More than the pungence of curing meat and wood smoke greeted those who entered the back room of Matthias Fischer's house in Augsburg, on August 24, 1527. Matthias was a butcher. But on this day he had no meat to trim nor sausages to stuff. With his wife and children he had cleaned up his shop and gotten ready for an Anabaptist meeting to take place in his house. Little did he know that it would be the most important and longest remembered meeting of Anabaptists in southern Germany.1
Jakob Kautz, the ex-Protestant preacher, came from Worms. Hans Hut, Jakob Wideman and Hans Schlaffer came. Eucharius Binder and old Eitelhans Langenmantel came, with Hans Denck, Jakob Dachser and around sixty other messengers from the mountainous forests and walled cities of central Europe.
Some of those who came had been scholars or priests. Some had been wealthy land owners. But among all those assembled, none had left a more illustrious career behind him than Leonhard Dorfbrunner, a Teutonic knight from Weissenburg in Franconia.
Trained to fight, Leonhard Dorfbrunner's future in the Emperor's army had seemed secure. But the Spirit of God spoke to him when he was a young man and another fight began -- a fight between good and evil in his soul. Leonhard, in the early 1520s turned to God and decided to become a priest. But the priesthood did not satisfy him. The more he learned of Christ's gospel, the greater became his desire to follow him in the way of peace. He began to read the Gospel and preach to the people in German, but they threw him into prison. Then, rejecting his knighthood, Leonhard learned the knifesmith's trade and found his way to Steyr in Austria. There, in the summer of 1527 Hans Hut baptized him and sent him out as a messenger.
An Unarmed Knight
No longer on horseback, nor with sword, halberd, or dagger in his belt, Leonhard Dorfbrunner set out on the most dangerous mission of his life. He set out unarmed to teach people a strange new way of life.
Travel through the forests of central Europe required preparation in the sixteenth century. Just after the peasants' war, with freeloaders and highwaymen on the loose, one had to travel armed. But Leonhard, choosing the way of Christ, determined to offer the other cheek and to return good for evil.
By August he got to Augsburg and attended the meeting in Matthias Fischer's house. The brothers gathered there sent him and Hänslin Mittermeier of Ingolstadt on a teaching journey to Linz and the bishopric of Salzburg. Everyone got an assignment. Brothers left two by two in every direction, and within three months the flames of their martyr's fires began to light up the town squares of Salzburg, Rattenburg, Brunn in Moravia, Schwatz, Weissenburg, Vienna, Augsburg, Passau, and Linz.
Leonhard Dorfbrunner, before setting out for Linz, spent some time with persecuted Anabaptists in the city of Augsburg itself. All the leaders of the little congregation by the gate of the Holy Cross were in jail. The authorities did their best to stop further activities. They arrested all Anabaptists they could get their hands on. They shouted at, hit, and tortured brutally whoever did not escape. Elizabeth Hegenmiller had her tongue cut out, and they burned Anna Benedikt's cheeks through before they drove her out of the city in the spring of 1528. But Leonhard Dorfbrunner, trained in the martial arts, did not fight back. He simply left.
Within a few weeks they caught him at Passau on the Danube.
Pulled on the rack, Leonhard Dorfbrunner suffered in silence. A new Christian baptized less than a year earlier, he had already baptized three thousand others. He was a strong man, on fire with the zeal of youth. But, like Christ, he "turned the other cheek" to his tormenters and forgave them. They burned him at the stake in January, 1528. Then, a short while later, a new book appeared in Augsburg.
Vengeance is of God
The new book, published by Philipp Ulhart, was an Anabaptist statement on why Christians do not fight. Because of dangerous times, the author's name did not appear in it.2 But it was the definite testimony of women like Elisabeth Hegenmiller and Anna Benedikt, and of men like Leonhard Dorfbrunner, who gave up their lives rather than defend themselves. It was the testimony of the whole church at Augsburg that suffered with Christ in the process of getting to know him, and that became like him in his death.
The little book from Augsburg begins with a reference to what the Protestants taught about bearing arms:
Luther and his men use the Scriptures to persuade the common people to take up arms and to defend themselves. They get the people to trust, body and soul, in the force of arms, and they cause lords and cities to rise up against the emperor. What a terrible shedding of blood when false prophets and their followers begin to fight in the name of God! (Jeremiah 6, Ezekiel 22, 23). . . .3
God has appointed no power or rulers on the earth except Caesar. Caesar and his worldly government will rule on the earth until their time is up, as predicted by Daniel (Daniel 11), when the wrath of God will come upon all men (Isaiah 24). All flesh needs the power and control of Caesar.
Jesus Christ, however, does not rule or judge in earthly matters or in earthly kingdoms. No matter whether his followers get treated good or evil, they pay back nothing but patience and love. They are willing to submit everything they have, even their bodies and their lives, to earthly powers, that is, everything which has to do with what they believe. No man may use force or rule over others in matters of faith in Christ, for it is not earthly lives but eternal life which is at stake. God himself will not take eternal life away from any creature in heaven or on earth (Romans 8, Matthew 10).
