October 2017 marks the 500th year anniversary since Martin Luther nailed the famous ninety-fie theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That publication along with many other writings were duplicated and spread throughout the region. In his writings, Luther detailed many of the doctrinal errors he discovered, as well as moral failures among the leadership he would see on a regular basis as a Catholic monk. So with great boldness, and knowing he would be risking his very life, he called out the church in his publications.
In 1521, Luther would stand before the Diet of Worms, a council that convened for the purpose of deciding the fate of this heretic. There he was called to recant many of his writings or face the consequences. He gave his bold speech “Here I stand,” (find the speech read here: https://youtu.be/X5RqfiJrYtw). From there, the Edict of Worms was released, banning Luther’s writings and excommunicating Luther. This fully launched the Reformation in Germany.
I am very thankful for men like Martin Luther, who took a stand for his convictions. I believe God used his stand to aid in further opening to door of the gospel in a time when darkness had all but closed that door. As grateful as I am for men like Luther, I am not a reformer. My heritage comes from a group that needed no reformation as we always believed in Sola Scriptura, Scriptures alone are our authority for faith and practice. We followed men like Paul the Apostle, and our lineage and Bible descended from a church in Antioch. A body of doctrine had been closely adhered to. The groups went by many names through the centuries, and on the grand scale of history, where little known. They believed in local, independent churches, separate from any government. They had always preached the gospel of grace, renounced the evils of the Catholic church, and desired to keep the New Testament as their constitution.
They were so greatly persecuted for their stand on biblical truth that in 1524, three years after the Diet of Worms dealing with Martin Luther, at the Counsel of Trent, Cardinal Hosius concluded, “Were it not that the [Baptists] have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in number greater than all the Reformers.” (Hosius, Letters, Apud Opera, pp. 112, 113). Of course, 1200 years prior to that statement would mark the beginnings of the Catholic church, implying that the Baptists (Anabaptists, Waldensians, et al.) predated the Catholic Church. These were the radical reformers. But rather than reform anything, their objective was to hold fast to what they had and “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” (Jude 3). And this they did as they sealed it with their blood.
A great contention I have with the reformers like Luther and Calvin, is that they were not a whole lot different than the Catholic Church of their day. Though they separated from the church over doctrines relating to salvation, they still brutally slaughtered those who opposed them. They were still in favor of a church state, and attempted to rule with a similar iron fist as the church they rebelled from. How is this the gospel of grace? By the time of the reformation, the Catholic church had claimed over 50,000,000 lives of the Baptists alone. Other reformers proceeded to persecute Baptists. One protestant counsel had decreed, “He who immerses shall be immersed.” They would mockingly call it the “third baptism.” In 1529, at the Diet of Speirs, the Protestants and Catholic heads together proclaimed a death sentence upon all Anabaptists. Though they hated each other, they hated Anabaptists even more.
“Four hundred special police were hired to hunt down Anabaptists and execute them on the spot. The group proved too small and was increased to one thousand. … thousands of Anabaptists fell victim to one of the most widely spread persecutions in Christian history. … Burning faggots and smoldering stakes marked their trek across Europe” (Halley).
Martin Luther released a pamphlet in 1536 stating, “That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration, which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it. … Secular authorities are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine … For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized? … Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches … and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound … to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders … Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then … we conclude that … the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.”
Much more on the Baptists persecutions: https://www.wayoflife.org/database/protestantpersecutions.html
A further point of contention I have with the reformers is that they wanted to reform the Catholic Church. When a building has an incorrect, faulty foundation, the best thing to do, at times, is completely start over with a new foundation. The heritage of the Baptist included an important position called “separation.” Separatists wanted nothing to do with the system, but desired to have everything flow from the Scriptures. The reformers wanted to keep the system, just reform, or correct the errors. In doing so, many of the errors lingered. They still practice infant baptism, for example. The doctrine behind that practice is baptismal regeneration, that the baptism waters can wash away “original sin.” No such doctrine exists in the Bible, and such a damnable doctrine makes the cross of Christ of none effect. It is either the blood of Christ and His sacrifice alone that can wash away our sins, or, it is done by a work of the flesh (baptism, sacraments, good deeds, etc). It cannot be both. There are several other doctrines that have carried over, but for the sake of illustration I thought I would just mention an obvious one.
As far as I can tell, the only group in history with an unwavering commitment to the word of God, desiring to live peaceable lives, set apart unto God, and non-violent in their method, has been the Baptists and their heritage. These were and are the true reformers. The Radical Reformers.
For more information on the history of the Baptists: http://baptistbecause.com/Tracts/TrailBlood.pdf
The Protestant Persecutions, by Cloud, https://www.wayoflife.org/database/protestantpersecutions.html
Tracing the Cardinal Hosius, by Townsend, http://www.drbentownsend.com/Documents/Hosius%20Quote%20In%20Baptist%20Books%20Complete.pdf
Trail of Blood, by Carrell, http://baptistbecause.com/Tracts/TrailBlood.pdf
Martin Luther: Support for religious persecution and Anti-semitism, http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Religion/Martin%20Luther.htm