van Bruges, he claimed to be a Reformed refugee. He was allowed to stay and became one of the pillars of the Reformed state church there. Meanwhile, he continued to secretly correspond with his many followers. He died in Basel in 1556. Years after his death, a dispute among his followers revealed to the Basel authorities that the respected “Jan van Bruges” was really the notorious heretic, David Joris! The Reformed authorities then had his corpse dug up and burned with as many of his writings as they could find. Joris’s following eventually disintegrated, although it did not happen immediately following his death or his cremation.
Batenbergers or Zwaardgeesten
Date of Origin: 1535 Major Leaders: Jan van Batenberg Where name originated: Batenbergers from Jan van Batenberg; Zwaardgeesten = “sword minded” Geographical Locations: Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
The Batenbergers were followers of Jan van Batenberg, who had been a participant in the incident at the Old Cloister. After the fall of Münster in 1535, remnants of the Münsterite group were attracted to the Batenbergers. They were essentially organized bandits, believing that it was right to rob church buildings and practice polygamy. van Batenberg believed that he was Elijah who was to appear before Christ. In December 1537, he was arrested. While in prison, he betrayed many Anabaptists and tried to convince the authorities that he had always opposed plans of plunder and attack (!). He was executed in 1538. Another of the Batenbergers’ leaders was executed in 1544. They seem to have gone extinct sometime in the 1550s.
Date of Origin: 1550s Major Leaders: Adam Pastor Where name originated: from Adam Pastor Geographical Locations: Netherlands Modern Descendants: none
The Adamites were the only Anabaptist group which was antitrinitarian. Adam Pastor (whose original name was Roelof Martens), the leader of the group, was a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood in 1533 and became a Münsterite. He later left the Münsterites and joined the Obbenites/Mennonites. Menno Simons ordained him an elder in the early or mid-1540s. Pastor later became an anti-trinitarian and questioned the deity of Jesus Christ. Three debates were held with him in 1547. Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, and other Mennonite bishops tried to show Pastor the error of his ways, but he refused to give up his theological opinions. Dirk Philips excommunicated him at the end of the last meeting, presumably acting in behalf of all the bishops.
Pastor continued to preach and attracted a small following. In order to counteract his influence, Menno Simons wrote a pamphlet titled Confession of the Triune God, which was originally circulated in handwritten form but was eventually printed. Dirk wrote a 20-stanza hymn, “You Christian Brothers Together,” and a letter against Pastor’s ideas.
In 1552, Pastor requested another discussion with the Mennonite bishops. He felt that he was not given a fair hearing in the three meetings of 1547. Menno and Dirk agreed and the meeting was held, but it was fruitless. Neither side would relent.
Pastor died sometime between 1560 and 1570 and his following disintegrated. Among all the known Dutch Anabaptist martyrs, only one (Herman van Vlekwijk) was known to be an antitrinitarian.
Is it Fair to say “the Anabaptists”?
Having seen the many different groups of people, some of them quite different from each other, which practiced adult baptism and were thus called “Anabaptists”, it is my opinion that it is not fair to say “the Anabaptists believed this” or “the Anabaptists practiced this” without clarification of exactly which Anabaptists are being referred to. In a sense, it cannot even be said that “the Anabaptists” practiced adult baptism because some groups (such as the Spiritualists) eventually abandoned the baptism of adults.
To say “the Anabaptists this” or “the Anabaptists that” would be comparable to saying “the pedobaptists believed and practiced this, that, or the next thing.” Among the pedobaptists were the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Reformed (Calvinists/Zwinglians) – obviously a very disparate collection of groups. The only connecting link between all pedobaptists was the baptism of infants. The various pedobaptist groups did not even share their main arguments in support of pedobaptism. Because it would thus be unfair to talk about the pedobaptists as a homogenous group, it would also be unfair to talk of the Anabaptists as one homogenous group.
God has had His righteous remnant through all of time. It is my belief that in the sixteenth century, the Scriptural Anabaptists made up a good portion of that remnant. However, not everything called “Anabaptist” is necessarily good or wholesome. The days of the Reformation were filled with many strange characters and bizarre beliefs, but the Scriptural Anabaptists were able to steer clear of these influences for the most part. Their Biblical convictions live on today among their descendants, including the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites.
