SDA Comments on Swiss Reformers’ Persecution

Huldrych Zwingli in an oil portrait from 1531 by Hans Asper; Kunstmuseum Winterthur.


In his latest newsletter, Seventh-day Adventist scholar, Samuele Bacchiocchi wrote:

The Tragedy of the Reformation

Disagreements over the meaning and mode of baptism can be traced back to the Reformation. At that time Christians attacked each other verbally and physically with a ferocity totally at variance with Christ’s command to “love one another” (John 15:12, 17). One of the tragedies of the Reformation is that its leading Reformers, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, killed fellow Christians for the crime of baptizing or rebaptizing adult believers rather than infants. Their criminal acts raise serious questions about their understanding and experience of the transforming power of divine grace.

One of the most revealing examples of the Reformers’ intolerance is provided by the story of the tragic conflict which erupted in the sixteenth century between them and the promoters of adult baptism known as Anabaptists, which means “Re-baptizers.” The Reformers were determined to preserve the Catholic practice of baptizing infants, though they gave a different meaning to the ordinance. By contrast, the Anabaptists rejected infant baptism, known as paedobaptism, from the Greek word pais, meaning “child.”

The sixteenth century Anabaptists represented a large number of radical movements who condemned the Reformation as half-hearted and incomplete. They wanted to complete the reformation by returning to the teachings and practices of the Apostolic Church. They all rejected paedobaptism (infant baptism), and baptized or rebaptized only those who came to a decisive understanding of Bible truths and were prepared to make a personal commitment to Christ.

The influence of the Anabaptist Reformers survives today and can be seen in denominations…which were once regarded as the lunatic fringe of Christendom. Now, however, some historians recognize that certain modern religious movements represent genuine Christian strands that rightfully challenge mainline denominations to reexamine their traditional teachings. For example, G. H. Williams, the British scholar who has painstakingly examined the writings of several modern religious movements, concludes: “Christians of many denominations are finding themselves . . . closer to the despised sectaries of the Reformation Era [such as Anabaptists] than to the classical defenders of a reformed corpus christianum [Reformation teachings].”

An Example of the Reformers’ Intolerance

An example of the Reformers’ intolerance toward Anabaptists is the trial and execution of Felix Manz, a Swiss leader of the movement. At his trial in January 1527, Felix Manz freely confessed to being a teacher of adult baptism, forbidden in Switzerland: “We bring together those who are willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps. We unite them by baptism, and leave the rest to their present conviction.”

The Clerk of the Courts wrote this explanatory comment in the records: “They do not allow Infant Baptism. In this way they will put an end to secular authority.” This revealing comment shows the concern of the local government to preserve the practice of infant baptism in order to ensure the commitment of the people to secular authorities that controlled the state church. Being baptized as an infant into the state church meant being loyal and committed to the state for the rest of one’s life.

Even more extraordinary is the outburst of Manz’s accuser, Ulrich Zwingli, one of the leading Swiss Reformers. Speaking at the trial of Anabaptist Manz, Zwingli shouted: “Let him who talks about going under [the water by immersion] go under.” What seemed to be poetic justice was carried out literally by the local authorities who condemned Felix Manz to death by drowning.

“Led into the boat, he was forced to sit up and his arms were passed around his bent knees and bound at the wrists. Next a stick was pushed between the knees and elbows to secure him in this position. The boat was rowed to the center of the [Limmat] river, and the helpless prisoner was thrown overboard, to choke in the dark, deep waters.”

One wonders, How could Protestant spiritual leaders kill fellow Christians for the crime of obeying their understanding of biblical teachings regarding baptism or other doctrines? How could Calvin influence the Geneva’s Council on October 24, 1553 to sentence to death by burning Michael Servetus for denying the Trinity and infant baptism? Regarding infant baptism, Servetus said: “It is an invention of the devil, an infernal falsity for the destruction of all Christianity.” Servetus was well-known not only for his theological treatises, but also for his scientific discoveries. He was the first European to describe the function of pulmonary circulation of the blood–a discovery that was largely rejected at that time.

