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.