Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anabaptist Roots of the Restoration Movement Part 3 (Hist Theo Paper)

Mass and Baptism

Zwingli was firmly committed to the principle that the church should make no laws, rules, practices, or ceremonies apart from what was authorized or prescribed in the Bible. This truly set him at odds with the dominant church culture of his day. Moreover, it set him at odds with his fellow reformer, Martin Luther. Allen and Hughes explain:

Unlike Luther, he [Zwingli] made no clear distinction between a spiritual reformation and an institutional one. As a result, Zwingli tended to see in the Bible a normative pattern for all aspects of church life. (Allen and Hughes 1988, 26)

Zwingli abandoned the use of the lectionary and began to preach directly from the text of Scripture (a radical idea at the time). Zwingli and his followers even began to divest themselves and their places of worship of those things they couldn’t find authority for in scripture, such as the ornate icons and musical instruments. This, however, is where Zwingli’s politics and ideas on church and government seems to become problematic from the perspective of his more radical followers (and by proxy from a Restorationist perspective). While Zwingli proposed and supported the abolishment of the Mass, he agreed to postpone it’s abolishment and even some of his reforms until people had a chance to come around to his way of thinking (though he did insist on the scriptures being read in the language that the people actually spoke and understood). This capitulation seems to be the breaking point for Grebel, and a rift begins to form. Zwingli originally backed a plan to abolish the mass and establish a new “evangelical” communion on Christmas Day, 1523. This plan was dropped in favor of an obvious compromise plan that Zwingli signed off on (though he may have simply been outvoted by the counsel that ultimately made the decision). Seemingly in response to this, Grebel vented his frustration to his former teacher Vadian in a letter dated September 3, 1524:

Look at the reason for all my audacity. I have waited, and they have not spoken. They stood still and have not responded. I shall both respond on my part and declare the knowledge of God. For I am full of things to say, and the spirit in my inner being compels me. Behold my belly is as new wine without a vent, which bursts new wineskins. I shall speak and I shall take a little breath. I shall open my lips and I shall respond. I shall not accept the person of man, and I shall not equate God with men…They lay out plans, not by the Spirit of God. They take counsel and not from God, so that sin is added to sin, so that they descend into Egypt without consulting the mouth of the Lord, so hope is put in the help and strength of Pharaoh, and confidence is placed in the shade of Egypt, so that the strength of Pharaoh becomes a confusion and the confidence in the shade of Egypt becomes a disgrace. (Harder 1985, 283-284)

Grebel and his cohort felt that Zwingli was a sellout who was moving too slow for political reasons. Zwingli, on the other hand felt that they were rash, impatient, and imprudent in their rush toward massive, sweeping change.

The issue that really brought things to a head, however was baptism. In his study of scripture, Grebel was led to a “new” understanding of baptism that, to say the least, stood in contrast to the dominant understanding and practice in the Christianity of his day. In a letter to Thomas Mutnzer, dated September 5, 1524, Grebel explains his position:

The Scriptures describe baptism for us, that it signifies the washing away of sins by faith and the blood of Christ (that the nature of the baptized and believing one is changed afterwards), that it signifies on has died and shall (die) to sin and walks in newness of life and Spirit and one will surely be saved if one through the inward baptism lives the faith according to this meaning, so that the water does not strengthen and increase faith and give a very great comfort and last resort on the deathbed as the scholars at Wittenberg say. (Harder, 1985, 290)

Grebel was thus led to the belief that baptism is an act of faith, and thereby something that one should enter into as a conscious choice. Further, he carried this conviction of believer’s baptism to it’s natural conclusion…that infant baptism was not only futile and meaningless, but a practice that should be abolished out of faithfulness to God. In the same letter, he also espoused the view that unbaptized children and infants were saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and remained in that state until they developed the faculties to make a decision based on faith. Grebel was even so bold as to point out that he was parting ways with Augustine, Tertullian, Theophylact, and Cyprian, accusing them of “dishonoring the faith and the sufferings of Christ for mature adults and dishonoring the suffering of Christ for unbaptized infants”

Though early on, Zwingli appears to have admitted that one should probably be baptized based on a decision and faith commitment, he later retracted this statement, presumably for political reasons. As the government turned it’s attention toward the persecution of the group they named “the Anabaptists”, Zwingli directed his considerable ire towards them as well.

