The Original Re-baptizer

Born in 1498, Conrad Grebel is known as the father of the anabaptists, or re-baptizers. He was originally a student of Zwingli, but things changed in 1525. There were about 15 men who broke ranks with Zwingli over the issues of infant baptism and the mass.

In a public debate in front of the city council, Zwingli argued against Grebel, Manz and George Blaurock. The city council eventually agreed with Zwingli on the issues of infant baptism and re-baptizing. These men and their followers were ordered to stop preaching re-baptism of adults (those who had been baptized as infants), and stop preaching that infant baptism was wrong. They were further ordered that any unbaptized infants must be submitted for baptism within 8 days.

Still believing that Zwingli and the city authorities were wrong, George Blaurock asked Grebel to baptize him. This was the first recorded re-baptism. Grebel went on to baptize hundreds of people. Eventually Grebel was arrested, and sentenced to life in prison. That sentence, as it turned out was short lived. He contracted the plague and died a few months later. He was 28 years of age.

Grebel is yet another example of the tumultuous times of the Reformation. The struggle over many new ideas caused much discussion, debate, and sadly sometimes much error.

Martyred at the age of 29

Not everything that happened during the tumultuous times of the Reformation was pleasant. Yesterday, we looked at Balthasar Hubmair who was burned at the stake, by religious leaders. Today we look at a similar situation that occurred in Zürich Switzerland.

His name was Felix Manz and he was born around 1498. When Zwingli came to Zürich in 1519, Manz joined Bible classes and was excited to learn under the reformer. As the difficult and challenging Reformation years continued, Manz soon began to disagree on points of theology. The issue of baptism became contentious and required the city authorities to step in. Several individuals, not believing that baptism of children was biblical, refused to have their children baptized. They were represented by Manz and Conrad Grebel. Zwingli won, and city hall imposed sanctions on the Swiss Brethren which was led by Grebel and Manz.

These anabaptists, as they were called (meaning re-baptizers) faced severe persecution including fines, imprisonment and banishment. But they continued re-baptizing. Eventually, on March 1526 the city council passed an edict making re-baptism punishable by drowning. On January 5, 1527, Manz was sentenced to death.

It was decided since he was a re-baptizer, that he should be killed by drowning. He was taken from prison to Lake Zürich and he freely called out to all who were listening that he was about to die for truth. His last words before he was drowned were, “my Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He was around 29 years of age.

Burned at the stake, by religious leaders

Balthasar Hubmaier was born around 1480 and died on March 10, 1528. He was trained in Roman Catholic theology, just prior to the Reformation and received his doctorate from Johann Eck. Do you remember who Johann Eck was? He was of the main ones who attacked Luther repeatedly, and was present at the Diet of Worms when Luther gave his famous “Here I Am” speech.

Even though Hubmaier was trained in Catholic theology, he later became convinced that the Reformation ideas taught by Luther and Zwingli were for him. 

He became a devout proponent of Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone should be the authority in regards to God’s pattern for the church and for the individual believer’s life. One of the things that I love about Hubmair most is that he would often use nothing but Scripture in his debates with other church leaders.

Hubmaier wrote that religious heretics shouldn’t be burned at the stake, be-headed, thrown in the stocks, tortured, maimed or killed by the church. We think this notion is crazy, but in that day, it did happen, and it happened to Hubmaier. He became convinced that water baptism was for adult believers, not babies. He would pay for his belief by being burned at the stake in 1528, by other religious figures who branded him a heretic.

The Man who nailed 151 Theses to the door of Castle Church

Born in 1486, Andreas von Karlstadt was at times the recipient of the Pope’s fury, as much as Martin Luther was. Though not opposed to indulgences at first, Karlstadt eventually came to the understanding that salvation and forgiveness could not be bought and sold. He wrote 151 theses and nailed them to the door of Castle Church on April 26, 1517, 6 months before Luther did. But little came of the nailing of his theses.

Karlstadt and Luther had a complicated relationship. Karlstadt was the university professor who conferred Luther’s doctorate. He was almost excommunicated with Luther in 1520 in Pope Leo X’s papal bull, Exsurge Domine. Later in 1521, he was finally excommunicated with Luther.

There were a number of misunderstandings between Luther and Karlstadt who clashed repeatedly. In 1524, Luther started to campaign against Karlstadt, denying his right to publish and preach without Luther’s authorization. Luther later published the Letter to the Saxon Princes, in which he argued that Thomas Muntzer and Karlstadt agreed, and were both dangerous.

