Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Trail Of Blood: A book review

I regret to report what probably won’t surprise you, which is that I disagree with almost every word in this book. If you’ll indulge me a few sheets I’d like to tell you why. This is selective history at its worst, giving anyone who reads it alone a sadly one-sided view of history and ecclesiology. The only reason Leonard Verduin dares to call Anabaptists the stepchildren of the Reformers is because some Baptists today subscribe to some of the things Calvin taught. There was in fact no connection between the Reformers and the Anabaptists other than the fact that both camps called themselves Christian. The Anabaptists continued a long separatist pattern dating back to the Gnostics, and the Reformers recognized that some things remained true in the Roman Catholic Church and the rest were in need of reform. The Anabaptists, writes Verduin, “were not interested in any continuity with the Church of the past; for them that Church was a ‘fallen’ creature. Not some reformation of this ‘fallen’ creature was their objective but a new beginning, a Restitution. They were not interested in carrying coals from a fire that had been smouldering and smoking for so many centuries; they were out to kindle a new blaze” (p.156). “Nothing in the church’s theology, its organization, its place in the world, escaped the effects of the virus that had entered its bloodstream” (p.41). I will show that rather than a restitution of original Christianity, they merely introduced the world to the same old heresies the church has confronted for 2,000 years.

It was very important to the Reformers to maintain all possible ties with the historic church and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Joshua and Paul themselves were church reformers (Joshua 5:2 and Acts 19:3). As Francis Nigel Lee writes: “In Ezekiel 34:11-15, God does not say He would send new shepherds to build new sheepfolds for new sheep. He says He Himself would re-gather His scattered sheep; bring them back into their old sheepfold; and punish not them but the false shepherds who had scattered them.”

I deny that history has been unfair to the Anabaptists. The adjectives the historians correctly use to describe them are millenarian, antinomian, legalistic, anarchistic (opposed to oaths, forbidding civil offices), communistic, egalitarian, adulterous, charismatic and glossolalist, perfectionist, polygamous, and revolutionary. The theme of Verduin’s book is that anti-sacralism was the binding factor through the ages and antipaedobaptism logically flowed from a pure apostolic Christianity, but the more plausible explanation, as the evidence unmistakably suggests, is that revolutionism and the lust for power, signs, and wonders was the binding factor in their religion. I especially want you to notice that Verduin offers no evidence whatsoever that the antipaedobaptism of the 16th century Anabaptists had been adopted from the earlier kindred “restitutionists.” According to the British Puritan Dr. William Wall, “there is no certain evidence of any church or society of men that opposed infant baptism” until the German and Swiss Anabaptists of 1522. However, the centuries-old widespread belief in baptismal regeneration, begun by ritualistic Romans, with the gradual progression towards more and more water being used and the candidate being more and more naked, had made immersion (or more properly submersion) very popular.

The Anabaptist doctrine of baptism was all over the map. According to Lee: “Some Anabaptists believed babies were ‘safe.’ Others believed they were lost—because deemed to be incapable of professing, or even of possessing, any faith in Christ at all. Again, some Anabaptists believed baptism was merely a sign of faith; others believed it made prior faith secure. Yet others believed faith was vain without baptism. But all Anabaptists believed it was wrong, and sometimes even sinful, to baptize babies.” Their antipaedobaptism and pacifism derived from a rejection of any part of the Old Testament not specifically repeated in the New as binding on believers today.

History from a Different Perspective

“The Donatists were the original Anabaptists,” writes Verduin (p.192). But unlike the 16th century Anabaptists, the Donatists had no qualms about baptizing infants. After Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity, the faith was finally “legalized” and Christians were accepted into all levels of society. While this was a very good thing, it didn’t solve the problem of monarchy inherent to Rome. The acceptance of Christians made them beholden to a single man, albeit a Christian, who proposed to represent both the church and the state. Dostoyevsky wrote, “A compromise arose; the Empire accepted Christianity and the Church accepted Roman law and the Roman State. A small part of the Church retired into the desert and there began to continue its former work.” Verduin leaps on this statement as the cause for why the Donatists fled to Africa. Yet they did not flee because they railed against a union of church and state, as the Anabaptists and Baptists assume, but because they protested the immoral lives of those who administered the sacraments. This had nothing to do with the receptor of the sacraments; I repeat that they did not deny baptism to infants. Therefore, Verduin’s association of Donatists with the Anabaptists of the 16th century is groundless. The Donatists believed that sacraments could not properly be administered by anyone holding unconfessed sin. Catholics rejected this view at the Council of Trent, where they formed the doctrine ex opere operato (“from the work done” or “by the very fact of the action's being performed”). According to this doctrine, the validity of a sacrament lies entirely in the act itself, not in those who participate. Reformers later agreed with the Catholics that the person who administers is not a limiting factor (see Matthew 7:22-23) but rejected the Catholic view, saying that faith must be present in the recipient (ex opere operantis, or “by the action of the agent”), or else the work itself is dead. The Reformers were thus consistent Calvinists: faith must be present in the child baptized, for instance, and because he is a child, the gift of faith and regeneration in the Spirit is shown to be entirely the work of God.

