From: Religious Context 16th Century Bible Translation               Return to Home            

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten:

Zwingli, Anabaptists, and the Radical Fringe   

 

           

Zwingli

 

The Reformer’s Life

 

            When Zwingli came to Zurich, he did so as a visible and vocal supporter of papal power.  For the first two years of that ministry, he even received an ongoing “pension” from Rome.  Hence one can understand the shock of both the Papacy and the leading clerics of the day, when they discovered that this strong defender of the pope was even more interested in the reform agenda than in the preservation of the religious status quo.[1] 

            Although the Catholics, of course, were far from pleased with the direction reform took in Zurich, the loudest and most sustained opposition came from Anabaptists.  Doctrinally, they felt the changes had not gone far enough; institutionally, they argued that most reform ministers did not live up to their own preaching.[2]  The disillusionment was a two way street . . . “moderates” against “radicals” and vice versa. 

Ultimately Zwingli became so disenchanted with these perceived radicals that he joined Calvin and Luther in their willingness to have them executed when brought before the courts.  Indeed, he authorized that they be drowned to death.[3]  (That may or may not be “kinder” than the more common burning to death of that age—I’d hate to argue the two sides on that one!)     

            Zwingli did not appreciate the claim that he adopted his reformation concepts from those of Luther.  He insisted that they had arisen independently and actually had their roots in the period before he had even heard of the German.[4]  Furthermore, he insisted that he had begun the preaching of the reformed gospel in 1516, earlier than Luther had.[5] 

            Although this is a clear declaration of doctrinal independence from Luther, it leaves unresolved the question of exactly what he meant by the assertion--how clear, how definitive a break had occurred with the traditional faith at that earlier time?  Perhaps the best guess is that since this was the year he obtained an early edition of Erasmus’ novum instrumentum, it symbolized to him his initial exposure to the original language Greek text.  In retrospect, this set in motion everything that came afterwards.[6]  Be that as it may, it was only in the years 1520-1522 that these seeds had blossomed into a distinctive dissident way of thought in clear opposition to traditional Catholicism.[7] 

            Ultimately dying on the battlefield during one of the religious conflicts between the cantons of Switzerland, Zwingli still embraced what might be called a “nationalist pacifism” (as contrasted to an “absolutist pacifism”).  The providing of Swiss mercenaries to papal and other powers was a long-standing practice in his era.  He opposed this, having seen first-hand the horrors of foreign war when he had served as a chaplain with a military contingent in Italy.  

In a very real sense, he came to believe in “pacifism” so far as entering conflicts that would take his fellow citizens far from their homeland.  In contrast he was a “militarist” in the stubborn and fierce resistance to any direct threat to his nation.[8]  And neither was he unwilling to take up arms in the intra-mural religio-political struggles with the other cantons of the nation.

 

 

His Religious Convictions

 

            Differences of both emphasis and content can be detected when one compares the doctrine and practice of Zwingli with that of other contemporary reformers.  As to the former, some have argued that there was a distinct difference in emphasis between Luther and Zwingli on the nature of salvation by faith.  Luther, some analysts contend, stressed faith in the living Christ while Zwingli emphasized faith in Christ as the Crucified.[9] 

            In the abstract at least, Zwingli held to a more strict doctrine of Biblical authority.  He insisted that if there were no explicit scriptural authorization for a religious practice it was sinful to engage in it.[10]  Luther advocated participation in a weekly Communion service--as did John Calvin and, in England, Archbishop Cranmer.  In contrast, Zwingli did not consider such a regular participation as essential.[11] 

            Far more important (from the practical standpoint) was the understanding of the nature of the Communion.  When it came to the Lord’s Supper, Luther insisted upon a consubstantiation, a view that held to the “literal” presence of the body and blood of Jesus while insisting that somehow it was still not there in the sense the Catholics insisted in their doctrine of transubstantiation. 

            Philip Landgrave of Hesse recognized that political and theological unity between Zwingli-style reform and the Lutheran variety would strengthen the chance of survival of both against their shared papal enemy.  Hence he was able to arrange the Colloquy of Marburg in October 1529, during which Zwingli and Luther discussed their agreements and disagreements.  Fifteen subjects were on the agenda and on fourteen they reached a joint understanding.

            On the fifteenth--the nature and meaning of the Lord’s Supper--there was irreconcilable deadlock.  Zwingli viewed it as a symbolic memorial of Jesus’ death; Luther believed that there was a very real sense in which the communion elements simultaneously were and were not the literal body and blood of Christ (i.e., consubstantiation)[12] --a view that continues to perplex many who can intellectually understand both the “figurative” and “literal” interpretations, but who have trouble understanding Luther’s effort to make it simultaneously both.   