1. The Anabaptist Story, by William Estep 2. Mennonites in Europe, by John Horsch 3. Hutterite Beginnings, by Werner O. Packull 4. The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, by C. Arnold Snyder 5. The Drummer’s Wife, by Joseph Stoll 6. The Secret of the Strength, by Peter Hoover 7. Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. by George H. Williams & Angel M. Mergal 8. The Writings of Dirk Philips, ed. by Cornelius J. Dyck, William E. Keeney, & Alvin J. Beachy 9. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, edited by J. C. Wenger 10. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, edited by William Klassen & Walter Klaassen 11. Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith, translated by John J. Friesen 12. They Harry the Good People Out of the Land, by John S. Oyer 13. Anabaptism in Outline, ed. by Walter Klaassen 14. “Pilgram Marpeck and the Fellows of the Covenant: The Short and Fragmentary History of the Rise and Decline of an Anabaptist Denominational Network,” by Martin Rothkegel, Mennonite Quarterly Review 85 (January 2011):7-36 15. Songs of the Ausbund, Vol. 1, by Ohio Amish Library 16. The following articles on the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (www.gameo.org): “Wideman, Jakob (d. 1535/6),” by Robert Friedmann “Austerlitz Brethren,” by Christian Hege “Ascherham, Gabriel (d. 1545),” by Robert Friedmann “Gabrielites,” by Robert Friedmann “Philippites,” by Robert Friedmann “Plener, Philipp (16th century),” by Robert Friedmann “Schwertler,” by Harold S. Bender “Denck, Hans (ca. 1500-1527),” by Christian Neff & Walter Fellmann “Haetzer, Ludwig (1500-1529),” by Gerhard Goeters “Sabbatarian Anabaptists,” by William Klassen “Sabbatarianism,” by Daniel Liechty “Melchior Hoffman,” by Christian Neff & Werner O. Packull “Melchiorites,” by Cornelius Krahn “Münster Anabaptists,” by Cornelius Krahn, Nanne van der Zijpp, & James M. Stayer “Oldeklooster (Friesland, Netherlands),” by Christian Neff & Nanne van der Zijpp “Batenburg, Jan van (1495-1538),” by Jacob Loosjes “David Joris (ca. 1501-1556),” by Gerhard Hein & Gary K. Waite “Adam Pastor (d.1560/70),” by Christian Neff & Harold S. Bender “Adamites,” by Nanne van der Zijpp “Antitrinitarianism,” by Robert Friedmann “Unitarianism,” by Harold S. Bender “God (Trinity), Doctrine of,” by James A. Reimer
Originally published in The Witness June 2012.
By Dean Taylor
Let no man deceive you with vain words. Ephesians 5:6 Certain men crept in unawares . . . turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. Jude 4
The funny thing about a broken clock is that it is perfectly right twice a day. Think about it … that old clock might have been dead for years, but nonetheless, two times a day its little rusty hands proudly proclaim the time as accurately as the space program’s best atomic clock. However, despite this brief momentary accuracy, for all practical purposes a broken clock is still worthless. And that’s a bit the way that salvation is commonly taught and preached these days. It’s often completely right for a moment…but by and large it is still broken.
Here’s what I mean … Modern Evangelicals are quick to point to the fact that to spend eternity with Christ we must be “born again.” In describing this necessity to be “born again,” they often highlight the holiness of God and sinfulness of man. They accentuate the fact that man is helpless to save himself and therefore totally at the mercy of God for grace and forgiveness.
Now, this is all very appropriate and even “accurate.” But much like the broken clock that is accurate only for a moment, this is usually where modern Evangelical salvation stops. It started out good, but it didn’t keep going. The result is a salvation that is reduced to a “decision” or a “prayer”—not a new life. Explanations of salvation like these can leave the sinner standing there “broken” without a ticking heart. When salvation is explained this way the results can be devastating. Even the most sincere “walk down the aisle” or the most passionate “sinner’s prayer” is no substitute for Jesus’ words, “take up your cross daily and follow me.” Christianity is a life—not a one-time decision.
