Believer’s baptism and those who got in “hot water”

August 19, 2013

by Ron F. Hale

In his renowned work on 16th Century Anabaptists, Dr. William R. Estep[1] says, “If the most obvious demarcation between the Reformers and the Roman Catholics was biblical authority, that between the Reformers and the Anabaptists was believer’s baptism. Believer’s baptism was for the Anabaptists the logical implementation of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.”[2] Believers’ baptism, by its very nature, eliminates any possibility of infant baptism.[3] “If you can show me a single instance of infant baptism in the Bible, I am defeated,” was the repeated challenge by one Anabaptist leader whom I will mention in a moment.

Southern Baptists need to understand the theological tributaries that have pointed us to deep pools and simple truths through the years. As Baptists, we were dunked down under.  We were not sprinkled or poured upon. “A little dab’ll do ya”[4] was not the sentiment of the Baptist pastor that laid me back into a watery grave (Rom. 6:4) and raised me up to walk in newness of life at the age of 23. I went under, realizing that Jesus had already forgiven me of my sins through the shedding of His blood and the water baptism was my first step of obedience in following Him.

Why wasn’t I baptized as a baby at the back of the sanctuary, thereby symbolizing the Roman Catholic position that baptism is required for “entrance” into the Church?   Why wasn’t water sprinkled or  poured over my head as I leaned over a church font at the front of the church (next to the communion table) as it is done in many Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and Reformed churches?

It is because some people paid a horrific price to help the Church recapture a simple but spot on understanding of New Testament (NT) baptism. They helped us acquire a “symbolic view” over a “sacramental view” of the things that Jesus asked us to do in His name. In 2013, it is easy for someone to shrug their shoulders and with pious groan say, “So what! What’s the big deal?”  Then why were thousands of Anabaptists burned at the stake, drowned, or tied to torture racks in the name of a state-run church?  Dr. Sam Storms indicates that more than 5,000 Anabaptists were executed in Switzerland by 1535.[5]

When a Christian or groups of believers close their eyes to the biblical meaning and historical practice of this simple doctrine, then we must call into question their explanations on the deeper doctrines of the faith which were once delivered unto the saints. Intentionally ignoring the biblical meaning, mode, and merits of the practice of immersing a new believer adds up to theological malpractice. With just the NT Greek text book of Erasmus (ink barely dry), early Anabaptists were able to discern the lost ordinance of NT baptism.  Just think of all the latest theological tools that are available today to study the meaning of “baptizo”[6] and the historicity of the Acts of the Apostles. Yet, tradition trumps the implicit instructions[7] and example of our Lord in many denominations.

Whether directly or indirectly, the work and witness of Dr. Balthasar Hubmaier[8] richly nourishes the theological tributaries of Southern Baptists and other congregations of like faith and order.  Without men like Hubmaier, the Southern Baptist Convention would have never existed.  In fact, had it not been for Hubmaier and other Anabaptists, the Church today would resemble the Catholic church of the 16th Century or the early years of the Lutheran or Reformed congregations in Europe.  Far more serious than a tiff between theologs at a local Starbucks Café, these Radical Reformers entered into conflict with life at stake. The heavy hand of the state-controlled church put one’s life on the line as someone acquired a biblical conviction that baptism should be withheld from their infant, especially when laws were passed making such an action worthy of capital punishment by decree of church and state

Balthazar Hubmaier never gained the popularity of a Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli. Anabaptist leaders did not live long enough to start schools of higher learning or write books on systematic theology for as the old saying goes – they stayed in “hot water” with the authorities. Most leaders stayed on the run as fugitives.  However, Hubmaier lived long enough to instill in many the belief that the Church must free itself of governmental exploitation and control. As a “free church,” it is comprised of believers who have confessed their faith through baptism.  Since infants are incapable of believing, they were to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This was a radical departure from Catholicism and the “covenant theology” of the Magisterial Reformers. And, that is why the early Anabaptists were put to death by both sides.

Dr. Hubmaier became the most capable 16th Century defender of the Anabaptist position on baptism; and, of the 11 books and pamphlets that he wrote on the ordinances, six relate to baptism.[9] He never grew tired of showing others that the baptizing of infants was never presented in the Bible.  He once said, “What need have infants of another’s faith – that of their fathers, mothers, godparents, or of the church?  You claim such a thing, but with no basis in the Bible.”[10]

Balthasar Hubmaier was arrested in the new jurisdiction of King Ferdinand[11] and was taken to Vienna and burned at the stake on March 10, 1528.  Upon arriving at the scaffold, he cried out a prayer in the Swiss dialect, “O my gracious God, grant me grace in great suffering!” He pardoned his accusers and asked for forgiveness if he had offended anyone. Three days after his death, a large stone was tied around the neck of his wife and she was drowned in the Danube River.[12]

Given that early Anabaptists stayed in “hot water” with both the Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers, today Southern Baptists can gather at baptisteries, lakes, rivers, and beaches to peacefully celebrate believer’s baptism by immersion.  I look forward to many conversations with these brave Anabaptist martyrs in eternity.

