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Baptist History Notebook
By Berlin Hisel

Chapter 25

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      The problem between the Reformers and the Anabaptists was not a new one. As we stated in the last chapter the main problem was on the question of the nature of the church. Christianity is a totally different concept than all other religions. The Baptist concept is a totally different concept to the Reformer's concept of a church.

     Before Christ, all societies were bound together by a common religious loyalty. For instance, in Daniel 3, all the Babylonians and those under their jurisdiction were to bow down to the same image. In Acts 19, all the Ephesians were to worship Diana. Even the religion of Israel was common to the society in the Old Testament. This is why the Jews asked Jesus if it were lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. How could they pay tax to Caesar and still be loyal to the religious community? Separation of church and state was a new concept to them and one they could not understand.

     The Roman Government prescribed the object of worship for all its citizens. The early churches only sought to worship God, not to remove the State’s object of worship. They wanted to be citizens but worship their own God. Rome could not bear this so they persecuted the church as did the Jews before them.

     The New Testament, Christ's teachings conceives of the State as being composed of many different factions. Even though men may differ in religious ideas they each may be loyal to the State. Jesus taught His disciples to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.

Christianity Not A Culture

     Christianity does not create a culture but transcends all cultures. It is to influence all cultures. The church of our Lord is content to add its voice to whatever culture it finds itself in. The churches, made up of believers, were to be the salt of the earth. They were to have an influence on their

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society or culture. The Roman Government never understood this so when Christians added a religious voice, the State persecuted them.


     When Constantine wedded the State and Church the same concept of a State-Religious society resulted. All men and women within the State were to have the same religion. When true churches added their voice in religion they were persecuted. Roman Catholicism believed in State Religious Culture - one culture for all. The whole story of the persecution of the Donatists, Paulicians and the rest of our ancestors is the result of two different concepts of the nature of the church.

The Reformation

     When Luther came on the scene with his Reformation, the battle between the two concepts of the true nature of a church had been going on for centuries. As we stated in the last chapter, the Anabaptists were, at first, drawn toward Luther and the Reformers. They thought, at first, religious freedom is coming.

The Same Problem

     Before the Reformation was very far under way, the Reformers accepted the offered arm of the civil rulers. The Reformers drifted toward a new form of the old Constantinianism. On a smaller scale was developing exactly what existed under Roman Catholicism. They brought about the withdrawal of the Anabaptists from the Reformers. In turn, this brought on persecution of the Anabaptists by the Reformers.

     The Anabaptists believed in the independence of the church and also that "honor" was due to the Emperor or State. They felt that a true church could not exist where the churches and the secular rule were blended into one. The Reformers said the opposite was true.

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     Verduin gives an interesting quote on this subject from John C. Wenger: "In 1519 Martin Luther began to write against the frightful abominations of the Babylonian Harlot and to disclose all her wickedness..., yes, as with thunder claps to bring it all down.... But as soon as he joined himself to the secular rule, seeking protection there against the cross... then it went with him as with a man who in mending the old kettle only makes the hole bigger, and raised up a people altogether callous in sin."1

     Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers jumped but not far enough. They actually created little Roman Catholic Churches. Now there became several Catholic Churches and all of them opposed to the Anabaptists.

Religious Force

     The Anabaptists believed that religion and all it includes (baptism, church membership, etc.), was to be a voluntary thing. People were not to be forced by the steel sword in matters of religion. State Religion is opposed to this. It believes coercion is to be used.

     Augustine had argued, many years before the Reformation, that the Catholic Church had a divine right to force men into its confines. Let us look at a footnote given by Verduin:

     "The length at which Augustine went in his effort to find New Testament warrant for coercionism is almost unbelievable. In his letter to Vincentius he wrote: 'have you not read how Paul ... was compelled by great violence ... to embrace the truth? For the light of men's eyes, more precious than money or gold, was suddenly taken away from him.... He did not get it back until he became a member of the Holy Church. You think no coercion should be used to deliver a man from his error, and yet you see ... that God does this very thing.' In a sermon on Luke 14:16 Augustine puts these words into the mouth of Christ: "Whom thou shalt find, wait not until they choose to come, compel them to come in. I have prepared a great supper.... I cannot suffer any place to remain vacant in it. The Gentiles come from the streets and lanes; let the heretics come from the hedges.... For those who make

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hedges have as their object to make divisions. Let these be drawn away from the hedges, plucked up from among the thorns. They have stuck fast in the hedges, unwilling to be compelled. 'Let us,' say they, 'come in of our own violation'; but this is not the Lord's directive. He says, 'Compel them to come in.' In his De Correctione Donatistorum Augustine comes back once more to this passage in Luke: 'Wherefore if the power, which the Church has received by divine appointment in its due season through the religious character and faith of kings, be instrumental in compelling those who are found in the highways and hedges - that is, in heresies and schisms - then let these not find fault for being thus compelled.'"2

     At his instigation, thousands of Donatists (Baptists) lost their lives because they believed in freedom of religion. Remember, they also believed in rendering unto Caesar his due. They were the best citizens Rome had.

Luther's Choice

     The word "heretic" means "to exercise option in the presence of alternatives." The Anabaptists, who believed religion to be a matter of choice, were called Heretics for that reason by those who believed in choiceless Christianity.