Yet even without these historical facts, how would Verduin disprove that the Donatist schism was caused not by the union of church and state but because they saw the Roman church as having allowed the empire to encroach its jurisdiction? For what did they have in the desert but a union of church and state, or will it be argued that this band of lawful Christians lived without law? In Rome there should have been not popery but a theocratic republic, a system of qualified church elders in charge of the government, not unlike the Presbyterian/American republic. But this more sophisticated form of civil government presupposes the depravity of man, which was not widely realized until many hundreds of years later.

The Cathari he mentions (called Bogomils in the East and Albigensians in the West) allowed even women to administer baptism while other church members laid the gospel of John on the candidate’s chest. According to Dr. Paul D. Steeves, “the Paulicians…held that only the Gospel and letters of Paul were divinely inspired. An evil deity…had inspired the rest of the New Testament, and the Old Testament. The Paulicians claimed that this evil deity was the creator and god of this world. The true God of heaven, they said, was opposed to all material things…Physical and material…sacraments… must have come from the same evil spirit…Some of the Bulgars adopted Paulician ideas into a new religious system that acquired the name ‘Bogomilism’…Around the middle of the tenth century, Bogomils began to teach that the first-born son of God was Satanael…This deity was expelled from heaven. He made a new heaven and earth, in which he placed Adam and Eve. Satanael and Eve became the parents of Cain…Moses and John the Baptist, according to Bogomil teaching, were both servants of Satanael…The Bogomils…despised marriage…They rejected baptism and communion as Satanic rites.” The Petrobrusians of the 12th century held that infants are incapable of being saved. Yet these sects are the forebears of the 16th century Anabaptists—the practitioners of the so-called true apostolic faith preserved through the ages.

Thomas Muenzer and Balthasar Huebmaier were the leaders of the 1525 Peasant War in Germany, after which Muenzer ruled from the city of Muenster. Dr. G.H. Williams admitted “that Thomas Muenzer was a fierce fanatic, possessed of a demoniac spirit” and held “radical doubt as to the existence of God.” Muenzer used Romans 13 to incite revolution, “preaching a radical Biblicism characterized by direct revelation in visions and dreams…the abandonment of infant baptism, [and] belief in the millennium—to be preceded by the ascendance of the Turk as Antichrist…He appears to have encouraged the postponement of baptism until children should be of sufficient age to understand the action.” Karl Marx’s associate Friedrich Engels remarked adoringly, “the peasants and plebeians...united in a revolutionary party whose demands and doctrines were most clearly expressed by Muenzer…The millennium and the day of judgement over the degenerated church and corrupted world proposed and described by the mystic, seemed to Muenzer imminently close…Under the cloak of Christian forms, he preached a kind of pantheism…and at times even approached atheism…There is no heaven in the beyond…There is no devil but man’s evil lusts…His political program approached communism…” And so Muenzer decreed: “All things shall be common, and occasionally they shall be distributed according to each one’s necessity…Whatever prince, count, or lord will not submit to this, and being forewarned—his head shall be stricken off or he shall be hung!” But fortunately Muenzer’s head was removed at the Battle of Frankhausen in 1525. Communism was a persistent feature of Anabaptist life. Dr. K.R. Davis in his book Anabaptism and Asceticism wrote that the Marburg Anabaptists “question[ed] prospective members and those requesting the sign of baptism thus: ‘If need should require it, are you prepared to devote all your possessions to the service of the brotherhood?’”

