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Charismatic Theology among the Early Anabaptists

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From now on this blog is a part of the MennoNerds network, a bunch of bloggers (or nerds) who like Anabaptism. Ana-what? Anabaptism, the grandmother of the Baptist, Pentecostal and a bunch of other movements, which was and is characterized by pacifism, economic equality and radical theology. While I’m not a part of an Anabaptist church (they simply don’t exist (yet) in Sweden), I was involved in forming the Anabaptist Network of Scandinavia, and together with my friend Andrew Meakins I’m administrating a facebook page called Charismatic Holiness Anabaptist Theology.

While several modern-day Anabaptists eagerly seek miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there still are many who don’t. Not necessarily because they don’t believe in miracles but rather that they believe it isn’t part of their tradition. But it is. In 1995, Stuart Murray, one of the leading Anabaptist theologians in Europe, wrote this article about the early Anabaptists’ view on spiritual gifts. Here is an excerpt:

Stuart Murray

Stuart Murray

Anabaptism as a Charismatic Movement: Diverse Phenomena in Early Decades

What would sixteenth-century Anabaptists have made of the “Toronto Blessing” that has impacted many churches in Great Britain in recent months? How did the Radical Reformers respond to such spiritual phenomena’? The charismatic aspect of Anabaptism has not received much attention from historians, but evidence of spiritual phenomena in early Anabaptist groups is substantial. Some welcomed manifestations of the Holy Spirit, while others were wary and attempted to regulate or discourage such expressions. Basic to the Anabaptist view of charismatic gifts, however, was a belief that a transformed life was the true measure and sign of Holy Spirit presence.

[…]

For Dirk Philips, the Spirit had a vital role as agent of regeneration. The Spirit writes the new convenant on the hearts of believers and enables them to participate in the divine nature. The Spirit is the earthly presence of Jesus, empowering ministers called by God and helping believers interpret the Scripture. Anabaptists equated “baptism in the Spirit” with conversion, but expected more to happen experientially than did the Reformers. The radicals were not satisfied with forensic ideas of grace, typified by the legal terminology of “justification by faith”. Rather, they saw grace as “the inner light that directed a life of righteousness “.

Hans Hut, the must successful evangelist of first generation Anabaptism, often relied on prophetic dreams and visions, Melchior Huffmann, who introduced Anabaptism to the Netherlands, encouraged the exercise of charismatic gifts and valued the prophetic ministries of both male and female colleagues. Later Dutch leaders, such as Menno Simons and Dirk Phillips, were more wary of reliance on visions. Perhaps this was because “revelations” played a significant part in the Munster catastrophe (1534-35), when an Anabaptist faction gained control of a city government in Germany and inaugurated practices such as polygamy and holy war. But even the later Dutch leaders accepted charismatic gifts to the extent that they were authenticated by Scripture.

Jacob Hutter, anabaptist wonderworker

Jacob Hutter, anabaptist wonderworker

Jacob Hutter (from whom the Hutterite movement takes its name) claimed a miraculous dimension to his ministry as authentication of his calling. The Hutterite Chronicle contains several accounts of miraculous events. Among other Anabaptist examples of charismatic expression were the “prophetic processions” (at Zurich in 1525, at Munster in 1534 and at Amsterdam in 1535). The Martyrs’ Mirror mentions a martyr named Martin whom authorities led across a bridge to execution in 1531 He prophesied, “this once yet the pious are led over this bridge, but no more hereafter.” Just “a short time afterwards such a violent storm and flood came that the bridge was demolished”. In Germany some Anabaptists, “excited by mass hysteria, experienced healings, glossolalia, contortions and other manifestations of a camp-meeting revival”.

Pilgram Marpeck rejected the belief that miracles were restricted to the early church, and assured readers miracles still were occurring. He referred to several Anabaptists who had gone joyfully to martyrdom “through the abundant comfort and power of the Holy Spirit”. He makes the astonishing statement that “moreover, one also marvels when one sees how the faithful God (who, after all, overflows with goodness) raises from the dead several such brothers and sisters of Christ after they were hanged, drowned or killed in other ways… Even today, they are found alive and we can hear their own testimony.” Marpeck said these things occurred “among those who are powerfully moved and driven by the living Word of God and the Spirit of Christ”.

