Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Balthasar Hubmaier, on the 482th anniversary of his death

I am a student of history. Always have been, hopefully I always will be. I love great historical figures, and Christian history is full of them. When I took my first pastoral position, I had studied Church History and Baptist History, but those studies had omitted a significant chunk of our Baptist roots. A good many Baptist historians and texts trace the beginnings of our movement to John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. To say these are humble beginnings is an understatement. More accurate to say they are embarrassing beginnings. In God's providence, my first church was on the outskirts of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home to a significant Amish and Mennonite community. Through them, I began to learn of earlier Baptist roots -- the Anabaptists. I was immediately fascinated by them, particularly the Swiss Brethren who suffered tremendous persecution under the hand of Zwingli. Here I found a group of believers with whom I more readily identified than I had with Smyth and Helwys. While I believe that Smyth and Helwys were certainly strong shapers of Baptist life, a Baptist history that does not go back to at least the Swiss Brethren is incomplete.

One of the standout figures of Anabaptist history is Balthasar Hubmaier. I can tell you that of all I have read about him, I will never attempt to make a plaster saint out of him. I may in fact disagree with more of his opinions than I agree, but as a shaping influence on Baptist life, I have a great respect for him and share many of his convictions. Among these are the authority of Scripture, believers' baptism, and a memorial view of the Lord's Supper.

Today, March 10, is the anniversary of his martyrdom. In 1528, Hubmaier was burned at the stake for his convictions, and shortly thereafter, his wife was put to death by drowning. Throughout the day, I have been paying tribute to Hubmaier by posting quotes from him on my Facebook page. These have been drawn primarily from John Allen Moore's excellent book of biographical sketches entitled Anabaptist Portraits. I am reposting them here for a wider audience and for my own benefit (as it will be more convenient to have them listed together in one place that is easy to find).
"In all disputes concerning faith and religion, Scripture alone, proceeding from the mouth of God, ought to be our level and rule. ... Scripture is the sole light and true lantern by whose illumination all fictions of the human mind may be discovered and all darkness dispelled."

"It is Christ who calls the sinner, who moves him to what is good, and invites him to the heavenly marriage feast. God the Father draws those who come to Christ."

"It is ridiculous to recite Latin words to a German who knows nothing of the Latin language. What else is this than to hide the Lord whom we ought to proclaim?"

"I hear with great sadness how in your city of Regensburg more men preach vanity than the pure Word of God. That makes my heart ache; for, under God, what does not flow from the living Word is dead. Therefore, says Christ, search the Scriptures."

"Yield yourselves to God, trust him, build on His Word, and He will not forsake you. Whether He gives a short life or a long one, you will have eternal life beyond. And should people call you heretics, be joyful, for your reward will be great in heaven."

"Faith alone makes us right before God. ... [Faith is] an acknowledgement of the grace of God which he has showed us in giving His only begotten Son. This excludes all nominal Christians who have nothing but a historical faith in God. ... Such faith cannot remain dormant but must reach out to God in thanksgiving and to... people in all kinds of works of brotherly love."

"Just as every Christian believes and is baptized for himself, so should each one judge from Scripture whether he is being properly nourished by his pastor."

"Whoever for worldly advantage denies or remains silent concerning the Word of God sells God's blessing as Esau sold his birthright and will also be denied by Christ."

"Divine truth is immortal and although it may for a time be imprisoned, scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified, and laid in the grave, it will arise victorious on the third day to reign in triumph throughout all eternity."

"Oh dear sirs, friends, brothers, take to heart what I have said to you, and strive after the clear, pure Word of Christ. From it alone will faith come to you; in Him alone must we be saved."

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