            The intense tensions between the approaches of Zwingli and Luther were not even removed by the Switzerlander’s death.  Five years afterwards Zwingli’s Exposition of the Faith was finally published and Luther exploded in wrath--claiming Zwingli had reneged on the Marburg agreement.  Indeed, Zwingli was a virtual heathen since he had written in this new book of how honorable pagans who lived before Jesus would be among those in heaven.[13]  

            Because the twentieth century has come to define “music” as strictly instrumental music (rather than encompassing both vocal and instrumental, as the term actually requires) it is common to read that Zwingli rejected “music” in church worship.[14]  Actually, the target of Zwingli’s wrath was instrumental accompaniment of vocal music. 

            Because so few religious groups in the Western world today utilize only vocal music (i.e., a cappella singing), it is startling to discover that such opposition was widespread in the Reformation itself.  Zwingli was, perhaps, the most prominent and remembered opponent.  Yet such a pillar of the mainstream Reformation as John Calvin was antagonistic to its use as well.[15] 

 

 

Impact upon England

           

            Men of Zwinglian sentiments were not confined to the continent; they made their way to England as well.  Some of them Henry courted.  One such man was Simon Grinaeus, a German doctor, who entered England in June 1531.  He was granted a royal safe conduct for his stay.  Safe conduct or not, it would have been human nature for him to be concerned when Henry invited him to court to discuss the scripturality of his divorce. 

Although Grinaeus had to admit that he was not convinced by the King's arguments, he agreed to consider them again and to discuss them in detail with Zwinglian scholars in his home town of Basel, Switzerland.  It certainly did the King's case no harm that he provided a financial subsidy to pay his expenses while in England.

            Sir Thomas More (who viewed Luther's theology as heretical but Zwingli's as far more so), became the guide for Grinaeus while he remained in London.  Apologists for More have utilized this courtesy (and Grinaeus' appreciative later note to More's son discussing the matter) as evidence that More was vehement in print but gentle in personal relationships with heretics.  Of course having them arrested, imprisoned, and even executed makes one wonder at the propriety of this analysis, though the inconsistencies of human psychology certain exist with a vengeance. 

Others have suggested that More was acting out of his duty as Henry's Chancellor and felt honor-bound not to reveal his personal indignation at Grinaeus' freedom.  A cynical interpretation would carry this even further and note that by the very act of providing a constant escort, he assured that Grinaeus was unable to “infect” others with Zwinglian heresy.[16]       

            In 1538 a Zwinglian convert attracted Henry's attention but with much more unpleasant results.  The king was so intrigued by his zeal that he that he decided to formally debate the individual before a roomful of observers.  The King had access to an array of well versed clerics to advise him, of course; the Zwinglian John Lambert had nothing but his own wits and intellect.

            Even so the debate continued for hours while Lambert insisted that transubstantiation was a literal impossibility.  The communion was a memorial; it never became the literal body and blood.  Growing physically tired--either by the stress of the occasion or the arguments of his opponent--Lambert eventually threw himself on the King's mercy.  Recant he would not, however.  The King sentenced him to death.  Less than a week later he died in flames along with three Anabaptists.[17]     

            Under a later monarch the Swiss reformer had an even more direct impact upon the kingdom.  Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s disciple, found a great deal of receptivity for those doctrines among the English.  Especially appealing was the doctrine of the symbolic (rather than literal) presence of Jesus in the elements of the communion. 

The bread and the fruit of the vine “merely” represented the blood and body of Christ.[18]  To those promoting a more literal understanding this was a demeaning of the practice.  To those accepting it, it was to see the Lord’s Supper in its true spiritual light, stripped of a literalism that was never intended.

 

 

Anabaptists and the Radicals

 

            "Lutheran" tended to be a derogatory epithet under which Catholics lumped together all reformers, including the radical Anabaptists.[19]  The label "Protestant" was not invented until 1529 and was uncommon in England until many years later.[20] 

            Both “Continental reformers,” “Catholic traditionalists,” and the evolving “Anglican establishment” usually found at least something good that might be said of each other . . . however large their rivals’ “clear cut doctrinal lapses” might be.  Then there were those beyond the pale of tolerance imaginable by almost anyone.  The Anabaptists are a primary example of this. 

Sir Thomas More gave his venomous opinion of these dissenters in a 1528 letter to a German theologian, "The past centuries have not seen anything more monstrous than the Anabaptists."[21]  That more than adequately conveys the flavor of public opinion, no matter how specific groups and individuals might adapt and apply their own unique rhetoric to avoid the taint of connection with the movement.

            Most of those rejecting Catholicism were content to remain within the broad confines of Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and the Calvinist and Swiss Reformed movements of the time.  It has been estimated that under one percent of the population became either Anabaptists or embraced one of the other radical movements of the day.[22]  Even so, there was a disproportionate obsession with that small minority. 

            The theoretical underpinning of the Anabaptists (and other, even more radical movements) was that of “restitution” (i.e., the exact restoration of the New Testament order of things).  In contrast, they--and many later students of the subject agree--that the mainline reformers were content with a more limited agenda of “reformation,” a plea and concept which required far less to accomplish.[23]  

            To what extent was there a conscious distinction between the two concepts among mainline reformers?  It has been argued that John Calvin used the two terms “restitution” and “reformation” as synonymous.[24]  It could be that Calvin “fudged” the difference in the two and attempted to blend them together, while the Anabaptists recognized that a dramatic logical distinction existed. 

