Felix Manz is not a household name. But his role in the Protestant Reformation is worthy of our attention. Ulrich Zwingli was leading reform in Zurich, Switzerland while Martin Luther was leading reform in Germany. Zwingli did something radical. He set aside the established lectionary of the church and began preaching directly from the Scriptures. Felix Manz was influenced by Zwingli’s biblical teaching.
But Manz and others became convinced that Luther and Zwingli had not gone far enough their reforms. He was particularly concerned about the confused state of the church. At that time, the church and the state were in alliance. All citizens were baptized as infants and considered part of the church. The church and society were identical. Local governments appointed church leaders. And the churches looked to the state for salary and support.
Manz believed that church should be comprised of followers of Jesus. He wanted to see a church comprised of true believers. He wanted to return to the pattern of the early church where baptism was reserved for those who had given profession of faith in Jesus Christ. The church as outlined in the Scriptures should be the fellowship of the few, a company of true believers committed to live and die for their Lord.
This group required individuals to be baptized as believers before they would be recognized as part of the church. They came to be known as Anabaptists – “rebaptizers.” Felix Manz would be condemned for his convictions and drowned in Limmat River in 1527. He was merely the first of between four and five thousand who were executed by fire, water and sword during this period.
We can be thankful that we have received such a courageous heritage. Nearly all modern Protestants recognize that the Anabaptists were right when they contended for the separation of church and state and fought for the purity of the church.
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