Trouble then spread to Switzerland, where the Anabaptist leaders Jan Denck (a pantheistic universalist) and Ludwig Haetzer (an adulterer and accused bigamist) debated Zwingli in the Zurich Council Hall on January 17, 1525. Zwingli explained in the debate that while he once carried a friendship with many of the Anabaptists, their unscriptural belief in rebaptism and their insistence on neglecting covenant children placed them beyond the pale of orthodoxy. Zwingli won that debate and two others. Verduin dismisses Zwingli’s denunciation as backpedaling for fear of being labeled a heretic himself, but the evidence simply doesn’t support such a claim. Zwingli was at least as fanatical about his faith as his enemies and would have fearlessly been martyred for truth. Swiss Anabaptism was born after the first debate, yet Richard Nitsche, in his History of the Anabaptists in Switzerland at the Time of the Reformation, observes: “We hardly encounter a single formal submersion, such as indeed occurred later.” This was because they correctly believed that John the Baptist baptized by sprinkling or pouring.

The Waldensians endorsed the validity of baptism even when performed by the Church of Rome, and stated in their 1655 Waldensian Confession “that we do agree in sound doctrine with all the Reformed Churches of France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland…and others as it is set forth by them in their Confessions—as also in the Confession of Augsburg.” But in his book The Anabaptist Story, Baptist Dr. W.R. Estep wrote: “not one of the Swiss Anabaptist leaders came from a Waldensian background…All of the early Anabaptist leaders came originally from the Roman Church…or directly out of Catholicism into Anabaptist life.”

Anabaptism spread beyond the bounds of Germany and Switzerland when Hans Hut, a former disciple of Muenzer was rebaptized. Hut believed Christ would return 3½ years after the Peasant War and was intensely communistic. His followers, the Hutterites, were greatly influenced by the 9th century Fifth Letter of Pseudo-Clement, in which the statement may be found that “without doubt all things and also wives ought to be common to friends.” The Pseudo-Clementine epistles influenced not only Austrian and Moravian Anabaptists but also Early-Dutch and Later-German Anabaptists.

Lee writes: “Melchior Hofmann denied Christ’s humanity, alleging that Jesus merely traveled through Mary ‘like water through a pipe’…Hofmann was a false prophet. His prediction that 144,000 would soon go forth from Strasburg and convert the world never came to pass.” Hofmann was succeeded by Matthys, who claimed to be Enoch reincarnated, and Matthys was succeeded by Beukels. “John Beukels,” writes G.H. Williams, “established polygamy…All who resisted it were to be considered reprobates (and therefore in danger of execution)…[Bernard] Rothmann followed John’s polygamous example, and eventually acquired nine wives…Beukels had himself anointed, and crowned…as ‘a king of righteousness over all’…Rothmann defended polygamy…Since the only legitimate purpose of marriage was to be fruitful and multiply, a husband should not be held back from fructification by the sterility or pregnancy or indisposition of one wife.” Rothmann had only 9 wives, but Beukels took 15 and Knipperdolling 17. The Melchiorite Rothmannites in Muenster elevated marriage to the status of a Christian ordinance, and a law requiring all girls of a certain age to marry was made compulsory under pain of capital punishment. Yet Verduin disingenuously dismisses any evidence of sexual iniquity and “weird ideas as to marriage” as existing only “at the lunatic fringe of Anabaptism,” while the center remained pure (p.149).

These and many other atrocities took place in Muenster, and even the Baptist scholar Dr. West of Oxford admitted: “It is certainly not right to divorce Muenster entirely from Anabaptism.” Dr. Robert Torbet wrote: “The extravagant cruelty and wanton destruction of the visionaries who sought to establish the millennial kingdom in Muenster made an indelible impression…The fanatics of Muenster were a potential menace to law and order” and “taught resistance, against government, by the sword…”

The aftermath across Europe was just as bad if not worse (the Naked Walkers of Amsterdam; the Family of Love; the founder of Verduin’s own sect, Menno Simons, who denied the Incarnation), with even more heresies perpetrated by questionably sane Anabaptist leaders, all of them united in their disdain for infant baptism. I must turn Verduin’s own words on him when he states: “let the reader ponder that fallenness bears frightful fruit” (p.217). In his book these facts are left conveniently unmentioned, and the Anabaptist is portrayed as an untarnished, cherubic figure, well-versed in the Scriptures and desirous of only goodwill toward his fellow man.

