The Slaughter of the Twenty-somethings

November 13, 2013

by Ron F. Hale

In his 1963 book, “The Anabaptist Story,” distinguished Southern Baptist professor of church history, Dr. William R. Estep, points his readers to the singular reason the Anabaptists of Europe were martyred. That reason was sola Scriptura. He says, “The one sure touchstone of the Reformation and clear line of demarcation between Roman Catholics and Reformers was the authority of the Scriptures. Within the Reformation no group took more seriously the principle of sola Scriptura in matters of doctrine and discipline than did the Anabaptists.”[1]

The Bible, not creed or confession, became the supreme judicature by which all human opinions were to be tried.[2]

Ulrich Zwingli gathered a group of young Bible loving followers around him to seriously study the Scriptures. As they studied together, the young guys started seeing the obvious differences between the New Testament practices of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in comparison to the Catholic Church and their most recent experiences in the breakaway Reformed churches. These realizations brought them to a point of crisis. Would they practice their Christianity according to the revealed Word of God, or would they adhere to certain Church traditions that the magisterial reformers continued to hold dear and used as a test of orthodoxy in their state-run churches?

Ulrich Zwingli found himself caught in the middle of tradition and truth. The authorities representing Church tradition had the reigns of purse and power. At the same time, his chummy comrades were becoming radical about following the truths of Scripture. They pressed Zwingli to change the elaborate sacramental Mass to a less formal observance of the Lord’s Supper as a symbolic memorial meal. He made a promise to them that new measures would be put in place, but he broke that promise. Now they had a decision to make as their friend Zwingli sided with the powerful city fathers of Zürich.

Likewise, Martin Luther’s growing movement built on “justification by faith” became meaningless to the Anabaptists as they saw the persistent Roman Catholic appendages kept by Luther and the irreconcilable contradiction between the theology of justification by faith and the support of infant baptism.[3]

Believer’s baptism was for the Anabaptists the logical implementation of the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura.[4] The reinaugaration of believer’s baptism was a premeditated act by the Anabaptists and with the full awareness of state-run jurisdictions passing laws to impose the death penalty.

In the eyes of the young Bible loving Anabaptists, if other groups could not see, comprehend, and practice believer’s baptism of the NT – then the “sola Scriptura” of these groups would always be in question.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and listen to a present-day Anabaptist pastor in Canada describe the plight and pain within Anabaptistica:

Our first leaders within the Anabaptist movement were intellectuals, students of the first reformers. [As they studied the bible they said to the reformers] you’re not going far enough. They debated with their professors. A bunch of twenty-somethings who had courage and vision and were debating with their professors saying, “We need to take this further.” They identified themselves publicly, wrote, preached, debated and then they were all slaughtered (emphasis added).

That was our first layer of [Anabaptist] leadership. The next layer of leadership that had some education was slaughtered. And the next. And finally we were left with farmers and bakers who said, “How do we just follow Jesus? Because that’s all we can do.”

So the early leadership of the Anabaptists focused on following Jesus. “Don’t kill. We’ll start with that and then we’ll branch out from there.”

Full text here:

This article is dedicated to the testimonies of:

Conrad Grebel – died at the age of 28 in 1526. He is often called the Father of Anabaptists. He was the son of a prominent Swiss merchant and councilman.  He escaped from prison and died “on the run” while preaching the gospel at every opportunity.

Felix Manz – died at the age of 29 in 1527. He was co-founder of the Swiss Brethren in Zurich. He was executed by drowning.

Michael and Margaretha Sattler – He died at the age of 32 in 1527 by being burned at the stake. His wife was drowned three days later.

© Ron F. Hale, November 4, 2013

[1] William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1963), 136.

[2] Ibid. 136.

[3] Ibid. 141.

[4] Ibid. 145.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Randy White

Great reminder that our Baptist heritage is not in the Reformed tradition, but in the radical reformation. Thanks!

Norm Miller

Thank you, Ron. Reading this made me draw for the first time a comparison of the theo/socio/political parallels of our Anabaptist forebears being delivered to murderers by church leaders like unto the Sanhedrin, who orchestrated our Lord’s death.

Lynn Gray

Really appreciate this article – thank you for sharing it. As a Southern Baptist who holds to the Abstract of Principles as my personal statement of faith I was reminded of Dr Mohler’s recent words about Anabaptists while reading it (see below). I am thankful that God has allowed us to know of and learn from those saints who have gone before us.

Lynn Gray
Deacon, Morning Star Baptist of Meeker, OK
Member, BGCO Historical Commission

“I am honored to have the privilege of writing this preface, but my authorship might seem incongruous to some readers. They know of my love, respect, and friendship with Paige Patterson., but will scratch their heads at the thought of a committed Calvinist praising the man who would far prefer the influence of the Anabaptists in our midst.

I am a Baptist and a thankful Southern Baptist. I stand indebted to the Radical Reformation in ways that cannot fully be calculated. Though Reformed in soteriology, I recognize that my decidedly Baptist ecclesiology has far more in common with the Anabaptists. I stand with the Anabaptists in their insistence on the baptism of believers only and the necessity of the personal confession of faith in Christ. I reject Calvin’s understanding of church and state and side without apology with those who died at the hands of those used the states as an instrument of the church, or the church as an instrument of the state. I stand with them on the sole final authority of Scripture, even when it means standings against the received tradition.

If this seems incongruous, just remember this wonderful collection honors a gun-toting Anabaptist. Enough said.” – Dr Al Mohler


When I read the stories of these radical reformers, it is such a stark contrast to what I now call the “political” (church/state) reformers. For the former, it had nothing to do with power or control over people but seeking and living out truth at a great cost to themselves and their families.

    Lynn Gray


    I suspect you would agree that many of the magisterial reformers also paid dearly for their convictions.

    It would seem we as Southern Baptists owe much to all of these reformers both magisterial and radical.



Magisterial reformers are still trying to snuff out the Anabaptist spirit.

    Lynn Gray


    Who are these modern day magisterial reformers who are trying to “snuff out the Anabaptist spirit” and how exactly are they attempting to do this?


Rick Patrick

Thank you, Ron Hale, for another installment of historical awesomeness.

Leslie Puryear

Excellent article, Ron. The truth is out there and you’re telling it.

Ben Simpson


Interesting as always. It was a pleasure to finally meet you in person at the TBC! Blessings!

Ron F. Hale

Thanks — and it was good chatting with you at the TBC; it was a great time of challenge through the preaching, worship, and fellowship.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available