Getting over the Reformation – Conrad Grebel, 1524

Conrad Grebel 1498-1526

By “getting over” the Reformation I do not mean a return to Rome.  A good post-Reformation theology should already factor in the rejection of the flawed Roman rites and polity which precipitated the 16th century crisis.

Even a loyal Catholic will probably not deny that on the eve of the Reformation the divine judgment upon the Roman Church as a whole was likely to have been ‘guilty.’  But how many Protestants will admit that, after the day had dawned, the Church was nevertheless on the whole worsened by the systems and policies of the reformers?

The main wings of the Protestant movement not only failed in the prime objective of a reform of Rome but also failed to maintain general unity, and finally, failed even to lead a real reform – the last an accusation made by the spiritual and Anabaptist reformers whom they persecuted so bitterly after 1524.

Here is harsh criticism for Luther and Zwingli in a letter of 1524 by Conrad Grebel, co-founder of the Swiss Brethren and called by some the ‘Father of the Anabaptists’

“In respecting persons and in manifold seduction there is grosser and more pernicious error now than ever has been since the beginning of the world.  In the same error we too lingered as long as we heard and read only the evangelical preachers who are to blame for all this, in punishment for our sins.  But after we took scripture in hand too, and consulted it on many points, we have been instructed somewhat and have discovered the great and harmful error of the shepherds…

“… every man wants to be saved by superficial faith, without fruits of faith, without baptism of trial and probation, without love and hope, without right Christian practices, and want to persist in all the old manner of personal vices, and in the common ritualistic and anti-Christian customs of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper, in disrespect for the divine Word and in respect of the word both of the pope and of the anti-papal preachers.”

Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. G. H. Williams & A. M. Mergal, 1957, p.74

If God truly shows no partiality and judges the church as a whole – the period of Reformation must be seen in its result on the whole – not in a renewed church but in a serious disruption of the unity of Western Christianity – characterized by intolerance, intellectual and spiritual isolation, and internecine rancor which has weakened the appeal of Christ to the world.

I’m guessing the decreased percentage of church-goers in town over the past 100 years could be a reaction against the constant refunding of Christian doctrine in the words of Aquinas, Loyola, Luther, and Calvin.  Or do we think the world will never tire of looking at Christianity through the eyes of ‘classic’ thinkers of the Medieval and Reformation eras?

What’s next then?  The blog has already named one post-Reformation ‘Father’ – the 17th-century founder of the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox.  I was going to stay away from the sixteenth century on principle but I think these radical Christians who ‘got over’ the magisterial Reformation almost as soon as it started certainly merit a look – some were the first to die for their faith at the hands of their fellow-Protestants.

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7 thoughts on “Getting over the Reformation – Conrad Grebel, 1524

  1. Tony, glad to have some encouragement in my hard-line stance.

    I’m getting more and more evidence that some of the so-called ‘radicals’ who were persecuted by the ‘magisterials’ were trying to move the church in a more Christ-like direction.

    I think the Holy Spirit might have been planning something different than the magisterial Reformation – what with printing coming into its own for the first time and a massive publication not only of Bibles but of the classics of Medieval and Rennaisance spiritual literature flooding Europe.

  2. Hi John,

    As you know, I see the Anabaptists and Quaker peace churches as beacons of light. I concur with your views on the magisterial reformers.

    Thanks for your post on George Fox and the great quotes.

    May I also thank you for putting me onto Rufus Jones’ book on the 16th and 17th C. spiritual Reformers.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

    • I was reading Spiritual Reformers of the XVI and XVII Centuries again yesterday after recommending it to you and was thrilled with spiritual hope – like I am every time I read Jones. I’ve got about 20 of his books in varieties of ‘used’ condition.

  3. Even if you toss all the past theologians, all the same debates will come up again, and all the same division. Because the seeds of all this division are in Paul’s epistles, where he “becomes all things to all men, to the Jews a Jew, to the Greeks a Greek, to the lawful a lawabider, to the lawless a lawbreaker, to the heretics a heretic, to the orthodox and orthodox, to the fundamentalists a fundamentalist, to the liberals a liberal, to the conservatives a conservative, to the Gnostics a Gnostic” and so on. Because Paul can’t choose a position but takes them all, Christianity will forever be at war with itself. Paul says both “the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2) and “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Romans 3). That one contradiction is enough to fuel the war for all eternity; and yet there are many more.

    • When you get right down to it, its not just the fundamentalists. Liberals tend to be just as dogmatic. If someone were to say to a liberal that they believe in justification by works because they believe what Romans 2 says and not what Romans 4 says, even the liberal would tell them they were on the road to hell. So no, I do not mean a war among fundamentalists. I mean that all of Christianity is at war with itself. There comes a time and a place where even the most liberal liberal is a fundamentalist.

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