The Third Baptism of Felix Manz
by Ron Hale
He has served as Pastor, Church Planter, Strategist (NAMB), Director of Missions, and Associate Executive Director of Evangelism and Church Planting for a State Convention, and now in the 4th quarter of ministry as Minister of Missions.
“He who dips shall be dipped” was the cruel catchphrase of the Protestant Reformers of Zurich, as Felix Manz (the Anabaptist) was sentenced to death by drowning. I write this short essay on the day of his martyrdom, January 5, 1527 – 486 years ago.[i]
Manz and the small group that he associated with referred to themselves as the Swiss Brethren. However, the Protestant Reformers of Zurich contemptuously called them the Anabaptists or the re-baptizers (“ana” meaning “again”). The Anabaptists believed that a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ with baptism following their profession of faith. They saw infants as incapable of these spiritual conditions unto salvation.
In Switzerland, Conrad Grebel, a former disciple of Ulrich Zwingli, became the leader of the Anabaptist movement. Several public disputations took place as Zwingli sought to persuade the Anabaptists of their false doctrine and practice. Finally, the Zurich body of magistrates came together and declared that the Anabaptists would be banished from the area if they did not solely practice paedo-baptism (infant baptism).
The Anabaptists protested this threat by taking to the streets of Zurich with their message. Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock were arrested by the leaders of the Grossmünster Church and the Zurich city council with the charge of revolutionary teaching. The local leaders met again to sentence Felix Manz to death by drowning; five other executions took place between 1527 and 1532.
Drowning an Anabaptist was a cruel lampoon of their practice of water baptism. This method was referred to as their “third baptism.”
With the support of Zwingli, Manz was taken from the Wallenberg prison tower on a cold winter day. He was taken to the fish market by the Limmat River to be read his death sentence. He was forced into a boat and escorted to a little hut in the middle of the river by a pastor and his executioner. Manz heard the voice of his mother calling out to him on this short journey, as she shouted words of encouragement.
Felix Manz was securely shackled and pulled from the top of the fishing hut into his watery grave. His friend Blaurock was whipped through the streets of the city and banished; while Grebel later died in prison.
Descendants of the Evangelical-Reformed Church of Zurich met on June 26, 2004 and corporately confessed their sins of the sixteenth persecutions and they asked descendants of the first Anabaptists to forgive them. A historical marker was placed on the bank of the river where Manz was drowned almost five hundred years earlier.[ii]
The cause of religious liberty has been sacred to Anabaptists, Quakers, Baptists, and others in the New World, for Old World prejudices arrived with each ship load of adventurers. Nevertheless, people have suffered, struggled and died so that no ecclesiastical group or denomination would have dominance and political favor over all others in America.
A free church in a free state has been the ideal and without the interference of civil powers as we preach and teach our convictions.
© Ron F. Hale, January 5, 2013; updated on January 20th.
[i] This article was first published on The Christian Post Blog on January 5, 2013