In other words, Calvin preferred to minimize the potential conflict between the two concepts while the Anabaptists made explicit the latent tension between the two approaches.  Even so, Calvinists were perceived as far more demanding of explicit Biblical authorization for their religious institutions and practices than the Lutherans.  This would argue that the central thrust of the Calvinist approach to religious authority was proceeding in the same theoretical direction as the Anabaptists though they did not actually implement it as far.    

            Another approach would be to contend that which element was dominant depended upon the subject under consideration.  From this perspective, Calvin wanted a “restitution” of doctrine but would settle for only a “reformation” of church structure.[25]  In contrast, such later Calvinists as Thomas Cartwright applied the concept to church organization as well.[26]          

            If the Anabaptist movement took “restitutionalism” further than even the Calvinists, some of its individual members took it even further than the bulk of their own movement.  Even sabbatarianism (worshipping on Saturday, as had been done in the Old Testament) was embraced by factions, though never becoming characteristic of the movement as a whole.[27] 

            The site and date of the birth of Anabaptism has been set at different points.  Some scholars see its roots in Luther’s 1521-1522 conflict with the Wittenberg religionists he dismissed as Schwarmer (enthusiasts).  Others date it to the acceptance of obligatory baptism in Zurich in 1525.  There is a strong tendency now to look upon Anabaptism as springing up in multiple locations essentially simultaneously and only gradually coalescing into a distinct movement.[28] 

            Even so, from the beginning it seems they shared certain characteristics in common.  Combining a resolute pacifism with the demand for immersion, they struck two raw nerves in the nation.  Politically, its peacefulness constitute an implicit criticism of governmental war-making and in that day and age the very existence of government seemed to be a guarantee of wars to follow. 

The twentieth century has preferred to overlook that this inevitable correlation still exists.  To reconcile theory with reality, it has taken refuge in the theory that peace is the norm and war is the exception to the norm.  That this should be the case is quite true; whether it ever has been over any extended geographic area is highly dubious. 

            In the sixteenth century, war either involved one's nation or one's current allies or, if this did not occur, was still almost guaranteed at least one or more times during one's lifetime with entirely different foes.  The governments that waged these wars took an intense dislike to any theology that undermined that right to wage such conflicts.  At least that would have been the way a defender of the government's position would have presented it.  In reality, leaders of that day (and most nations since) have interpreted this, in practice, to mean the right to wage war at any place, against any foe, for any reason, with any and all war-making tools available without respect to the economic consequences in the homeland and the degree of havoc inflicted abroad.  In short “war” usually envolves much unspoken “freight.”
            Pacifism was politically inflammatory.  Religiously the doctrine of adult/believer baptism pulled the rug from beneath the universally accepted religious practice of the day.  It challenged explicitly or implicitly (depending upon the advocate) the legitimacy of the baptism of everyone who had received a sprinkling of holy water in their infancy.  Anger at such a challenge was one point that everyone from the Lutherans to the Catholic traditionalists could agree upon.   

            Everywhere it touched a raw nerve as well.  With England seeking to establish an independent church, the close tie between church and state would immediately make the objections to traditional medieval baptism a challenge carrying political implications.  Did it not carry a challenge to the right of government to control (or at least enforce) the central rites of religious practice?  Only to the degree to which one could conceptually religion separate from the state's right of oversight, could one endeavor to neutralize the issue.  That was incredibly hard to do in that day and age.  Even when considered as strictly a religious issue, it was bound to stir intense hostility among those refusing to adopt the Anabaptist approaches.

            Hence whatever the virtues of adult baptism and immersion (and they were profound indeed), the result was a psychological alienation from both existing church practice and the dominant society.  As David F. Tennant perceptively notes, “Repudiation of infant baptism amounted not only to a separation from the state church but also from society in the officially constituted form.”[29]  It was perceived as a virtual declaration of war upon human society as it then existed.  This produced a psychological and social alienation from the surrounding world that required immense internal resources to successfully endure.

            Even if it had been embraced by the majority of citizens, its impact would have been just as profound.  The concept “clearly implied that not all members of society would . . . be considered as Christians or be members of the Church.  Once a distinction could be made between civil citizenship and church membership, this would have major consequences for both theology and ethics, as well as governing authority and political legitimacy.”[30]  There was never a realistic chance of this approach being adopted by the governments of the day; instead the movement had to be preoccupied with its own survival, never fantasies of dominance. 

            This was inevitable.  By rewriting the definition of true church membership it had declared war against the state’s definition.  By adopting a very strict doctrine of restitutionalism that the government refused to embrace, it had effectively rejected any possibility that the state should have any control over it.[31]  In modern terms (and in different terminology in the minds of contemporaries) it became a potential security threat against any and all regimes. 