[…]

Early Anabaptists certainly were acquainted with phenomena like the “Toronto Blessing”. Indeed, there are reports from some sixteenth-century radical groups of practices as bizarre as anything reported in recent months – including adults playing with toys as a sign that they were “becoming as children”, nude processions, and bodily contortions.

Reactions among Anabaptists probably would have been as divided in the sixteenth century as modern responses seem to he. Perhaps the questions their more discerning leaders asked in relation to contemporary phenomena are still helpful: What are the ethical results of spiritual experiences? How is the authority of the written Word maintained alongside activity of the Spirit?

It was the focus on ethical renewal, including a commitment to nonviolence, costly economic sharing, and truth-telling that prevented the Anabapti s ts from getting hung up on spiritual phenomena for their own sake. Pilgram Marpeck insisted, “Christ bids us to recognise prophets not by miraculous signs but by their fruits.” And it was the ability of leaders like Menno Simons and Pilgram Marpeck to hold in creative tension the Word and the Spirit that ensured their churches were built on secure foundations as well as being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Not all Anabaptist groups managed to maintain this tension: some slipped into spiritualism, many more into a wooden literalism where the work of the Spirit was quenched. Similar dangers continue to confront the church 450 years later.

Stuart Murray wrote his doctoral thesis an Anabaptist hermeneutics. He teaches evangelism and church planting at Spurgeon’s College in South London.

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21 Comments

  1. AO Green says:

    Where do I start…what historical connection do you see connecting them to Baptists and Pentecostals?

    • Hello brother!

      Primarily, I meant theological connection rather than historical, I know thay it is disputed wether how much baptism was influenced by and rooted in Anabaptism. But sure enough, they shared the same theology of baptism, as well as the relation between church and state etc. So does Pentecostalism, while some want to trace that movement back to holiness groups and Methodism, we must remember that 99% of Pentecostals practice baptist baptism. And in fact, since the early Pentecostals were pacifists – https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/pentecostal-pacifism/ – they were probably more Anabaptists than they realize.

      This is why I’d like to call Anabaptism the grandmother of baptism and pentecostalism. Not mother, not sister, but grandma 🙂

      Blessings!

      • AO Green says:

        What is meant by baptist baptism?

        • Non-infant believer’s baptism, sort of.

          • Sava says:

            I Agree, it implies a need for relationship with the holy spirit in The Way – YHVH.
            If they had taken the LORD name – but not with/through/by Yashua..then even their baptism would be suspect..

          • Sava says:

            I Agree, it implies a need for relationship with the holy spirit in The Way – YHVH.
            If they had taken the LORD name – but not with/through/by Jesus of Nazareth who came in the Flesh = Yashua..then even their baptism would be suspect…
            Jesus the focus of The Way.
            As The Way the Truth and the Life – When Christ spoke this His perceived intent may have been to compare himself to the 3 gates of the Tabrenacle .
            We have learned in our study of the tabernacle that everything about it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ in some fashion or other.

      • Rod All says:

        In fact, the Mennonite Church actually gave birth to the Baptist Church.
        The founder of the Baptist Church, John Smyth, was an english independant puritan forced to exile by the persecution of the Independants by the Stuart dynasty of England. In Netherland, Smyth read the writings of Menno Simons (among them “A Foundation and Plain Instruction…”)
        and he founded the first baptist congregation.
        (http://www.mncuf.org/origins.htm and
        “The Baptist River: Essays on Many Tributaries of a Diverse Tradition”, p.9. Google Books)
        In the end of the 19th century, the most ancient pentecostal denomination (Church of God in Christ) was founded by black baptists (http://www.cogic.org/our-foundation/the-founder-church-history/)

  2. Janne P. says:

    I dont see, why Anabaptism should be the grandmother of the Baptists and other movements. The Baptists have their roots in the English Separatist movement (Puritans). Modern day anabaptists include Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish and Brethren.

    • Well, it’s a constant matter of discussion among church historians: “It has been a constant matter for discussion between Baptist historians as to just how far Baptist roots are in the Anabaptist movement” – Roger Hayden (2007), English Baptist History and Heritage Baptist Union of Britain, page 10.