The Magistrate

The anti-Trinitarian Miguel Servetus was put to death because he broke the law as written in the Codes of Justinian, that “Heresy shall be construed to be an offence against the civil order.” So Verduin writes, in effect, How dare the “restitutionists” be required to obey the law! He could have written a few paragraphs on how bad he thought the law was, but instead he lays blame for Servetus’ death squarely at the feet of Calvin, who tried to convince Servetus of the error of his ways and then pushed for a lighter sentence when he refused to recant. If merely the fact of being an Anabaptist was enough to deserve death at the hands of the “sacralists,” why did Pastor and Mrs. Jan Stordeur not meet a similar fate? Calvin had extensive contact with both, convinced both of their errors, and when the pastor died, Calvin married his then-Reformed widow. The larger question is, How would Verduin presume to dispense justice, if at all? Would he allow heresy to be preached and crimes against God to be perpetrated and ignore them? Would he also ignore the societal effects these heresies produce, or would he deny a causal relationship?

Verduin admits that proof-texts were offered as scriptural warrant for punishing Servetus, but they simply were unsatisfactory because “they were derived primarily from the Old Testament” (p.54). Likewise, the “ambiguity in Calvin’s doctrine of the Church…resulted from [his] attempt to combine the Church of the Old Testament with the Church of the New” (p.126). And: “The Reformers sought to construe the New Testament Church after the lineaments of the Old Testament, thus reversing the forward movement of God’s affairs in history…” (p.131). The premise of such a statement is that the New Testament is at odds with the Old Testament, which notion the Reformers, the Apostles, and Christ Himself rejected. Verduin defines the word sacral as “bound together by a common religious loyalty…According to this construction of things, the Old Testament too was pre-Christian…Every member of Old Testament society was considered to be in the same religious category as was every other member of it…It was a monolithic society rather than a composite one” (p.23). Abraham and Moses will be surprised to hear that they did not know Christ. And I wonder how some of these clones could have broken the covenant. I agree with Verduin’s assessment of why the “restitutionists” (who were really revolutionists) left the church: “It was the Reformers’ refusal to admit that there is this perspective in the relationship that obtains between the two Testaments, it was their refusal to grant that the one had outmoded the other at this point, that caused the exodus of the Stepchildren” (p.23).

The “restitutionists” and Anabaptists believed, according to Verduin, “that the Church of Christ is by definition an element in society, not society as such. Their opponents, the Reformers as well as the Catholics, were unwilling to go along with this; they continued to look upon the Church as coextensive with society.” The Anabaptists were bent on having a church “apart from society, not identical with it, not coterminous with it” (p.209), which besides being a nonsensical statement is the language of pacifism couched in elegant terms.

I believe a Christian nation should be a Christian nation. It is clear that the “state churches” of Calvin’s Geneva or Knox’s Scotland or the almost-Presbyterian government of England were preferable to what has become of the American experiment. (For just one example of our inconsistency, the same people today who are shocked that Zwingli once required church attendance to retain public office wholeheartedly endorse the Republican litmus test that a Supreme Court nominee be pro-life.) The backlash against a heavy-handed monarch that sat as head of the church, the rampant statism of New England Puritans, and respectful deference for the geographical and ethnic differences the founding of a new world entailed gave American Christians a distaste for “established” religion when our country was founded. This is why a confederation rather than a federation of sovereign states was devised. Each state could choose to establish a church, if it wished, as the colonies had. Verduin misquotes the First Amendment on pages 61 and 187, so it isn’t surprising that he doesn’t understand these words to be intended only for the federal government, which had extremely limited power, and not the state governments. But what does an establishment of religion mean? It need only be stated that a Christian people should desire Christian laws, and laws must be enforced. All law is “established,” and a nation with explicitly Christian law is therefore authorized to enforce that law. (I don’t consider vague religionist law of the nonjudgmental and tolerant sort to be Christian at all.) Anything less is a hope that the magistrate, he who could be a stranger to justice, will dispense justice righteously. It is a shallow mind that requires of the Christian to bow to the heathen in civil affairs because he should be a pacifist and unwilling to claim authority for his family, his clan, or his colony.