Zwingli responded to the Anabaptist in a short pamphlet entitled “Those Who Give Cause For Rebellion” in 1524. Early on he makes an odd rhetorical maneuver by arguing that…

If one baptizes infants they cry out that there is no abomination, atrocity, or sin in Christendom than baptizing infants. And they daily bring forth more silly arguments than Africa produces strange beasts. But still they do not tame their tongues from slander, gossip, envy, wrath, strife and hatred, but they say that whoever does as they do has a just spirit. (Harder, 1985, 316-317)

Though most of us would certainly agree that the things he lists (slander, gossip, etc.) are not befitting a Christian (and I would admit, if true would undermine the Anabaptist movement as a whole), they don’t counter the point about infant baptism in the slightest. It appears to be a sort of rhetorical “dodge”. Later, in the same document, Zwingli attempts to counter an anticipated objection to his argument:

Now, we do not find in the New Testament that infant baptism is either commanded or forbidden. For by raising the objection that the apostles did not baptize infants, and therefore they should not be baptized, they prove nothing; else I could also argue: the apostles baptized no one in Calcutta, hence nobody in Calcutta should be baptized. (Harder, 1985, 319)

Here, Zwingli employs weak logic that is not only uncharacteristic of him, but actually seems to contradict his own (stronger) logic on other points in his quest for reformation. In fact, when he does get around to actually attempting to counter their point, the bulk of his argument rests on equating baptism with circumcision in the Old Testament. I dare say that Zwingli would not have tolerated such flimsy arguments from his opponents. Zwingli’s motivation here certainly appears to be political and this can be seen in the statements he uses to preface the argument against the Anabaptists:

First the reject the state, then they want to keep the state; and yet no one in government is a Christian. Now they want to have their own church, later the government shall not use force to protect the preaching of the gospel. (Harder, 1985, 316)

It can be argued that all of this political influence winds up being tragic for everyone involved. The Anabaptists are hunted down, tortured and killed by the State, the Church, and often with the compliance and participation of reformers like Zwingli. Zwingli politics and his views on church and state led him into battle (wielding a double headed sword or axe depending on which account you read). Tradition tells us that the Catholic soldiers who found his body burned it and mixed his ashes with dung.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Lesson on "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People"

Here is the audio of a lesson I did for Grand Central titled "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" My podcast can be found at or you can click on the badge below:

Join The Revolution

The Teachings of Adam Ellis

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Enjoy! -- Adam Ellis

Monday, April 23, 2007

Anabaptist Roots of the Restoration Movement Part 2 (Hist. Theo. Paper)

*Note: In the final version of the paper, I edited several typos that were in the introduction. Here is part 2 of my exploration into the Anabaptist Roots of the Restoration Movement:

The primacy of scripture

In the introduction to his 1809 “Declaration and Address”, Thomas Campbell wrote:

“Our desire therefore, for ourselves and our brethren would be, that, rejecting human opinions and the inventions of men as of any authority, or as having any place in the Church of God, we might forever cease from further contentions about such things; returning to and holding fast by the original standard; taking the Divine word alone for our rule; the Holy Spirit for our teacher and guide, to lead us into all truth; and Christ alone, as exhibited in the word, for our salvation; that, by so doing, we may be at peace among ourselves, follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”[1]

Here, in the embryonic stages of the Restoration movement, in one of the earliest documents connected with it, Thomas Campbell lays out the “controlling idea” from which our movement takes its shape. The concept is further worked out in the document’s subsequent propositions (particularly Propositions 1, 4 and 6), and eventually becomes popularized with the slogan “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent”. This idea certainly appears to stand in stark contrast to the religious landscape of the time. Even so, the idea is certainly not new. Its historical roots run back through the Reformation.

While my main focus is to reveal the “roots of Restoration” in early Swiss Anabaptism, I would certainly be remiss if I neglected to briefly explore them in Ulrich Zwingli, the reluctant/unwilling father of the Anabaptist Movement. In his sermon entitled “Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God”, Zwingli states:

And so it is with every soul. Once it is enlightened by God, it can find no assurance or consolation or encouragement in the word of man, but only in the Word of God; and like the disciples in John 6 it says: “Lord, to whom shall I go? Thou hast the words of life,” that is, Thy Word quickens and restores and gives life, so that the soul is comforted and bound to thee, and cannot trust in any other word but thine. (Bromiley 1953, 85)

Here, as much as in any of his other writings, Zwingli states his basic proposition that Scripture should be the authoritative, normative guide for our faith and practice. Indeed, in Zwingli’s thought, the traditions and proclamations of men (particularly from as expressed in the dominant church hierarchy of the time) were null and void if they could not be found in the simple and straightforward text of Scripture.

