The year was 1527 and there was a strange story being spread in Austria. There was supposedly a magic potion that people drank, causing them to change drastically. A person became serious minded, stopped what he or she used to do, and was willing to suffer and die before giving up their beliefs.
One of the supposed recipients of the potion responded to this rumor while in prison. His name was Leonard Schiemer and he was beheaded soon after writing the following.
“Let us say you are right…[for] the liquid in the vial is made from nothing else than a struck down, ground up, rubbed apart, and sorrowful heart pulverized in the mortar and pestle of the cross…and it is the liquid which our dear brother and friend, Christ Jesus, drank-mixed with vinegar and gall.
Truly the liquid in it is such an awful liquid that no one can drink it without his neighbors taking note that he is totally changed!” (33)
World turned upside-down
Schiemer was one of the thousands who were known as the Anabaptists.
Many of the lives and deaths of the early Anabaptists are recorded in a daunting, oversized book written in a style that is hard to understand. The most noteworthy of these martyrs have become legends among the Mennonite and Amish circles. Their fortitude of mind and unapologetic convictions have put them on pedestals where we wave at them every once in a while but never seek to know and understand why they were so willing to die for their faith. At least, I never did.
Encountering Mennonites that lacked passion, I assumed that their forefathers must also be dry, boring and lacking passion. This was my thinking before I read the book The Secret of the Strength by Peter Hoover.
There were literally thousands upon thousands of people in Europe that became Anabaptist during a time it was most dangerous to do so. The governments were afraid of the Anabaptists and tried their best to get rid of them. They were hunted, they were killed without trial, and all the great men of the Catholic and Protestant church, including Luther and Zwingli, spoke against them. They were mocked, they were betrayed, and they were humiliated; yet their number only increased. The world at that time was said to be turned upside down because of them.
Answer to stagnation
For more than one hundred years, Europe was red with the blood of these believers who so bravely stood for their faith in the face of trial, fire, and the sword. But Hoover, as he states in the book, did not write this book for enjoyment or pleasure; rather it is meant to “trouble and perturb” (209), and maybe even vex.
Hoover himself can trace his ancestors back to the Anabaptists several different ways. He calls those who can do the same to be neither proud nor ashamed (and there is reason for both) of their heritage and goes on to call us to Christ. The answer for the stagnant Anabaptist today is not to go back to traditions but to go forward with Christ.
The most fascinating thing I found about this book (and there is a lot that is fascinating!) was how the very things that brought the Anabaptist movement to a halt are the very same issues that I see and hear young people getting angry and frustrated about with the Mennonite church today.
A splintering movement
The Anabaptists in the Netherlands were reported to hand out sudden excommunications over trivial matters instead of using church discipline for open sins among the brotherhood, as taught in Scripture. Those who doubted what the church and its elders said were in danger of being kicked out of the church. Excommunication was used freely and in cases where there was no evident sin involved.
The Swiss and South German brothers felt the churches in the Netherlands used discipline in a “rash authoritarian way” (199). They, in turn, accused the Swiss brethren of having false doctrine in regard to excommunication and soon wrote a letter excommunicating them, along with their leaders.
Many churches started splintering because of their many different beliefs on how a Christian should live. They threw each other out of their churches en masse. It was just the beginning of pride in leadership that destroyed the body of Christ and the unity that is to be found there. They became so wrapped up in trying to keep the traditions of their forefathers that they lost Jesus.
Unity in Christ
The very people who were at one time the most feared throughout the land became the brunt end of many jokes as the Catholics and Protestants laughed at “their many divisions and small-minded rules” (204). As it was then, so it is often today. Instead of pursuing Christ and finding unity in Him, the church is pursuing unity expecting to find Christ.
Let us not be discouraged because we have forgotten what our ancestors died for. We do not have to continue this way. I tremble to imagine a church impassioned and set ablaze for the name of Christ. It starts with you and me, as individuals, in our prayer closets on our knees before the Lord. Let us then pray for courage and boldness so that we, like our forefathers, may rise to pursue Jesus at all costs.
Download “The Secret of The Strength” for free at: http://www.gw.org/Sos/Sos.pdf
|Linda Hershey lives in the beautiful mountains of Mexico. She desires that all people would know and serve God as He desires to be known and served. She loves to make people smile and can rarely turn down an invitation to a good discussion. When she is not cooking in the kitchen, you might find her learning Spanish, helping with children’s classes, or attending Bible studies. She also enjoys playing and writing music, and reading thought-provoking books.