The most influential group of people in today’s modern day Baptist is largely contributed to the works of the early Anabaptist of the 16th century. This occurred during the time of the renaissance when it was experiencing an explosion of arts and new perspective on humanity in Italy and in Venice. This was a place where man’s intrinsic values were metaphorically put on a pedestal and emulated. While Germany also experienced its own renaissance, a revival in the Church, called the reformation was occurring too. All throughout the centuries since the New Testament Church people have always been trying to return to its value and its polity. The Pope had controlled the Church and they fell into deep heresies. Anyone who resisted the Churches interpretation was killed. The resistance grew weak and was nearly lost if it were not for the courage and conviction of a few men who choose to fear God instead of man. Balthasar Hubmaier was one of those men. He was an Anabaptist, a man devoted to scripture and its teachings, although his work was almost forgotten as well. Dr. Paige Patterson president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and College has brought to life the teachings of these great saints and are remembered in his writings and The Anabaptist and Contemporary Baptists, a book contributed and in honor of his contributions. In this book of compiled essays by some of the best scholars in the subject have shown the value of, and what we can learn from the Anabaptist.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section is devoted to the Anabaptist (1) Theology, (2) life and works of Balthasar Hubmaier, (3) and Anabaptist history. Beginning with the theology of the Anabaptist Dr. Paige Patterson writes the first essay entitled, “What Contemporary Baptist Can Learn from the Anabaptists (11).” It is important to note from his conclusion one main point. He leaves it with an opened ended question. The question of whether “certain connection” can be made between Baptist and Anabaptist (25). This is important because the entire book attempts to make this one connection. Indirectly, the connections are clear but never does this one question receive a full answer. It is left in ambiguity with the evidence brought together by scholars for the reader to decide whether there is one between the Anabaptist and the contemporary Baptist.
One overarching theme that is consistent throughout the entire compiled works is both the Anabaptist devotion to scripture and its practical application to ones life. It is clear to see that their complete devotion and studying of God’s Word instilled a reverent fear of God in them. Dr. Paige Patterson quotes, “The Bible alone was the guide to their newly found faith, and this Bible they read assiduously from cover to cover (14).” It was not only an Anabaptist distinctive but also what primarily lead to what is now contemporary Baptist theology. The Catholics and The Magisterial reformers did not share this view of the scripture. The Catholics rejected biblical truth, while the Magisterial reformers based everything on election (41). The Anabaptist focused on the transformed life in Christ. They respected scripture defined as, “allowing Scripture to provide its own form for Christian theology (31).” As a result to having a proper respect for scripture it naturally lead to right hermeneutics and therefore proper doctrines. One example includes the doctrine of the Trinity. Micheal Sattler revived this difficult doctrine of the Trinity. A doctrine that was vague and difficult at the time to understand the Anabaptist were unashamed to boldly state that God the Father was equally God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (38). Having this proper understanding of the Trinity affected all other doctrines. The doctrine of the Trinity explains everything that finite minds can know about God. From being a model for all our relationships and purpose in life to why sins of omission, and disunity are anti-biblical. This doctrine produced in the Anabaptist an impenetrable force against the Catholic and Magisterial reformers. When a group can come together they can accomplish more together then they ever would alone and the doctrine of the Trinity transformed their community. Their respect for Scripture did not just remain in their academics like many contemporary Christians today leave it encompassed every facet of their lives. The Anabaptist were courageous and enjoyed true freedom in Christ because they embraced the cross completely. William Schiemer teaches that a believer must, “submit to the cross and endure its pain [internally especially but possibly externally as well],” to receive the comfort of the Spirit (55). Dr. Wilkinson shows from this lesson one can learn from the Anabaptist that God intends to give us happiness but it is “often not what we expect or even want (63).”
Secondly, the life of Balthasar Hubmaier was also marked by strict devotion to the scriptures. When the Catholics and Particular Baptist were defending infant Baptism Balthasar Hubmaier appealed to Scripture to find that nowhere in the Bible does it support the baptism of infants. Against the Particular Baptist like Luther, and Calvin who defended election and God’s limited atonement Hubmaier showed the vanity of God’s commands, and exhortations if he did God did not give the people the choice of freewill. In Hubmaier’s Apologia he writes, “If people were deprived of their free will God could never by just judgment condemn the sinner on account of his sins (152).” It was also his appeal to the trichotomy of man that helped him understand the fall and what parts of man where lost. Unlike the Particular Baptist who rejected that there is any good in man Hubmaier explains the death experienced by Adam and Eve and all mankind after the fall was only a wounding of the Soul that could be, “repaired through the Word of God (160).” It was also Hubmaier that showed the Catholic Church the proper understanding of the Lords Supper. It was not the literal body and blood of Christ but it was, “the visual reminder of the covenant into which one entered at Baptist (175).” While defending that it was the Holy Spirit who served as mediator for the presence of God and not the actual flesh and blood.
Finally, one can also see from History that the Anabaptist were focused not on the opinions of men, the church, or the culture of the renaissance but the Word of God. Primarily focusing on Erasmus and his contribution and translation of the New Testament. He introduced a new and fresh academic approach to scripture that literally changed the vulgate. In the Vulgate he found mistakes including, “do penance” for “repentance (192)” A concept that the Catholic’s rejected in order to maintain their false system. Without Erasmus and his fresh interpretation of Scripture Luther would never have had the necessary scholarly work that contributed largely to his own German translation. Which, in addition to the printing press it is said that he would never have had the impact he had without his translation for the German people to read in their own language. Finally, we also see the devotion of the Italian Anabaptist and acceptance of the cross when thousands were massacred for defending Trinitarian theology in the midst of a culture that rejected this doctrine (254).
The question still remains, is there a connection between Anabaptist and contemporary Baptist? Perhaps not, that is in the sense that contemporary Baptist today are lacking that strong foundation the Anabaptist had in the Word of God. However, one can still learn from their example and from the proof of history, that when life is done according to the Bible it is inevitably going to change the culture. This book strongly supported its claim and defended it well. It is a fact in history that was nearly lost if it were not for the revival Dr. Paige Patterson caused among contemporary scholars and Baptist today to remember this example.