            In light of its profound religious and social implications, it is not surprising that the Protestant mainstream was vigorous in its rejection of the Anabaptist doctrine on baptism.  The most obvious grounds of assault was to deny their conclusion that in the New Testament baptism equates immersion and that the baptism that was practiced was solely that of adults.  The mainstream critique went above and beyond this, however.

            For example, Luther rejected the Anabaptist demand that an individual’s faith had to precede the individual’s baptism on the grounds that faith is variable from one day to another and because others can not judge its sincerity and genuineness.[32]  He did not seem to recognize that the same objection could seemingly be made to Luther’s own doctrine of salvation by faith alone:  At what point could anyone be sure that it had reached the level of “true faith?”

            The influential theologian Heinrich Bullinger argued that the Anabaptist practice of  “rebaptism” was prima facie evidence that the movement was inherently heretical.  He pointed to them as the contemporary equivalents of the fourth-century Donatists.  Since all church authorities--papal, pre-papal, and reform--universally considered the Donatists apostates from truth, there could be no doubt that the Anabaptists were as well.[33] 

            Of course this critique glossed over the fact that for the Donatists “rebaptism” was in order to pledge allegiance to a morally superior church.  They in no way denied the validity of the baptism they had received as infants.  In contrast, the Anabaptists challenged the validity of any baptism received without one’s own, personal faith preceding it.  Hence, to them, adult baptism was not a matter of “rebaptism” but of baptism being administered for the first time.[34] 

            Governmental, religious, and societal opposition required a strong response from within the movement itself.  It became doubly important to secure the loyalty of their own upcoming generation in order to assure the preservation of the movement and to protect them from drifting into the socially acceptable religious alternatives that dominated the world.  Furthermore, these efforts to “indoctrinate” the young were essential to avoid the world turning them hostile to their own parents--a phenomena that could result in arrest and execution.[35]      

            The importance of religious education, of course, did not go unrecognized among mainstream reformers as well.  The importance of it for their survival, however, was less than for the religious radicals.  The mainstream had a formally recognized religious system, a public body of churches, and government support.  Lacking all of these, religious radicals had to substitute commitment and dedication--and the even more zealous cultivation of their young--to perpetuate the movement.[36] 

            Unfortunately for the public image of Anabaptists, their independence of mind led to fanatical extremes.  They spun off even more radical movements (such as at Munster) that repudiated the pacifism and took up the sword in the bold conviction that God's kingdom was about to be established on earth.  The violence of the extreme fringe did not end with the subjugation of Munster.  Many violent outbreaks (though nowhere near as dramatic or threatening to the general civic order) continued to occur in the years afterwards.[37]  

            Pacifism might be repugnant, but a movement that could plunge from one extreme (non-resistance) to militant civil war against established powers would inevitably be looked upon with grave suspicions as to the sanity of its membership.  Hence those who repudiated the fringes of their movement, themselves became stigmatized due to the conduct of some who shared certain of their key sentiments.  

            As the result, Anabaptists were branded both religious and political extremists by both polemicists and the average citizen of the day.[38]  However good an intellectual case they might make, Munster was the emotional “bogeyman” that could be introduced as proof of the inevitable excesses of their movement.  It provided a powerful propaganda and argumentative tool to keep yet more of the reform movements from spinning off in a similar ultra-radical direction.  

            Even deep into Elizabeth’s reign, the Continental excesses of militant Anabaptists were remembered with fear and loathing and utilized in this manner.  They also provided a useful rhetorical tool in opposing the Presbyterian-style church organization favored by the Martin Marprelate Tracts of 1588-1589:  by vesting control in the mass body of the church and the leadership it appointed, social disaster could easily occur.  Hence, Matthew Sutcliffe could argue against the congregationalists by writing, “The precedents of the Anabaptists, doe teach us what an unbridled thing the people is, where they take the sword to worke reformation with.”[39] 

            Tied in with on-going group character aspersions, was a lack of organizational cohesion that made it inconceivable that all Anabaptists might be treated with the restraint one might render to the more responsible elements of the movement.  Groups like the Lutherans and the Calvinists had an on-going leadership and political entities on the continent advocating their principles.  The Anabaptists types tended to have an "unrecognized" leadership, leaders who rose by power of their charisma and ability rather than receiving an external ordination as prerequisite to their position.  This discomforted even moderate reformers. 

The existence of Lutheran and Calvinist regimes proved that these beliefs were not incompatible with the existence of orderly, civil government.  The radical reformers rarely if ever possessed such credentials.  The very degree of independence they claimed made moderates fearful of whether their theology was compatible with the very existence of government.[40] 

            The polygamous excesses at Munster in Germany caused the label “Anabaptist” to be a useful (if often inaccurate) epithet in the second half of the sixteenth century.   Catholics used it as a derogatory label for Protestants in general; Protestants used it to brand any splinter group they considered as going beyond the pale of acceptability.[41] 

            Munster fell in June of 1535 and the English king received multiple reports that a large number of Anabaptists were discretely immigrating to his own nation’s ports.  Henry immediately responded with a decree that all such immigrants immediately depart the realm and banned all Anabaptist publications.[42] 

Barring the abolishment of the cloth trade with Europe there was no way to completely segregate the English from Anabaptist sentiments.  Advocates simply became more discrete and quiet, while spreading their message among the local population.[43]  To the extent that political pressure was lessened, they resumed their more public advocacy, as they also did when they felt there was no honorable alternatives.   

