The outward reform of the church is useless unless accompanied by spiritual reform of the inner life of the Christian. So taught Caspar Schwenckfeld, known today as the forgotten reformer. Caspar grew up on an estate in Poland. He gained a good education and became involved in civil affairs. About 1519 he experienced a “visitation of the divine,” as he called it, and thereafter began earnestly studying Scripture. His Bible, printed in Worms, Germany, by Anton Koberger, became underlined and well marked with extensive scribbles in the margins.

In 1525 he journeyed one hundred miles by horseback to Wittenberg, and on December 1, he asked Martin Luther for an appointment. (As) Doctor Martin was accompanying us to the door, I drew him aside to a window and called his attention to the fact that I had previously written to him … and that I wished to speak with him. … He thereupon replied: Dear Caspar, I will be glad to confer with you, come tomorrow, as early as you wish, six, seven, or eight o’clock. Nothing shall hinder me. …

Caspar arrived early the next morning, about seven, but soon found himself at odds with “Doctor Martin.” Caspar feared that the tenant of justification by faith, if interpreted wrongly, would create moral danger; he was unable to accept Luther’s view of the Lord’s Supper; he believed that Christians feed on Christ’s celestial flesh by faith; he opposed participation in war and oath-taking; he rejected infant baptism; he opposed denominations.

He thus became part of the Radical Reformation and found himself persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. After much oppression from both church and state, he died on December 10, 1561. But his disciples multiplied through the years, and in 1734 a group of 180 of them sailed from Holland to America aboard the St. Andrews with brightly painted chests containing their belongings and books. They arrived in Philadelphia on September 22, 1734, calling themselves “Confessors of the Glory of Christ.” The Quakers welcomed them. The Confessors planted themselves in the Mennonite countryside, and five Schwenkfelder churches still exist today as part of the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.

Can anyone really harm you for being eager to do good deeds? Even if you have to suffer for doing good things, God will bless you. So stop being afraid and don’t worry about what people might do. Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. (1 Peter 3:13-15a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 22.

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