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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

Anabaptists whose partners belonged to the State Churches


Hoffman, while he believed in the incarnation, held that Jesus received His flesh directly from God, and did not owe His body to the Virgin Mother, through whom He passed "as light through a pane of glass." He also held that the whole history of the world, down to the last days, was revealed in Scripture, and could be discovered through prayer and meditation. He was an eloquent and persuasive preacher, and his views were accepted by many; but it would be a great mistake to assume that they were shared in by the Anabaptists as a community. Yet even contemporaries, who were opponents, usually attribute the extreme opinions of a few to the entire body.

It ought to be observed that this tolerance of different opinions within the one society did not extend to those who remained true to the State Churches, whether Romanist or Reformed. The Anabaptists would have nothing to do with a State Church; and this was the main point in their separation from the Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists. It was perhaps the _one_ conception on which all parties among them were in absolute accord. The real Church, which might be small or great, was for them an association of believing people; and the great ecclesiastical institutions into which unconscious infants were admitted by a ceremony called baptism long before they could have or exercise faith, represented to them an idea subversive of true Christianity. They had no wish to persecute men who differed widely

from them, but they would not associate with them. This enforced "separation," like everything else connected with Anabaptism, differed considerably in the way in which it was carried into practice. In some of the smaller sections it appeared in very extravagant forms. Wives and husbands, Anabaptists whose partners belonged to the State Churches, were in some small sections advised to refuse cohabitation. It is more than probable that some recorded sayings on which opponents have founded charges of encouraging sexual irregularities,--that it was better for women to have connection irregularly with members of the brotherhood than to cohabit with unbelieving husbands,--were simply extravagant ways of expressing this duty of separation.

It is also true that as time went on and sects of extreme opinions multiplied, the excommunication of members for their views came to be a common practice. It was as frequent among some of the smaller divisions as it is among modern Plymouth Brethren; but the occasion was, as a rule, difference of opinion about the way to express and exercise the duty of not returning evil for evil--was it permitted to pay taxes or not? was it lawful to see without protest their protectors using force to prevent their enemies from attacking them, etc.?

The earlier ideas of non-resistance, whatever practical shape they might take, gave way before the continuous and terrible persecution which the Anabaptists had to endure. They were first definitely condemned by Melchior Hoffman and his followers. They believed in the speedy establishment on earth of the millennial kingdom of Christ, and they declared that they were ready to fight for it when it appeared. With them the conception was simply a pious opinion, and they had no occasion to reduce it to action. The Anabaptists, however, who followed the teaching of Jan Matthys and of his disciple Jan Bockelson, repudiated passive resistance both in theory and in practice.

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