            The capture of Munster solved the immediate danger of societal disintegration that seemed ready to pour out over Europe.  Not everyone had adopted these extremes though part of the same broad movement.  These shocked, discouraged, and disgraced Anabaptists in Europe were rightly convinced that the many directions in which individual leaders were taking members endangered their very survival as a movement.  Hence a conference was held in an effort to work out broad guidelines that would be acceptable to all and avoid future disgrace.  It appears that a wealthy English merchant with Anabaptist convictions financed this unification meeting.[44] 

            Under Henry VIII, from 1531 to 1534 not more than ten non-Anabaptist individuals went to the stake for their religious convictions, although a larger number had been strong-armed into repudiating their preferred faith.  The numbers indicate that although restraint was possible for those of other backgrounds, no such tolerance was likely to be given to Anabaptists at all.  Twenty-five perished at the stake on a single day in 1535.[45]    

            The Anabaptist "threat" remained a widely perceived danger among English foes of the movement even after Edward mounted the throne.  In a March 29, 1549, sermon by Hugh Latimer, Latimer claimed that there was good evidence that there may have been five hundred Anabaptists in one town alone.[46]  (He discretely avoided mentioning the name of the town.)

            An investigative-prosecutive committee was appointed in April 1549 of clerical and government representatives to root out the danger from Anabaptist and other sources.  In the following month, six Londoners were arrested and discovered to hold these or other repugnant religious convictions.  All recanted except for Joan Bocher, who had faced previous heresy charges and had been spared in the hope it would encourage her to reconsider her course. 

Although she was willing to partly backtrack on a few of her beliefs, most she refused to modify in any way.  Among these was her conviction that the fleshly body of Jesus (somehow) did not come from His mother, Mary, at all.  She stressed to her examiners that they had been wrong before and was convinced that time would prove them wrong again,[47]

 

It is a godly matter, to consider your ignorance.  Not long since you burned Anne Askewe for a piece of bread, and yet came yourselves to believe and propose the same doctrine [of the communion bread] for which you burned her, and now, forsooth, you will needs burn me for a piece of flesh, and in the end you will come to believe this also, when you have read the Scriptures and understood them.

 

            Over a year was spent attempting to convince her to back off from her claims.  Finally she was executed in April 1550 for her heresy.[48]

            In January 1551 another investigative commission was appointed.  This one studied in detail the case of George van Parris, a refugee surgeon from the Low Countries.  Accused of being an Anabaptist, his conduct was unquestionably eccentric, however one regards his theology.  For example, he would only eat every other day.

Miles Coverdale, the Bible translator, served to translate the many discussions between the investigators and the immigrant.  The commission determined that he was guilty of denying Christ's divinity and he was burned to death in April 1551 at Smithfield.[49]

            By and large, Edward's reign was rather tolerant in its religious policies toward Protestant “eccentrics.”  But these examples reveal the outer limits beyond which the leading religious and political leaders did not believe tolerance could be safely granted.  Cranmer's defense of a policy of severity toward such occasional heretics while exercising moderation toward Catholics, probably represents the reasoning of most who followed this course:   Since Catholics had never known gospel truth, a heavy hand would only drive them away.  In contrast, men and women such as these had been enlightened to higher spiritual truths and of such far more rigorous standards can rightly be demanded.[50]      

            Beginning in 1558, fifteen years passed without any "heretics" being burned at the stake.  In 1575 several Anabaptists from the Netherlands were arrested in their illegal worship service in London.  Five of them repudiated their past convictions and conduct and the remaining two were sentenced to die by burning. 

The resident Dutch Protestant community and the English supporters of greater reform brought substantial pressure to bear.  Since neither group was very pleased with the Anabaptist movement, this intervention was itself an indication of how times had shifted.  Likewise was the condemnation of any execution on the grounds that it belonged “more to the example of Rome than to the spirit of the Gospel.”[51]  However much such words may have stung her, Elizabeth still signed the death warrants.  Her explanation was that it was the judges’ responsibility to decide the punishment rather than hers.

  

 

Baptists Emerge

 

            Toward the end of the period we are studying (in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) we find the emergence of the modern Baptists as a distinct movement.  They found no more governmental favor than their Continental forebears.  By and large, Baptists found nothing to favor in the shared Calvinist and Anglican belief in predestination.  They eagerly embraced the idea of personal responsibility and the pivotal role of individual decision making in obtaining salvation.  Individual redemption became the result of personal choices rather than an eternal Divine edict producing those  actions.[52]    

            Oddly enough the first English Baptist Church was founded not in Britain but in Amsterdam (1609) and only two years later was one formed in London.  (The hostile religious-political climate of those years in England encouraged such drastic dissenters to seek refuge abroad.)[53]  They were known as "general Baptists" and repudiated predestination.  In 1633 "particular Baptists" came into existence in order to blend together Calvinist predestination with immersion convictions.[54]  Formal creedal statements did not appear among either type of Baptists until the adoption of the “London Confession of Faith” in 1644.[55]  

            Two very different streams flowed together in the Baptist Church(es), one from the Anabaptists and one from the Separatist faction of the Puritan movement.  Since the Anabaptists had also made adult immersion central to their religious practice, they were one obvious source of recruits.  Indeed, the surrounding world looked upon the Baptists as merely the latest form of the earlier movement. 

