STORIES OF THE REFORMATION: THE RADICALS

This week is a continuation of a series on the Protestant Reformation that began 500 years ago. We're taking a look at some of the individuals that God had in place for a period of time when the Christian church went through a major upheaval. I have drawn from various sources for these e-mails but have leaned heaviest on a series of biographies called, "Here We Stand" on www.desiringgod.org website. If you are fascinated by the stories of the reformers, I'd highly recommend checking those out. They go into much more depth than I've been able to do here and cover a lot more people. The book by Timothy George titled "Theology of The Reformers" is an excellent source also. It is more interesting to read than the title sounds and does well with explaining the dynamics of the four major wings of the Reformation.

THE RADICALS Part I:

  While Martin Luther is definitely one of the most colorful characters of the Reformation, no other group attracted more characters than the radical wing of the Reformation did. I have been simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the story of the radicals as I've studied them over the years. Luther called them "Swarmers" because he said that they were like a hive of angry bees swarming. They were loved by common people and hated by authorities everywhere.

The Radical Reformation is commonly thought to have begun with some of Ulrich Zwingli's followers in Zurich Switzerland on a cold January night in 1525. A small group of men and their wives had been meeting for Bible studies and had been wrestling with the disconnect between what they saw taught in scripture and what they saw happening around them. Zwingli had taught against infant baptism but kept baptizing babies because of wanting to keep peace with the town council.

This little group of young people were increasingly frustrated with the political compromise they saw and began to speak out against it. The town council saw them as a threat to their control and ordered them to stop meeting. Their response was to hold a meeting that very evening and as they sat and discussed their situation, they felt the movement of God's Spirit and dropped to their knees in prayer. The stirring was felt so strongly that one of them stood and said, "for God's sake baptize me now!" They all baptized each other, knowing that it was an act of treason that would bring persecution into their lives.

The three leaders that evening were Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock, & Felix Manz. These three men immediately began preaching the gospel, baptizing people and planting churches throughout Switzerland and Germany. They were arrested and imprisoned multiple times over the next months and years. Felix Manz was executed by drowning almost two years after his baptism. Conrad Grebel died of a plague following a period of imprisonment soon after Manz died. George Blaurock managed to stay alive for about 4 1/2 years after his baptism and then was captured and burned alive while tied to a stake. All of them died before reaching the age of 35.

By the time of Blaurock's death the movement had become known as the Anabaptist movement, (because of their practice of re-baptizing people) had spread throughout Europe and had grown to a movement that numbered in the tens of thousands. There was no stopping a movement that was defined by it's faith instead of it's location or following an individual leader. It could be argued that when the Anabaptists later became more organized and attached to individual leaders (such as Menno Simons and Jacob Hutter) that they lost the original fire that had made them so unique.

The simplicity of their methods is refreshing. They believed that any believer could baptize another believer. They didn't think that the church could be contained to a building, and they refused to bow to any authority that asked them to disobey God. Sadly though, the simplicity of their methods also opened the door for some strange beliefs and practices that we'll try to address next week.

Having grown up in a church and family setting that had Anabaptist origins, I often heard of these people and their faith referred to in glowing terms. I've come to realize that they were ordinary and very flawed people, many of whom loved God with a deep passion and commitment that is rarely found in American Christianity today. I long for that kind of passion to again fill our hearts where we share the love of Christ everywhere we go without regard to personal safety. While some of these people were obnoxious and turned people off; many of them were marked by their willingness to serve others and their deep love for people. It was the loving group that made the movement so attractive.

People have often wondered why the church has grown the fastest in times of intense persecution, and the only way that I know to describe it is that all of us know intuitively that a faith worth dying for is a faith worth living for. We all live and die for something, I pray that we live and die for the cause of Jesus Christ!

Floyd Yutzy