Pastors, students walk in footsteps of Baptist forebears
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) –Following in the steps of their theological ancestors, a group of Southern Baptists traversed five countries in Western Europe and discovered firsthand the faithfulness and unyielding commitment of 16th-century Anabaptists, May 14-24. The group traveled as part of the Radical Reformation Study Tour organized and led by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty and President Paige Patterson.
The tour focused on 16th-century Anabaptists, who sought to build New Testament churches on the major tenets of biblical authority, believer’s baptism, believers’ church, a proper view of the Lord’s Supper, religious liberty, discipleship and church discipline. Anabaptists championed a return to the Bible much like their Magisterial Reformer contemporaries such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, but they believed these Reformers had not gone far enough in abandoning unbiblical practices such as infant baptism. Their advocacy for a “free church” separate from the state incited opposition and persecution from both Catholics and Protestants. Many were martyred for their faith.
Southwestern’s tour group of 24 people traveled to sites in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. They explored castle ruins where Anabaptists were imprisoned, caves where they gathered for worship, and riverbanks where many were drowned. Along the way, professors lectured on the theology and biographies of these faithful men and women.
Although historians misunderstood Anabaptists for centuries, scholars in the 20th century recognized the diversity among Anabaptists and the valuable heritage they left for present-day Baptists and other Christians. Former Southwestern Seminary professors such as A.H. Newman, William Estep and James Leo Garrett were some at the forefront of this scholarship. Estep’s The Anabaptist Story has been a staple textbook on the subject for more than 35 years. Today, Southwestern continues to lead the way in Anabaptist studies as seen by its “Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists” conference in January 2012, which attracted more than 500 students, faculty members and guests from around the world.
Estep’s legacy was strongly felt on the study tour. His contributions to Anabaptist studies initially sparked President Paige Patterson’s interest in the subject, and the two became friends in later years. Additionally, two pastors on the tour first remember hearing about the Anabaptists from Estep as they sat in his church history classroom.
Mike Hopkins, senior pastor at Simpson Creek Baptist Church in Bridgeport, W.V., took Estep’s class at Southwestern in the early 1960s and knew the Estep family from church. He has continued to study the Anabaptists throughout his pastoral ministry and was excited to hear that Southwestern would be leading a study tour on the topic.
“I find it very moving to be at the sites where Anabaptists gave their lives because of their faith in Christ,” Hopkins said. “I like history, and when I study history, I don’t want generalities. I want to know exactly where this happened and what happened here, and this trip has been excellent.
“I wanted to come on this trip if for no other reason but to stand in Zurich at the Limmat River where Felix Manz was drowned, and to think of his dear mother calling out to him to be strong and not to compromise. That was the high point of the trip for me.”
Jimmy Patterson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Newnan, Ga., first learned about the Anabaptists at Southwestern in Estep’s class in the 1980s. Patterson—no relation to Paige Patterson—used his sabbatical to join the study tour. He came away refreshed physically and spiritually and said the trip provided practical benefits for his ministry as a pastor.
“I’m now able to go back home and give my church compelling and passionate reasons to continue being distinctively Baptist,” Patterson said. “(I’ll) also be able to persuasively instruct new converts on the importance of believer’s baptism and Christian prospects from other denominations on the essentials of believer’s baptism.”
Patterson said the study tour also fueled his passion for evangelism and missions: “The price paid by the Anabaptists for their faith has motivated me to new levels of evangelism.”
“Our association has adopted an unreached people group in the Südtirol Valley. (One of the lectures) spoke about George Blaurock in the 16th century who went to that part of present-day northern Italy (formerly Austria), and Anabaptists exploded in that area. But now, they’re an unreached, unengaged people group according to the IMB. … I thought, ‘Wow! These people have an Anabaptist heritage, and they used to not be unreached. I think a great strategy would be to go back and tell these people a little about their ancestral roots and use that as a launching pad to introduce them (to the Gospel).’”
Jon Clark, a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern, took the church history class offered as part of the study tour, which served as his final class in his master’s program. Upon graduation, he plans to continue in pastoral ministry.
“(The trip) was a culmination of everything I’ve been working toward and learning,” Clark said. “It’s an inspiration to learn about the Anabaptists and their sacrifices and faithfulness. Now, I have the motivation to be as sacrificial as the Anabaptists and as faithful as they were. It makes me want to love God more and show Him more to the world regardless of what the cost might be.”
Dan Moon, a Southwestern alumnus who served as a church planter and the church planting director for Asian-Americans with the North American Mission Board until his retirement in 2003, also participated in the study tour. He believes a proper understanding of Anabaptist theology and the heritage left for modern Baptists would benefit Asian believers and churches.
“The Korean Protestant movement needs to go back to the basics of New Testament Christianity, patterned after what Anabaptists did,” Moon said. He noted the importance of teaching Baptist distinctives because “the future explosion of mass Christendom in the 21st century will be in China, South Korea, North Korea and Southeast Asian countries.”
Southwestern hopes to continue to lead study tours on the Anabaptists in addition to its study tours on the English Reformation, the Early Church, and the Holy Land.
To read about Southwestern's influence on the tour's coach driver, who is a new Christian, click here.