     What would or what could Luther, Calvin and the Reformers do? If they went along with voluntary Christianity they would lose the support of the princes. How could they, without government help, oppose the Roman Catholic Church? Their other choice (rather than go it alone) was to make a deal with the local rulers. Thus was the choice the Reformers made. The Anabaptists could not embrace such a choice and as a result, were considered as enemies by the Reformers.

Church Requirements

     The true churches have always believed in a pure church. They were called the Cathari (i.e. Puritans) by their enemies in previous ages. They believed in being separate from the world. They preached that the churches were in the

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world but not of the world. Their members were to walk differently from the world.

     If the Reformer's view that the church includes everyone in a given area be true then the Anabaptists' idea of a church could not be true. If the church consists of all in the world then how could it be distinct from the world? The "walk" of the Christian and the "walk" of the world would be identical according to the Reformer's definition.

     The Reformers were forced to fight the Anabaptists because of this. They accused the Anabaptists of all sorts of heretical views. The Reformers must discredit the Anabaptists. This they did by calling them "dualists." The Reformers charged them with Perfectionism. The Anabaptists were charged with believing no one was going to heaven but them. These charges, of course, were false. They were the same charges with which the Papal Church had charged the ancestors of the Anabaptists.

     Justin Menius, a close friend of Luther wrote: "Like the Donatists of long ago, they (The Anabaptists) seek to rend the Church because we allow evil men in the church. They seek to assemble a pure church and wherever that is undertaken the public order is sure to be overthrown, for a pure church is not possible, as Christ cautioned enough - we must put up with them."3

     The Anabaptists believed in a converted church while the Reformers believed in a church of both believers and unbelievers - an unconverted church! This is but one more reason why the Anabaptists were not a part of the Reformation. They could not follow the Reformers as a matter of practice as well as doctrine.

Salvation By Faith Alone

     Heathen religion had always laid emphasis upon rites and ceremonies. When Catholicism embraced heathenism she embraced this idea using the word "sacraments" (a name of grace). She taught (as the heathen religions did) that God was placed in you by the Lord's Supper and that you were placed in God by baptism.

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     All of the Anabaptists ancestors emphasized preaching and believing the preached Word. They taught that one was saved simply by believing the gospel. Baptism and the Lord's Supper were nothing in the matter of salvation itself. They were only symbolic of salvation.

     When Luther first began to speak out against the papacy, he said the body of our Lord was not actually present in the Lord's Supper. He was speaking against the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. He and other Reformers, at first, said lay people as much as priests are able to administer the ordinances as well as those ordained by a bishop. The Anabaptists like this for this was their doctrine. They were, then, at first drawn toward Luther.

     Then, when Luther attempted to combine "salvation by faith" with the administration of "sacraments", the Anabaptists recognized him as not of the true faith and left his "reformation." Luther's consubstantiation and the Reformers' "usual and specific presence," the Anabaptists saw as the old Roman doctrine in another dress.

     When Luther gave up the idea of a church composed of believers only (he never really believed this but toyed with the idea) he ran the gauntlet of Roman error. The Anabaptists, like their ancestors and the Baptists of today, wanted nothing to do with the sacerdotalism (a salvation by sacraments). They were soon disillusioned with the Reformation. Here is one more reason they were not Reformers or "Protestants." It was also a reason why they were hated and persecuted by the Reformers.

Non-Public Worship

     Jesus gathered His disciples together for worship without asking permission or license to meet. Early churches met in non-public places, such as private homes, to worship. Only those who had been admitted into the church's society participated. Others were permitted to come as "hearers" but the meeting was the property of the church. Only members partook of the Supper and voted, etc.

     This non-public worship brought persecution from the Roman Empire. They were accused by the Empire of

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every imaginable evil going on in their "private" meetings. These Christians were up to evil and such meetings must be stopped.

     When Constantine wedded Church to State, the same idea prevailed in the mind of the State-Church. Those who met privately must be up to no good or treason. They must by rooted out and stopped. Thus the Catholics sought to stop all such meetings. Persecution and death of these non-conformists resulted.

     The Reformers, Calvin especially, felt the Anabaptists and their non-public worship were an obstacle to a creation of a Protestant Church in opposition to the Catholic Church. He wanted them to be a public cult like Lutherans and Presbyterians. Their idea of the nature of a true church prevented this, thus bringing the displeasure of the Reformers against them. There was no just way the Anabaptists and Protestants could live in the same house.

     In concluding this last observation, I feel it appropriate to insert here another quote from Leonard Verduin: "The First Amendment is not so much the fruitage of the French Revolution as it is the legacy of Restitution (His term for the Anabaptist doctrine). All religious gatherings in these United States are Winckle (non-public) gatherings; they are all of them held off the streets and in non-public locales. Even the Catholic gatherings are Winckle gatherings. We say "even the Catholic gatherings" because the Catholic Church has never officially made its peace with the American version of things; wherever it is able to do so it demands for its services the status of public cult; it continues to be less than satisfied with the idea of a composite society."4

Notes on Chapter 25
1 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 37.
2 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 68.
3 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 104.
4 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 187.

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