The difficulty of implementing this scriptural and sensible system, it seems to me, is not in punishing evildoers but rather what to do about theological differences among citizens of a pluralistic state. The “how” in these matters is clear; the elders of the state church will judge heresy and the punishment for subscribing to it. But since man is depraved we must not have a blood monarchy or a dictatorship of any kind. The fairest system of government, as history attests, is a theocratic republic. The citizen’s protection against constitutional abuse is the power of his vote, which is why this fairest of government systems only works for those responsible enough to live under it. For others the greatest fairness may be achieved through the inequality of subjection, in other words compelling a minority to live under righteous law. This is what Augustine told the Donatists, and he is quoted on page 67: “And so if you [Donatists] were strolling quietly outside the feast of eternal salvation and the unity of the holy Church [having identified yourselves as Christians] then we would overtake you on your 'highways'; but now that you verily by many injuries and cruelties which you perpetrate upon our people, are full of thorns and spines, now we come upon you in your 'hedges' to compel you. The sheep which is compelled is coerced while it is unwilling, but after it has been brought in it may graze as its own volition wills.” Augustine’s reference here to Luke 14:16 is very applicable, as is his reference to Sarah’s authority over her slave Hagar. It goes without saying that such an arrangement almost always fails to materialize, again due to the depravity of man. The temptation is simply too great for ungodly leaders or an ungodly mob to secure military power and use the treasury for personal gain. As Abraham Kuyper wrote of his Holland: “If coercion by the State only worked we would not for one moment hesitate to employ it…I do not draw back if someone should say, ‘Then you desire and propose that if need require it idolatry and similar sins be punished capitally!’ If need be, very certainly…”

On pages 77 and 87 Verduin calls this scriptural practice both “pagan” and “pre-Christian,” by which he means Jewish, in the same sentence. (I don’t pretend to understand what he means when he says what is written in the Word of God had a pagan origin, unless he dares to imply that the Old Testament is not the Word of the unchanging God.) He then admits, on page 78, that the Old Testament does indeed contain “examples of religious uniformity enforced by the coercing sword of the civil rulers.” But the Old Testament was judged to be obsolete by the “restitutionists.” One is quoted on page 78: “For although we were to grant that it was commanded to some rulers in Israel to punish idol worship and such like, this was because Israel was a servile people of the law among which everything was by constraint, also their religion.” This will be news to Joshua, who said, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). It will also be news to Philemon.

Verduin is simply wrong, on page 43, when he analogizes that all Christians should be pacifists because Peter was rebuked for slicing the soldier’s ear. It is evident, when reading the verse in context, that Christ had a mission to perform and didn’t want Peter to take matters into his own hands. Here’s a simple question: Why was Peter allowed to carry the sword in the first place if it was not meant to be used?

Throughout the book Verduin characterizes the true church as consisting only of believers and the “sacralists” as defining the church as all who reside in a certain locality. This argument is a straw man he can erect to easily demolish. The Reformers never denied that the church consists only of those who believe; the question has always been over when faith is granted. Who among us can describe how the days of Psalm 139:16 have been planned? Moreover, the Reformers always recognized the relationship between the visible church and the invisible church, the latter being a fraction of the former. Evidence for this is seen in the 7,000 persons who had not bowed to Baal that God had reserved for Himself in the time of Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). Of course, this is an Old Testament example unacceptable to the “restitutionists” even though it is repeated in Romans 11: “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” And what did denial of a small invisible church gain them? Was it true that all of their members, each of whom professed to believe, were actually Christians? Of course not, as their actions attest. Despite their denials to the contrary, they proved the point the Reformers repeatedly made. As Luther’s colleague Justus Menius wrote, “They seek to assemble a pure Church and wherever that is undertaken the public order is sure to be overthrown, for a pure Church is not possible, as Christ cautioned often enough…” Verduin rails against “a church that embraces a total society,” which characterization is denied by the Reformed, but notice that the only recorded clamor against the social order came from the “restitutionists.” It was they who stirred dissension, while everyone else was quite content to live in a society governed by Christian laws. It was their right (as it is our right) to so govern themselves once their numbers were sufficient. Those who refused to live under Christian law were asked to repent, and if not were asked to leave, and if not were punished.

When Christians ascended to the ranks of civil government in the age of Constantine, the Donatists likely objected to Constantine’s place in the church because they doubted his conversion. So do I. However, this had nothing to do with the legitimacy of Christian governance. I agree with Abraham Kuyper’s assessment, quoted on page 61: “When the first contest eventuated in this that the emperor bowed to Jesus, then…the kingship of Christ began to be triumphant in society…The kingship of Christ from this time on stood as a direction-giving power above the imperial power, which, in order to strengthen its influence, tried for an ever-increasingly close integration with the kingship of Jesus…When in the fourth century persecution ceased and the imperial power showed a readiness to accommodate itself to Jesus, then the basic victory became apparent…This principal victory continued on during the entire course of the long, long period known as the Middle Ages.”