Nothing but Christ
The writer of the Augsburg booklet stated his purpose clearly:
I want to present to you professing "evangelicals," you teachers and preachers, nothing else but the crucified, patient, and loving Christ.
Then the writer described how knowing Christ frees us from the love of possessions, and thereby from the very source of strife and self defense:
To know Christ and his teaching is to live no longer after the flesh. It is to hang no longer onto our possessions, and to be born again, through which we die to all earthly things. He who hangs onto his old life and possessions will lose them. But he who gives them up comes to possess eternal life (Matt. 19). He puts every thought of self-defense behind his back, offers to carry the cross for his master and Lord, Christ, and does this faithfully with all meekness, love and patience (Matt. 11) like the lambs of God. . . .
Where Christ's teaching and life take over, fleshly rule and power ends. Where people, on the other hand, are ruled by the flesh, Christ must leave, like he left the land of the Gadarenes (Matt. 8). Christ had to leave the land of the Gadarenes because his work affected their business (their hog operation), something which needs to be taken into account if we want to be saved. . . .
The loss of property is a small thing to give up for the love of God and our fellowmen. But it is the fear of losing possessions that deceives the whole world. It is that which binds the love of God and the love of man on the earth.
If Christ must leave, like he left the village of the Gadarenes, unrighteousness takes over. Love grows cold (Matt. 24). Selfishness (Eigennützigkeit) takes over and all men suffer. It is easy to see how blind, senseless, selfishness destroys the whole world, but men would much rather tolerate it than they tolerate sincere, loving Christians. They hate those who try to free them from the devil's destructive power. Oh blind Gadarenes! The whole world is blind!.
Self-Defense and Eigenthum
The writer of the Augsburg booklet wrote:
Those who think they possess their goods (Eigentum) want the government to protect them. They think it necessary to use force to keep peace, to protect their own possessions and the possessions of others. In fact, all use of force comes from the possession of property. From the holding of property comes all government and force in the world. But the communities of Christ (die Gemeinen Christi) are not based on the holding of property, but on Christ. They are subject to Christ before all else.
Therefore, those who are spiritual concern themselves with keeping spiritual peace, and those who are of the flesh concern themselves with holding onto their possessions in a fleshly peace. . . .
God only permits, he does not promote the use of worldly force. The use of force does not come from that which is good, but from that which is evil, and God only tolerates it out of necessity. God knows that if he would take the use of ungodly force out of the world, society would become totally chaotic. So, for the good of his children who must also live in the world, he lets it go.
A Better Peace
For the sake of peace among the rebellious children of Israel, God gave the sword to Moses, to enforce his laws. Joshua, David and others were given the sword for the same reason -- to keep an outward, temporary peace among unconverted men. But Christ and his followers have another calling. Christ does not bring the peace of Moses, nor an outward peace of the flesh. Rather, he calls his followers to have peace one with another and says: "I give you peace. I leave it with you, not as the world gives" (John 14). . . .
The Lord Most High, Christ Jesus, did not come to rule, force, judge, accuse, or have anyone accused before him. Rather he came to serve, and to allow himself to be ruled over, forced, accused, judged, condemned and mistreated. He is the mirror into which we must look if we want to see whether we resemble Christ or not. If we would do so, the question of whether we should take part in worldly government would soon be resolved!
The selfish also try to justify themselves with love for their neighbours. They ask: "Shouldn't we defend our neighbours when they are in danger, if we can do so? Hasn't God made us responsible to do this? God told us not to ignore our neighbours when they are in need, and to treat others like we want them to treat us.
Using such human logic, Simon Peter took it upon himself to defend Christ. But listen to what Christ did: He reached out and healed the man whom Peter, using worldly force, had struck (Luke 22). Christ does not want the kind of love that causes others to get hurt or despised. Rather he wants to see us loving and not hating our worst enemies (Luke 6), no matter what they do to us. . . .
True Christians help whom they can, whether friend or foe, as long as no one gets hurt by their help. The spirit of brotherly assistance will never be wanting among them. In fact, Christ's followers are so dedicated to help others that they would be ready to die for them. Complete love in Christ reaches out to friends and enemies. It is the result of freedom in Christ and spiritual union with him.
The Anabaptists believed that God gave three kinds of authority to three groups of people. The first sword was that of the world. The second was that of the Jewish Nation, and the third was the spiritual sword of the Christian community.
