The Spirit of God Decides

(This article was written by Frank Reed and originally posted here

One of the most defining moments in Church History occurred in 1523 in Zurich, Switzerland. Ulrich Zwingli had been studying and teaching the Bible with his students. The local authorities eventually realized that this Bible study was bringing division to the community. The whole religious world was Roman Catholic. The Bible study in Zurich was a challenge to the Catholic system.

Actually, the Catholic system had been challenged by Martin Luther in Germany since 1517.  Now that challenge had spread to Switzerland. Zwingli, an excellent Bible scholar and priest in the Catholic Church in Zurich, was teaching a group of his students to study the Scriptures. His students would take that study more seriously than Zwingli ever imagined.

The students, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, Simon Stumpf and others’ study of the Scripture led them to accept the Word of God at face value. They took the Bible study beyond the academic approach of their teacher. Their lives were changed. They began to challenge the current religious system of belief and practice. It only seemed logical to them that understanding of the Scripture would produce changes in lives. One of the changes they saw was the need for believers’ baptism. Infant baptism was the practice of the Catholic Church. These men believed that the Bible taught adult, believers’ baptism.

The authorities called for meetings where these differences could be discussed. The authorities wanted to control the changes to be made. At one of these meetings, Zwingli, instead of standing with his students, deferred to the authorities. He said, “my lords will decide” how to proceed with decisions about following the Scripture.

His students were dumbfounded. They were taken aback. How could their respected Bible teacher now defer to and allow authorities to decide about truths which they had learned from the Bible? When Zwingli said, “my lords will decide,” Simon Stumpf responded, “Master Ulrich, the Spirit of God has already decided!”

These young men were committed to following the Spirit of God in the face of what ever the authorities would do to them. Indeed Zwingli, their beloved teacher, had deserted them at a time when they desperately needed him. What would they do? Would they follow their teacher? Would they follow the authorities? Who or what was the authority? Their study of the Bible convinced them that God and His Word was the only authority that was safe to follow.

What authority is safe to follow? The only safe authority is the Scripture as studied under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This was the conviction of Zwingli’s students in 1523. This commitment was the beginning of the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptist movement was the beginning of the Mennonite, Hutterite, and Amish Church groups. This Anabaptist movement greatly influenced the beginning of the Brethren movement in 1708. Alexander Mack had similar convictions about the source of authority. He believed that the source of authority was the Scripture as understood by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The question today is: what is our source of authority? Can we say that it is the Scripture as understood by the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or, have we replaced that conviction with something else? Has a system of authority replaced the ultimate Authority?

May the words of Zwingli’s students continue to be the conviction with which we approach the decisions of life – “The Spirit of God decides!”

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Radical Discipleship – Dirk Willemsz

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”  (Romans 12:14, ESV)

One of the finest historical examples of a commitment to radical discipleship is the story of Dirk Willemsz.  Dirk was a sixteenth-century Anabaptist who lived in Holland.  According to the account in the Martyr’s Mirror, Dirk was imprisoned for his faith.  He managed to escape, although he was pursued by a guard.  As he fled, he came to a river that was covered with a thin layer of ice.  Dirk made it across safely, but the guard fell through and would have soon drowned.  Astonishingly, Dirk turned back and rescued his pursuer.  The guard wanted to spare him for his act of love, but the burgomaster ordered that Dirk be returned to prison.  In May of 1569 Dirk Willemsz was burned at the stake.
This engraving was created by Jan Luiken and was published in the Martyr’s Mirror.  

Dirk

Source: http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/dirk_willemsz_d._1569

The Birth of Anabaptism

The Anabaptist movement began in 1525 and was an offshoot of the Protestant Reformation.  The Protestant Reformation is recognized as starting in October 1517, when an Augustinian monk nailed a document to the door of a castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  The document on that church door challenged the mighty fortress that the Roman Catholic Church had become.  Within days that document, which became known as the Ninety-Five Theses, had ignited the fire of reformation across Europe, perhaps to an even greater extent than Martin Luther himself had anticipated.

It was also in 1517 that another German-speaking priest was beginning to apply himself to a serious study of the New Testament.  He was serving as people’s priest at Einsiedeln during that period of extreme wrestling with Biblical truth.  By the time he accepted the call to serve at the Grossmünster in Zurich, Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli was determined to preach nothing but the Gospel.

Zwingli used preaching, teaching, and disputation to guide the progress of the Reformation in Zurich.  His personality attracted a number of gifted young intellectuals who were interested in studying the Greek classics.  In November 1521 a young scholar named Conrad Grebel joined Zwingli’s group of students.  Grebel’s father was a member of the Zurich city council.  The students were incredibly zealous for learning, which prompted Zwingli to introduce them to the Greek New Testament.

Zwingli’s students quickly became zealous for reform.  However, a group of those students, including Grebel, went beyond Zwingli in their understanding of what Scripture teaches, particularly in regards to baptism.  Zwingli and his former disciples engaged in a public dispute in January 1525.  The city council declared Zwingli the victor and denounced the young radicals.  The small band of radicals had three options.  They could conform to Zwingli’s teaching, leave Zurich, or face imprisonment.  Which would you have chosen?

Several days after the debate between Zwingli and his students, approximately a dozen men traveled through the snow to the home of Felix Manz, located near Zwingli’s Grossmünster.  History was in the making as those men considered their next step.  The events of that momentous night have been preserved in The Large Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren (A. J. F. Zieglschmid, Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder, p. 47).  These words seem to be from an eyewitness, generally thought to be Jörg Cajakob, who came to be known as George Blaurock.

“And it came to pass that they were together until anxiety came upon them, yes, they were so pressed within their hearts. Thereupon they began to bow their knees to the Most High God in heaven and called upon him as the Informer of Hearts, and they prayed that he would give to them his divine will and that he would show his mercy unto them. For flesh and blood and human forwardness did not drive them, since they well knew what they would have to suffer on account of it.

After the prayer, George of the House of Jacob stood up and besought Conrad Grebel for God’s sake to baptize him with the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge. And when he knelt down with such a request and desire, Conrad baptized him, since at that time there was no ordained minister to perform such work.”

After his own baptism, Blaurock proceeded to baptize the rest of those present.  The newly baptized believers pledged themselves to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, to be separate from the world, to teach the Gospel, and to maintain the faith.  The Anabaptist movement had been born.  This group, which came to be known as the Swiss Brethren, broke with the Roman Catholic Church to an extent that not even Luther and Zwingli had dared to approach.  The Swiss Brethren sought to form a church according to the pattern they saw in the New Testament.  This meeting was arguably the most revolutionary act of the Reformation.

The Swiss Brethren emphasized a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as being both essential for salvation and a prerequisite for baptism.  This conviction about baptism being only for adult believers had not been arrived at recklessly or hastily.  Rather, it was the result of an intense and earnest study of the Scriptures.  Even though they were not able to convince Zwingli about the need for further reform, this small group of committed Christ-followers acted on their convictions by withholding their children from the infant baptism that continued to be administered by Zwingli and other Reformed preachers.  In so doing, they risked imprisonment and death for the sake of Christ and the Scriptures.

The meeting on January 21, 1525 was the beginning of a movement.  The worldwide Anabaptist church (which includes Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Brethren, and related churches) now counts 1.77 million baptized believers in over 80 countries.

 

Sources:

Estep, William R. The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism. 3rd ed., revised and enlarged.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.  Pages 9-15.

http://www.mennoworld.org/archived/2013/2/18/anabaptists-increasing-worldwide/