Calvin wrote: “If this calling to fulfill the office of the sword or of temporal power is repugnant to the vocation of believers then how is it that…especially good kings like David…and Josiah, and even a few prophets like Daniel, made use of it?” There Calvin goes again, using examples from the Old Testament. True-to-form, the New Testament-only Anabaptists responded, in a pathetic interpretation of John 8: “Our Lord Jesus did not order that the woman who was caught in adultery be stoned to death, as the law of God requires.”

As their beliefs related to civil order, magistracy and oaths were absolutely forbidden by Anabaptists. Article 37 (“Of the Civil Magistrates”) of the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 condemned “Anabaptist attacks on the authority of the State.” Article 39 is directed against their objection to the use of oaths. In the French Confession of 1559, Calvin declared: “We believe that God wishes to have the world governed by laws and magistrates…He has put the sword into the hands of magistrates to suppress crimes against the First [Table] as well as against the Second Table of the Commandments of God. We must therefore, on His account, not only submit to them as superiors, but honour and hold them in all reverence as His lieutenants and officers, whom He has commissioned to exercise a legitimate and holy authority…We detest all those who would like to reject authority; to establish community and confusion of property; and [to] overthrow the order of justice.”

The Helvetic confessions were the forerunners for the Westminster Confession of Faith. From the 1536 First Helvetic Confession: “We condemn the Anabaptists who—as they deny that a Christian man should bear the office of a magistrate—deny also that any man can justly be put to death by the magistrate; or that the magistrate may make war; or that oaths should be administered by the magistrate; and such like things…For he that opposes himself against the magistrate, does provoke the wrath of God. We condemn therefore all contemners of magistrates, rebels, enemies of the commonwealth, seditious villains—and, in a word, all such as do either openly or closely refuse to perform those duties which they owe.”

Consider the following indictments of the Anabaptists from the Formula of Concord, and ask yourself what connection these have to your own faith:

“Anabaptist Articles which cannot be endured in the Commonwealth.

I. That the office of the magistrate is not, under the New Testament, a condition of life that pleases God.

II. That a Christian man cannot discharge the office of a magistrate with a safe and quiet conscience.

III. That a Christian man cannot with a safe conscience administer and execute the office of a magistrate if matters so require against the wicked, nor subjects implore for their defence that power which the magistrate has received of God.

IV. That a Christian man cannot with a safe conscience take an oath, nor swear obedience and fidelity to his prince or magistrate.

V. That the magistrate, under the New Testament, cannot with a good conscience punish criminals with death…

Anabaptist Articles which cannot be endured in daily life.

I. That a godly man cannot with safe conscience hold or possess any property, but that whatever means he may possess he is bound to bestow them all as common good.

II. That a Christian man cannot with a safe conscience either keep an inn, or carry on trade, or forge weapons.

III. That it is permitted married people who think differently in religion to divorce themselves, and to contract matrimony with some other person who agrees with them in religion…

Errors of the [Anabaptist] Schwenkfeldians.

I. That all those who affirm Christ according to the flesh to be a creature, have no true knowledge of the heavenly King and His reign.

II. That the flesh of Christ through its exaltation has in such wise received all the divine attributes, that Christ as He is man is altogether like to the Father…and that the flesh of Christ pertains to the essence of the Blessed Trinity.

III. That the ministry of the Word…is not that instrument whereby God the Holy Ghost teaches men…

IV. That the water of baptism is not a means whereby the Lord seals adoption in the children of God.”

Do you believe that police officers and politicians please God in performing their duties? Do you believe a Christian can be either, or do you agree with Verduin that it is “better to leave that assignment to once-born men, with whom ‘an eye for an eye’ is the standard of dealing with infractions…since no policeman can live by the command to ‘turn the other cheek’…” (p.275)? Do you believe in justice? Would you take orders from any civil authority? Do you believe that your house and paycheck belong to you? If you answered No to any of these questions, you could be an Anabaptist. If you answered Yes to all questions, I hope it isn’t difficult to see how such people were and are a threat to civil order, to say nothing about whatever other heretical doctrines they may espouse.

