The Anabaptists: From the Publisher

by the Editors

Introducing this Anabaptist issue

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 5 in 1985 ]

WITH THIS ISSUE Christian History makes the transition from an “occasional” publication to a regularly scheduled quarterly. This step is taken as a result of the enthusiastic reader response received to the first issues. We sincerely thank you who encouraged us to expand our efforts.

Our hope for this publication is that it will deepen appreciation for your own specific heritage when the subject matter deals directly with your particular tradition and that it will broaden awareness of and respect for the heritage of others when the subject matter represents a background different from your own. Surely the grace and truth of the Lord has not been deposited exclusively or monopolistically within any single denomination or tradition. We have much to learn from each other.

May this issue serve that end in causing Anabaptists to appreciate anew their unique story and in causing those of us not of that lineage to discover new dimensions of faith and commitment from their experience. Perhaps more than any other movement, Anabaptists have been unfairly maligned over the years by other Christian groups. Typically they have been identified with the madness of Müntzer and Münster as if that tragic man and episode defined the movement instead of being unfortunate aberrations that Anabaptists themselves universally disowned and condemned.

As you read through the pages of this edition, consider the observation of Franklin H. Littell of Temple University on the impact of Anabaptism in the sixteenth century and now: "When the Anabaptists refused to repeat the feudal oaths, refused to bear arms, and withdrew from participation in the legally privileged and controlled churches, they struck a radical blow for liberty, conscience and human dignity. Their devotion was directed toward true Christianity rather than social reform, but the secondary consequences of their spiritual emigration were also momentous … While much of the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians of the sixteenth century is today unreal and irrelevant, what the Anabaptists taught about mutual aid, peace, discipline, religious liberty, and lay witness is as fresh and important as it was fifteen generations ago.

The history of Anabaptism contains two sharply contrasting themes. It is splashed with the blood and ashes of martyrs willing to give up their good name, family, home and their lives for what they believed. And it is colored also with industrious families whose peaceful life earned them the not entirely complimentary epithet—“the quiet in the land”

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