One of Zwingli’s brightest protégés was a young man named Conrad Grebel. Grebel drank in Zwingli’s ideas and words like cold water to a man dying of thirst. Further, he eventually carried them out to their (arguably) natural implications. This led Grebel and his followers/contemporaries down paths that made even Zwingli uncomfortable. Grebel and his likeminded friends were perplexed at Zwingli’s apparent inability and/or unwillingness to reach these conclusions, as they saw them as reforms demanded by a return to a commitment to the authority and primacy of Scripture.

At the end of a response to the Bishop of Constance, penned primarily by Zwingli, a poem by Grebel is included. While Zwingli was indeed fiery in his rhetoric, this poem provides an early glimpse of Grebel’s arguably more fiery and revolutionary take on Zwingli’s ideas. The poem is entitled “in gratitude for the gospel restored”. The text reads as follows:

In fury let them burst, the bishops all

So called in name, but grasping wolves in fact

For now again the gospel truth and light

Shines bright throughout the world like once of old.

And then intrepid tri-tongued Lucifers

Were sent to us, but God is now our Lord.

Indeed (I speak truth as prophets spoke)

Their way of sovereignty and tyranny,

Their keys, their codes, their lists of simony,

The slayings of their brother’s moral sense,

Their grim array of holy merchandise,

Their bulls, anathemas, and deisidaimonian [fear-based faith]

All these are vanquished by the gospel Word

That leads, will lead, to everlasting life.

So called in name, but grasping wolves in fact,

The bishops all, in fury let them burst (Harder 1985, 185-186)

So, in both Zwingli and Grebel, we see a commitment to “sola scriptura” that resonates with the ideas of Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Zwingli plants the seeds, but it is Grebel and the Anabaptists who courageously bear the fruits of those ideas. Indeed, it is to these “fruits” that I now turn.

[1] Quoted from Declaration & Address of the Christian Association of Washington County Pennsylvania by Thomas Campbell and a committee of twenty-one, 1809

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Intro to my Historical Theology Paper

I promised you some theology. Here's the intro to the paper I'm writing...


I am a child of the American Restoration Movement. In particular, my faith has been nurtured by the stream of thought in this movement known as the Churches of Christ (a cappella). Growing up in this particular community of faith instilled in me a deep respect and reverence for both God and Scripture. I was taught that the Bible should be our “sole authority on matters of faith and practice”. It was impressed upon me that “the traditions of men” carried no weight in these matters and were the cause of much division and error. As the years passed, I came to realize that our actual practice often fell short of our ideals. While we rejected the traditions of “outsiders”, we created our own traditions that at least seemed to hold as much (if not more) sway with us as Scripture. Further, I found that while “the traditions of men” should not be considered normative and certainly not authoritative, many of these traditions could actually be quite helpful in faith and practice. Even so, I have a great appreciation for the high regard for Scripture that I was taught (and continue to teach) in the Churches of Christ. I’m extremely thankful for my heritage which has located the Bible in the position of authority…governing both my faith and my practice.

The curious thing about Churches of Christ is that generally, we are have become fairly anti-historical. Somewhere along the way, we developed the idea that we were the 1st century church. Some of our church buildings are even adorned with plaques declaring that we were “founded in A.D. 33”! I was in my early 20’s before I ever even heard of the American Restoration Movement. As I began to study it’s history, I was amazed at the fascinating, disappointing/inspiring, depressing/hopeful, tragic/comic, beautiful/ugly, repulsive/engaging story I found. I couldn’t fathom why it was “new information” to me. I couldn’t understand why I mostly had to go to sources from the Independent Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ to learn anything of our shared history. As I dug still further, I ran across a book called Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ by C. Leonard Allen[1]. This book was written from the perspective of my particular tradition and traced our history back to influences long before the American Restoration Movement. I found that we owed quite a bit to the Anabaptist tradition. It is precisely that ancestry that I wish to explore here.

[1] This relatively small book was published in 1988 by Abilene Christian University Press and was extremely enlightening for me.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Thank you SNL!

I'll post something theological tomorrow and get off my Sanjaya soapbox, but I thought this was too good not to post. Enjoy!