© Ron F. Hale, August 13, 2013


[1] William R. Estep (1920-2000) was the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

[2] William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story, Third Edition, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1975, 1996) 201.

[3] Ibid. 207.

[4] From a popular jingle for a men’s hair care product in the 1950s called Brylcreem.

[6]  The Greek word “baptizo” was brought into the English Bible without translation. The omega or “o” was deleted and the English “e” was added.  Therefore the word was transliterated without trying to discover the true meaning of the word of which it is to dip, plunge, and immerse, to sink.  The Greeks had a word for sprinkle (rhantizo), and one for pour (cheo), but (baptizo) was used for immerse.]

[7] In the Great Commission there is no mention of baptizing infants.  John the Baptist did not baptize infants.  Infants were not baptized by Jesus or his disciples. The NT shows that people were baptized “after” they believed in Jesus (infants can’t believe). The NT shows that baptism is equally for male and female believers since it shows each being immersed, therefore, it does not correlate to the Jewish initiation ritual of circumcision where only males participated.  The NT shows that immersion best pictures the death, burial, and resurrection Jesus Christ. The Apostles baptized by immersion.

[8] Hubmaier received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in 1511. In 1512, he received a doctor’s degree from the University of Ingolstadt under John Eck.

[9] William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story, Third Edition, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, 1996)207.

[10] Ibid. 221.

[11] Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and ruler of Hungary and Bohemia during Dr. Hubmaier’s execution.

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Norm Miller

If my church history class recollection is accurate, Josephus reported that one of the Herodian kings feared one of his sons as a pretender to the throne, so he murdered him by “baptizo-ing” him to death in a tub. Kinda hard to drown someone by affusion or sprinkling.

Thanks for jogging our memories, Ron, about the horrible prices that have been paid for us to call ourselves Baptists. Those who were murdered on living pyres and in running waters paid the highest price for a doctrine we modern Baptists should continue to practice and cherish. But above that, we ought to obey our Supreme Sacrifice, who commanded that we baptize others.

volfan007

Ron, this is great stuff, Brother. Very informative and interesting. I wish that every Baptist would read this….and be informed…

David

    Ron F. Hale

    David,
    Thanks once again for your encouragment! Please share in your network.

    Soon … Ron

Max

The Anabaptists were persecuted by both sides of the organized church just as much for being “believers” as they were for their practice of baptizing only believers. Praise God for their boldness and sacrifice to establish the free church.

Rick Patrick

Ron,

Thanks for your usual clarity in explaining the lack of attention we sadly offer such heroic Christian giants as Hubmaier. While the Magisterial Reformers were starting schools and writing books that would earn them fame for centuries, the true Radical Reformers had their influence cut short as they paid for their “Sola Scriptura” convictions with their lives…sometimes, tragically, with the approval of the Magisterial Reformers.

Let us pray that God will raise up a new generation of Hubmaierists!

dr. james willingham

It was back in the early to mid sixties that I took notes on Balthasar Hubmaier, Hans Denck, Melchoir Hoffman, and others of the Radical Reformation. Hoffman was one who ahd a connection to the Waldensians, who in the 1400s sent a committee to check on the church in South India and who in the 12th or 13th century had a church in Constantinople and one in Philadelphia (as in Rev.3). The Waldensians in the 1300s could travel from the Alps to the English Channel and spend every night in the home of a believer. There were connections between them and the Lollards of Great Britain before the Reformation, and while the connections between the Lollards and the Baptists after the Reformation cannot be clearly established, it is interesting that the Lollards of the Chilton Hills left last names in that area which after the Reformation were to be found among the Baptists.

    Norm Miller

    Thx for your comment, Dr. Jim. I am not catching your point, however, on why “it is interesting that the Lollards of the Chilton Hills left last names in that area which after the Reformation were to be found among the Baptists.” Would you care to expound on that, plz? — Norm

      dr. james willingham

      Dear Norm: The point is indicative of some kind of a connection between the two groups. After all, the same last names suggest a family continuity, but the church relations cannot be clearly established as they would not keep records due to fear of the inquisition. It is fairly well known that the Lollards lasted from approximately the time of John Wycliffe down to the Reformation (there were 350 prosecutions for heresy in England in the first 17 years of the the 1500s before Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis. Interestingly enough, I understand that the first church fight the Baptists had after the Reformation was whether they should have congregational singing or even singing at all as they were not used to having it. If you met in the woods, singing would draw the law, looking for heretics.

Ron F. Hale

Dr.Willingham,
It would be interesting to see a clear connection between Lollards and early Baptists; or between Lollards to AnaBaptists to early English Baptists. Thanks for your remarks,

rhutchin

It seems that there was a time when people took the Bible seriously even to the point of dying for their beliefs.When reminded of this, as Ron Hale has done very well, it causes us to look at our country and marvel at the lengths people go to avoid their confessed beliefs. We see this in Congress where people who profess a belief in Christ (or at least adherence to some form of religion) find nothing wrong with abortion, same sex marriage, and proclaim that one’s religion ought not to influence how they govern. The problem is not that they do it, but the churches don’t seem to care.