            The Baptists went to great length to deny the linkage.  In large part, this may have been because of the unsavory past of Anabaptism and the extreme--though sometimes justified--accusations against it.  Perhaps also because the Anabaptist linkage may have been more in a shared central rite rather than in actually gaining many conscious recruits from that source. 

            The early Baptists refused to yield on the point.  In 1608 John Smyth formed one of the first officially labeled “Baptist” churches”--possibly, indeed, the first.  An acquaintance recorded how Smyth “complained against the term Anabaptist as a name of reproach unjustly cast upon them.”[56]  A later Confession of the General Baptists even listed the errors they saw in Anabaptist theology.[57]  Confessions issued by both the Particular Baptists (1644 and 1646) and the General Baptists (1660) referred to how they were “falsely” accused of being Anabaptists.[58] 

            It was only in the eighteenth century that Baptists openly acknowledged--and came to heavily emphasize--their roots in Anabaptism.[59]  This emphasis made possible the claim of undiluted church succession, i.e., that there had always been a Baptist church throughout all the pages of history (since the first century).  To them, there was no “restitution” (restoration) truly involved since the Baptist church had “always” been there.  To the extent that one sought a differing source for the roots of the Baptist movement, one was virtually forced to emphasize a “restitution” theology as vital to its creation.[60]      

            The twentieth century saw historians shift the emphasis to the vital role played by the radical Separatists of the Puritan movement.[61]  Many Separatists examined the teaching of scripture in regard to the organization of the church and came to insist upon strict congregational control.  At least what they considered strict congregationalism.  Even “independent” presbyteries held regular inter-congregational meetings to discuss joint problems though this would seem a de facto compromise of their theory. 

Be that as it may, when a person was sufficiently disgruntled with the status quo to reject the fundamental practice of centralized church control that dominated the religious landscape, it was far from unthinkable to reconsider the traditional “rite” of baptism and reject that as well--leading the individual from sprinkling to immersion and from infant baptism to believer/adult baptism.  The pioneer Baptist Henry Jacob was an example of such an individual, whose reevaluation of Biblical teaching led him not only into strict Presbyterianism but then into ultimately becoming a Baptist as well.[62] 

            Restitution-type thinking had underlaid the arguments of many reformers back to the earliest days of the reformation.  By “reformation” many assumed the result would be “restitution,” but most were not willing to push matters to the point of division if the agenda were not carried that far.  Indeed, for most the constructive changes were so many and so vast, that from a practical standpoint they considered the reformed religion as virtually having accomplished the goal of “restitution.”  Or, at least, being extremely well advanced on the road to its accomplishment.

            When restoration was made an explicit part of the agenda, such partial successes were now admissions of failure.  The concept needed to be applied to all areas of church life and by the 1570s Puritans were beginning to speak in such explicit terms.[63]  For those who could not be convinced of the scripturality of infant baptism and sprinkling, the end result was easily the acceptance of some form of the Baptist approach.  Traditional congregational independence could be joined to a more complete conformity to other elements of the Biblical pattern.  The logic of the case seemed to be worked out to its fullest.       

 

 

Postscript

 

            The Catholics had taken confidence in the antiquity of the faith and practice they followed.  The Anglicans had taken pride in erecting a blend of reform and tradition.  The Presbyterians had carried the change yet further and were appalled at the unwillingness of the Anglican establishment to embrace their organizational form.  The Baptists went even further and restored the ancient practice of adult bodily immersion. 

            The remainder of the seventeenth century was to see each of these movements settle into its own separate and independent approaches to worshipping God.  None would be pleased with their competitors and none would be able to vanquish the others.  But all would find at least grudging room to concede the right of religious existence to them. 

The war for their souls would be waged on the battlefield of the mind and not through the coercive power of the state or church.  In not much more than a century, diversity had become the status quo and part of the permanent landscape of the English kingdom.  It would have been utterly unthinkable in 1520.            

 

                

 

FOOTNOTES

 



[1] Stayer, 66-67.

 

[2] See Bruce Gordon, “Preaching and the Reform of the Clergy in the Swiss Reformation,” in The Reformation of the Parishes:  The Ministry and the Reformation in Town and Country, edited by Andrew Pettegree (Manchester [England]:  Manchester University Press, 1993), 74. 

 

[3] Marius,  327

 

[4] Stayer, 55.

 

[5] Walton, 75.

