Calvin, Zwingli’s Stepchildren, the Schleitheim Confession, and the Calvinistic Missionmovement in the 16th/17th century denominational development
Map 1: The Origin of Reformation Traditions in the 16th Century:
1 Historical Background of the Anabaptists
The Anabaptists consider themselves as member of the Protestant Reformation. They were dissatisfied with the pace and extent of Protestant reform and pushed for more radical reform measures, including adult baptism. Zwingli taught if a teaching wasn’t in the Bible then it was not a law of God. It was the teachings of Zwingli that led to the idea of infant baptism being disallowed.67 When Zwingli suggested infant baptism was the substitute for the Jewish rite of circumcision, it caused a separation between Zwingli and his followers. This made infant baptism the first of many reasons for separation from the established churches. In addition the Anabaptists refused the teaching that infants were punishable for sin, because they had no awareness of good and evil and thus could not yet exercise free will, repent, and accept baptism.
The first adult baptisms took place outside Zürich in early 1525. Since in those days every child was baptized and they were denying the validity of infant baptism, they taught adult baptism by faith, 68 giving them the name Anabaptist. Most Anabaptists were pacifists and refused to swear civil oaths and became known as Christians of the Radical Reformation.
2. The Birth of Anabaptist churches outside of Swiss Confederation
The monogenist theory holds that the Anabaptist movement was growing out of the Swiss Brethren movement lead by Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock and others. Then Anabaptism of the Swiss Brethren was transmitted to southern Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and northern Germany, where it developed into its various branches. Their direct descendants are the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. There is no unity about the origin of the Baptists, who share most of the theological convictions of the Anabaptists.69 Scholars holding to the popular Anabaptist monogenist theory would reject counting the Münsterites into their group. In this view the time of origin is January 21, 1525, when Grebel baptized George Blaurock, and Blaurock baptized other followers.70 The so called polygenist theory suggests (Deppermann, Packull, to move the date for the beginning of the Anabaptist Movement to February 24, 1527, because then the Schleitheim Confession document was signed. –
Anabaptist historians like Hillerbrand, Bender, Holl and Troeltsch support the thesis of a single
dispersion of Anabaptism-…, which certainly ran through Zurich, They believe the Schleitheim
Confession should be understood as a document to represent other like-minded Anabaptist
Groups too, like the "South German Anabaptism and the Melchiorites, even though they were not
signing the confession paper at that day." They hold South German–Austrian Anabaptism "was a
diluted form of Rhineland mysticism," Swiss Anabaptism "arose out of Reformed
congregationalism", and Dutch Anabaptism was formed by "Social unrest and the apocalyptic
visions of Melchior Hoffman".
For the development of the Anabaptism the day where it started was not the most crucial,
neither who else somewhere would also be supportive. – Important was the unity and
determination to complement reformation with the missing elements no matter how hostile the
environment of the Protestant Reformation would be. – This resulted in various Anabaptist groups
growing together and finding a channel to be heard with their convictions. Once persecuted
by the Roman Catholic Church both Reformers working under the protection of the Swiss
Confederation, Calvin and Zwingli, reacted very harsh to the Anabaptists and called them heretics.
Although their presence was one result of their reforms they did not like their ecclesiology and
teaching about faith baptism, in fact they spent a lot of time to write against them. However, it
was in vain.
This very influential religious group united on the confession of Schleitheim although it was
forced to either leave the Swiss Confederation or to live in hiding, had a mission and contributed
to the change of many peoples mindset by a great example of faith. Many of them left for the
Netherlands from where Menno Simons and some of his friends would take care of them. In
this context to look at the earliest Anabaptist document of faith the Schleitheim Confession is
3. The Anabaptist’ Helvetic Schleitheim Confession 1527
The Schleitheim Confession was a declaration of Swiss Anabaptist belief, endorsed unanimously
by a meeting of Swiss Anabaptists in 1527 in Schleitheim (Swiss Confederation and today’s
Switzerland). The meeting was chaired by Michael Sattler. The Confession consisted of seven articles, written during a time of severe persecution:
- Baptism: Baptism is administered to those who have consciously repented and believed that Christ has died for their sins. Infants, therefore, were not to be baptized.
- The Ban (Excommunication): A Christian should live with discipline and walk in the way of righteousness. Slip-ups are acceptable, but continual offenses are to be remedied with warnings and a ban as a final recourse.
- Breaking of Bread (Communion): Only those who have been baptized can take part in communion.
- Separation from Evil: The community of Christians shall have no association with those who remain astray in disobedience and a spirit of rebellion against God.
- Pastors in the Church: Pastors should be men of good repute. Some of the responsibilities they must faithfully carry out are teaching, disciplining, the ban, and the sacraments.
- The Sword: Violence must not be used in any circumstance. The Way of nonviolence is patterned after the example of Christ who never defaulted to belligerence in the face of persecution or in punishing sin.
- The Oath: No oaths should be taken because Jesus prohibited oath-swearing.
4 Central Elements of Anabaptist’ Theology
The leading elements of Anabaptist theology are:
- Believer's Baptism:
Baptism is to be administered to believers only.
- Symbolism of Holy Communion:
Communion is a memorial of the death of Christ, and transubstantiation does not occur.
- Restricted Communion:
The bread and wine should be broken with baptized believers only.
- Religious Separation:
Christians should be separated from the world.
