Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 49 - Anabaptists (Video)

File 49 >> I've heard of another branch of Protestants. But to be honest, I don't know much about it. Who were the Anabaptists? Were they like the Baptists of today? >> In some ways the answer to that is yes. The Baptists of the day are basically a development out of English Puritanism in the 17th Century, so I wouldn't want to say the Baptists are, for the most part, the direct heir of the Anabaptists. But in terms of their attitude toward baptism, there were some similarities. The Anabaptists rejected yet another part of the medieval and Christian tradition, and that was infant baptism. So, again, they kind of fit from the standpoint of our radical reformation. But there is more to the Anabaptist movement of the 16th Century than simply their attitude toward baptism. In fact, instead of talking simply about Anabaptists as if they were a unified whole, it probably makes more sense to try to pick up on different kinds of Anabaptists, different approaches to the Christian religion, all of whom had this rejection of infant baptism, but had different emphases and different approaches as well. In particular, what I would like to call your attention to at this point is a strain of radical reformation that we like to call apocalyptic revolutionaries. At least some Anabaptists fall into this category as well. These were religious leaders and their followers who believed that the church was in the last days, that we could expect the end of the world at any moment, the second coming of Jesus. Now, Luther believed that the end of the world was eminent, but he wasn't a revolutionary. The people that I am talking about here believed that they ought to participate in the events of the second coming, that they ought to help bring it on by actually taking part in the battle of Armageddon between the forces of good, by which they meant themselves, and the forces of evil, by which they meant primarily the establishment, the ecclesiastical and political establishment. Attitudes like these surfaced early in the Reformation. You remember the Peasants� War. Professor Robinson I know talked a little bit about it. And one of the leaders of the peasants during that war was Thomas Munzer. He was really an apocalyptic revolutionary. He thought that the Peasants� War in the mid-1520s was actually a part of those events leading directly to the second coming. And so in the name of God, in the name of the coming Christ, he and his followers fought in the Peasants� War, and, of course, the peasants were slaughtered, and Thomas Munzer was taken by authority shortly thereafter and executed. But that didn't suppress this apocalyptic revolutionary spirit that we find in the radical reformation. But it is mixed up with the Anabaptists, that is, those who also rejected infant baptism, and believed in rebaptism. That's how they come to be known as the Anabaptists. Well, to talk about the Anabaptists in particular, we should make note of the fact that they emerged originally from Zwingli�s reformation in Zurich and the surrounding territories. Among Zwingli�s earliest followers, Conrad Grebel, and Felix Mantz were impatient with the slow pace of Zwingli's reform, and the tardiness with which the town government of Zurich was willing to make changes. On account of that tardiness, Grebel charged that Zwingli and the theologians had set the word of God on its head, trampled it under foot, and put it into slavery. One particular focus of their dissent from Zwingli turned out to be baptism. And here they took a more radical approach the Christian tradition than did Zwingli and the other imagine material reformers, in that they rejected infant baptism, asserting they could find no basis for it in the scriptures. They contended that baptism should be reserved for true believers only, and that, therefore, you shouldn't baptize babies. Now, at first, their protest took the form of refusing to have their own children baptized, but then in January of 1525, they took one step more. They had gathered at the home of Felix Mantz in Zurich where apparently they were talking about these matters. And one of the group, a fellow by the name of George Blaurock asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him. Well, Grebel did, and then the others likewise so that they were all rebaptized as adults, and that's actually what that word Anabaptist means, it means to baptize again. Now, from those small beginnings in Zurich, the Anabaptist movement grew. Blaurock for example, started a congregation of believers only in the town of Zollikon, which is a few miles outside of Zurich. Blaurock was one of those who believed in taking direct action against the authorities, so he insisted on interrupting sermons at one point and telling the pastor, "Not you, but I have been called to preach." So there was kind of a militant edge to some of these early Anabaptists. Some of them from Zollikon came to Zurich where they paraded through the streets saying "Woe, woe, woe to Zurich," calling Zwingli the old dragon, and giving the city of Zurich 40 days to repent. Well, Zurich was not