I’ve been working on a little video project for my friends at the Baptist World Alliance.
Back in 1988-89, I spent 10 weeks traveling in Europe and Israel, conducting interviews and videotaping sites and artifacts of significance in Baptist history. Now, we’re digitizing that footage to produce some little vignettes for the BWA website.
Baptists in many parts of the world do not enjoy the religious liberties that we in the United States often take for granted. We have the freedom to assemble and worship freely. Our disagreements about the meaning and details of baptism sometimes result in people getting upset and leaving a certain congregation. But I haven’t heard of anybody in the U.S. being martyred for his or her beliefs about baptism in the last couple hundred years.
That’s not the case for Christians in some parts of the world today.
And it wasn’t the case for the Christians in Europe in the 16th century. I was reminded of that while reviewing some of the footage we shot in Switzerland.
We spent a pleasant fall day hiking up the side of a mountain to “Die Tauferhohle” not far from Zürich. The lush, peaceful cave belies it’s history as a hideout for outlawed Christians in 1525.
In that year, the first Anabaptist group was formed in Zürich by Felix Manz and two other reformers. They considered the baptism of infants as practiced by the Catholic Church and the early reformers to be unbiblical. They had themselves re-baptized and their opponents began calling them “Anabaptists.”
Manz associated with and was influenced by the reformer Ulrich Zwingli. But Manz was advocating a more literal reading of the Bible, and a more radical break with the Church than Zwingli could support. The Zürich city council sided with Zwingli and prohibited re-baptism. That made Manz and his followers outlaws. They hid from authorities in Die Tauferhohle and other places. But Manz was eventually caught and, on January 5, 1527, he was punished by drowning in the Limmat River. He died singing.
Makes me grateful to live in a country where freedom of religion is guaranteed. And it leads me to think about those martyrs who gave their lives for what they believed.
Which of my religious beliefs would I be willing to die for?
Makes me think.