The Baptists

Ernest A. Payne, the British Baptist historian, wrote in the Baptist Quarterly: “Baptists cannot be separated from…other…groups of the sixteenth century” because there is a “relationship between the early English Baptists and the Continental Anabaptists…The Mennonite influence was responsible in part for the first Baptist witness.” According to Lee, “Britain in general and the 1643 Westminster Assembly in particular were steered away from heterodox Continental Anabaptism. It is true that even the belated ‘English Baptists’ (from 1611 onward) did derive largely from the Anabaptists. Mercifully, however, they remained only on the fringes of British Puritanism.”

Baptist church founder John Smyth baptized himself, and then was re-rebaptized by Mennonites. Roger Williams, who founded the first American Baptist church, was baptized in Smyth’s church by Ezekiel Hollyman but later called that baptism invalid because Hollyman had not first been submerged, and was re-rebaptized. The English and then American Baptists used the mode of backward-leaning and fully-clothed onefold submersion rather than the naked or forward-leaning triple immersions of other Anabaptists. Dr. G.H. Williams admitted that “the adoption by English Baptists of the practice of immersion ultimately derived from the Minor Church of Poland,” which had learned the practice from the Socinians, otherwise known as the Unitarian Anabaptists.

Verduin calls the idea mistaken “that society cannot hang together unless it is bound together in a common religion” (p.104). Calvin wrote: “Men cannot be welded together in any name of religion, whether true or false, unless they be bound in some partnership of signs or visible sacraments” (Institutes 4, 14:19). The idea is hardly far-fetched, as modern America proves. The government of the late United States was founded by John Calvin, but the land has been conquered by Rhode Island Baptists. All their dreams of a state separated from the church have come to fruition here, to the delight of atheists everywhere. Verduin correctly notes: “The First Amendment is not so much the fruitage of the French Revolution as it is the legacy of Restitutionism” (p.187). (While this is true, “Nature’s God” comes straight out of French rationalism, and “consent of the governed” comes from the erroneous social contract theory.) It was such a novel idea that the state would mind its business and the church its business and we would all live happily ever after, but he who is not with Christ is against Him. It took less than a hundred years for the Christians who founded the government to be forced out of it, and liberty was again crushed under the tyrant’s heel. Today we live with the residue of a Christian culture being slowly strangled to death. The Baptist vision has given us a country where the true God has been pushed from the town square, but the vacuum can’t be sustained. His place has been assumed by the god of Self, to whom our children are introduced in the state schools. Verduin should not be surprised that “society cannot hang together unless it is bound together in a common religion.” He can find the same idea in his Bible, stated in different terms: A house divided against itself cannot stand. The very word “culture” is based on the word “cult,” which denotes common faith. As Henry Van Til stated, “Culture is religion externalized and made explicit.” Religion, as much as race, is the glue that holds a society together. Verduin very tellingly, on page 87, credits two movements for having destroyed Christian government, meaning government of the non-American type: the atheistic French Revolution and heretical Anabaptism. Thanks to the Baptist, America is crumbling, despite the 60% church membership that Verduin boasts.

The Root of Heresy

“The rejection of the medieval monism led the Stepchildren to consider the Old Testament obsolete at this point…As the late Dr. Harold Bender put it: ‘Anabaptism was not fully conformant to Reformation Protestantism, in that it refused to place the Old Testament on a parity with the New Testament, choosing rather to make the new covenant of Christ supreme and relegating therefore the Old Testament to the position of a preparatory instrument in God’s program…’” Verduin continues: “‘Baptism is not the counterpart of circumcision therefore’…They looked upon the policy of sliding from the Old Testament to the New as a master evil, one from which all sorts of evils come…Such demotion of the Old Testament…is one of the earmarks of the Anabaptist vision” (p.209-210). Truly, this can be called by no other word than heresy. It sets Christ at odds with the Father, which is probably why so many Anabaptists were Unitarian. It is also illogical since the ministry of Christ was based squarely on all that had come before through Moses and the Prophets (see Matthew 5). We must not forget that Peter never preached a rejection of the Scriptures or encouraged his listeners to abandon their heritage. Any Gentile who heeded the Gospel had to acknowledge that the Old Testament was the Word of God and the Old Testament people were the children of God. The idea that Discontinuists expect the New Testament to lay a new foundation is ludicrous. The Old Testament took over 1000 years to write and the New Testament less than 100. It is so short precisely because there was no need to lay a new foundation, and there was no need to lay a new foundation because you know who the church’s one foundation is: the same Lord of the New Testament is the Lord of the Old. The New Testament did not usurp the Old Testament but fulfilled it.

