Sunday, January 5, 2014

January 5 - Felix Manz, Radical Reformer, Anabaptist, Martyr

People had been trying to tie his hands for several years now but until now it had all been metaphorical--perhaps just as demeaning but still only metaphorically. Those naming themselves as ministers of a new covenant of forgiveness, life, and love wrapped thick rope around his wrists and ankles in the cold January morning. His accusers planned to make a powerful mockery of his baptism by drowning him in the lake and thereby cruelly enforcing a recent edict demanding death for those who resisted the powers on matters of baptism. As he floated down the river and they affixed the pole between his legs, his mother and brother called to him from the shore and encouraged him to face his death--his martyrdom--with courage and confidence.

Felix had been a follower of Huldrych Zwingli at first. Likely, he had been won over to the reformer's views by his commitment to personal involvement in the Christian story and by his own spiritual devotion. Yet, when Conrad Grebel joined with the group he found a closer and more similar friend. Conrad and Felix formed their theology together in conversation and mutual commitment. Soon, they found themselves drifting away from Huldrych theologically. They were uncomfortable with his involvement in political and civil affairs--they felt that the State was all too involved in Zwingli's group and resisted its encroachment into their affairs. Further, they were bothered by the juxtaposition of Zwingli's insistence on personalized faith and the practice of infant baptism. Felix did not want infants to be baptized because he insisted that the norm of baptism involved volition along with intention and method and that infant baptism undermined the importance of personal involvement in one's own faith.


Felix and Conrad's people soon refused to have their infants baptized out of a conviction that the Church was in need of reformation and could only be reformed by honest and intentional involvement by Christian believers. They engaged in debate with Zwingli and there was no resolution or concession by either side of the debate. Instead, the civil authorities stepped in and committed one of the acts that Felix and Conrad feared: they made the Church's decision for it. So, those who insisted upon being baptized as an adult were condemned to die. Felix was baptized. Therefore, Felix was condemned to die.

They took him out onto the lake full of confidence that they were killing a man who rightly deserved it yet one must wonder if their hearts didn't quake at the thought of turning over the power of the Church to the State and murdering a man because of a theological dispute. But, they followed through with their orders and Felix was cast overboard into the cold water to drown to death as a martyr for a Church that refuses coercion and prizes sacrificial love.

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