Southwestern Seminary celebrates Radical Reformation Day
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary observed Radical Reformation Day, Jan. 21, by serving sausage and hosting presentations by Emir Caner and President Paige Patterson concerning the Radical Reformation.
During his presentation, titled “Genetics versus Historiography: A Case for the Connection of Continental Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists,” Patterson argued for a “theological and spiritual kinship” between English and American Baptists and the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. Patterson first delivered his paper at the 61st annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) last November.
“Baptists in England and America have much more in common with evangelical Anabaptists than either have with other Reformers,” Patterson said. “Consequently my plea is for contemporary Baptists to recognize indebtedness to all orthodox Christians, but to reject any form of ecumenism that compromises the witness of either the evangelical Anabaptists or the early English and American Baptists.”
Patterson also insisted that Baptist churches should teach their members the history of those Anabaptists and Baptists, “who historically championed regenerate church membership witnessed by believer’s baptism and who put their lives on the line for religious liberty.”
Before his evening lecture, Patterson served deer sausage and biscuits made with a family recipe. During chapel that morning, Patterson explained that the Reformation in Zurich, Switzerland, was instigated with the eating of sausages. In 1522, a group of men disobeyed church law by eating sausages during Lent. Zwingli soon came to their defense and, over the following years, pursued a biblically based reform of the church in Zurich.
Some of Zwingli’s colleagues, however, believed that the Swiss reformer was not following Scripture as closely as he ought. Unlike Zwingli, they supported the baptism of adult believer’s only, and they believed that political forces should not implement church reform. God’s Word alone should rule in the church. On January 21, 1525, Conrad Grebel performed the first Anabaptist baptism on George Blaurock in the home of Felix Manz. Blaurock subsequently baptized the rest of the men in the house.
In his book, The Anabaptist Story, the late William R. Estep, former distinguished professor of Church History at Southwestern , wrote, “The newly baptized then pledged themselves as true disciples of Christ to live lives separated from the world and to teach the gospel and hold the faith.” In honor of this event, Southwestern Seminary set apart January 21 as Radical Reformation Day in 2009.
During the chapel service on Radical Reformation Day, the seminary welcomed guest speaker Emir Caner, former dean of the College at Southwestern and currently the president of Truett-McConnell College in Georgia. Caner based his chapel message on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, the “most prominent passage of the Anabaptist Reformation.”
“In the sixteenth century Reformation, there is one and only one group that had the theological fidelity to follow the Great Commission in its entirety, and that was the Anabaptists,” Caner said.
He later explained, “While the reformers spent much time on theological formulation, Anabaptists expended an enormous amount of their literary energies on issues relating to their evangelistic zeal, and thus topics such as baptism, central to the Great Commission and a believer’s church, consumed their thoughts and lives. To the Anabaptists, as it should be to us, believer’s baptism was not a tertiary doctrine of secondary importance, since it was integral to the Great Commission itself.”
According to Caner, the Anabaptists have been misrepresented by theologians and historians since the sixteenth century. Instead of presenting them as believers who desired to follow Christ’s mandate in full, they were depicted by Ulrich Zwingli’s successor Heinrich Bullinger and others as immoral and violent.
“This absurd and unfounded claim,” Caner said, “was actually a not-so-subtle attempt of castigating the real threat of the Anabaptist movement, a threat that Bullinger well knew: the destruction of the state-run church and the rise of New Testament churches. The real threat was the removal of reformation and the onslaught of restoration. … In essence, the magisterial reformers feared or despised a free church and a free pulpit that was unfettered by the role of government and protestant patriarchs.”
Although recent scholarship has painted a more accurate picture of the Anabaptists, “most historians blindly continue the tradition passed down for centuries, thus enabling a false picture to continue that Anabaptists were born out of violence,” Caner said. Critiquing Anabaptist theology, some scholars have also falsely claimed that the Anabaptists denied Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Caner argued that Anabaptists actually upheld the doctrine of imputed justification by faith, but they also “emphasized that the one who was imputed with righteousness would live a life of victory and a life of surrender. As such, a ‘new birth’ was emphasized by the Anabaptist movement, while justification was emphasized by Lutheranism.”
In conclusion to his message, Caner challenged Baptists to follow the Great Commission completely, regarding no country as “closed” and no part of the Great Commission as secondary. Like their spiritual forebears, Baptists should defend theology that follows the example of “primitive Christianity.” They should also defend the clarity of the Bible, and they must recognize that “evangelism without discipleship is not evangelism.” Finally, Caner said that Baptists should remember that, however culture may change, Christ and his church remain the same.
An archived MP3 recording of Caner’s convocation message can be listened to or downloaded through Southwestern Seminary’s Web site, http://www.swbts.edu/chapel.