Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Believers Baptism: Dying for Naught

...The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain... Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863. (emphasis mine).

Just as we should remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who have bled and died to give us our freedom, we as Southern Baptists need to remember those who went before us and gave their lives for Our Lord and for their faithfulness to the Scriptures. I believe that there are those within our Convention that have in all practicality, relegated our forerunners to have died in vain.

Last month was the 482nd anniversary of the death of Felix Manz, one of the first Anabaptist Martyrs. It was on a cold January 5th, 1527, that Manz's hands were bound to his knees, with the stick thrust between arms and legs and then thrown into the icy waters of the Limmat River in Zurich. Manz's death, as well as other Anabaptist martyrs, are in essence being rendered as needless and for naught, by our ecumenical loving and/or Presbyterian leaning brethren within the Southern Baptist Convention. I do not believe that these two groups have the same goals and agenda. But some in both camps seem to share a limited acceptance of paedobaptism, though stating that they personally hold to believers baptism.

I think the martyr's deaths are diminished by those willing to affirm that which the martyrs denied: paedobaptism. Let me put it another way: Would today's Baptist be willing to suffer horrendous torture and die a martyrs death to faithfully uphold believers baptism and it alone? I think most would not. Would today's Baptist be willing to accept some into their church as a member, who sincerely believed their infant baptism to be biblically justified? Would they invite them to share in the Lord's table? It is happening within our Convention today, though historically and categorically rejected by Baptists as un-biblical. There are some who seem so willing to abandon one of the primary reasons such a great price was paid by our Anabaptist forerunners: Faithfulness to The Great Commission and Obedience to the Command of Christ to only baptize disciples (i.e. believers baptism). If they can so easily lay aside the importance of obeying Christ's command, then by their actions they are declaring these deaths to have been hollow and pointless. Either Manz (and all who gave their lives for this essential doctrine) were right, and died for the truth of Scripture or they should have capitulated. The ecumenical Baptists of today (which is an oxymoron) can not proclaim that Manz and others died for Christ in a just cause and yet accept false “baptisms” for which the martyrs rejected and willingly died for.

This ecumenical Baptist movement is troubling and most of all surprising. The “presbyterian” movement is not as surprising, as we do share much in common theologically. Believers only baptism is not one of them, and thus a point of division. I hold them as dear brothers and sisters in Christ, but who are in serious theological error and agree with the need to divide in order for us to be faithful to Scripture. Our history as part of a greater Baptist community has stood against theological appeasement since the earliest days of the Reformation as well as by our English Baptist forefathers. In recent years the Conservative Resurgence turned back a movement that was leading us to theological liberalism. Yet, here we are again, having to defend within our own Convention, Baptist Distinctives that Scripture clearly teaches. Believers Baptism is not the only cherished doctrine that is currently under attack from within our own ranks. It is not even the most prominent attack. It is however the most illogical one, because WE ARE BAPTISTS. Our very name identifies us as being a people like Manz and others, who believe that the only valid biblical baptism is believers baptism!

At this point, I must make clear that I do understand the difference between the Anabaptists (whom I call our forerunners) and our English Baptist forefathers. I agree with Dr. Malcolm Yarnell in “The Heart of a Baptist” when he states: Of the four Reformation era traditions just mentioned, Baptists come closest to the Anabaptists, for we are their theological heirs, even if we may or may not claim to be their direct historical heirs. I am a Christ-follower first, and unashamedly a Baptist by conviction. I agree with those who have gone before us, both Baptist and Anabaptist, who were convinced that Believers Baptism is a doctrine not only worth fighting for, it is worth dividing over, and yes, worth dying for. There is something about their conviction to the fundamental truth of Scripture that appeals to me.

Several men and women were martyred for their faith in Christ during the 16th Century, many for following Christ's command regarding baptism. Our non-protestant radical reformation forerunners died for a just cause: Fulfilling The Great Commission of Christ and obeying all that He commanded. Any “baptism” that is not immersion of a believer has failed to obey Christ and has failed to obey The Great Commission.

I wish I could ask Manz and Sattler and others what they think of Baptists who have in all practicality declared their deaths meaningless and pointless. I do not believe that these men and women died for naught. But it will be for naught for Southern Baptists if we do not turn back those that seek to take us away from obeying Christ. It will be for naught if we do not follow their example of faithfully holding to the Scriptures no matter the cost.

Below are some short accounts of a few of those that paid the ultimate price for a doctrine that Baptists have always held near and dear. Remember what they did for Christ and for those of us that came after them.

Huldrych Zwingli's successor Heinrich Bullinger wrote of Felix Manz:

As he came down from the Wellenberg to the fish market, and was led through the shambles to the boat, he praised God that he was about to die for His truth. For Anabaptism was right, and founded on the Word of God, and Christ had foretold that His followers would suffer for the truth’s sake. And the like discourse he urged much, contradicting the preacher who attended him. On the way his mother and brother came to him, and exhorted him to be stedfast; and he persevered in his folly, even to the end. When he was bound upon the hurdle, and was about to be thrown into the stream by the executioner, he sang with a loud voice: ‘In manus Tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.’ (‘Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’) And herewith was he drawn into the water by the executioner, and drowned.

