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Protestants and Radicals – Martin Bucer's Debate with Hessian Anabaptists (1538)

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(Butzer) One should understand how Christ, the apostles and prophets managed – at the beginning had enough to do in witness, in love waited upon the work; if they weren’t initiated, they treated them according to the ordinance of Christ. Note: as Peter did the first preaching he took into the church those who made public confession. Because they will take from us the practice and doctrine, they are indebted [for them]. He must also realize that the church has many members; but the preacher should give diligent attention to his office, heal what is hurt, strengthen what is weak. That some are a bad sort among them mustn’t be counted against the good sheep. He says, the tree shouldn’t be chopped down, etc. Said Butzer: Our prince is of the intention that his people should not be distracted and the Anabaptists not burned. But when he sees that the word is despised and especially by them, the Anabaptists, it is his duty to deal with it, and to see that the best is done with them that they improve themselves. He must hold the church dearer than his father, brother, and mother, 5th Book of Moses 13:7.

(Leonhard) When he was cited for punishment, in that he and his brethren were represented as guilty, he said No to it; for he had done his best to build the temple of God and he wished to demonstrate it with his brethren. Since they now saw that ours were joined to false doctrine and sins, they have best turned away from us. And where we now recognize that, they wish to treat us well also as obedient children of God. They hoped, too, that no one had cause from them to punish them as evil-doers. What they see bad in their neighbor they would judge and defer to no one, according to the Scripture (Matt. 10:32): “Whoever therefore shall confess me,” etc. Specially, the Scripture is in all respects on their side. For Paul says (II Cor. 6:17): One shall come out from among the evil ones. But that they should show evil for good to us, that he wished not to do and rather suffer for it what he should. Specifically, one cannot belong simultaneously to the table of the Lord and of the devil. And we should look about us as to where we stand in order that we don’t stand where we should not stand. We should leave the ungodly and follow the godly. If they had sensed that in us they would have remained with us. And now their separation should not be misunderstood; hoped that the prince and the audience would reflect that they have suffered with patience as well-doers and not as evildoers, so that we might see what they have at heart.

(Butzer) Prayed that it would be taken for true what he brings up, that evil must be abandoned, that one could not serve both the table of Christ and of the devil. Now our elders lead in no other way than this. The Bible is against the Anabaptists, for they are joined to works, in the sense Paul said to the Galatians (1:8): heresy. The Christian doctrine which we confessed before the Emperor we know to be grounded in the divine Word; and all the children of God owe it to have fellowship with us in such doctrine, regardless if at the same time some are found of evil life. And as long as the doctrine is proclaimed and the sacrament is used, all men owe it to stay by us. Now they have not only broken this same teaching but also defamed it (he hoped however through lack of understanding) and thereby many people pass away ruined into eternity. And if they had a faith to remove mountains and to give their body to be burned, as Paul announces in I Cor. 13:2 ff., but have not love and throw us out of the kingdom of Christ, they are without Christ and in the worst wickedness. Galatians 6. There is the work of the flesh, not alone the rough outer but also the spiritual inner factions and sects. Now if they had fled all vice, all worldly gain, but each one taught and kindly improved his neighbor and nearest and in the meantime with the true believers kept the holy fellowship of doctrine, sacraments, prayer, and giving of alms, then they would have rightly followed the teaching of Christ and the apostles. But now, because they have shattered the good because of the bad and fled the holy service in His church, defamed it and – among many of them – cast it down, they have done nothing else but corrupt many souls inwardly, despised the word of Christ, thereby introduced among the common herd a crazy ungodly life. What could they have undertaken that would have been more disturbing and damaging to the Christian church? No one may represent our confession to be unrighteous or blasphemous. Now we still teach it (the confession) and maintain the sacred rites and yet these people blame us as if all the horror of the Antichrist ruled in all the doctrine and practices of our church. Besides we admit, too, that there are unfortunately all too few true Christians; Paul commonly complained of that, too, in all his epistles about his churches. If one is overpowered by vice, then those who are spiritual should rebuild with the spirit of gentleness and each bear the other’s burden (Gal. 6:2). Now when I have done my [duty], then I am excused before God and God will perhaps give his grace. And we do not admit in your case either that you have suffered as innocents, but as those who have the greatest guilt and have done the worst things. Wishes to bring it to an end. You say you have not found the work of the Spirit among us and therefore you have justly separated from us. That we do not concede.

(Leonhard) Requested that he be given the confession which was given to the Emperor so that they might reflect for a day or two upon it.

Butzer: That will be done.

Peter Losse said: Since the prince and lords have written them and all their brethren who lay prisoners with them in Wolchkstorff, as soon as his brethren were at hand they would talk with them and then give answers.

[ . . . ]

Source of original German text: Urkundliche Quellen zur hessischen Reformationsgeschichte, Volume 4: Wiedertäuferakten 1527-1626, edited by Günther Franz. Marburg, 1951, pp. 213-34.

Source of English translation: “What Butzer Debated with the Anabaptists at Marburg: A Document of 1538,” edited and translated by Franklin H. Littell, Mennonite Quarterly Review 36 (July 1962), pp. 256-76.

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