Later that same year, Luther preached in Jena, Germany. Karlstadt was in the crowd during Luther’s preaching, and wrote to Luther, asking to see him. This led to the confrontation at the Black Bear Inn.  Luther was convinced that Karlstadt was in agreement with Thomas Muntzer (we will get to him at a later time) But the truth of the matter was, Karlstadt rejected Thomas Muntzer’s invitation to join the League of the Elect. Karlstadt didn’t believe in the violence that was coming from some of the radical reformers. Violence that eventually led to the German Peasants’ War. 

Because of these reasons and others, Karlstadt eventually moved to Zurich and eventually Basel Switzerland, where he died in 1541 from the plague.

A Pope, Indulgences, and a Wild Boar

Pope Leo X published a bulla, called Exsurge Domine, in which he had this to stay about Martin Luther.

Arise O Lord, and judge your cause. For a wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.”

With these words, the pope was referring to Luther as an unrestrained wild pig causing havoc.

Pope Leo X was born as Giovanni de’Medici in Florence Italy on December 11, 1475.  He was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the powerful Medici family that had by the fifteenth century become prominent bankers and politicians in Florence. By the age of 14, he was a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. The Medicis were exiled from Florence, causing Giovanni to travel to France, Germany and even Holland for several years. in 1503, when his older brother died, Giovanni became the head of the Medici family and became involved in politics. Eventually assuming a powerful role in Italian politics, he was captured and imprisoned by the French army. Eventually he escaped, and was considered by many a hero.

When Pope Julius II died, Giovanni was chosen as his replacement. He was 37 when he became Pope in 1513. A patron of the arts, he is considered one of the most extravagant of all Popes.

He survived an assignation attempt, but he is most known for his battle with Martin Luther. Initially he saw Luther as an inconvenience. But before long, he realized that the indulgence controversy, combined with Luther calling into question Papal Authority, was a threat to the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Leo X died in 1521, while the Reformation spread like wildfire.


When a Coin in the Coffer Rings

Johann (John) Tetzel – People of the Reformation

You’ve heard the phrase, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” But who popularized that saying? His name was John Tetzel, and his message was that the purchase of indulgences from the Pope held as much power for forgiving sin, as did Jesus dying on the cross!

John Tetzel would ride into a German village, set up a theatrical stage, and dramatically convince people to give of their money to purchase relatives our of purgatory or in some cases, pre-pay for their own sins. He had a quaint little saying; “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”

Tetzel was born in Saxony in 1465, and died August 11, 1519, almost two years after Luther nailed the 95 theses that was the spark that lit the Reformation. He joined the order of Dominican monks in 1489. He became known for selling indulgences. In 1517, he was selling indulgences, commissioned by the pope near Wittenberg. He claimed that the papal cross, under which these indulgences were sold, held as much power as the cross of Christ.

The selling of indulgences was a practice that was started during the Crusades to raise money for the church. People could purchase from the church a letter that supposedly freed a dead loved one from purgatory. But in this case, some of the proceeds were intended to help Pope Leo X pay for a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that he wanted built. The Pope taught that indulgences could free a soul from God’s wrath but he was really fundraising for St. Peter’s Basilica.

This practice enraged Luther, for several reasons. When Luther’s parishioners asked him about the indulgences, he became concerned that there would cease to be true repentance. He determined that there must be a public debate on the matter. So on October 31, 1517, he nailed a list of Ninety-five Theses regarding indulgences to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Initially, Luther didn’t want division, he earnestly wanted the church to be aware of this harmful practice. But in the end, Pope Leo X needed more $ to finance his extravagant lifestyle. The selling of indulgences continued, and Luther became convinced that this was not of God.


Bonfire of the Vanities

Savonarola was troubled by the vice and sin in his city of Florence. He cried against gambling, of fine clothes and jewelry and luxuries of all sorts. He denounced the works of famous artists, who painted immodestly dressed people. He is most famous for the Bonfire of Vanities in 1497 in which he had gaming tables, cards, carnival masks, mirrors, ornaments, nude statues and indecent books burned in the street.

As you can imagine, not everyone was happy about this. The Borgia pope, Pope Alexander VI became increasingly angry at Savonarola, especially when Savonarola preached against the waste and vice of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Alexander VI was known to have mistresses and fathered several children. He acknowledged this and didn’t care who knew it.

Alexander eventually banned him from further preaching. Savonarola obeyed, for a few months, but then he defied the pope and resumed his sermons, which increased in fervor against the sins in the church.