- Separation of church and state:
Christians should not make an oath or hold the office of magistrate.
Christians should not exercise self-defense or go to war. Different types exist among the
Anabaptists, although the categorizations tend to vary with the scholar's viewpoint on origins.
Estep claims that in order to understand Anabaptism, one must "distinguish between the Anabaptists, inspirationists, and rationalists." He classes the likes of Blaurock, Grebel, Balthasar Hubmaier, Manz, Marpeck, and Simons as Anabaptists. He groups Müntzer, Storch, asand Faustus Socinus are categorized as rationalists. Mark S. Ritchie follows this line of thought,saying, "The Anabaptists were one of several branches of 'Radical' reformers (i.e. reformers that went further than the mainstream Reformers) to arise out of the Renaissance and Reformation.
Two other branches were Spirituals or Inspirationists, who believed that they had received direct revelation from the Spirit, and rationalists or anti-Trinitarians, who rebelled against traditional Christian doctrine, like Michael Servetus." Most of the Anti-Trinitarian Anabaptists were modalistic monarchians and baptized in the shorter formula of the name of Jesus Christ. They also spoke in ecstatic languages and prophecies known as "speaking in tongues." Holiness was a very important doctrine to them.
Map 2: Spread of Calvinism in Europe’s 16th century
5 The Mission Zeal and Determination of the Anabaptists:
The Anabaptist movement spread from Switzerland to Germany’s Low Countries (Friesland), Normandy, (France), Flanders and the Netherlands, where Menno Simons organized them andwhere they were free of persecution. Some went with him to England others left to the Palatinate, to Poland, Moravia (where they stressed the community of goods modeled on the primitive church at Jerusalem) and to the Vistula delta region in Royal Prussia, seeking religious freedom and exemption from military service. They gradually replaced their Dutch and Frisian languages with the Plattdütsch dialect spoken in the area, blending into it elements of their native tongues.
Plattdütsch is the distinct Mennonite language, which developed over a period of 300 years in the Vistula delta region and south Russia. In 1772, most of the Mennonites' land in the Vistula area became part of Prussia in the first of the Partitions of Poland. Frederick William II of Prussia ascended the throne in 1786 and imposed heavy fees on the Mennonites in exchange for continued military exemption. Swiss Mennonites of Amish descent from Galicia settled near Dubno, Volhynia province in 1815. Other Galician Mennonites lived near Lemberg. By 1870 about 9000 individuals had immigrated to Russia, mostly to the Chortitza and Molotschna settlements which, with population increase, numbered about 45,000. Forty daughter colonies were established by 1914 occupying nearly 12,000 km! (4500 mi!) with a total population of 100,000. Also Calvin had his experience with the Anabaptists. Four Anabaptists from the Netherlands managed to enter Geneva Switzerland in 1537 trusting God to find converts. They found seven people, but when John Calvin found out about it he banished all of them by the magistrate. 76 And yet its spirituality draw many peoples attention. Anabaptism gave new meaning to spiritual living. It was an intense experience. Opponent of the movement Sebastian Frank wrote in 1531: “They soon gained a large following, and baptized thousands, drawing to themselves many sincere souls who had a zeal for God ... They increased so rapidly that the world feared an uprising by them though I have learned that this fear had no justification whatsoever”. Heinrich Bullinger, successor to Zwingli's writes: “Anabaptism spread with such speed that there was reason to fear that the majority of the common people would unite with this sect”. Zwingli himself became so alarmed at the strength of the movement and the heartfelt convictions of it’s adherents that he soon considered his own conflicts and theological skirmishes with Catholicism to be child's.
6 Anabaptism: Application of Calvin’s Theology in Congregational Churches
Anabaptism introduced a new form of worship service that was distinctly emotional. Whereas liturgical services were historically generous in ritual and pageantry before quiet worshipers, these new services were frequently loud with participants shouting and dancing. Sermons were electrified with hopes of heaven and terrors of hell. It is not over-simplification to describe them as the 'holy rollers' of their day, because the emotional appeal was captivating to passive congregants entirely accustomed to inert solemnity. This was interactive, new - revolutionary. Preaching styles contained energy. Most groups expected Christ's immediate return. Anabaptists gave new interpretations to historic traditions of the church, and invented a few new traditions of their own. Their distrust of government was obvious, and they would not take oaths. A few practiced what can only be described as combative pacifism. In other words, they were willing to respond aggressively in the most vociferous manner without actually becoming physical. One such person was Jacob Hutter who is recognized as the founder of the Hutterites. This wing of reformers united all people with a strong desire for radical reforms and therefore they were also open for radical ideas in terms of law, behavior, spirituality, interpretation of Holy Scripture and its application, with a high potential to integrate new elements of teaching. Within the three types of churches (Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregationalist) the later
growing out of the Anabaptist Movement contributed most to reach the unreached nations, among them especially the Baptists, the Presbyterian most to realize the dream of a global “human” law and development in the concept of the United Nations and the Espicopalian type governed Protestant churches (Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, Old Catholic) most for global justice and human rights. In Asia the first Anabaptists were Dutch Mennonites from the Netherlands who established a missionary presence on the Indonesia islands Java and Sumatra in 1851.The Anabaptist presence in Asia and the Pacific reflects the broader global trend of large growth in the Anabaptist church outside of the Europe and North America. In 1950 the Anabaptist population in Asia was less than 45,000, but by 2006 that number had risen to over 240,000.