15.2.5 Anabaptism had its own Pentecostal Movement

I have met Christians who believe that the Pentecost revival on Azusa Street starting in 1906 was the first time there were spiritual signs and manifestations since the time of the Apostles. But it is erroneous to think that the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century was the first time since the apostolic age that speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other spiritual manifestations like those experienced in the early church after Pentecost were seen. There are numerous examples throughout history and the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century is another example of spiritual phenomena like that of Pentecost and what happened at the beginning of the 20th century.

Just like the 20th century Pentecostal movement there was an emphasis on experiencing life in the spirit far beyond the practice of rites and services seen in non charismatic denominations. While Protestants emphasize that they are justified by faith, Pentecostals say they are “born again” and their lives are transformed by the inner working of the power of the holy spirit.

To be fair there was a wide variation on the view of the spirit’s leading and practice of spiritual manifestations in the Anabaptist movement. Some groups emphasized a strict conformity to Biblicism while others, like the Swiss Brethren, followed the premise that the spirit led the church. To them, while the New Testament was important, the spirit was the ultimate authority because it was needed for people to really be able to follow what was in the New Testament.

Many spiritual phenomena are referred to in Anabaptist writings.

The Swiss Brethren were in the extreme and even strongly expected the end of the world, They had experiences of speaking in tongues and more.[1]

Hans Hut was a bookbinder and salesman who grew increasingly involved with the Anabaptist movement, preaching in numerous places, baptizing, and sending believers out as apostles to spread the movement. He was known as an apostle in Upper Austria. He said,

“There are, he said, three kinds of dreams. Some come from the flesh,from the daily conduct. These are worthless. Some are from the devil; the evils with which one has had contact during the day appear again at night. These are also worthless. Some come from God; they are revealed to human beings by the strength of the Holy Spirit through certain signs and words. He who understands may accept them, and much is revealed to him, as is promised in Numbers 12.” [2]

This is both clear acceptance of the reality of spiritual manifestations, and teaching on discerning spiritual guidance in dreams from disturbances and from fleshly influences.

Melchior Hoffman traveled in the Netherlands spreading the Anabaptist message. He wrote pamphlets documenting the prophesies of Lienhard and UrsulaJost of Strasbourg. Writings about him reflect that he made life decisions based on input from prophets and guidance from the holy spirit within him.

In 1528 near Erfurt were some Anabaptists who were “excited by mass hysteria, experienced healings, glossolalia, contortions and other manifestations of a camp-meeting revival.” [3]

Indeed there was teaching on how spiritual manifestations were to be carried out in worship services. Look at this expository teaching referring to the use of spiritual manifestations as taught in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians:

“That all things may be done in the best, the most seemly and convenient manner when the congregation assembles, which congregation is a temple of the Holy Spirit where the gifts of the inner operation of the spirit in each one (note, in each one) serve the common good. Note for the common good(1 Cor 12, Eph 4). How could this more suitably be applied, offered or employed for the common good than in the coming together precisely for this common good and edification, as stated in chapter 14: when such believers come together,‘everyone of you (note, every one) hath the Psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation,’ etc. And he enjoins them thereupon to permit all this to be done, that is, to apply or to use, to the edification of the congregation which comes together, so that it may be a bright light in spite of the presumptuous attacks of the adversaries. And it is Paul’s intention that if one sitting by or listening receives a revelation or is moved to exercise his spiritual gift or to prophesy, then the first shall hold his peace; and Paul says that all may prophesy, one after the other, and wants that at all times the spirit of the one who prophesies, or teaches, or preaches first, shall be subject to, and silent before, the one from among those seated or listening who has something to prophesy, and shall not show himself discordant or unpeaceful, as some, especially among their preachers, presume that they need yield to no one, either to be silent or to speak, especially not to us.

So Paul in the end of the chapter commands that they shall not forbid to speak in tongues, which, according to the beginning of the chapter serves to the edification of the congregation. How much less authority has one to forbid prophesying, teaching, interpreting, or admonition to the edification of the congregation? When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying,who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Corinthians 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through his Holy Spirit with his gifts, impelling them one after the other in the above-mentioned order of speaking and prophesying?[4]

This is emphatic teaching that the manifestations of the spirit as taught in these New Testament books are part of the spirit led church.