too impressed, nor were the town officials slow to respond. Blaurock was imprisoned. Grebel was exiled, and he died not too long after from the plague. And they decreed death for rebaptism. Felix Mantz was the first of the Anabaptists to be martyred. He was executed by drowning; the authorities thought was particularly appropriate for the Anabaptists. We probably wonder why it is that the authorities became so concerned about the Anabaptists. What was going on in their thinking? Well, what was going on was a concern that they had for the unity of their communities. Christianity was a glue that helped the community stay together. But what the Anabaptists were saying is that the true church was the gather church, the one that separated from the world, separated from the community to form its own community. And this, the authorities thought as inherently subversive. And if this were permitted, then how could the town or how could government, how could society sustain itself. So the Anabaptists were seen as a real threat to the social and the political order as well as to religious beliefs and practices. So Anabaptists were persecuted. By the time that the reformation period was over, thousands, actually, of Anabaptists were put to death for their faith. In these early years, however, in spite of the persecutions, the movement spread, spread throughout Switzerland, and then into German lands and territories. There's not a lot of shape to the movement in that it depended upon itinerant preachers sometimes described as charismatic leaders, each of whom would have his own peculiarities as he preached and gathered up a following. Because they were persecuted, these preachers didn't tend to stay put in any one place for a long, long time. And each of them as I said was a little different. Among the Anabaptists leaders who also helped to fulfill the spirit of apocalyptic revolutionary religion was a man by the name of Melchior Hoffman. Melchior Hoffman was originally a follower of Luther, but he turned out to be far more radical than Luther in his rejection of the Christian past. He was active in the northern part of Germany. Actually he had spent time in Scandinavia, the Netherlands before landing in Straussburg. Increasingly as he preached and taught, he became convinced not only that there was a need for the church to be gathered from out of the world, but that also it needed to be prepared for the imminent second coming of Our Lord. He began also to identify himself with biblical figures. He thought himself as the Elijah who was going to prepare the way for Christ's return. Eventually, as I said, he made his way to Straussburg where he predicted that Our Lord would establish the New Jerusalem, that the last day was imminent. Well, Straussburg apparently wasn't pleased with the nomination as the New Jerusalem, so they arrested and imprisoned Hoffman where he languished for 10 years still awaiting and looking for the second coming. Prior to his coming to Straussburg, however, he had preached the Anabaptists� gospel in the Netherlands, had rebaptized many, had gathered a following. He commissioned his own preachers to carry the message into other places. When he left, some of his followers looking for new leadership lighted upon one Jan van Matthijs, who was a baker, but also one of Hoffman's preachers, and who, like his mentor, began to preach this imminent second coming. He identified himself with biblical figures from the Book of Revelation, and it was while Matthijs was leading the movement that he and his followers gathered in the northern German city of Munster and really took over the city of Munster proclaiming Munster to be the New Jerusalem. Anybody in Munster who didn't accept Matthijs as this prophet from God for the last times had to get out of town, or if it persisted in staying and opposing, then he was executed, a great deal of social upheaval and violence in the city of Munster. Matthijs himself was killed in religious violence there as the Anabaptists were taking over the city. He left behind him as a leader of this revolutionary form of Anabaptists another John or Jan, this is John of Leiden. He, too, looked to the scriptures for a kind of title with which to clothe himself, and he described himself as the king of righteousness. During his time in Munster, things got worse. John reinstituted polygamy, and demanded that the people of Munster pay him kind of a royal obeisance. All of this was too much for the neighboring princes, Catholic officials, as well as Protestant princes. As a result, they combined forces to lay siege to the city of Munster. This meant that things within the city became even worse, and finally, the combined Protestant/Catholic forces took the city and John of Leiden and his Anabaptist revolutionary leaders were tried and executed. Over the following decades in the reformation period, whenever anybody came across any Anabaptists, seems that they always were quick to identify them with what had happened in Munster so that the siege of Munster and the Anabaptist takeover of the city did a lot to discredit the Anabaptist movement in the rest of the reformation period.