The Anabaptists “looked upon the Old Testament’s attitude toward war as little more than a curious relic of the past. [They] would, if there had been no other alternative, have repudiated the Old Testament rather than lose the novelty of Christ’s attitude toward war: ‘Better [as Adolph von Harnack has it] to let go of the Old Testament than to let the image of the Father of Jesus Christ be clouded by a warlike shadow.’ The rise of Marcionism proves the point we are making. Marcion saw no chance of harmonizing the regime of Jesus Christ with the dispensation of the Old Testament; and in desperation he abandoned the Old Testament, relegating it to some lesser deity” (p.272). Some lesser deity! How can this not be called heresy?

Verduin ends the book he intends to be taken seriously by incredibly lamenting the condition of the state schools, suggesting that the First Amendment authorizes public funding for the clergy of every religion imaginable (so long as partiality is not shown to Mennonites over Wiccans), and accusing those who voted against Kennedy because he was a Catholic of being guilty of the same opinions that “bathed the world in blood and tears.” I would say he’s a true Anabaptist!

There is certainly much that the Reformers did wrong; they were, after all, only men. There is not a person alive who would not like to change the outcome of some events in history, much less his own life. But by and large, the Reformers were among the godliest and most educated men who have ever lived. Malcolm Muggeridge once preached a sermon at John Knox’s church in Edinburgh, and he said, “I would rather be wrong with Dante and Shakespeare and Milton, with Augustine of Hippo and Francis of Asissi, with Dr. Johnson and Blake and Dostoyevsky, than right with Voltaire, Rousseau, the Huxleys, Herbert Spenser, H.G. Wells, and Bernard Shaw.” I echo his sentiment and say that I would rather be wrong with Augustine, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Kuyper than right with Servetus, Muenzer, Huebmaier, Denck, Haetzer, Matthys, Beukels, Hut, Rothmann, Hofmann, Smyth, and Williams. It is very easy for us in the 21st century to question the actions of the Reformation heroes and to view their culture through an American prism. I often wonder about the commissioned preaching and the ban on private assemblies, but I know this was done to prevent the evangelistic Anabaptists (the Winckler) from spreading their lies from town to town, leading astray the gullible (see 2 Timothy 3:6). Yet Luther was fond of the idea of home gatherings to supplement corporate church gatherings (see p.184), the very thing I and many others are attempting to resurrect. Forced baptisms of children taken from their parents is another alarming item, but it is not much different than what was done in the last century to Aborigine children in Australia, who were taken from their pagan parents to prevent their neglect or abuse. Verduin admits that Jewish children were not forced to be baptized if the parents refused (p.208). It was only because Anabaptists deigned to carry the title Christian that they were expected to comport to Christian behavior, as determined not democratically but by church/civil leaders.


Barclay Catechism said...

My friend, your account of Anabaptists is by and large quite unfair and jaded. You pay attention to only the most radical of the earliest Anabaptists. Most of those whom you listed were early radicals that came to be renounced by mainstream peace-loving Anabaptists (later Mennonites). Following your logic, Karlstadt, the anarchist, was really a Lutheran simply because he was associated with Luther in the beginning.
Where is your account of Menno Simons or Pilgram Marpeck, who were both very orthodox and trinitarian in their theology (and have had the most influence on modern Anabaptist-Mennonitism)?
If you would like to know more about Anabaptist-Mennonites, please visit for a good introduction. Otherwise, I would recommend that you do more research before you simply blast out old biased sterotypes and charactures.

Adam B. said...

I agree with Barclay. This is just horrible. Completely way off on everything. You seem very biased. I am not even an anabaptist. This don't really even know where to start or what to say. You just need to stop everything you're doing, try to start with a clean slate in your mind, pray long and hard, and then approach this again. Check out

Baptist said...

Go to and study the 6 part series on the " Trail of Blood and the Antichrist" it might help you.

Greenleaf08 said...

There's quite a bit wrong here about what you write about the Anabaptists, but mostly wrong is your final reasoning regarding the Reformers: "Sure they might have done some stuff wrong, but they were only humans." And yet you fail to give the Anabaptists the same grace for some of their flaws.

Rather than looking at the church of the 16th Century, why don't you seriously talk to some Anabaptists today before being so quick to judge. Many of the early Anabaptist's heresies were corrected. Ironically, the persecution the Anabaptists, which you so stingily uphold, has been refuted and apologized for by the spiritual descendants of such Reformers.,,5837683,00.html