The Mass Murderer Goes to Heaven?
A few weeks ago the nation mourned over the news of yet one more homicidal catastrophe. This time a man named George Sodini from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania went into his sports gym with a loaded hand gun and savagely ended the lives of three women and injured nine others. Completing this fit of terror, the deranged killer finally turned the gun on himself and ended his own life as well.
Unfortunately, this type of tragedy is not unheard of on the landscape of modern America. What caught my attention in this case was that the killer left a journal. In his journal the killer mentioned the philosophy that enabled him to perform these terrible atrocities.
Aghast when I read it, I saw that Sodini claimed that his philosophy was the philosophy of modern American Evangelicalism—brought to its logical end.
Writing a year before the murders, George Sodini wrote in his journal about his involvement in church. Speaking about the pastor of the church he attended for 13 years he said, “this guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven.”
Those words are chilling when you consider the consequences.
Skipping up a year to the day before the murder, George Sodini left what I consider his most disturbing journal entry. Most disturbing, because in this entry, Sodini articulated a modern American statement of faith—all too well. (The capital letters are all from Sodini’s own words):
“Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.”
Sodini’s case—I admit—is certainly extreme. The man was obviously disturbed. A reading of the rest of his journal demonstrates clearly that he was a troubled man. So to put the blame entirely on modern American Evangelicalism would seem a bit unfair.
But yet I wonder … could it have been different if Sodini would have been taught a fear of God rather than a license to sin? Could it have been different if he would have been told that a despicable lifestyle actually matters to God? Could it all have been different if he had been taught that a sincere faith demands a response toward God in the way of amended life? And most important to this discussion, I wonder…was Sodini’s response solely a twisted mind, or was it rather an extreme application of a bad theology, taken to its logical end?
“At least that is what I was told…”
What exactly did Sodini mean when he attempted to justify his innocence before God—even while intending to commit mass murder—adding “at least that is what I was told”? • Who told George Sodini that a person could kill someone and not “lose their salvation”? • Who told George Sodini that faith existed only in mental beliefs? • Who told George Sodini that his actions did not matter to God? • Who told George Sodini that “grace” was some kind of blanket forgiveness policy? • Who came up with this strange doctrine? If this was the teaching of some obscure cult somewhere in the world, it would have been bad enough. But tragically, what Sodini articulated in his journal—and ultimately put to practice in his life—is a theology that is proclaimed across tens of thousands of pulpits every day.
Where did this start?
During the Reformation of the 1500s, Martin Luther stood strong against the ceremonial-works religion of the Roman Catholics. The ideas of buying your way to heaven, praying to saints, and making pilgrimages to holy sites to earn your salvation were commonplace in his day. Luther fought against these things by arguing that salvation was “by grace through faith.” However, as often happens during times of debate, Luther reacted. He went from saying that salvation could not be obtained by works, to saying that works didn’t matter at all. By doing this, Luther made “faith” a purely mental concept. “Actions”, or rather “works of faith”, were seen by Luther as nonessentials.
While I believe that Luther meant well, like the Gnostics of the early church before him he ultimately masterminded a Christianity that exists only in the mind. To be fair to Luther, he did at times teach that this mental faith should find its way to action. However, when it was all said and done, lifestyle to Luther was a mere bonus. Following Christ meant right thoughts about Christ, not actually following Christ in reality.
To give a graphic example of what I mean, concluding his thoughts in a revealing letter to a fellow minister, Luther said:
“No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. “
I think that very few Evangelicals today would ever say this kind of thing with such candor. But when I ponder the twisted faith of this mass killer George Sodini, what am I to think when I read Martin Luther’s words that a person cannot lose his salvation “even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day”?
The scriptures plainly teach that we are saved “by grace through faith.” No self-respecting Christian argues that point. The problem comes by the fact that Luther and many others after him have redefined the terms. The terms “grace” and “faith” no longer mean what they used to. Today, “grace” is basically defined as forgiveness. Some may stretch it and use the phrase “unmerited favor,” but still at the end of the day, what they usually mean by that is simply forgiveness. The term “faith” has been tragically reduced to mean a mere mental assent to specific facts about God.
