For Lent we’ve been looking at Christian martyrs who were killed by, or on account of, other Christians. We’ve already looked at Priscillian of Avila, Eastern Christians killed during the Crusades and John Hus and John Wycliffe. The inspiration behind this is the self-reflective theme of Lent along with the following statement of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.”
Matthew 5:21-22 (CEB)
Today we’re going to look at the time of the Reformation shortly after Martin Luther nailed his 99 Theses to the church doors in Wittenburg. Specifically we are going to look at someone within the movement called the Radical Reformation that included a group of Christians called the Anabaptists. What set the Anabaptists apart from the other movements during the Reformation was their belief in a “believer’s baptism.” They believed that rather than baptizing infants into a Church, as was the common practice, baptism should only be performed on adults who have professed faith in Christ and chosen to join the church. For the Anabaptists, baptizing infants seemed unnecessary because they can not profess any faith and can not choose to join the church and be Christians. Anabaptists then chose to be re-baptized as adults since they felt their initial baptism as infants had not meaning. Hence, the name Anabaptist means “re-baptize” and was initially used to derogatorily reference those who chose to be re-baptized as adults.
Debate over this issue brings us the person we’re focusing on today. Felix Manz was studying under Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, Switzerland in 1519. Zwingli was an important Reformation proponent and Zurich was a hotbed for Reformation thought and movement. Manz and some of his friends began questioning the importance of the mass, the nature of church and state connections, and infant baptism. After some discussion, Zwingli and the city council in Zurich ordered Felix and his friends to baptize their children. Manz and his friends resisted this order and instead had a meeting at his house where they baptized each other in turn. This is considered the beginning of the Swiss Bretheren church.
After this, Manz began to travel and preach in the surrounding areas. The Bretheren movement grew as did the attention of drawn from the authorities. Along with teaching against infant baptism, the Anabaptist movement was also against any strong ties between church and state, they promoted non-violence and often refused to join city militias. For the Anabaptists and Bretheren, the Christian community was one lived exclusive of and apart from civil society. Some took this to mean that they should live in separate communities and cities, others just chose not to participate in civil government or serve in the military. Either way, as the Swiss Bretheren movement grew and Manz became more popular the governmental and religious local leaders sought to have him arrested and Anabaptists banished who would not baptize their children.
In March of 1526 a law was passed that made adult re-baptism illegal and punishable by drowning. The not so courteous slogan against the Anabaptists was “He who dips shall be dipped” and their execution by drowning was called a “Third baptism” by many. Manz was arrested in 1527 and condemned to execution by drowning for continuing to preach Anabaptist teaching and re-baptizing adults. Manz was taken by boat out on the river Limmat where his hands and feet were bound and he was drowned in the river. Manz is considered to be the first Anabaptist and Swiss Bretheren martyr and was executed by the co-mingling of religious and civil authorities that he preached against.
A hymnbook used by the Amish (descendants of the original Anabaptists) contains a hymn ascribed to Manz. The first lines are:
With gladness will I now sing;
My heart delights in God,
Who showed me such forbearance
That I from death was saved
Which never hath an end.
I praise Thee, Christ in heaven
Who all my sorrow changed.