There was diversity in group we label historically as Anabaptists.
For the sake of these articles we will use three categories, the “mainstream”, the “spiritualists”, and the “revolutionaries”.
Today we will deal with the difficult legacy of the “revolutionaries” and “spiritualists”.
The two categories unfortunately inbred and the results were disastrous.
The spiritualists had a distinct emphasis on the Holy Spirit and often claimed to have received divine revelation.
They trafficked in dreams and visions, often apocalyptic in nature.
Their theology was shaped as often by special revelation as by Scripture.
Protestants and Catholics alike were fearful that these “heretics” would disturb both the religious and social orders…and their fears began to be realized in 1525.
Thomas Münster left Roman Catholicism after reading Luther’s 95 Theses…then was rejected by Luther after he applied a political angle to the Reformation.
Münster envisioned a communist kingdom of God and is hailed in some places today as the father of liberation theology.
He saw himself as the new Daniel, even offering to interpret the princes dreams…while threatening to take over their territories as the leader of the new “kingdom of God”.
Invoking a divine revelation that assured them victory, he led 8000 peasants into war against the princes.
They were slaughtered, he was captured, and later beheaded.
The fears of both the Protestants and Rome for the peace of society had been realized, but the worst was yet to come.
The Kingdom of Munster
In 1532 Munster was a city overwhelmed by crop failure, the plague, and economic issues.
It was city discontent with the Catholic bishop, who they perceived as an oppressor.
It was a place that was ripe for revolution.
Enter a Lutheran pastor named Bernard Rothman.
He leads the city into Protestantism and the city becomes a center for religious refugees.
In 1534, Rothman comes under the influence of a Dutch radical named Jan Matthys.
Matthys prophesied the end of the world would come on Easter of 1534 and sent his disciple John of Leiden to Munster to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
His first appearance in town was highlighted by him running through the streets shouting “the end is near!”
Matthys himself arrived shortly thereafter, took control of the town, and declared it both a communist state and… the New Jerusalem.
The Catholic bishop then began to lay siege to the city.
When Easter came and Jesus didn’t, Matthys needed a new schitck to maintain power.
He then claimed he had a vision where he was to take up the sword against the besieging army.
The vision didn’t reveal that he and those with him would only live about fifteen minutes after they did.
Leiden then took over and the insanity increased.
He ran through the streets naked, then fell into a trance…after awakening he declared himself the absolute ruler, the “king of righteousness”.
He was now “King David” in the “New Jerusalem”.
Disobedience to him was punishable by death and “all things in common” included anyones wife that he desired.
He desired 14 more than he had arrived with…
The siege continued outside, reinforced by a Lutheran army aiding the Roman Catholics.
Soon enough, food ran out and some of the residents resorted to cannibalism.
Finally, the armies stormed the city and captured Leiden and two other leaders.
They were caged and paraded around the surrounding area so that all could see what an Anabaptist was.
After his execution, his body was caged again and hung above a church…so all could see what happens to Anabaptists.
This incident sealed the fate of Anabaptism…it became a curse and it’s practice became punishable by death all over Europe.
Today, we still face the dangers of extra biblical revelation and apocalyptic interpretations of current events…
Next we will look at the mainstream of Anabaptism…