From Wikipedia

Please read what Martyrs Mirror has to say about a few of those who were martyred for believers baptism:

George Blaurock: On the day Manz was martyred, Blaurock was severely beaten and permanently expelled from Zürich. He kept moving, laboring at Bern, Biel, the Grisons, and Appenzell. After his arrest and 4th banishment in April of 1527, Blaurock left Switzerland never to return. From here he turned to the Tyrol. In 1529 he became the pastor of the church in Adige Valley, after their former pastor, Michael Kürschner, was burned at the stake. Blaurock conducted a very successful ministry in Tyrol. Many believers were baptized and churches founded. In August he and Hans Langegger were arrested by Innsbruck authorities. While in captivity they were tortured for information. On September 6, 1529, Blaurock and Langegger were burned at the stake near Klausen.

Dirk Willems: Dirk was imprisoned in Netherlands; escaped through window by rope. Prison guard chased Dirk across frozen river. Dirk crosses safely; guard fell through ice. Dirk rescued guard, who captured him. Dirk was burned at stake. Remembered as compassionate Christian who risked recapture to save pursuer.

Hans Bret: Anabaptist baker in Netherlands; imprisoned & tortured for teaching Anabaptist faith. His letters to his mother detail torture. Before being burned at stake, tongue screw was used to silence him. Pastor retrieved screw; married Hans’ mother: screw became family heirloom.

Michael Sattler: Arrested; charged with violations of Catholic doctrine & practice. Asked for debate; prosecutor replied: “You rascal of a monk, should we dispute with you? The hangman shall dispute with you” 20 May 1527, martyred. Tongue cut out; Chained to wagon; Flesh torn with hot tongs; Bound to ladder; bag of gunpowder around his neck; pushed into fire; Prayed for persecutors. Wife Margaretha was drowned 8 days later.

Balthasar Hubmaier: 10 March 1528, in Vienna, burned at stake with sulphur & gunpowder rubbed into his beard. “O dear brothers, pray God that he will give me patience in this my suffering. I will die in the Christian faith.” Wife Elizabeth drowned in Danube 3 days later.

In the booklet Who Were the Anabaptists, we see that not only were these faithful believers tortured and killed by Roman Catholics, but by “evangelical” Protestants as well.

One of the very few things on which most Protestants and Catholics agreed at this time was the persecution of Anabaptists! As a rule, Catholics burned them, but Protestants drowned or beheaded them.

The Anabaptists criticised Luther, Zwingli and the other Reformers for being ‘halfway men’, afraid to follow through what they knew from Scripture to be right. They were convinced that the Bible was authoritative for ethics and the shape of the church as well as for doctrine, which many Reformers seemed unwilling to admit.

The Anabaptist movement was drowned in blood in many parts of Europe, but their courageous martrydoms attracted many people to their teachings – so much so that the authorities sometimes resorted to tongue-screws to silence Anabaptist on route to their execution. ...15-year old Adriaen searches through the ashes to find the tongue-screw used on his mother, Maeyken Wens. Hubmaier spoke for all Anabaptists when he said: “Truth is immortal. You may burn a man to death for heresy, but if he believes the truth, you have not destroyed it.”

I invite you to read more on Michael Sattler:

Michael Sattler was captured by the Roman Catholic authorities in Horb, tried on May 17, 1527 at Rottenburg, and was martyred on May 21, 1527. "On the morning of that day this noble man of God, in sight of horrible torture, prayed for his judges and persecutors and admonished the people to repentance. He endured the inhuman torture stipulated in the sentence. Then his mangled body was tied to a ladder. He prayed again for his persecutors while the ladder was placed upon the stake. He had promised his friends to give them a sign from the burning stake, to show that he remained steadfast to the end, enduring it all willingly for Christ. The fire having severed the cords wherewith he was bound, he lifted up his hand for a sign to them. Soon it was noticed that his spirit had taken its flight to be with Him whom he had steadfastly confessed under the most excruciating torture, a true hero of the faith.

Mennonites In Europe, John Horsch, Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc., 1942, 1995, pp.70-78.

...Michael Sattler, [an Anabaptist]...was 'committed to the executioner...[and taken] to the square and they first cut out his tongue, and then forged him fast to a wagon and there with glowing iron tongues twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic' [?]...Sattler, who had given a true and skillful testimony at the trial, was thus handled. Even after the pieces were torn from his body and a part of his tongue cut out, Sattler still prayed for his persecutors and admonished the officials to repent and be converted. As he was dying, Sattler raised the two fore-fingers of his hands giving the signal to the brethren, as he had arranged, that a martyr's death was bearable. From his seared lips, the crowd heard him say, 'Father, I commend my spirit into Thy hands.' Then he fell asleep.

The Noble Army of "Heretics", Bill Jackson, Colonial Baptist Press and on the web, pp. 27-28.

Then there was George Wagner:

When he was delivered over to the executioner and led into the middle of the city, this excellent man said, “This day will I confess my God to the glory of Christ Jesus, that such happiness is afforded me in the sight of all the world.” His face was not pale nor were his eyes distorted. With a smile playing on his lips he went to the fire, where the executioner bound him to the ladder and hung a bag of gunpowder around his neck. And when he had taken leave of a Christian brother, he was thrust into the fire, and calmly yielded up his spirit to Christ, February 8, 1527.

J. Newton Brown's book, Memorials of Baptist Martyrs

Read more!