Other Resemblance and Dissonance with the Restoration Movement
The first believer’s baptism of the Reformation was performed when Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock in January 21, 1525. Most Restorationists would applaud this monumental, catalytic event were it not for one detail. Blaurock was not baptized by immersion. Though it is difficult for most of us to grasp, the method of baptism simply wasn’t the issue at the time. It can be argued, however, that this event in 1525 set the stage for us to even be able to explore that question. This is a good example of the curious resemblance and dissonance that the Restoration Movement has with the early Swiss Anabaptist movement.
In his letter to Thomas Muntzer on September 5, 1524, Conrad Grebel goes to great lengths to describe this fledgling movement and to even list many of its defining beliefs. In addition to what has already been mentioned, there are many points of both connection and dissonance with the Restoration Movement that can be found in this correspondence. Like the Campbells, Grebel clearly believes that the Church had “fallen away” and sees his movement as seeking to restore simple, primitive Christianity by returning to what is revealed in Scripture. Grebel took this to the extreme of understanding the silence of Scripture on a given subject to be prohibitive. In regards to chanting, he explains to Muntzer:
Whatever we are not taught in definite statements and examples, we are to consider forbidden, as if it were written, “Do not do this, do not chant.” (Harder, 1985, 287)
This certainly resonates with the dominant hermeneutic of CENI (Command, Example and Necessary Inference) in the Restoration movement. In relation to the Lord’s Supper, Grebel contends that there should be no chanting or liturgy, but rather only the reading of relevant Bible passages from the New Testament. Restorationist would resonate with this in some ways, however they would tend to balk when Grebel presumes to list which passages are relevant and appropriate (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11) and insists that “neither more nor less” than these passages may be used. Grebel also contends for a symbolic understanding of the elements of communion, which most of us would heartily agree with. Additionally, he argues for a common cup, though this should not necessarily be understood as the “one cup/multiple cup” debate from Restoration circles. It most likely has more to do with the dominant practice of the Catholic Church at the time of offering bread to the congregation but reserving the cup only for the priests. In relation to Communion, Grebel makes an additional but interesting point that many from our movement would find odd. He argues that no one should take communion alone as it was a sign of fellowship. Historically, Restoration churches have tended to emphasize personal reflection in this time, and taken the elements of communion to “shut-ins” who are unable to attend our services. It’s an intriguing point, and our movement might benefit from engaging with Grebel’s thought on this. Overall, Grebel outlines a form of patternism that many in the Restoration Movement, particularly Churches of Christ, would resonate with. However’ he applies it more rigorously than most of us in churches of Christ would feel comfortable with, in that he sees the silence of scripture as actually forbidding singing in the assembly. I think I can safely say that many in a tradition that sees a cappella singing as a major part of its identity would have a problem with this. In the broader sense, I can’t imagine any Restoration church wanting to abolish all singing and music from their worship services, nor feeling compelled by scripture to do so.
Grebel also articulates an essentially pacifist position. In his letter to Muntzer, he explains:
Moreover, the gospel and its adherents are not to be protected by the sword, nor [should] they [protect] themselves…True believing Christians are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter. (Harder, 1985, 290)
We know from history that Grebel and his followers actually lived this belief out in the face of the worst kind of persecution, torture, and death. We also know that historically, there have been many major thinkers and leaders in the Restoration Movement who resonated with this sentiment, such as David Lipscomb. Even so, this belief, for the most part, stands in contrast to current Restorationist beliefs on the subject.
It has been my intent to briefly reveal the historical “roots” of restoration thought in early Swiss Anabaptism. I believe that the exploration of our history is vitally important for the life and vitality of our movement. It locates us in our story. It gives context to our thoughts and beliefs. It forces us to look hard at our past and remember both the beautiful and the ugly. It helps us to avoid the same dangers and mistakes that have been made in the past. It gives us hope for the future as we see how the gospel has changed the world again and again in the past.
Allen, Leonard C, and Hughes, Richard T. 1988. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ.
Bromiley, G. W., ed. 1953. Zwingli and Bullinger.
Harder, Leland, ed. 1985. The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism. Scottdale: Herald Press.