Anabaptist Profiles Part II

Product Details In August, I did a sort of “Anabaptist profile” on Conrad Grebel, who hated the early 16th century Papacy and the Reformers equally – both were antichrists to many anabaptists like Grebel.  This “profile” is a brief on Balthasar Hubmaier, living at the same time as Grebel, Munzter, John Denck, and so forth, in the early 16th century.  These selections from Balthasar Hubmaier come from his 1527 treatise, On Free Will.

Hubmaier wrote that a person has flesh, a spirit, and a soul.  He said that each of these have a distinct will.  In Adam’s fall, Adam’s flesh fell, and Eve is a figure of the fleshly fall.  However, in Adam’s fall, his spirit “remained utterly upright and intact before, during, and after the fall, for it took part, neither by counsel nor by action, yea, it did not in any way consent to or approve of the eating of the forbidden fruit by the flesh.”  In other words, the spirit did not sin when Adam fell, but the flesh did.

Not only did Adam’s flesh fall, his soul did as well, Hubmaier notes: “The soul, the third part of man, through the disobedience of Adam was so maimed in will and wounded even unto death that it can of itself not even choose good or reject evil, for it has lost the knowledge of good and evil, and nothing is left to it but to sin and to die.”

What did Christ’s work then do for the flesh, spirit, and soul?  Well, the flesh is bad, the spirit is good, and the soul stands “between the spirit and the flesh” and needs help because its natural powers cannot do the good.  The Father sent Christ and the Holy Spirit to give freedom back to the soul.  “It  [the soul] can now freely and willingly be obedient to the spirit and can will and choose the good, just as well as though it were in paradise.”  Hubmaier then cites a few medieval proverbs to show that the soul is now free to obey: God says ‘Man, help thyself, and then I will help thee.’  “God created you without your aid, but he will not save you without your aid.”  “If I will [saith the soul], I can be saved, by the grace of God.”  God “wills and draws all men unto salvation.  Yet choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion.”  

 Yikes!  This is part of the theological reason why the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) worked very hard to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists (i.e. the Belgic Confession uses the terms, “We detest the error of the Anabaptists…”).  Of course, the Anabaptists returned the “love;” in fact, in the above mentioned treatise, Hubmaier said that the teaching of the bondage of the will is “rubbish” which “they” (read: Luther[ans]) “introduced into Christendom.”  Hubmaier, in this treatise, tries to “hew them (Luther[ans]) down with the sword of the divine word” by upholding the freedom of the will.  I don’t think it worked!

The above quotes were taken from Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 114-135.  For more info on the Reformer’s responses to the Anabaptists, check out Luther’s Concerning Rebaptism, Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, and Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments just to name a few.  Also see The Formula of Concord, Epitome – XII (“Other Factions and Sects”) as well as  Calvin’s Treatise Against the Anabaptists.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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