One wonders, how could such outrageous criminal acts happen just few years after the beginning of the Reformation in Europe? An answer is to be found in the prevailing misconception that fighting and suppressing “heretics” was more important than loving them. As the church of Ephesus in Revelation lost its first love in the process of fighting those “who call themselves apostles but are not” (Rev 2:2, 4), so Christians with a passion to fight perceived heretical teachings, often became heartless and brutal in the suppression of alleged heretics (Bacchiocchi S. ENDTIME ISSUES NEWSLETTER No. 198 . “INFANT BAPTISM: Part 1, April 2008).

And the truth is that it was not only the Swiss “Reformers”, but Protestants like Martin Luther (please see Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin Luther) who killed and persecuted people who held Bible-based beliefs that these “Protestant Reformers” never accepted.

I would, however, go a couple of steps further than Dr. Bacchiocchi, and state that these Swiss and other Protestant “Reformers”, simply were not true Christians.

True Christians do not kill (Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare?).  Nor do they endorse infant baptism (Baptism and the Early Church).

Earlier in the same issue of his newsletter, Dr. Bacchiocchi made the following statements:

The massive scholarly assault on the traditional dualistic view of human nature, will eventually filter through the rank and file of Christian denominations. When this happens, it will cause considerable intellectual and personal crisis in the lives of Christians accustomed to believing that at death their souls break loose from their bodies and continue to exist either in the beatitude of paradise or in the torment of hell. Many Christians will be sorely disappointed to discover that their belief in life after death, has no biblical basis whatsoever. The Bible clearly teaches that the dead in Christ rest in the grave until resurrection morning…

There is no question that Biblical scholarship is bound to cause a great deal of existential anxiety to millions of Christians who will be surprised to discover that some of their popular and traditional beliefs lack biblical support.

The purpose of this study is not to intensify such anxiety, but to encourage all Christians committed to the normative authority of the Scripture, to re-examine their traditional beliefs and reject those which are proven to be unbiblical. The Christian hope for a personal and cosmic redemption must be grounded on the unmistakable teachings of God’s Word, not on ecclesiastical traditions.

Now, while I do not always agree with all of Dr. Bacchiocchi’s conclusions or positions on doctrine (he, for example, follows the teachings of Ellen White, who we in the Living Church of God flatly reject as a prophetess), Dr. Bacchiocchi is correct that if people who profess Christ really will look into the truth about early Christianity, they would realize that many doctrines and practices that pass for “Christian” simply were not practiced by Jesus, His disciples, or the true early church.

However, those who REALLY will believe the Bible and are willing to change based upon what it says (as opposed to traditions of men), CAN be called by God to become TRUE CHRISTIANS!

Several articles of related interest may include:

Baptism and the Early Church Was it by immersion? Did it include infants?
Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare? Here are current and historical perspectives on a matter which show the beliefs of the true church on military participation.
The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert W. Armstrong This article clearly shows some of the doctrinal differences between in the two. At this time of doctrinal variety and a tendency by many to accept certain aspects of Protestantism, the article should help clarify why the Living Church of God is NOT Protestant. Do you really know what the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther taught and should you follow his doctrinal example?
Persecutions by Church and State This article documents some that have occurred against those associated with the COGs and some prophesied to occur.
SDA/LCG Differences: Two Horned Beast of Revelation and 666 The Living Church of God is NOT part of the Seventh-day Adventists. This article explains two prophetic differences, the trinity, differences in approaching doctrine, including Ellen White.
Why Be Concerned About False and Heretical Leaders? There have been many false leaders–here is some of why you should be concerned about them.
Sola Scriptura or Prima Luther? What Did Martin Luther Really Believe About the Bible? Though he is known for his public sola Scriptura teaching, did Martin Luther’s writings about the Bible suggest he felt that prima Luther was his ultimate authority? Do you really want to know the truth?
Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings Are traditions on equal par with scripture? Many believe that is what Peter, John, and Paul taught. But did they?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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