As for the assemblies of Anabaptists, Libertines, Antinomies, Tritheists, Arians, Samosatenians, they are no Churches of God, but conspiracies of monstrous heretics judicially condemned in the primitive Church, and again by the malice of Satan renewed and revived in this age. The same we are to think and say of the Family of Love.
—William Perkins, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (London, 1616), 206.
All of these groups really belong together?
Nigel “what’s wrong with being sectsy”
That means those who are descendants of the Anabaptists are counted with those who did not hold to a proper view of the Godhead? Why?
Some of the 16th century Anabaptists denied the Trinity. A strong majority (if not all) denied the true humanity of Christ. They all denied the gospel of free acceptance with God on the basis Christ’s obedience imputed. They tended to deny the sufficiency of Scripture. Of course, they denied the administration to covenant children of the visible sign of admission to the visible covenant community. They earned the opprobrium of confessional Protestants not just for their view of Christ and culture but for their theology.
This is why I am surprised. We used a church history book by B.K. Kuiper–recommended by my church– and he didn’t mentioned their denial of either the trinity or the humanity of Christ or theimputed righteousness of Christ. It wasn’t in the Anabaptist material, such as the Schleitheim Confession, I saw on the web nor was it specifically mentioned when I went over some stuff by Luther in an internet discussion I had with some Lutherans over whether their confessions were without error.
As for the denial of the gospel of free acceptance, I haven’t seen that in the Anabaptist material we read even though Anabaptists were reacting to the close bonds between Church and State and were concerned with the commitment of all believers. Can you provide some online references that confirm the points you are making?
Kuiper’s text is elementary. There is much he does not say. The Anabaptist leaders mocked the Reformed and Lutheran for the antinomianism for teaching justification sola gratia, sola fide. Menno’s Fundamentboek was an improvement. He was about as clear on the gospel as Zwingli, who was not as clear as Luther, Melanchthon, BUllinger, or Calvin. The 1st generation Anabaptists universally rejected justification sola fide a as a recipe for antinomianism. They were radical individualists, mystics, and moralists. Think 19th century American religion and you’ll get a picture. Each one with his own revelation and his own church. Think of the Mormons, who would have fit perfectly in the Anabaptist movement or the Millerites, or the Adventists, or the Christian Science. They all contain major elements of the Anabaptist theology and piety.
The “celestial flesh” Christology was almost universally held, including Menno. It’s strictly heretical, i.e. contrary to the holy catholic faith. This is one of the reasons why the Belgic says “we detest the errors of the Anabaptists.” The problem is that people aren’t told what the Anabaptists actually taught. It’s assumed that they were just socially radical Protestants. They were socially radical but they were not Protestants. On salvation they were closer to Rome than to us.
The most comprehensive survey of the “Radical Reformation” is George Huntston Williams, The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, Mo: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992). He documents most of what I’m saying here. I disagree a bit with him on who taught the Protestant gospel but that’s because Williams uses a broader measuring stick.
The Anabaptists were quite like modern Pentecostals in many respects. The modern Pentecostals (e.g., Oneness) have had problems with the Trinity, sola Scriptura, Christology (it’s popularly held that God the Son is no longer in his humanity, that, on his ascension, he “unzipped it and stepped out as one Pentecostal chapel speaker had it) and quasi-Gnostic view of creation and piety generally.
See also the discussion of the differences between the Anabaptists and the Reformed in Recovering the Reformed Confession.
My final question is this. Do you think that the Anabaptists had some legitimate concerns about either the reformers or their followers?
If you’re referring to Thomas Muntzer’s Thuringarian army in the 20’s or to the bloody and violent episode in Muenster in the 30’s, no.
No, to Luther and Calvin and their followers.
I understand the prevailing paradigm, in some circles, that the Anabaptists were the oppressed proletariat who sought peacefully to break up the church-state complex. The problem is that narrative is at least partly falsified by the two major episodes (and by others) that I listed above. Honestly, I think the magisterial Protestants had little to learn from mystical, often deluded, wandering, apocalyptic cultists.
Thuringaria and Münster illustrate that apocalypticism (direct revelations from the Lord and predictions of imminent judgment) can go sidewise quickly and become violent. Quite a few Anabaptists were willing to use the levers of civil power or brute military force when they could get hold of them. Their escapades did tremendous damage to the Reformation and to the cause of Christ in the West.
Lewis Sptiz was exactly right when he said the Anabaptist movements were composed of those who “sought reassurance in the most improbable proclamations of bizarre prophets or in cult-like associations that provided the company that misery seeks.”
I’ve critique Christendom many times here but the Anabaptist rejection of participation in civil life was misguided and a false denial of creation (hence the Gnostic quality of their Christology). There had been other minority voices who had long before them raised questions about the church-state complex.