It all began for the Anabaptist 2014 tour group in Worms, Germany. It was at the Diet of Worms that Martin Luther stood against all of Catholicism on April 16-18 of 1521.
“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
It just seems fitting to begin this tour of Light on the shoulders of the great reformer, upon whom the light of God’s Word broke forth. Yet to the south in Zürich, a fiery young preacher by the name of Ulrich Zwingli was stoking the flames of Reformation from the pulpit at the Grossmünster. Zwingli’s preaching was not the only kindling he was pitching on the fires. He was gaining a following of some special young men who would move from their love of the Greek language to a bright and burning passion for the Living Word of God.
In Zürich, Conrad Grabel, Felix Manz and others were moved by the spirit of the Reformation and an insatiable desire to see the Church return to the New Testament model. Zwingli, the champion of Reformation in Zürich soon became the arch enemy of these zealous young men, whom he had once fathered in the faith. The tipping point came about when, before the city council, Zwingli surrendered the authority of God’s infallible Word to the determination of the council; concerning church decisions. In the midst of the Reformation, it would seem that the hero loses his nerve and becomes a fierce defender of the government’s sword in church affairs. For the young men he had mentored; this just simply would not stand. Disillusioned by the second Disputation in Zürich these notable men committed the whole of the matter into the capable hands of God.Arising from the prayer, George Blaurock requested Conrad Grabel to baptize him upon a confession of faith in Christ. Grebel did so, and afterwards Blaurock proceeded to baptize the others who were present.
The Anabaptist movement was now underway. Immediately following the baptisms of that January night, “the Brethren” begin to share the Gospel: declaring a church solely composed of believers, solely for believers and governed solely by God’s very own Words. Seemingly everywhere but in Zürich, the good news was absorbed among the people. People were being baptized by the thousands. However, this type of success also brought persecution (hot persecution) from the Catholics and Protestants, alike.
The name “Anabaptist” was actually given to them by their detractors. It means “the re-baptizers”. Thus, putting the capstone of their collective hate in the very name Anabaptists would carry for centuries. Simply put, the Anabaptist refused to baptize their infants, as was the custom of the state church. The Brethren believed in regenerate church membership and baptism for the born again. They began baptizing people who were professing personal faith in Christ Jesus. For this they were hunted down like animals and forced to recant or die.
The Emmental Valley, below the Swiss Alps rendered refuge to Anabaptists who were forced to flee the larger towns. The Anabaptist Tour 2014 went into the Emmental Valley. It was easy for the mind to begin to sing, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” However, Transvaal Castle prison was a grim reminder that many Saints were slaughtered in the valley “of whom this world is not worthy”.
A stop in Schleitheim warmed the heart and proved that the devil’s persecution could not stop the Word of God. It was here at Schleitheim, that one of 4 existing copies of the Schleitheim Confession is under glass, in a small museum. These Seven Articles of Schleitheim, February 24, 1527 cemented forever what it meant to take hold of the Gospel plow, as an Anabaptists.
A small detour in Augsburg gave the group a chance to see the location of a great gathering of Anabaptists missionaries in the home of Susanna Doucher, located along the Bürgergässchen. Here a number of Swiss Anabaptists, as well as Austrian and German Anabaptists gathered to plot out a method to fulfill the Great Commission. After a year’s time only two of these great Anabaptist missionaries remained. The rest could not escape the executioner’s blade. Their lives were taken because they believe in the Light of the World.
On to Vienna, Austria where many Anabaptist; most notably Balthasar Hubmaier were tortured and burned at the stake. In the shadows of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, one could sense the spirit of the harlot who rides upon the scarlet beast. Not far from the city was Falkenstein Castle were many Anabaptist were held and sentenced to be gallery slaves. (This was a fate worse than death.)
From the castle, Mikulov, Czech Republic, (Moravia of former times), could be seen at a distance. This next stop at Mikulov rendered evidence of a more religiously tolerant environment governed by Lichtenstein family. It is documented that even one of the princes of this prestigious family was won to the gospel by Balthazar Hubmaier, who enjoyed a 3 year stay in this hospitable town. Here in Mikulov, it is believed that Hubmaier found his peace with his recantation in Zürich, which forever haunt him. He successfully wrote, published works, and shined the bright light of the Gospel during his stay in Mikulov. However, when Ferdinand took control of the territory it would not be long before Hubmaier and his wife Elizabeth were arrested and taken to Vienna, for his ultimate torture and death.
The story does not end with execution. It actually ends in triumph. Although Anabaptists of the 16th century had to hide, worship in secret and suffer many things for the precious treasure of the Word of God; the Word is not bound. Their faith has survived and the sacrifices have not been in vain. The Word of God, revealed to the common man, brought about this great movement called “Anabaptistism”. The word of God has moved people into action for centuries. The Word of God is truth. And in the words of Balthazar Hubmaier, “truth is immortal”.
by Pastor Craig Layton
Pastor Leary Baptist Church, Leary GA
Member of the Anabaptist Heritage Tour 2014