Monday, April 13, 2015

"The Reformers and Their Stepchildren"

When I was in seminary I was required to read The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Although the book interested me at the time, I didn't give it a great deal of thought because I was reading so many different books. It quickly faded into the background of my mind as I tried to ingest all sorts of other required reading.

I'm now far removed from seminary. My views on the church have changed dramatically since those years. I decided it was time to read this book again. I'm glad I did.

The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, written by Leonard Verduin in 1964, takes a fascinating look at the stark differences between the Reformers (such as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin) and those who were called by various names such as "Anabaptist." Both of these groups had broken away from the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church. Both held a high view of scripture. Where the two groups differed was in their view of the church. While the Reformers largely took a Constantinian view of church, the Anabaptists believed the church should be free. This led to a massive rift.

The Anabaptists thought that each person in an area should be free to choose what he believed. This necessarily led to a composite society. The Reformers, seeking protection from the government, looked for a melding of church and state. Therefore, everyone in a given location was considered part of the church in that location. The Anabaptists wanted no part of this view. This led to severe persecution by the Reformers (and Catholics) toward the Anabaptists.

The Anabaptists were known by a wide variety of different names given to them by the Reformers and Catholics. Almost all of these were derogatory in nature (even the term "Anabaptist" was originally negative). Verduin entitled the various chapters in this book with these negative names; the chapters deal with different but related topics such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, and church-state relations. While the Reformers and the stepchildren held the same basic views of the gospel, it was their differences over the church that led to the problems.

This book is extremely well researched and detailed. At some points it bogs down a bit, but the large amount of information is needed because this book is a challenge to the Reformed view of both the Reformation and the Anabaptists. The author was forced, due to the resistance this book would face, to add a great amount of detail.

The interesting thing about this book is that, for most of us in the modern West, a free church is the norm. We cannot imagine anything other than a composite society. That was hardly the case 500 years ago. Back then the Anabaptists' hope for church life led to persecution, shunning, and death. They desired what we have.

This text is much more than a history book. It is living in the sense that the Anabaptists, or stepchildren, asked many of the questions about the church that we do today. The difference is that they often paid for it with their lives.

This book is worth your time.


Arthur Sido said...

Ironically I also obtained my copy of this book from a seminary class, thought little of it and only really read and appreciated it much later.

Eric said...


My seminary prof who assigned this book was Emir Caner. He is now president of Truett-McConnell college. The irony is that he assigned us a revolutionary book, but is now right at the center of institutional Christianity.