The Power of Grace
The Apostle Paul provided a nice balance when he wrote to the church at Ephesus about salvation. Warning about the danger of trusting in mere works to save them he said: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast…”  But then continuing the sentence, he went right on to say: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  For Paul, salvation had a purpose. It was alive. It did something! Paul was passionate about what grace actually did in the life of the believer. When writing to his young disciple Titus, Paul spelled out a few of the things that he believed grace should accomplish. Pay close attention to what Paul told Titus that grace teaches us …
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. “
Those are some powerful things that grace actually does. Much more than just forgiveness—grace is power!
In demonstrating what Christianity should be like, Jesus called a little child to him. He put the child in the middle of the crowd and said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. ” 
Apparently, Jesus regarded the theology of salvation as something very simple. So simple, that He said that we would need to be like little children in order to grasp it. I used to think that this simply meant that we needed to be pure-minded, innocent, loving, and carefree like children are. But that was before I had children of my own! And while I think that those qualities of childlikeness certainly are part of it, I think that there is more to the story—and this is it: children follow.
Children follow the good things I do, and unfortunately, they also follow the bad. As a matter of fact, I have found that I can “teach” them all I want, but what really affects their behavior is how I act. Children don’t see life in nuances of dogmas, creeds, theologies, algorithms, and flow charts. They simply watch, hear—and follow.
When I consider the conversion stories in the Gospels, I see the same thing. Jesus’ evangelism strategy was so simple that it was profound. More often than not, Jesus simply used two words—“follow Me.” While those two words may be easy to say, they’re not at all easy to practice. As a matter of fact, in my own strength, they’re impossible. When I am confronted with this overwhelmingly simple command to “follow Christ,” I would be foolish to think that I could accomplish this in the power of my flesh. When I have tried to do this, I have fallen flat on my face.
In the early days of the 16th-century Radical Reformation, the topic of salvation was one of many issues that were taking center stage. The Anabaptists liked much of what they were hearing from the early Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli, but they soon noticed that something vitally important was missing. Like the broken clock, they saw that the salvation that Luther and Zwingli were preaching sounded good, but only for a moment. It was too often merely doctrinal, legal, or creedal: in essence, not alive.
The Anabaptists saw that humility before a holy God and thirst for God’s salvation was not just a momentary thing like joining the church, saying a prayer, or even walking an aisle—it was a way of life. To be saved by grace presupposed a continual life of living faith. The early Anabaptists felt salvation must go further than the head. They expected more from salvation than just new ideas and theology. The following letter from an early Anabaptist, struggling about his time among the Evangelicals of the 1500s, gives a glimpse of their position. He wrote:
“While yet in the national church, we obtained much instruction from the writings of Luther, Zwingli, and others, concerning the mass and other papal ceremonies, that they are vain. Yet we recognized a great lack as regards repentance, conversion, and the true Christian life. Upon these things my mind was bent. I waited and hoped for a year or two, since the minister had much to say of amendment of life, of giving to the poor, loving one another, and abstaining from evil. But I could not close my eyes to the fact that the doctrine which was preached and which was based on the Word of God, was not carried out. No beginning was made toward true Christian living, and there was no unison in the teaching concerning the things that were necessary.
“And although the mass and the images were finally abolished, true repentance and Christian love were not in evidence. Changes were made only as concerned external things. This gave me occasion to inquire further into these matters. Then God sent His messengers, Conrad Grebel and others, with whom I conferred about the fundamental teachings of the apostles and the Christian life and practice. I found them men who had surrendered themselves to the doctrine of Christ by “Bussfertigkeit” [repentance evidenced by fruits]. With their assistance we established a congregation in which repentance was in evidence by newness of life in Christ. “
A changed life was the gift they saw promised to them in the scriptures, and by faith these Radicals would settle for nothing less. That’s not to say that the Radical Reformers believed in a salvation by works either. They felt that any work done for Christ must be a work of faith and charity; empty works were still empty works.