      Anywaaay, that was just a minor remark from my side and not really the point of the article, I can remove it if you like 😉

      Blessings!

      • joncarlson77 says:

        “I am less concerned with the historical roots of Baptists,” [Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson] said, “than I am that contemporary Baptists discover their theological roots in the Radical Reformation and set sail for that noble destination on which many of the Radical Reformers landed.’

        “Noting that ‘Baptists do not baptize infants or anyone else without faith,’ and ‘treasure the concept of the Free Church and religious freedom in general,’ Patterson sees a bright future ‘only if Baptists identify with and imitate the Anabaptists.’ Patterson called ‘the current trend in Baptist and Southern Baptist life to identify with the Reformed faith’ a ‘major step backward’ that ‘must be resisted.'”

        http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37119

    • To that point, you are correct on all counts of the roots of Baptists. However, the English Separatist movement was influenced by the Dutch Anabaptists.

      And while traditional denominations of Anabaptists are what you listed, there are a lot of people who follow the Anabaptist line of teaching and thought that go beyond those denominations. Micael is not a Mennonite but one of the reasons why he became a MennoNerd is because the general stream of Anabaptist theology resonates with him.

      Welcome, Micael! And an excellent post on Anabaptism and the Holy Spirit… this is something that needs to be stressed I feel among the “traditional” Anabaptist denominations… that our roots, our history, have a strong presence of the Holy Spirit.

    • Randy Oldaker says:

      Actually, the English Separatists under John Smyth and Thomas Helwys who went to Holland were directly influenced by the Waterlander Mennonites. The Separatists accepted believers’ baptism, Arminian theology, and the separation of church and state. They returned to England, settled in Spitalfields (outside of London), and founded the first General Baptist Church. This was even before the Particular Calvinistic Baptists founded a church.

  3. John Michno says:

    Thank you for this informative article about Pentecostals and Anabaptist. I too in my church history readings have come to this conclusion.

    Peace

  4. Micael…just found your blog…Love. It. As someone in the Vineyard movement who has re-discovered our Quaker roots and fell-in-love-all-over-again, I’m very interested in the Anabaptist-orientation also, because I have friends oriented this way in following Jesus and I have found there is actually quite a lot of interconnectivity between the Quakers and Aanbaptists, especially in terms of theological roots and training/seminaries, etc…

    peace

  5. […] ← Charismatic Theology among the Early Anabaptists […]

  6. […] Stuart Murray: De tidiga anabaptiserna var karismatiker som talade i tungor och uppvĂ€ckte döda […]

  7. […] can be a bit mind-blowing to some – not many Anabaptists know that their movement initially was very charismatic, with an emphasis on prophetic visions, healing and miracles. Likewise, most Pentecostals and […]

  8. Thank you for this interesting article! As a Pentecostal with a huge Reformed influence on me, I was unaware of this “charismatic” side of the Anabaptist movement… And no wonder : the major part of what we know of the Anabaptists being by the established religions that were the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. They were mainly spread out and disorganized and not writing as much.

    Do you have a scholarly book or long article talking in depth about charismatism in the Anabaptist movement?

    • Hello TimothĂ©e! Thank you very much, I’m glad you appreciated it. Murray’s article is among the longest I’ve seen on the subject, I’ve mentioned it in my chapter “Charismatic Anabaptism” in the anthology A Living Alternative (Ettelloc, 2014), but it’s not of great depth. More research seems to be needed!

      Blessings!

  9. Mathew Clark says:

    This is something I have been investigating as a Pentecostal scholar since my 1980’s research into Moltmann and 1990’s research into Pentecostal hermeneutics. Pentecostal scholars of my generation (over 60) tended to avoid linking the movement to Anabaptism because of the bad press the Anabaptists got from their (necessarily) non-Pentecostal university lecturers in church history. It seems today it has become more acceptable and I am encouraged by a number of current researchers approaching the topic. I should also be glad of as many direct quotes from 16th century Anabaptist writers on gifts/demonstrations (phaneroseis) of the Spirit as possible!

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

A Living Alternative

God vs Inequality

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