By Ron F. Hale
“He who dips shall be dipped” was the cruel catchphrase of the reformers of Zurich, as Felix Manz (the Anabaptist) was sentenced to death by drowning. I write this short essay on the day of his martyrdom, January 5, 1527 – 486 years ago.
The Anabaptists became known as the re-baptizers (“ana” meaning “again”) since they believed a person must believe and repent to be saved. They saw infants as incapable of these spiritual conditions unto salvation. Therefore, true believers should be baptized upon their profession of faith or re-baptized if they see themselves a believer, but never having submitted to believer’s baptism.
In Switzerland, Conrad Grebel, a former disciple of Ulrich Zwingli, became the leader of the Anabaptist movement. Several public disputations took place as Zwingli sought to persuade the Anabaptists of their false doctrine and practice. Finally, the Zurich body of magistrates came together and declared that the Anabaptists would be banished from the area if they did not solely practice paedo-baptism (infant baptism).
The Anabaptists protested this threat by taking to the streets of Zurich with their message. Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock were arrested with the charge of revolutionary teaching. The local leaders met again to sentence Felix Manz to death by drowning; five other executions would take place between 1527 and 1532.
Drowning an Anabaptist was a cruel lampoon of their practice of water baptism. This method was referred to as their “third baptism.”
With the support of Zwingli, Manz was taken from the Wallenberg prison tower on a cold winter day. He was taken to the fish market by the Limmat River to be read his death sentence. He was forced into a boat and escorted to a little hut in the middle of the river by a pastor and his executioner. Manz heard the voice of his mother calling out to him on this short journey, as she shouted words of encouragement.
Felix Manz was securely shackled and pulled from the top of the fishing hut into his watery grave. His friend Blaurock was whipped through the streets of the city and banished; while Grebel later died in prison.
The cause of religious liberty has been sacred to Anabaptists, Quakers, Baptists, and others in the New World, for Old World sentiments arrived with each ship load of adventurers. Nevertheless, people have struggled and died so that no ecclesiastical group or denomination would have dominance and political favor over all others in America. A free church in a free state has been the ideal and without the interference of civil powers as we preach and teach our convictions.
Ron F. Hale has served local churches and at the denominational level for over thirty-five years.
© Ron F. Hale, January 5, 2013