 

[6] Ibid., 75-76.

 

[7] Ibid., 76.

 

[8] Ibid., 77.

 

[9] Stephen Strehle, “Fides aut Foedius:  Wittenberg and Zurich in Conflict over the Gospel,” Sixteenth Century Journal:  The Journal of Early Modern Studies 23 (Spring 1992):  3-20.

 

[10] Anonymous, “Reformation:  Ulrich Zwingli,” (http:/www.wsu/edu:8800/-dee/ REFORM/ZWINGLI.HTM), AOL Netfind, August 23, 1997. 

 

[11] On the Reformers’ varying convictions on a weekly Lord’s Supper, see Roger Beckwith, “Extended Communion:  One Parish’s Experience--A Response,” Churchman 100 (1986):  335-336.

 

[12] On the attempted unification and why it fell apart, see Christian History Institute, “Zurich Reform under Zwingli,” Glimpses, Issue 19 (http:www.gospelcom.net/chi/ glimpses/sixteen.html), AOL Netfind, September 18, 1997.  On Luther’s private evaluation of the Marburgh Colloquy, as he shared his thoughts with his wife, see John P. Richardson, “The Neglected Reformer:  Martin Luther through Anglican Eyes,” Churchman 110 (1996):  152.  For comparison, on the conception of the Communion in the thought of John Calvin and Robert Bruce (an important Scottish Presbyterian minister of the Reformation period) see David G. Kibble, “The Reformation and the Eucharist,” Churchman 94 (1980):  43-57. 

 

[13] W. P. Stephens, “Zwingli and the Salvation of the Gentiles,” in The Bible, the Reformation and the Church:  Essays in Honour of James Atkinson, edited by W. P. Stephens,  Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 105 (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 224-229.

 

[14] For example, Walton, 69.

 

[15] For three quotations from John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms see John Calvin, .  “John Calvin’s Comments on Why Credenda’s Guitar Chords Are Not Included in the Public Worship of Protestant Churches,” (http://www.idontkno.ab.ca./books/newslett/ actualnls/GBpsCA.htm), Lycos, August 27, 1997.  In spite of agreement on this point, it is hard to see how Richard Hooker comes up with his conclusion that “the spirit of Zwinglianism reached its fullest development” in the theories of  John Calvin (Richard Hooker, “Reformation:  John Calvin,” updated January 1, 1996, (http://www.wsu.edu: 8080/-Dee/REFORM/calvin.htm), AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997). If anything, one would expect expect the opposite:  Zwingli was a fuller development of Calvin’s way of thinking.


[16] For a discussion of the possible motives for More's conduct see Marius, 391-392.              

 

[17] For a brief discussion of the debate see Erickson, Great Harry, 294.

 

[18] Loades, Revolution in Religion, 63-64.

 

[19] Lindsey, xxviii

 

[20] Ibid.

 

[21] As quoted by Ridley, Statesman and Saint, 238.

 

[22] Spitz, 158. 

 

[23] For examples, see Peter Wilcox, “ ‘The Restoration of the Church’ in Calvin’s ‘Commentaries in Isaiah the Prophet,’ “ Archiv fur  Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History 85 (1994):  68-69.

 

[24] Ibid., 76-77.

 

[25] John L. Luoma, “Restitution or Reformation:  Cartwright and Hooker on the Elizabethan Church,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 46 (March

1977):  87.

 

[26] Ibid., 85-86.

 

[27] On the different forms that restitutionalism took in the “radical reformation” of the sixteenth century (independent churches, pacifism, sabbatarianism, etc.), see Daniel Liechty, Sabbatarianism in the Sixteenth Century:  A Page in the History of the Radical Reformation ( Berrien Springs, Michigan:  Andrews University Press, 1993), 5-7.

 

[28] Tal Howard, “Charisma and History:  The Case of Munster, Westphalia, 1534-1535,” Essays in History (Volume 35, 1993), published by the Cochoran Department of History of the University of Virginia, (http://etext.virginia.edu/journals/EH/EH35/Howard1. html), AOL Netfind, October 12, 1997, page 50.  Cf. John S. Oyer, “Luther and the Anabaptists,” Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 30 (October 1983):  164. 

 

[29] David F. Tennant, “Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education:  (1)  The Repudiation of Infant Baptism,” Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 29 (July 1982):  293.

 

[30] Daniel Liechty, Sabbatarianism in the Sixteenth Century:  A Page in the History of the Radical Reformation (Berrien Springs, Michigan:  Andrews University Press, 1993), 11-12.

 

[31] Bruce Gordon, “Switzerland,” in The Early Reformation in Europe, edited by Andrew Pettegree (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1992), 80.

 

[32] John W. Riggs, “Emerging Ecclesiology in Calvin’s Baptismal Thought, 1536-1543.”  Church History 64 (March 1995):  32.  The article’s main emphasis is on Calvin’s doctrine of baptism and the similarity of his views to those of Luther.

