Theological Conference 2 – Anabaptists/the Radical Reformers

Click here to listen to Anabaptists/The Radical Reformers as delivered by Kent Ross, Apr 28th 2008, in Atlanta Georgia. Commentary by John Obelenus

Anabaptist, lit. to baptize again, refers to anyone outside the norm.
Heresy – “the minority opinion which those of the majority opinion have the power to suppress”

Kent tells us a story to warn us from letting tradition define our scriptural understanding. He asked his Ph.D professor at North Park Seminary where in the New Testament the Trinity is defined. The response was that New Testament scholarship is on your (Kent’s) side. But the councils have given us greater understanding.

He again warns us to take a look at our people in our own time, with divisions over women in ministry, baptism as essential, conscientious objection, historicism, futurism.

Kent goes over history, starting in 1054 with the first split between western Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox. Only one of the six issues he lists only two are theological at all. The split was based on politics and power. He then goes on to Luther to show that Luther is chiefly concerned with Tetzels’ proclamations concerning purgatory, a theological issue, but a deeper societal issue among the people. The Anglican split was also based on a power struggle over King Henry’s wanted divorce, not any theological issues.

The Radicals (Anabaptists) then denied partnership with the governing authorities, like Luther with Frederick, Calvin with Geneva’s city council, and Anglican’s with the royalty of England. Basically a misuse of power by the Church. Along with this were many theological issues, including paedobaptism and nonresistance. They were intensely persecuted by both Catholics and other Reformation movements for their stance. About three thousand were martyred, many didn’t last longer than 14 months of their adult baptism.

He explains that there were (at least) three distinct groups labeled as “Anabaptists”: (1) anabaptists, (2) spiritualizers, and (3) the evangelical rationalists. First, the anabaptist name was the caricature given by the enemy. They themselves did not believe they were having a second baptism – but that what happened as an infant was not a baptism, not vicarious, at all. Second, the spiritualizers turned Christianity into a spiritual, inward-facing religion (Schwenckfeld). Third, the evangelical rationalists focused on using their reason to understand the scriptures. In contemporary usage we are neither “evangelical” nor “(liberal) rationalists”, who deny faith in the scriptures.

Out of this evangelical rationalist movement came Faustus Socinus and the Polish Brethren which nearly converted all of Poland to the biblical Unitarian understanding. After the orthodox, but tolerant King Sigismund died, the next King brought the Jesuits in who persecuted the unitarian believers there. From there the biblical Unitarian faith spread to the Netherlands, England, and across the Atlantic to the new world.
Kent exhorts us all to contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints!


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