Pilgram Marpeck, while an Anabaptist leader, was not particularly Pentecostal, yet he wrote:

“moreover, one also marvels when one sees how the faithful God (who, after all, overflows with goodness) raises from the dead several such brothers and sisters of Christ after they were hanged, drowned or killed in other ways…Even today, they are found alive and we can hear their own testimony.

Here and there one can find the same thing happening, even today it takes place among those who are powerfully moved and driven by the living Word of God and the Spirit of Christ”.[5]

Clearly there was a lot of disputation about the validity of prophets. Marpeck’s writings opens with a refutation against false prophets.

“First, certain spirits (which, according to 1 John 2 “went out from us but are not of us”) are advocating that the children of God should no longer use the ceremonies of the New Testament, such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the Scriptures. These spirits think that such ceremonies are to be shunned because they have been abused and destroyed by the Antichrist,who imitates them without a mandate and without the witness of the heart therefore, the ceremonies are misunderstood, abused, and stained. This abomination will remain until the end, etc.”[6]

Marpeck writes a lengthy refutation, showing how the New Testament writings include the charge to believers to baptize and celebrate holy Communion.

Marpeck summarizes:

“Christ bids us to recognize prophets not by miraculous signs, but by their fruits (Mt 7) “ [7]

I will discuss the matter of false prophesy further in another article, but in the above quotations Marpeck testifies to the reality of spiritual manifestations the Anabaptists were experiencing. And his point was not to glorify them per se. His makes the point that prophets need to be judged, and the judging was to be done by evaluating their fruit. He also makes the point that the church is dull and lifeless when it ignores the incredible power and leading the spirit. Look at this quote by Marpeck:

“At present, the human, earthly power replaces that of the Word which no longer stands, exercises power, or rules in truth. The dull teachers have lost the sharpness of the Word, and the sword of the Spirit has been stolen from them and given over to human power. Thus, the discipline of the Spirit,the sharpness of the Word, has been discontinued and blasphemed. Even though the literal Word, meaning both Testaments in an indiscreet manner, is preached and learned in almost all the world, the vain children of the flesh are drawn under human power and discipline. The Word is dull without the thrust of its edge in the power of the Spirit. So that the people may trample it in scorn, it is dumped out by the satiated, unthankful people. The church and almost all people’s hearts, which should be God’s temple, have thereby become a dark cave and a bit of feeds over which the powers of the world rule freely. Such a perverted church, which does not have the sharpness of the Word and the spiritual sword, does not rule and govern according to the spiritual power of light, but rules according to the human power of darkness over whom this world’s authority of darkness should also dominate.” [8]

Marpeck’s point concerning the active presence of the spirit in believer’s lives is that without an active spirit that sometimes even raises people from the dead, the church is dull and does not lead the way Christ meant it to.

This is at the heart of the Pentecostalism, both then and now. Cessationists seem to uniformly cry that anyone claiming to see manifestations of the spirit are clinging to the spectacular, looking for signs to build their believing, or both. Marpeck wasn’t looking for spiritual manifestations, they were just there. They were there because when believers embrace the power of the spirit there are things that happen because of the spirit. Denying such reality makes the church dull, and walking in the dark.

From the above accounts we see that at least in the initial outbreak of the Anabaptist movement there was definitely a Pentecostal/charismatic element as these radical reformers sought to move from the limited and often jaded spirituality of the Catholic Church past what they saw as the limited reforms of the Reformation all the way to experiencing the dynamic reality of the spiritual life testified to in the Book of Acts.

[1] THE ANABAPTIST VIEW OF THE CHURCH, Franklin Hamlin Littell, Star King Press, Boston, 1958. p19
[2]Loserth, Johann, Robert Friedmann and Werner O. Packull. “Hut, Hans (d. 1527).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 28 March 2010.http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H88.html.
[3] George Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), p. 443
[4] Some Swiss Brethren, “A 1532-1540, Peachey, in Walter Klaassen, editor, Anabaptism in Outline (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1981), p. 126
[5] THE WRITINGS OF PILGRAM MARPECK, translated and edited by William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, Herald Press, Scottdale PA, 1978, p. 50
[6] ibid., p. 44-45
[7] ibid., p. 51
[8] ibid., p. 299

©copyright 2010 Mark W. Smith, all rights reserved.

Scroll to Top