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Baptist History Notebook
By Berlin Hisel

Chapter 26

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      From what we have seen in the two preceding chapters, it is difficult to understand why so many loudly proclaim the Baptists to have originated with the Reformation. Evidence abounds which separates the Baptists from the Reformers. Their whole doctrinal systems were different. Their views on the nature of the church were radically different. To identify the Baptists as a part of the Reformation is to ignore the plain facts of history.

      In this chapter we will look at one more thing that forever separates the Anabaptists from the Reformers. That thing is the way that the Reformers persecuted the Anabaptists. Calvin never persecuted the followers of Luther nor Luther the followers of Calvin. So it was among the Reformers. Yet the Reformers were united in their persecution of the Anabaptists.

Peace Between Catholics and Reformers

     Before we look at the persecution of the Anabaptists by the Reformers let us notice the Catholics and the Reformers. When Luther and others sought to reform the Catholic Church the Pope became angry. He led the Catholic Church to seek the suppression of the Reformers and even their lives. Since the Reformers had accepted the arm of the rulers in their respective countries, there became great danger of wars between the governments under Catholicism and the governments behind the Reformers.

The Peace of Augsburg 1555 A. D.

     While there is much involved in the peace of Augsburg, simply stated, it was peace between the Lutherans and the Catholics. To avoid wars between the established religions, peace was made. This peace treaty kept the Lutherans from persecuting the Catholics and the Catholics

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from persecuting the Lutherans. In this peace treaty the Anabaptists were left out. They were fair game for both Catholics and Lutherans.

The Peace of Westphalia 1648 A. D.

     There is also much involved in this peace treaty. Simply stated, it was peace between the Catholics, Lutherans and Presbyterians. To avoid confrontations between the established religions of the three, a peace treaty was signed. Again the Anabaptists were left out. They were left as fair game for Catholics, Lutherans and Presbyterians.

Lutheran Persecution

     It is easy to see why the Lutherans persecuted the Anabaptists when you see how Luther, himself, felt about them. We are indebted to Baker Book House for re-printing Luther's unabridged Commentary on Galatians. In the preface of the book we may understand Luther's opinion of the Anabaptists. "For whoever heard (to pass over the abominations of the Pope) so many monsters to burst out at once into the world, as we see at this day in the Anabaptists alone? In whom Satan, breathing out, as it were, the last blast of his kingdom through horrible uproars, setteth them everywhere in such a rage, as though he would by them suddenly, not only destroy the whole world with seditions but also by innumerable sects swallow up and devour Christ wholly with his church…"

     "For at this day, the Papists and the Anabaptists conspire together against the church in this one point (though they dissemble in words), that the work of God dependeth upon the worthiness of the person. For thus do the Anabaptists teach, that baptism is nothing except the person do believe. Out of this principle must needs follow, that all the works of God be nothing if the man be nothing. But baptism is the work of God, and yet an evil man make it not to be the work of God. Moreover, hereof it must follow, that matrimony, authority, liberty, and are the works of God. Wicked men have the sun, the moon, the earth, the

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water, the air, and all other creatures which are subject unto man; but because they are wicked and not godly, therefore the sun is not the sun, the moon, the earth, the water, are not that which they are. The Anabaptists themselves had bodies and souls before they were re-baptized; but because they were not godly, therefore they had not true bodies and true souls. Also their parents were not lawfully married (as they grant themselves,) because they are not re-baptized; therefore the Anabaptists themselves are all ____s, and their parents were all adulterers, and whoremongers; and yet they do inherit their parents' lands and goods, although they grant themselves to be _____s, and unlawful heirs. Who seeth not here, in the Anabaptists, men not possessed with devils, but even devils themselves possessed with worse devils?"1

     Thomas F. Curtis has the following quote about Luther and the Lutherans: "Luther says of false teachers, 'I am very averse to the shedding of blood. 'Tis sufficient that they should be banished' but he allows they may be 'corrected and forced at least to silence, put under restraint as madmen.' As to the Jews, he thought their synagogues should be leveled with the ground, their houses burned, and their books, even the Old Testament, taken from them.' Several of the Anabaptists were also put to death by the Lutherans 'for promoting their errors, contrary to the judgment of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel.'"2

Luther: A Persecutor

     Luther may have started persecution slowly but he went the distance. Following is a paragraph from Thomas Armitage:

     "Cardinal Hosius said truly that Luther did not intend to make all Christians as free as himself; thus, when they rejected his authority over their consciences, he treated them as the pope treated him; so Luther became a persecutor by slow degrees. He wrote to Spalatin, in 1522, concerning the Baptists: 'I would not have any who hold with us imprison them.' In 1528 he also said: 'I am very sorry they treat the Anabaptists so cruelly, seeing it is only on account of belief, and not because of the transgression of the laws. A man ought

