Yet the Radicals frequently taught doctrines closer to that of the Restored Gospel and made valiant sacrifices for their beliefs that, over time, greatly expanded religious freedom—all of which greatly facilitated the restoration of the Church. Generally, the Radicals felt the Magisterial Reformers went only part way in reforming Christianity. One major branch of the Radical Reformation was the Spiritualists. The Spiritualists taught that people needed to rely on the "inner word" of the Spirit to know God's will rather than rely solely on the Bible.
Spiritualists were often individual preachers who seldom formed denominations. He also taught that the true Church was not on the earth at that time and that people should wait piously until Christ once again called Apostles to lead His Church. Anabaptists, as they were called by their detractors, referred to themselves as Brethren, Christians, or Saints. There were several Anabaptist groups, but what the various forms of Anabaptists had in common was the belief that infant baptism was null because only believers could be baptized; infants, therefore, did not qualify.
All present at the meeting were then baptized, and the first Anabaptist movement was officially under way. With the spread of the movement came increased ire from the various authorities. Soon rebaptism became a capital crime throughout most of Europe. The Brethren struggled because of the constant execution of their leaders, but the movement continued to grow. Simmons became the leading theologian of the Anabaptists in western Europe, and although there were several Anabaptist groups in the region, his group, the Mennonites, became the dominate one. Because of the continual loss of leadership among the Swiss Brethren, the Swiss Anabaptists soon merged with the Mennonites.
The Moravian barons were some of the most tolerant in Europe, and persecuted Radicals of all varieties poured in. His heroic conduct under torture inspired the movement to adopt his name as its own. The centerpiece of Anabaptist belief was the need for the restitution of the true Church as it existed in New Testament times. Likewise the Anabaptists advocated freedom of religion for all beliefs, claiming that the state ought not to play any role in such matters.
The Anabaptists had a different view of history than the other reformers.
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Catholics saw Christianity as being instituted by Christ and then growing and expanding under His leaders on the earth. Protestants believed that the Christian Church fell into apostasy when the popes took too much power to themselves several hundred years after Constantine. The Anabaptists saw apostasy as occurring much earlier and saw Constantine as a particular culprit. The Anabaptists denounced Constantine for uniting church and state, which led to mandatory infant baptism and forced conversions of heathens. With this mass influx of unbelievers, the church became corrupted.
To be the true Church, the Anabaptists attempted to follow the pattern in the New Testament. Anabaptists also refused to swear oaths, and many advocated withdrawal from society. Almost all were strictly pacifistic and refused to pay taxes to support the military. The Anabaptists also believed that the true Church must be strictly devout. A high level of piety was demanded, and those whose conduct was less than adequate were banned from the church so the true Church could maintain its purity.
Persecution and martyrdom became the hallmark of the Radical Reformation, particularly for the Anabaptists. Anabaptists were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. Scholars do not know the number of Anabaptists that were killed during the sixteenth century, but it is likely that quite a number from the various movements were killed.
Here is how one Catholic authority described the behavior of Anabaptist martyrs:. They dance and jump in the fire, view the glistening sword with fearless hearts, speak and preach to the people with smiles on their faces; they sing psalms and other songs until their souls have departed, they die with joy, as if they were in happy company, they remain strong, assured, and steadfast.
And if with all possible diligence the Catholics dare and endeavor to make them turn away from their errors. The Anabaptists claimed that God supported them during such torment. He did this after having his tongue cut out and flesh ripped from his body. It is difficult for those living in our time to understand why the Anabaptists were persecuted with such malice.
It helps to understand that Europe during the Reformation was a brutal era when punishments were severe. Also, the concept of religious toleration was foreign to almost everybody at that time. The general idea was that God expected magistrates to enforce proper worship; therefore, heresy was to be rooted out.
Furthermore, those opposed to Anabaptism felt that the denial of infant baptism undermined the relationship between church and state that both Catholics and Magisterial Reformers advocated. With infant baptism, everyone was a member of the state church whether or not they chose to be. Many worried that the denial of infant baptism would undermine the entire social order. Timothy J. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity.
Everett Ferguson. Theology of the Reformers. Timothy George. The Church in the Early Modern Age. Scott Dixon.
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The Reformation of Feeling. Its extensively expanded indexes assure that it will for years to come be the starting point for thesis research. All who pay attention to the history of the sixteenth century will be grateful to Williams for this crowning labor of love. It has been a crucial contribution to the reappraisal of the hermeneutics of the sixteenth century, religious historiography and the contemporary reassessment of the middle ages and renaissance.
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