The Anabaptists and Luther

What did the Anabaptists of the radical reformation generally think of Luther and the Reformers?  Not much.  In a letter from Conrad Grebel to Thomas Muntzer (from 1524), Grebel wrote that between the Romanists and the Reformers (which he called “the pope and antipapal preachers”), “there is grosser and more pernicious error now than ever has been since the beginning of the world.”  In fact, said Grebel, the Wittenberg (i.e. Lutheran) “slothful scholars and doctors…preach a sinful sweet (i.e. poisonous) Christ, and they lack clear discernment.”

Grebel wrote that the Lutheran form of baptism is “senseless” and “blasphemous” and among the old “customs of the Antichrist.”  Luther, Grebel said to Muntzer, does not teach Christ as he should; Wittenberg’s scholars “flounder from one perversion of Scripture into the next, and daily from one blindness into another and greater.  I think and believe that they propose to become true papists and popes.”  Elsewhere, Muntzer even called the Lutheran teachers “vicious reprobates.”

Of course, more could be said, but this is pretty significant.  Many Anabaptists viewed the Reformers’ and their teaching as a nasty outgrowth of the papacy (sort of like a tumor).  The Reformation views of the sacraments (both Reformed and Lutheran) as well as the Reformation view of the church (which included ordination, office, and assembly) were condemned by the Anabaptists for being essentially papist, stuck in outward forms.  Therefore, some of the Anabaptists did not hesitate to call Luther and company little popes or antichrists.  The Anabaptists wanted to return to the pure Word without the externals (i.e. sacraments as means of grace, offices in the church, ecclesiastical assemblies, etc.).

Of course, what happens then, as Luther rightly remarked, is they ended up being more spiritual than the Holy Spirit (they swallowed him feathers and all).   What happens when you chuck the externals and focus on the internals (as Bavinck rightly remarked) is that you get pietism,  rationalism, and ultimately deism.  On the surface this Anabaptism may look sweet (return to the “pure” word without anything else), but under it lurked a world of errors, as Luther and the other Reformers so rightly pointed out.

FYI,  here are some of Calvin’s works against the Anabaptists, which is on my list of reading for this winter.

Quotes taken from Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), 65, 73-85.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

2 Replies to “The Anabaptists and Luther”

  1. Glad you posted on this. Much of Christianity in America can rightly be said to be ‘anabaptistic.’ I did a study a while back on Zwingli and the Anabaptists and found the former’s criticisms of the latter to be very helpful. Many in Evangelicalism have swallowed the H.S. feathers and all, and are swimming in a sea of errors because of it.


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