Monday, August 15, 2011

"Cup and Cross"

The more I read about those Reformation-era outcasts called the Anabaptists, the more I like them. They were generally either killed off or exiled because their beliefs did not mesh with the church/state relationships of the day. The reason for this? They wanted to be biblical in all they did.

Cup and Cross tells the story of the Anabaptist movement. The author, Michael Martin, does an excellent job in differentiating between what he calls the faithful Anabaptists and the fringe Anabaptists. While the faithful are the true Anabaptists, the fringe element simply used some Anabaptist principles to advance their bizarre and destructive ends. Sadly, the fanatics have given the term "Anabaptist" a negative connotation.

The faithful in the movement took the Reformers' insistence on scriptural authority to its logical end point. They did not simply apply the bible to salvation but also to all of church life. This got the Anabaptists in hot water with basically everyone in positions of power in that society.

Cup and Cross is divided into two primary sections. First, Martin details Anabaptist history, focusing on the Swiss Brethren, Dutch Anabaptists, and the Hutterites. In part two, the author looks at Anabaptist beliefs. These include sections on scripture, the church, discipleship, and the state.

The only negative to this book is that the author makes some statements that call into question whether or not anyone outside of Anabaptism is actually part of the real church. He doesn't makes these statements about today but rather about the situation in Europe during the 1500s.

The Anabaptists are one of those groups that make us uncomfortable. The reason is that they lived out what they said they believed. Even in the face of immense persecution, they stuck to scripture for salvation, the church, the state, etc. They were not perfect, but they also did not shrink back in the face of great opposition.

This book is worth the read because it challenges us to ask whether or not we are living what we say we believe. If interested, read more about it here.


Arthur Sido said...

It is always a struggle to get people to differentiate between the mainstream Anabaptists and the fringe kooks who even the mainstream Anabaptists rejected. It is a convenient way to avoid the hard questions raised by the Anabaptists by lumping them in with Muenster and the Zwickau Prophets.

Unlike the magisterial Reformers, Anabaptist doctrine is hard to nail down because they were so often on the run for their lives, making it hard to spend years penning deep theological tomes. Another good book on them (other than The Reformers and Their Stepchildren which is a pretty difficult read) is The Anabaptist Story by William Estep (

Eric said...


I too am saddened that the Anabaptists are seen as a fringe element because of the loony-toons in the group. As you say, it allows others to ignore the arguments that the faithful ones managed to get down on paper while not being tortured or killed.

The two books you mentioned are actually ones I've already read. The Stepchildren book was required reading for my Baptist History class in seminary. The Estep book was one I picked up along the way somewhere. I enjoyed them both. Any other suggestions?

Arthur Sido said...

The Anabaptist Vision of the Church was good and is in the same series as Stepchildren.

By the way, it is ironic that I also got Stepchildren as required reading for a seminary Baptist History class but so few Baptists seem to understand the Anabaptists.

rodrigo said...

I suggest Secret of the Strength by Peter Hoover. Google it-the whole book can be read online or see Alan's post on the book at Assembling of the Church

I would add after reading this book that the anabaptists followed something greater than scriptural authority-they followed Christ.

Hans Denck wrote=-"I value the Scriptures above all human treasure, but not as highly as the Word of God which is alive, strong, eternal, and free. The Word of God is free from the elements of the world. It is God himself. It is Spirit and not letter, written without pen or paper so that it can never be erased.

As a result of this, salvation is not bound to Scripture, even though Scripture may help one on to salvation. We need to understand, scripture cannot possibly change an evil heart, even though it may make it more learned. A godly heart, on the other hand, in which the little light of God shines, can learn from all things.

The early Anabaptists were not Biblicists like the protestants but rather believed strongly in an inner witness-Christ in you the hope of glory that internally was living and guiding them into all truth.

The Anabaptists knew this well for they were constantly being put to death by those quoting scriptures.

Eric said...


I've thought about that irony as well. How sad that we have lost sight of what these people were trying to accomplish.

Eric said...


I think we've discussed this before. I agree completely with you and the Anabaptists that we serve the living Lord and follow his lead.

Here's my question for you related to this: Do the spirit and the scriptures ever conflict?

As for the Protestants putting the Anabaptists to death, I'd say they clearly warped scripture to accomplish/justify those ends.