 

[33] See the discussion of Bullinger’s critique in Pamela Biel, “Bullinger Against the Donatists:  St. Augustine to the Defense of the Zurich Reformed Church,” Journal of Religious History 16 (June 1991):  237-246.

 

[34] For a discussion of the significant differences in the Anabaptist and Donatist approaches see Ibid., 237 (footnote 1).

 

[35] On “indoctrination” see David F. Tennant, “Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education:  (3)  Anabaptist Schooling:  Education or Socialisation,” Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 31 (July 1985):  118.  For an interesting evaluation of the Anabaptist attitude toward children in general, see Tennant’s other two articles, “Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education:  (2)  Child Rearing,” Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 30 (July 1984):  301-318, and “Anabaptist Theologies of Childhood and Education:  (2)  Child Rearing (Continued).”  Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 30 (October 1984):  348-366.

 

[36] For an analysis of the Protestant “mainstream’s” efforts to religiously educate children see Philippa Tudor, “Religious Instruction for Children and Adolescents in the Early English Reformation,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 35 (July 1984):  391-413.

 

[37] For a study see Gary K. Waite, “From Apocalyptic Crusaders to Anabaptist Terrorists.”  Archiv fur  Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History 80 (1989):  173-193.

 

[38] Judith Y. Holajer, “Continuity and Discontinuity between the Medieval Mystics and the Spirituals of the Radical Reformation,” Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 35 (January 1994):  229. 

 

[39] As quoted by Joseph Black, “The Rhetoric of Reaction:  The Martin Marprelate Tracts (1588-89), Anti-Martinism, and the Uses of Print in Early Modern England,” Sixteenth Century Journal:  The Journal of Early Modern Studies 28 (Fall 1997):  719.  For an example from a sermon of Richard Bancroft also see 719.

 

[40] On the skepticism of reformers toward such groups see Erickson, Great Harry, 293.

 

[41] Jordan, Edward VI:  The King Young, 225.

 

[42] Ibid., 226.

 

[43] Ibid.

 

[44] Ibid.              

 

[45] Cf. the discussion of persecution of Lutherans versus the more extreme radicals in  Bindoff, 101.

 

[46] Jordan, Edward VI:  The Threshold of Power, 327.

 

[47] As quoted by Ibid., 328.

 

[48] For a discussion of the political and moral responsibility for the decision see Ibid., 328-330.  For a study of Joan’s life see John Davis, “Joan of Kent, Lollardry, and the English Reformation,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 33 (April 1982):  225-233.

 

[49] For a discussion of the incident see Jordan, Edward VI:  The Threshold of Power, 330.

 

[50] Cranmer presented this explanation to the brother of his secretary.  See Ibid., 331.

 

[51] As quoted by Hibbert, 95.

 

[52] On the Baptists and this doctrine see G. M. Trevelyan, England under the Tutors, 58.

 

[53] Slayden A. Yarbrough, “The Origin of Baptist Associations among the English Particular Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage 23 (1988): 16, and Barrie White, “Early Baptist Arguments for Religious Freedom:  Their Overlooked Agenda,” Baptist History and Heritage 24 (1989):  3-10. 

 

[54] Maurice Ashley, England in the Seventeenth Century, 30-31.

 

[55] Stanley A. Nelson, “Reflecting on Baptist Origins:  The London Confession of Faith of 1644,” Baptist History and Heritage 29 (1994):  33.  

 

[56] Quoted by Winthrop S. Hudson, “Who Were the Baptists?”  Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 16 (1956):  302.

 

[57] Ibid., 303.

 

[58] Ibid., 303.

 

[59] Ibid.  On Baptist roots in Anabaptism, as seen, by a recent student of the question, see William R. Estrep, Jr., “On the Origins of English Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage 22 (1987):  19-26.     

 

[60] For these two differing themes of interpretation in Baptist historiography see James L. Garrett, “Restitution and Dissent among early English Baptists, Part 1,” Baptist History and Heritage 12 (October 1977):  198-210.

 

[61] For a detailed study of how historians and others have de-emphasized the Anabaptists roots of the movement see Ian Sellers, “Edwardians, Anabaptists and the Problem of Baptist Origins,” Baptist Quarterly:  Journal of the Baptist Historical Society 29 (July 1981):  97-112.  For studies emphasizing the Puritan element in the Baptist ancestry, see William R. Estep, Jr., “Thomas Helwys:  Bold Architect of Baptist Policy on Church-State Relations,” Baptist History and Heritage 20 (1985):  24-34, and Slayden A. Yarbrough, “The English Separatist Influence on the Baptist Tradition of Church-State Issues,” Baptist History and Heritage 20 (1985):  14-23.   For a study of the relative importance of the two predecessor movements, see Kenneth R. Ross, “Origins of the Baptists:  The Case for Development from Puritanism-Separatism,” Baptist History and Heritage 22 (1987):  34-36.  

 

[62] Yarbrough, “The Origin of Baptist Associations among the English Particular Baptists,” 15.

 

[63] James C. Spalding, “Restitution as a Normative Factor for Puritan Dissent,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 44 (March 1976):  63.