Church History: The Anabaptists, Part 3
Having looked at some of the stranger and more radical wings of Anabaptist history, we turn our attention to the mainstream as represented by Michael Sattler and Menno Simons.
Sattler authored the Schlietheim Confession which is summarized by James and Woodbridge as follows;
“The seven articles assert that (1) baptism is contingent on repentance and a moral life; (2) brethren who fail to live according to the Christian code of ethics are to be banned from the community; (3) a memorialist or Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper is the correct one; (4) there should be a radical separation of Christians from secular society ; (5) the pastor must maintain high moral standards in his life and ministry; (6) true Christians must not serve the civil government; and (7) all oaths to the state are to be prohibited.”
These Anabaptists had a radical vision of a pristine church restored to New Testament ways and standards, according to their interpretation.
Theirs was a call to holy living, to separation from the world and in particular from governmental involvements in the church.
It was a call to Biblical “literalism”unencumbered by the traditions of Rome, encouraging pacifism, and sometimes communalism.
It indeed resembled in many ways how the earliest church fathers portrayed the Christian life.
Sattler took a pastorate in a small church after the drafting of the Articles, but was arrested by the Catholics a month later.
He was given a trial…but the outcome was never in doubt.
“In the case of the attorney of His imperial majesty vs. Michael Sattler, judgment is passed that Michael Sattler shall be delivered to the executioner , who shall lead him to the place of execution and cut out his tongue, then forge him fast to a wagon and there with red-hot tongs twice tear pieces from his body; and after he has been brought outside the gate, he shall be plied five times more in the same manner.”
He was then burned at the stake, then his wife was drowned after she chose not to renounce her faith.
The religious and governmental establishment saw no difference between the peaceful faith of Sattler and the violent radicals of Munster.
Both were a threat to the established order, both had to be exterminated.
Menno Simons legacy continues to this day through the Mennonites.
Embracing the doctrines of Anabaptists after being a Catholic priest, Simons became a leader of the movement.
He denounced the “crazy”, violent wing of the movement, while embracing and defending pacifism.
Like his Reformed contemporary John Calvin, his influence was primarily through his writings.
His magnum opus was “The Foundation of Christian Doctrine” which has served Anabaptists the same way Calvin’s “Institutes” have served the Reformed faith.
What lessons can we take from the Anabaptists?
Over the years Sattler and his wife have become heroes in the faith to me, though we differ doctrinally.
He lived his faith, he persevered to the end, as did his wife.
The ideas about separation from the world and from government, (though overly radical) may be needed correctives in our day of compromise and nationalism.
The notion of the church being a distinct and recognizable people seems to resonate with the New Testament description of the people of God.
Had we listened to Sattler, much of the stains and sins of the Reformation committed in the name of the state would have been avoided.
Would would we profit by listening to him today?
Quotes were taken from the following volume, which I commend to your reading…
Woodbridge, John; James III, Frank A. (2013-08-08). Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Kindle Locations 3854-3858). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.