How times have changed. But, then we see what is happening to Christians in the middle east, and we see that times have not really changed except now the disputes are not between those who both profess Christ but involve one side that seeks to silence Christ.

    Norm Miller

    Indeed, ‘Hutch.’ Let’s join Dr. Willingham in praying for a third Great Awakening.

      dr. james willingham

      Thank you Norm for promoting prayer for a Third Great Awakening. I would add something rather daring. I have asked the Lord to indicate to me that I am on the right track. I have asked him for a great movement of the Spirit of God in the following cities and their surroundings, a small town, and a whole nation. The cities are New York, Washington, D.C., Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (a metroplex), Chicago, St. Louis, and Memphis (Dr. Gene Spurgeon plans to speak to the Ministerial Alliance of Caholkia, Ill.(a suburb of East St. Louis and, thus, of St. Louis), and Memphis, Tn. The village is Nimmons, Arkansas which lacks a Gospel Preaching church now. The members there dwindled to so few that they could no longer support a pastor. They closed the doors and gave the building to the town for a meeting place (I grew up a half mile east of Nimmons and went to church there). This request for those cities and the town is for an indication of a mighty movement of the Spirit of God in the next four months (Sept.-Nov.). I want to give testimony to the effect that when I began praying for an Awakening, I prayed for certain cities in America and around the world. New York City, so I understand, now has a half dozen evangelical churches centered near Times Square (I am not sure of the locations), some of them with thousands of members. There are also large churches in other areas of the city that have arisen, since I began to pray. I hope my prayers had at something to do with their rise. Interestingly enough there are a number of large churches in the Raleigh – Durham – Chapel Hill metroplex area, and some of them are sponsoring churches in other cities around the world. The nation I have begun praying for the purpose of an awakening of every last citizen in one twenty-four hour period of a single night and day (and I have not put a date on this as it is kind of scary) is Saudi Arabia, and the reason for this prayer is two-fold: one, Saudi Arabia is financing the building of mosques in America with a view to making this nation Moslem. Thus, my answer is to pray that they will get their eyes opened to the Lord Jesus Christ. Two, Ravi Zacharias tells of a Moslem who dreamed that Jesus spoke to him one night which led to his conversion. He had to leave the nation in which he lived in order to profess his faith. If one can dream such a thing, a whole nation can. The Bible speaks of a nation being born in a day, a reference usually taken as referring to Israel. However, I think it could be extended to include other nations being awakened to Christ. And there are verses that indicate such a success for the Gospel. E.g., Dan. 2, the stone cut out of the mountain without human hands will smite the old image in its feet and destroy it (the great conspiracy that runs the world?) and that stone shall become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. The church is compared to a Mountain in Hebs.12:22ff, specifically to Mount Sion. There are the references to Isa.11:9 & Hab.2:14 about which we sing in a hymn in the Baptist hymnal of the 50s & 60s, “and the earth shall be full of His knowledge and glory as the waters cover the sea.” It reminds me of what an elderly poor lady, who had never had enough of anything, said upon viewing the ocean for the first time, “Well, this is the first time I have every seen anything where there was more than enough of.”
      There are other verses in the OT like Ps.72:19, “let the whole earth be filled with his glory,” which led C.H. Spurgeon to pray for the whole earth and every soul in it. There is also I Chrons. 16:15 which says, “Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.” That covenant has in view Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel, leading to the thought that men should say among the nations, “the Lord reigneth.” There are likewise, the request in the model prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is down in Heaven,” which I take to mean your will be done here under these circumstances (terrible as they are) just like it is being done in Heaven under circumstances perfectly suited to such activity.. There is more, but I plead these verses as promises to that end. I call attention to the fact that D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones prayed all the years of his ministry for such a visitation and did not live to see it. I know of one pastor who began praying for such a revival back in the fifties. He is still praying for it in the 21st millennium. To take the whole earth by peaceful means, by prayer and by a faithful witness to the Gospel is surely a greater honor and glory to God than to bring about submission with the sword, since our Lord denied that such should be used to promote His kingdom. Brethren, plead the promises. Look at Jonathan Edwards’ Humble Attempt for many more which were pleaded by Andrew Fuller,William Carey, and many others in the launching of the Great Century of Missions.

Marty Comer

Great article Ron! A few years ago my wife and I were in Amish Country in Pennsylvania and learned something interesting. One of the Amish leaders told us that the reasons Amish men wear beards without a mustache is that during the Radical Reformation, when anabaptists were being severely persecuted (and many killed) for their rejection of a state church, their emphasis on believer’s baptism, etc., the Magistrates wore beards with a mustache. The Amish believed that beard was a sign of age, wisdom, etc., but wanted to be distinguished from the governmental authorities so they adopted the practice of wearing their beards without a mustache. For that group of anabaptists, they still live in a way that reflects their past experience with persecution. Wouldn’t it be great if we Southern Baptists appreciated and celebrated our heritage and remembered our past, not by wearing beards, but by being faithful to the truths we have inherited from those who suffered to defend them!

Ron F. Hale

Thanks Marty … I enjoyed hearing about the beard and mustache story; I’ve not heard that before — interesting. Yes, I agree with your last statement!

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