Zwingli on Anabaptist Individualism

“If it should come to the point that everyone would like to begin whatever he wanted according to his own stubborn head, and not ask the church about it, then there would be more errors than Christians.” (HT: WSC Student Jose Jimenez).

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      • In support of killing Anabaptist “heretics,” Theodore Beza wrote:

        “After God had launched Christianity by unarmed apostles He afterward raised up kings by whose wisdom He intended to protect His Church …. They do not like it that civil laws are enacted against their wickedness, saying that the apostles have asked no such thing of their kings — but these men do not consider that those were different times and that all things agree with their own times. What emperor had at that time believed in Christ, in days in which Psalm 2 was still in effect: ‘Why do the nations rage ….’ When we invoke lawfully and divinely instituted protection against stubborn and incorrigible heretics we only do what the Word of God and the authority of the holy prophets assert.”

        (Quoted from Leonard Verduin’s The Reformers and Their Stepchildren as a Dutch translation of Beza’s work)

        • Joe,

          This isn’t exactly holding folks under water, is it?

          Yes, all the Reformed were, until the 18th century, theocrats.

          They were wrong about that.

          Mea culpa.

          I wouldn’t take Verduin’s word, however, as historical gospel.

          • Duly noted concerning Verduin.

            In a nutshell, what is your beef with Anabaptists? I don’t understand the demonization by Reformed theologians.

          • Well, I am certainly no reconstructionist nor am I a theonomist. However, given the current state of affairs, turning the civil government over to atheists and heretics seems to bring oppression of religion and Christianity in particular. The gay rights movement is out to destroy conservative Christianity. The atheists are on a similar campaign. Both have “religious fervor” against Christianity. I think it is not illegitimate to argue that some sort of Christian influence in the civil law is not objectionable, albeit I wouldn’t go as far as the reconstructionists or the theonomists.

            We cannot afford to cave in to such silliness as the Manhattan Declaration or the Evangelicals and Catholics Together nonsense, however. Civil religion is just deism or pelagianism repackaged. One could argue that the doctrine of common grace issues from political concerns rather than genuinely biblical doctrine.



  1. Joe,

    It’s complicated. The short story is that the Anabaptists brought the Reformation into disrepute and constituted a threat in that way. The Roman critics of the Reformation used the Anabaptists as a stick with which to beat the Reformed, to say, “See this is what you guys really are.”

    The ABs rejected the Protestant doctrine of justification. They rejected the Reformed theology of Word and Spirit. They tended to mysticism and moralism. Many of them denied the humanity of Jesus. They were seen as a social threat because of their rejection of the Protestant view of vocation in the secular world.

    There’s a section on some of this RRC.

    • Thank you for your honest response. I think it’s a gross stereotype and very disingenuous to history. Multitudes of Anabaptists were martyred for their faith.

      But I read your comments about Zwingli and your recent discovery of his initial believer’s baptism beliefs and recognize your ignorance. So, I’ll give you a pass on this. Just do us believer’s on this side of heaven a favor and don’t demonize us. We’re not all Quakers and Men of Munster.

      Good day.

      • Joe,

        Actually, there are only about 3,000 recorded martyrdoms of Anabaptists during the entire original history of the movement. More than 20 times that number of Calvinists/Reformed folk were martyred in the same period. As many as 50,000 Calvinists were martyred in 1 week in 1572 so the Anabaptists need to stop whining about how rough they had it.

        Actually what I wrote is only sketch of the reasons the Reformed reacted as they did to the Anabaptists. It’s not a caricature at all. Read George Hunston Williams, The Radical Reformation, 3rd edition (Kirksville, MO, Sixteenth Century Studies). It’s the standard academic work on the AB movement and there you will see the history of the movement.

        By the mid 16th century, Menno moderated some of the more extreme aspects but he preserved their rejection of the Protestant doctrine of sola fide and catholic Christology.

        I’ve read sources, that’s why I answered the question as I did Joe.

        You asked why the Reformed are so critical of the AB movements and I gave you an honest answer.

  2. Wow, I must say this is a good topic. If Beza in fact made the comment listed above, I would have to say I disagree with him on this issue. Theologians such as Beza, and many others should know that enacting civil government to enact corporal punishment against what one considers a heretic is not supported by the bible nor did Jesus say to kill those who disgreed with his Church. Remember the words “love does no harm”? And btw I am what is known today as a five-pt-calvinist. However I do not agree with every single point that Calvin taught, nor Luther and so on.

    • Eric,

      It’s one thing to see the error of theocracy after the 18th century and it’s another to see it in the 16th and 17th century. Beza was a man of his time.

      The quotation given above, however, isn’t a clear death warrant.

      The same 16th-17th-century theocrats who advocated policies with which we would today disagree also established the theoretical basis for making the very distinction (the dreaded 2 kingdoms) that you advocate.

      • So Beza and Crew get a pass because they were “men of the times.” But the Anabaptists who opposed theocracy and, in whom, we find the forefathers (see Balthasar Hubmaier, for example) of great denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention are castigated?


        • Joe,

          No, that’s the point. The Reformed were WRONG for being theocrats. I’ve made that point repeatedly in this space. The Reformed did, however, get the gospel right and the holy catholic faith on the two natures. The same cannot be said for the Anabaptists.

          It’s not possible to draw a straight line between the Anabaptists and the SBC. The modern baptist movement is related only indirectly to the AB movement. The Founders of the SBC were orthodox predestinarian folk not AB.

          • I think I understand your point. Not that your looking for consensus, but I agree that the Reformed got the gospel right and the two natures — as I understand it — right. But they got a lot wrong, too. Theocracy was one but also infant baptism, eschatology (postmillenialism), Covenant theology, to name a few.

            I guess my point is that there were some great men who were not “Reformed” per se who were great defenders of the faith and, yet, are severely criticized as heretics and, therefore, enemies of God by men like you. I mentioned Balthasar Hubmaier, but what about John Wesley, Thomas Helwys and many, many others — maybe even Arminius?

            Must one believe in Calvinism to be saved?

  3. Helwys would not have understood himself to be an AB. Wesley was deeply confused about justification. I’ve found it difficult to find the good news in his works. I’m told it’s best expressed in some letters. Why hide the light under a bushel?

    Who says the Reformation was post-mil? I wouldn’t agree with that at all.

    You surely can’t compare covenant theology to denying the Holy Catholic Faith and the gospel?

    Aren’t your theological priorities a little skewed? Aren’t the two natures of Christ and the gospel of free imputation of Christ’s righteousness received through faith more important? Isn’t it a more fundamental error to deny the true humanity of the God-Man, our Mediator Jesus? Isn’t it a more serious error to look the gospel in the face and deny it?

    Further, as a Reformed guy I affirm covenant theology. Jesus is the 2nd Adam. If there are two Adams, two “federal” heads of humanity, then some covenant theology is inherent in Scripture.

    Jesus did institute a New Covenant in his blood. Paul did write of “the old covenant.” The Book of Hebrews is a covenant theology.

    So some covenant theology is inevitable. You may not like Reformed covenant theology (but how much it have you read) but one can hardly avoid covenant theology of some sort.

  4. Problem is: Labels do not work very well. Many like myself who believe TULIp is straight on line, would also reject infant baptism, postmelliniallism. What are we? Not AB or Confessional. The primacy of Justification alone through Christ is to me the answer to the question. I will make a really big statement and expect some response. I venture that at no time since the Fall has anyone been saved except by grace through Christ by faith alone. Whether that be faith in G-d’s future act or past act at Calvary. It is by grace recieved by faith. Take care. Good exchanges here.

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