*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 21st of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Most Christian traditions come with origin stories- sometimes they surround individuals- perhaps Augustine’s conversion or St Francis receiving the Stigmata. It could be Luther’s epiphany and 95 Theses, Calvin’s flight to Geneva, Wesley’s heart being “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate, etc.… today, we bring you another origin story.
Today we have an origin story for another group of Protestants- today, we head to the city of Zurich in 1525 and the house of Felix Manz. Manz, Conrad Grebel, and George Blaurock had gathered with others for private Bible study. The men had been followers of Huldrych Zwingli but had recently disagreed over Baptism. Manz, Grebel, and others thought that Zwingli and his Reformed theology did not go far enough. They were convinced that the New Testament church looked radically different from its 16th-century iteration. The issues were both theological and civil, and both of these strands came together with their doctrine of Baptism. History was made when Blaurock asked Grebel to baptize him on account of his confession of faith- he did, and all those who professed Christ that night were baptized (or re-baptized, but we will get to that)
These Christians sought to break with what they saw as a corrupt tradition. They sought to norm their theology with how they read the Scriptures- not necessarily with historical custom and practice. These men believed that Baptism was for those who professed belief. They thought that Baptism was one’s introduction to the Kingdom of God on earth that stood in opposition to the world’s regimes.
This is how Baptism became a civil issue. European Christians- even Protestants held to the idea of “Christendom” or of a confessional state. Baptizing a child not only brought them into the Kingdom of God (understood differently) but also into Christendom. Religious and civil beliefs were tied together such that denying baptism to a child was as offensive for civil reasons as it was for theological reasons. Failing to baptize your child was, in many places, a civil offense, and the punishment could result in the same sentence for insubordination and treason: death.
One of the more common questions I receive is the historical argument for infant baptism- and perhaps this is a future mailbag show- but let me give you the brief rundown.
The testimony of most Christians in the first centuries of the church practiced adult baptism for converts and infant baptism for the children of converts. By the early Medieval era, infant baptism was the norm, although there were disagreements about what it did and how one was baptized.
But for Christians, who claimed Sola Scriptura- in a particularly exclusive way- would have little problem denying the testimony of history when they believed the testimony of Scripture to be clear. Furthermore, the conviction that they were “not of this world” was further confirmed by the fact that they would be the only Protestants without state support in Europe.
They would be called Anabaptists- but this name was given to them by their detractors. “Anabaptist” is a hodgepodge word with the Greek prefix “ana,” meaning “again.” They were called “re-baptizers,” although they wouldn’t call what they did “re-baptizing” but baptizing for the first time.
The three principal men who met on this day in Zurich in 1525 did not live past 1528- all three were killed, and thousands would meet the same fate across the next decades- this, of course, fueled these persecution minded Christians who could claim that their persecution validated their beliefs.
Another common question I receive: are Baptists the descendants of Anabaptists? Yes. Theologically, in terms of baptism, freedom of conscience, and organizationally, they reject church hierarchies. The more direct descendants of the Anabaptists would be the Brethren, the Mennonites, and the Amish (the Brethren is what those first men in Zurich called themselves, Mennonites named after pacifist Menno Simmons and the Amish after Jakob Amman).
The practice of Believer’s Baptism has expanded exponentially over the past five centuries- Reformed Protestantism has had this strand of sacramental theology since its inception (they call them ordinances, not sacraments, but that’s a story for another time).
Today we remember the origin story of the original Anabaptists- Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock baptizing each other in a Zurich home on this day in 1525.
The last word for today comes from Acts 16- Paul and Silas are in prison, an earthquake freed the prisoners, but the two men stay and speak with a terrified jailer.
29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man you can see in person for divine service every Sunday in Random Lake, Wisconsin. Do you live nearby Silver Creek? Fredonia? Near where do the 57 and 144 meet? He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man you cannot see unless you go to Ralphs in Lake Forest. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.