Clemens Adler, from Austerlitz in Moravia, wrote:
Since Christians are to forgive all misdeeds, why should it be necessary for them to exercise capital punishment? It is a matter for the heathen to sit in judgment over people's lives. Yet some have the notion that we should do this, either by authority of the law of Moses or of the worldly government, neither of which are of any concern to Christians. . . . From all of this it is easy to judge who are Christians and who are not. For our neighbours, the Schwertler, have the notion that they are Christians too, but their actions prove otherwise. . . . Indeed they are neither heathen, Jews, nor Christians; they do not themselves know what they are but confuse the sword of the world, Moses and Christ and patch them all together--like mixing cabbages, peas and turnips. Oh the blindness! 4
Hans Denck wrote:
So it is with the teaching and work of Moses, David and all the patriarchs. However good they may be, where the love of Christ has outshone them with something better it is necessary to regard them as bad. . . . So the zeal of Moses, when he slew the Egyptian who did violence to the Israelite, was in a sense good, because he struggled for the right against the wrong. But, had Moses understood, or genuinely posessed, perfect love, he would have rather let himself be killed on behalf of the Israelite, his brother, than to have murdered the Egyptian, his brother's enemy.5
The Augsburg booklet stated:
To God, all earthly kingdoms and estates are nothing but pens full of pigs -- pigs that root up and destroy his vineyard (Psalm 80). And all those who rule over, protect and manage these pig pens are nothing but swineherds, because outside of Christ there is no faith, neither among Jews, Gentiles or professing Christians (John 15, 2 John 1, 3 John 1).
To the evil world belongs the evil sword. Evil rulers in the world must rule in their evil way to protect the evil of private property. In this way, a semblance of peace is maintained among the ungodly, for Christ can have nothing to do with Belial (2 Cor. 6). But the peace of Christ is something totally different. It has nothing to do with satisfying the flesh or hanging onto property. Rather it is that which allows us to live great joy and peace in the midst of our friends and enemies, no matter how things go. This is the peace of Christ of which he spoke: "I give you my peace, not as the world gives it."
No sword nor worldly force was used by the first Christians until the days of the emperor Constantine. Christians did not believe in using the sword and Christ had not given permission to anything more than the sword of the Word. Whoever went beyond that, in the days of the early church, was considered a heathen or an infidel. But the pope, as a servant of the church, married the church to the Leviathan of carnal power -- supposedly doing Christ a service. Then the Antichrist was born and the mystery of iniquity began to appear (2 Thess. 2), which had been hidden for a long time previously.
The Peace of Christ
The Anabaptists did not use the negative term nonresistance. They spoke only of Wehrlosigkeit (being without defence) and it was this defenceless response of men like Leonhard Dorfbrunner, the converted knight, struck other knights and military men to the heart. Truly, it "heaped coals of fire" upon their heads as Paul had predicted (Romans 12:20-21). And it clearly revealed who was on which side of the struggle. "A lamb does not bite a wolf," declared the Anabaptist Adrian Henckel when they arrested him in the Hartz Mountains of Central Germany.
From the beginning of the movement, most Anabaptists did not question what Christ wanted them to do about war. They refused to fight. In 1530 Hans Herschberger, a young Swiss believer was called upon to defend his Protestant canton. Hans stoutly refused. "I would not fight against anyone, not even against the Turks," he declared.6
Anabaptists meeting at Schlatten am Randen believed that the sword was for the world and the Word of God for the church. They wrote:
We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and the same sword is now ordained to be used by worldly rulers.
In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death -- simply the warning and the command to sin no more.
Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize this as the will of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword against the wicked for the defense and protection of the good, or for the sake of love.
Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us to learn of him, for he is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls. . .
Secondly, it will be asked concerning the sword whether a Christian shall pass sentence in worldly dispute and strife such as unbelievers have with one another. This is our united answer: Christ did not wish to decide on or pass judgment between brother and brother in the case of the inheritance, but refused to do so. Therefore we should do likewsie.
Thirdly it will be asked concerning the sword: Shall one serve as a civil authority if called on or elected to the office? The answer is as follows. They wished to make Christ king but he fled and did not reject the ordinance of his father. We should do as he did and follow him so that we shall not walk in darkness. . . .
Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a worldly ruler because of these points. The government rules according to the flesh, but the Christian according to the Spirit. Their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christians' citizenship is in heaven. The weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only. But the Christians' weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The world's people come around with steel and iron, but Christians with the armour of God, with truth, righteousness, and the Word of God.7
Hans Hut, and many Anabaptists with him, thought Christians would take up arms after the Lord returned. But whatever would happen then was not of primary importance. Menno Simons expressed a more fundamental Anabaptist feeling when he wrote:
Antichrist wants to defend and assert his cause with the Sword, but Christ Jesus has no sword or weapon other than suffering with his Holy Word. Oh bloody cruelty, which exceeds the cruelty of unreasoning animals! For man, the reasoning creature shaped in the image of God, born without fangs, claws and horns with a sickly tender flesh . . . as a sign that he is a creature of peace and not of conflict, is so full of hatred, cruelty and bloodshed that it can neither be conceived, spoken nor writtten. How far, how far, have we departed from the teaching and example of our Master who taught and sought only peace, saying: "Peace I leave you, my peace I give unto you."8
In the same writing Menno Simons summed up the Anabaptist nonresistent position when he wrote:
Our wagon fortress is Christ, our weapon of defense is patience. Our sword is the Word of God and our victory is free, firm and undisguised faith in Christ Jesus. Iron, metal, spears and swords we leave to those who (alas) consider men's and pigs' blood of about the same worth!
Converted like Leonhard Dorfbrunner to the way of peace, the Anabaptists moved . . .
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