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to be allowed to believe as he pleases. We must oppose them with the Scriptures. With fire little can be accomplished.' And still he sanctioned the decree of the Elector of Saxony, the same year forbidding any but the regular ministers to preach or baptize, under penalty of imprisonment. Charles V issued the terrible edict of Spire in 1529, commanding the whole empire to a crusade against the Baptists. He ordered that: 'All Anabaptists, male or female, of mature age, shall be put to death, by fire, or sword, or otherwise, according to the person, without preceding trial. They who recant may be pardoned, providing they do not leave the country. All who neglect infant baptism will be treated as Anabaptists.' This was worse than any thing in medieval persecution, for at least the form of a trial had been observed; but the Protestant princes who asserted to this edict left no way of escape, 'The design being,' as Keller says, 'to hunt the Baptists with no more feeling than would be shown to wild beasts.' The Peasants' war had only just closed when this ferocious edict was issued, yet it gives no hint that the Baptists were charged with sedition. The decree of 1529 was renewed in 1551, with this explanation: 'Although the obstinate Anabaptists are thrown into prison and treated with severity, nevertheless they persist in their damnable doctrine from which they cannot be turned by any amount of instruction.' If the remedy lay in 'severity' they ought to have been cured effectually, for everywhere they were treated much after the manner of serpents. A letter from a priest to his friend in Strasburg says: 'My gracious lord went hunting last Sunday, and in the forest near Epsig he caught twenty-five wild beasts. There were three hundred of them gathered together.'"3

Death Warrants

     Luther signed death warrants for the Anabaptists. Erroll Hulse writes: "Luther hardened more in his attitude toward the left wing. By March 1530 he gave his consent to the death penalty for Anabaptists. This was further confirmed in 1536, when he signed a document clearly stating that the Anabaptists were to be put to death, not because their program entailed a complete re-orientation of church, state and society.

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We can see the contrast of these later views with those held by Luther in 1520 when he wrote his Babylonish Captivity of the Church. In this work he considered the idea of reshaping the church as a body of believers only. We see then, in broad outline, why Luther moved further away from the Baptist concept of the church."4

John Calvin

     We hear all too much praise for John Calvin now days. Yet few know of his persecution spirit. Much of what had been said of Luther may also be said of John Calvin and the Presbyterian Church of the Reformation he founded. His Reform had the government of Geneva behind it.

     The burning of Michael Servetus illustrates Calvin's true spirit. Servetus held the Anabaptist principles somewhat. He opposed infant baptism and state-church government. Robert Robinson writes of this burning: "Calvin did not blush to say, 'I ordered it so that a party should be found to accuse him, not denying that the action was drawn up by my advice.' What a glorious reformation had been wrought at Geneva, when the proof of man's Christianity lay in his humble requesting the magistrates to burn a foreign gentlemen, over whom they had no jurisdiction, for the honour of God and his eminent servant Mr. Calvin."5

     Listen also to the words of Leonard Verduin: "The burning of Servetus - let it be said with utmost clarity - was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible. It was not done in spite of Calvin, as some over-ardent admirers of his are wont to say. He planned it beforehand and maneuvered it from start to finish. It occurred because of him and not in spite of him. After it had taken place Calvin defended it, with every possible and impossible argument. There is every reason to believe that if it had not been for the fact that public opinion was beginning to run against this kind of thing there would have been many more such burnings. The event was the direct result of the sacralism to which Calvin remained committed, a sacralism which he never discarded."6

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     Let us make a couple of observations here. Sacralism is the view that the church includes all individuals in a given location. This was always Calvin's view. His church was a State-Church and so opposed to a church only of believers. He planned Servetus' burning. This means he was a premeditated murderer. That is very bad but it is the testimony of history.

     Again Verduin writes: "When the news was out that Servetus had died in the fire, a cry of outrage resounded over most of Europe. It is true that many of the leaders of the Reform applauded the burning (Melanchthon, for example wrote that the 'Church owes and always will owe a debt of gratitude to you for having put the heretic to death')."7

     Of the burning of Servetus, Albert Henry Newman writes: "On October 27, 1553, having with rare courage refused to withdraw his objectionable teachings, he was burned at the stake along with his books. After writhing in the flames for half an hour, he cried aloud, 'Jesus, thou Son of the eternal God, have compassion upon me!' and gave up the ghost. The leading Reformers of Germany and Switzerland heartily commended Calvin and the Genevan Council for ridding the world of one who was regarded as an arch-enemy of the truth."8

The Reformers All Alike

     We could take up pages with examples of the Reformers' persecution of the Anabaptists. Please read the Martyr's Mirror. I close the illustrations of persecution with the killing of Felix Manz - Anabaptist. This quote comes from Verduin but the incident is recorded by most of the church historians.

     "Meanwhile the Radicals went about to organize a Church as they thought it should exist - by voluntary association. As one of their leader, 'Felix Manz, put it, their ambition was "to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with those by baptism and to leave the rest in their present conviction." It will not escape the observant that here we have voluntarism secured (in the words "willing to

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accept") and coercionism precluded (by the phrase "leaving the rest in their present conviction").

     This was certainly Restitutionism, without any ambiguity. For this ambition Manz was placed in a boat with his hands tied together at the wrists and passed over his knees, a heavy stick then thrust between his knees and his bent elbows. Thus bound, he was rowed to the far end of the Limmat and thrown overboard, so that he perished in the murky waters. This happened on January 5, 1527.9


     Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bullinger and all the rest of the Reformers hated or came to hate the :"believer's church" concept. This led them all to embrace the "State-Church" concept. This led them all to embrace "infant baptism." This led them to persecute the Anabaptists who rejected infant baptism, state-churches and all forced religion. To be sound on the nature of the church is an all important issue.

Notes on Chapter 26

1 A Commentary on Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, pages XX-XXI.
2 The Progress of Baptists Principles, page 31.
3 The History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 402.
4 An Introduction to the Baptists, page 7.
5 Ecclesiastical Researchers, page 339.
6 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 51.
7 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 52.
8 A Manual of Church History, Volume 2, page 195.
9 The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 74.

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