It seems that the early Anabaptists should be acknowledged as forerunners of the modern charismatic movement in the church. Thanks to a Twitter link by Alan Knox to an old post of his Things I Didn’t Learn in Baptist History Class, and to Jon for his post History of Speaking Up In Church, I found some interesting but little known information in the Wikipedia article on Anabaptists (links and footnotes deleted):
Within the inspirationist wing of the Anabaptist movement, it was not unusual for charismatic manifestations to appear, such as dancing, falling under the power of the Holy Spirit, “prophetic processions” (at Zurich in 1525, at Munster in 1534 and at Amsterdam in 1535), and speaking in tongues. In Germany some Anabaptists, “excited by mass hysteria, experienced healings, glossolalia, contortions and other manifestations of a camp-meeting revival”. The Anabaptist congregations that later developed into the Mennonite and Hutterite churches tended not to promote these manifestations, but did not totally reject the miraculous. Pilgram Marpeck, for example, wrote against the exclusion of miracles: “Nor does Scripture assert this exclusion…God has a free hand even in these last days.” Referring to some who had been raised from the dead, he wrote: “Many of them have remained constant, enduring tortures inflicted by sword, rope, fire and water and suffering terrible, tyrannical, unheard-of deaths and martyrdoms, all of which they could easily have avoided by recantation. Moreover one also marvels when he sees how the faithful God (who, after all, overflows with goodness) raises from the dead several such brothers and sisters of Christ after they were hanged, drowned, or killed in other ways. Even today, they are found alive and we can hear their own testimony…Cannot everyone who sees, even the blind, say with a good conscience that such things are a powerful, unusual, and miraculous act of God? Those who would deny it must be hardened men”. The Hutterite Chronicle and The Martyr’s Mirror record several accounts of miraculous events, such as when a man named Martin prophesied while being led across a bridge to his execution in 1531: “…this once yet the pious are led over this bridge, but no more hereafter.” Just “a short time afterwards such a violent storm and flood came that the bridge was demolished”.
Holy Spirit leadership
The Anabaptists insisted upon the “free course” of the Holy Spirit in worship, yet still maintained it all must be judged according to the Scriptures. The Swiss Anabaptist document titled “Answer of Some Who Are Called (Ana-)Baptists – Why They Do Not Attend the Churches”. One reason given for not attending the state churches was that these institutions forbade the congregation to exercise spiritual gifts according to “the Christian order as taught in the gospel or the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 14.” “When such believers come together, “Everyone of you (note every one) hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation,” and so on..When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Corinthians 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through His Holy Spirit with His gifts, impelling them one after another in the above-mentioned order of speaking and prophesying”.
What I find interesting here is the clear evidence that the early Anabaptists were not only forerunners of the current organic church movement (Alan’s main concern) but also forerunners of the modern charismatic movement. This can be seen in their emphasis on prophecy, speaking in tongues, and miraculous healing. The phenomena of “falling under the power of the Holy Spirit” and “contortions” are reminiscent of the Toronto Blessing, one of the more recent expressions of charismatic renewal. And the reports of raising the dead remind one of Todd Bentley‘s claims.
The early Anabaptists were not the only Christians in their time to exercise the gifts of the Spirit. For example, in his book Surprised by the Voice of God Jack Deere has a chapter showing that the early Scottish Presbyterians practised prophecy. Even John Calvin may have spoken in tongues. But these gifts seem to have been more prominent in Anabaptist spirituality than in that of the other churches emerging from the Reformation.
The charismatic gifts soon fell into disuse among almost all these Protestant groups, including the Anabaptists. We have to accept that some of these charismatic Anabaptists went “off the rails” with outlandish prophecies, especially those linked with the misguided attempt to establish a theocracy at Münster. As a result prophecy got a bad name, and even the Anabaptists backed off from using the gifts. It was left to the Pentecostals of the early 20th century to rediscover this aspect of spirituality, and for the charismatic movement of the late 20th century to make these gifts again acceptable in many denominational churches.
Today’s church has a lot to learn from the early Anabaptists, who were so shamefully treated by most other Christians in their time, and who are still so often misrepresented. Here is yet another aspect of their spirituality which needs to be recovered for our days.