Pope Alexander VI eventually became tired of hearing the preaching of Savonarola, and sentenced him to death. The method of execution was burning at the stake. A priest standing nearby asked Savonarola what he felt about this approaching martyrdom. His reply? ‘The Lord has suffered as much for me.”

Though he died in 1498, his ideas were picked up by the early reformers. Martin Luther read some of the friar’s writings and praised him as a martyr and forerunner whose ideas on faith and grace anticipated Luther’s own doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Morning Star of the Reformation

Ever heard of the man who died and was buried? Yes, that is normal. But here is what is not normal about John Wycliffe. 44 years AFTER he was dead, his bones were dug out of the ground and burned!

John Wycliffe was born sometime in the 1320s. Receiving a good education, he taught for sometime. He grew increasingly frustrated with the church selling indulgences and simony. Simony was when high church offices were purchased.

Wycliffe came to believe that the scriptures were the only reliable guide to the truth about God.  He preached and wrote that Christians should rely on the Bible rather than on the teachings of popes and clerics. This of course made the Pope and church angry. Believing that Scripture should be able to read by the common individual, he began to translate the Scriptures into English.

He died in 1384 of a stroke. But his teachings continued to spread. So much that the church believed something needed to be done about it. So in 1415, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic, and banned his writings, effectively both excommunicating him retroactively and making him an early forerunner of Protestantism.

The Council furthered wrote that Wycliffe’s works should be burned and his remains removed from consecrated ground. This order, confirmed by Pope Martin V, was carried out in 1428, 13 years after the Council, and 44 years after his death. Wycliffe’s corpse was exhumed and burned and the ashes cast into the river.

Open the King of England’s eyes

William Tyndale wrote, “I would that the Gospels and the epistles of Paul were translated into all languages, of all Christian people, and that they might be read and known.” This became his passion, and would result in his death.

Born in 1494 in Gloucester, by 1510 he was studying in Oxford, then Cambridge. A student and master of languages, he desired to translate the New Testament into English so that the common people could read the Bible. In 1523 he sought permission and funds from the bishop of London to translate the New Testament. The bishop denied his request, and also said that he was not welcome to translate the New Testament anywhere in England!

Tyndale traveled to cities in Germany, Hamburg, Wittenberg, Cologne, and eventually to Worms. By 1525, his New Testament emerged: the first translation from Greek into the English language. King Henry VIII, was angry. Thomas More, said  that it was”not worthy to be called Christ’s testament, but either Tyndale’s own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist.”

After years of struggles and battles, in August 1536, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic. Then on Friday, October 6, he was brought to the cross in the middle of the town square and given a chance to recant. He refused. John Foxe said Tyndale’s final words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

A burned goose and a hammer-wielding swan

According to writings, as his executioners were about to burn Jan Hus (or John Huss) at the stake, he wrote in his prison cell,“Today you burn a goose, but in one hundred years a swan will arise which you will prove unable to boil or roast.”

Why did Hus identify himself as a goose and what was he referring to about a swan? Let’s answer the first question first.

Hus was born about 1372, in a Bohemian town of called Husinec. The actual meaning of Husinec is Goosetown. His surname, which comes from his place of birth, means goose.

Hus was influenced by the morning star of the Reformation, Wycliffe. Hus wanted to make Scripture accessible to the people. He began to believe that some of the practices of the Church, were against Scripture. He was critical of the veneration of Mary and the saints. He didn’t believe that the practice of withholding the chalice from the common people was right. Several times Hus referred to priests and popes as “antichrist.” He even disregarded papal bulls when they contradicted Scripture. Huss preached passionately against this misuse of the church’s authority not only to sell forgiveness. He came to believe that only Scripture was infallible, and that the church fathers and popes could err. This was later included in what the Reformers called sola Scriptura. He became known as God’s little goose. His beliefs angered the church, and on July 6, 1415, Hus was stripped of his clerical robes, and burned to death at the stake.

Nearly 100 years later, 102 years to be exact, a man by the name Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Church. Ordained as a monk, in his quest for truth, he discovered the message of Wycliffe and Hus, and was profoundly shaped by them. As you study the life, writings, and influence of Luther, you will discover that he is closely associated with a swan. Whether this was intentional or not, we do know that Luther continued the Reformation that was started by Wycliffe and Huss. Though I have yet to experience it for myself, I am told that many Lutheran Churches today embrace the swan as one of their symbols.

Coincidence or not, many believe that Hus’s prophecy about a swan doing a unstoppable work was fulfilled in the life of Martin Luther.