Balthasar Hubmaier was one of the early Anabaptist leaders in Switzerland and Austria. He became an Anabaptist after attending school and being trained to be a Catholic Priest in Austria. In 1522 he was acquainted with several Anabaptist leaders that convinced him of the validity of believer’s baptism as opposed to the infant baptism of his day. He disputed Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss reformation leader, who believed in infant baptism. He eventually befriended those contending with Zwingli over his failure to enact total Biblical reforms in Zurich.
The theologian of the Anbaptist movement challenged Zwingli on the sufficiency of scripture to decide the matter. Zwingli appealed to the rite of circumcision in the Old Testament for infant baptism. Hubmaier told Zwingli, “If you would baptize infants in a Christian context why not baptize others against their will such as Jews or Turks.” He appealed to him on the basis of numerous baptisms in Acts, its meaning, and the example of Christ and His Great Commission. Hubmaier believed the Bible was on his side and set forth the principles of what later became Baptist Theology, abandoning infant baptism as a practice he could not support with scripture.
In 1525 in the Waldshut community Hubmaier was baptized along with 60 other people. The next three short years that Hubmaier lived, were ones of great productiveness. He published pamphlets and helped frame theological thought for the early Ana-Baptists of Switzerland and Austria. He was bold in his stand for believer’s baptism in which he delineated very well in his discussion with his Zwingli and other state church leaders who got the civil governments of Switzerland and Austria to clamp down on Ana-Baptists’ liberty.
Hubmaier began to minister in Nikolsburg Moravia. He wrote and ministered there for a while but was eventually arrested by the authorities in Vienna when Emperor Franz Ferdinand decided to clamp down on all dissenting groups not loyal to the Catholic Church. So although he was initially persecuted by Protestants he was arrested and martyred by Catholics. Hubmaier’s ministry in Moravia came under grave danger when his old enemy the Archduke Ferdinand was crowned as king in Bohemia in February of 1527. Ferdinand soon began to exert pressure on Leonhard von Liechtenstein to turn Hubmaier over to him to be prosecuted. Handing over Hubmaier and his wife to authorities in Vienna probably allowed von Liechtenstein to remain in power over Moravia. Hubmaier was then taken to Kreuzenstein Castle near Vienna.
They subjected Hubmaier to torture on the rack and tried him for heresy, convicting him on March 10, 1528. He was taken to the public square and executed by burning. His wife exhorted him to remain steadfast. Three days after his execution she was drowned in the River Danube with a stone tied around her neck.
The story of Hubmaier’s martyrdom is very moving. His tormentors actually put gunpowder in his beard so he would burn more quickly. He stated: “Oh, salt me well, salt me well.” Raising his head he called out: “Oh dear brothers, pray God that he will forgive me my guilt and by this death, I will die in the Christian faith.”
Hubmaier penned a closing poem before he died. An excerpt states:
With angry flame to face thy name
In vain shall men endeavour
Not for a day
The same for aye
God’s Word stands sure forever.
The practice of believer’s baptism by immersion was so dear to Hubmaier that he was willing to die for this practice when those who accused him of this being heresy gave him the option to recant his belief and find a graceful way out. He did initially recant, after much torture on the rack but then recanted his recant and died for the faith. What an example of Christian testimony we have in this great man of faith. Certainly we can take a stand for believer’s baptism and share with people that baptism is an ordinance of the church that we celebrate not only because of its biblical teaching, but because of martyrs like Balthasar Hubmaier who have died that its practice may continue.