As could be expected, this emphasis on a changed life quickly opened them up to the criticism that they were trying to earn their own salvation—a claim they quickly and adamantly denied. When it came to “salvation by faith,” they warned that error lies on both sides of the debate.
Beware of the Scribes and the Pharisees
In a beautifully worded warning from one of the founders of the Radical Reformation, Michael Sattler cautioned that Christians must beware of both the Scribes and the Pharisees. The “Pharisees”, Sattler taught, typified the type of faith that they had when they were Roman Catholics. He said that just like the Pharisees of the Bible, the Roman Catholics were trying to earn their salvation by works of the Law. Therefore he cautioned that we must beware of this tendency to endeavor to earn our own salvation. On the other hand, Sattler warned that the “Scribes” typified the Evangelicals. He gave the picture that Scribes teach beautiful things, write impressive books, and even preach magnificent sermons. However, like the Scribes of old, their salvation never penetrates into their lives. In other words, the Scribes spoke good things, but did not live them. “We must” Michael Sattler warned, “beware the Scribes and the Pharisees. ” 
Empty works are still empty works. And any works that we think will replace or add to the work of Christ are still worthless. But to separate mental faith from acts of faith is to completely miss the message of the whole Bible. From beginning to end, the Bible is full of stories of visible, touchable, workable, sweatable, bleedable faith.
The Epistle of Straw
The book of James plainly said that “Faith without works is dead.” So why is that statement so controversial? James did not say that our works added to the merits of Christ’s atoning work. James simply said that faithful actions are evident demonstrations of our faith. It is interesting to note that the “works” James mentioned in Chapter 2 are not works from the Old Testament Law, such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, or dietary regulations. Rather, the works that James mentioned were fruits that a person evidenced when he has genuine faith.
For instance, James describes the “works” of Abraham as the actions Abraham did when he was willing to sacrifice his son on the altar. This was not Abraham trusting in himself, rather, this was an act of faith. After mentioning Abraham’s touching story, James tried to persuade us to understand this sacred truth saying:
“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:22-24)
Why is this so scary to Evangelicals? Probably because this verse makes it absolutely clear that faith is something more than ideas and convictions in your head. Faith includes your body—your actions—or if I may use the word—your works. To dismiss the clarity of these statements, Martin Luther had the audacity to call the entire Epistle of James “An epistle of straw.” That should tell us something … frankly, it scares me.
You must be born again
None of these things can be accomplished by fakers. There is no shortcut to heaven. Empty works are no better than empty faith. So … • If we are actually going to honor the name of God, • If we are going to please Him and glorify Him with our lives, • If we are going to follow in Jesus’ great big steps, … then we must be born again.
New Wine—New Wineskins
Near the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus gave His charge to Matthew the tax collector and other sinners who were at Matthew’s house with those challenging words: “follow me.”  Right after this however, Mark recorded Jesus’ parable about becoming a new creation in the parable of old cloth and old wine skins.
“No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” (Mark 2:21-22).
In other words, the Christ-following life is not something that you can just tack on to your old life. That’s not going to work. If you do try, it will break.
Jesus used the word “repent.” That means completely changing the way I want to go, and following His way. That’s more than just a little decision or a “sinner’s prayer”—that’s becoming a whole new creation. If I try to tack Christianity on to my nonrepentant old lifestyle—like the unshrunk cloth or old wineskin—it’s going to rip and burst!
When being a follower of Christ actually means to follow Christ, what an exciting life awaits! Just two words say it all —“follow Me.” That’s a living faith. That’s a salvation that is not just in my head—it’s real in my life—a ticking clock!
 Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: _Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften_ Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.  Ephesians 2:8-9  Ephesians 2:10  Titus 2:11-15  Matthew 18:1-4  Taken from an unpublished manuscript in the Staatsarchiv des Kantons Bern, (Unnütze Papiere, Bd. 80), entitled Acta des Gesprächs zw¨schenn predicannten und Touffbrüderenn (1538), Copy in the Goshen College Library.  The Legacy Of Michael Sattler p. 115-116.  Mark 2:14
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (July/August/September 2009), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.