The brethren

“For it is better and more certain to build on Christ and his church than to rely on fathers and councils. Behold Christ the Lord will judge on the last day, and not Pope, Fathers and councils.”

Now what if I were to tell you that there was a religious movement in the 1500s that sought to restore New Testament Christianity? What if they offered the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, had elders in every congregation, sang a cappella, and insisted on immersion of adult believers? Would you like to know who they were?

The quote above was from one of their leaders, Menno Simons, although his words might have been uttered by any leader of our fellowship in the 1800s. Simons was part of a movement that called on the denominations of its day to return to the Bible, and the Bible alone, in order to “restore” the biblical pattern of worship, church organization and living.

They began in the movement begun by Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, but they broke away over the issue of baptism. Not everyone appreciated their efforts. They were brutally persecuted. In a span of ten years (1535-1545) about twenty thousand were put to death. Still they insisted on calling believers back to the Bible.

They believed in believers’ baptism. Infant baptism, they declared, had not one biblical passage to support it. Only believing adults should be baptized. Their worship in song was vocal only for the same reason. They refused to be identified by any denominational name, asking simply to be called “Brothers” (“Bruder” in the German language). They partook of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, and their churches were led by elders in every congregation. They expressed loyalty only to Jesus Christ and to his word.

All of this should sound vaguely familiar to the churches of Christ, heirs as we are to the Restoration Movement.

Of course, they differed from us in some ways, too. They were pacifists. And they practiced foot washing. And they called on their people to be “separate from the world.” There was no problem in their churches with worldliness, or materialism.

They were called Anabaptists by their Lutheran and Catholic neighbors, because of their practice of “baptizing again” those who had “already” been baptized as infants. They decried the name, however, much as the Churches of Christ insisted that they were not “Campbellites.” “We are Christians only,” they would have responded, just as we might have.

So fierce was the opposition to these “Brethren” that much of their history has only been discovered recently. They stood straight and strong against official persecution. They called for a return to the Bible. They should serve as an inspiration to us, and perhaps also as a warning not to lose our way.

Where are these Anabaptists today? Their modern descendants are the Mennonites (from the same Menno Simons) and the Amish. Many of them, as you know, emigrated to America, partly as a result of the persecution they suffered in Germany and Holland.

We can learn from their insistence on being separated from the world; we can be inspired by the idea that there were others in history who sought what we seek, namely, a return to the purity of New Testament Christianity.

Share your thoughts: