Arguing with Radicals

Huldrich_zwingli 8In the middle of January, 1525, Zwingli and the other Pastors in Zurich were in a pitched battle against the radicals who were then urging their followers to abandon the Reformation and speed ahead with a total severance from society.  1525 would become the year during which Zwingli spent the majority of his time battling these ’causers of unrest’.

Indeed, things had already developed to such a threatening level to the well being of the city that in December the year before Zwingli had written  his scathing Wer Ursache gebe zu Aufruhr. In March of 1525 Zwingli published De vera et falsa religione commentarius, which took a swipe at both the old believers and the radicals.   In April the trial of some rebaptizers was observed by Zwingli; in May his Von der Taufe… appeared.   In June, Von den Predigtamt took to task those asserting pastoral and preaching privileges even though they lacked the appropriate tools.  And in November, the Antwort über Balthasar Hubmaiers Taufbüchlein saw the light of day.

All of these books were ‘conflict’ oriented and 1525 was perhaps the most conflict ridden of Zwingli’s life.   And that doesn’t take into account the opening of a front against an inaccurate understanding of the Lord’s Supper which was then developing and would come to a head at Marburg in 1529.

Notwithstanding all these disputations and difficulties, Zwingli maintained a cheerful disposition.  Depression and despair would stay away until 1531, when early in the summer, he would try to resign.

The historically ignorant to this day constantly insist that the Radicals were chiefly interested in infant baptism and its abolition.  This is not the case.  Nor is it the case that they insisted on baptism by immersion- since they were happy both to sprinkle and to pour.  No, their aim was far more inappropriate: they wanted a Church separated from society.

As Schaff puts it so pointedly:

The first and chief aim of the Radicals was not (as is usually stated) the opposition to infant baptism, still less to sprinkling or pouring, but the establishment of a pure church of converts in opposition to the mixed church of the world. The rejection of infant baptism followed as a necessary consequence. They were not satisfied with separation from popery; they wanted a separation from all the ungodly. They appealed to the example of the disciples in Jerusalem, who left the synagogue and the world, gathered in an upper room, sold their goods, and held all things in common. They hoped at first to carry Zwingli with them, but in vain; and then they charged him with treason to the truth, and hated him worse than the pope.

Zwingli could not follow the Anabaptists without bringing the Reformation into discredit with the lovers of order, and rousing the opposition of the government and the great mass of the people. He opposed them, as Augustin opposed the schismatical Donatists. He urged moderation and patience. The Apostles, he said, separated only from the open enemies of the gospel, and from the works of darkness, but bore with the weak brethren. Separation would not cure the evils of the Church. There are many honest people who, though weak and sick, belong to the sheepfold of Christ, and would be offended at a separation. He appealed to the word of Christ, “He that is not against me, is for me,” and to the parable of the tares and the wheat. If all the tares were to be rooted up now, there would be nothing left for the angels to do on the day of final separation.

The Radicals couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate such sensibility.  So they stirred civil unrest.  That the authorities could not tolerate, and the Radicals reaped the whirlwind.

Author: Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.

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