Movements often suffer more from friends than from foes, and the devil often slips his extremists among God’s servants. The Anabaptists, for example, were a peaceful people who believed in baptism as a symbol of salvation and opposed the baptism of infants. They originated the idea of the “free church”—a church separate from the state. And they provided the roots for such groups today as the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren in Christ. But the Anabaptist movement itself never recovered from a fanatic named Jan van Leiden.
It happened in Munster, Germany. In the 1530s Munster attracted many with Anabaptist sentiments, and in a series of elections, Anabaptists gained control of the city council. Into the picture emerged 28-year-old Jan van Leiden. Charismatic and zealous, he seized power and stirred up the citizenry with soaring visions, calling Munster the “New Jerusalem” and himself “King David.” He took multiple wives and passed laws permitting polygamy, there being six times as many women as men in the city.
Jan predicted the world would soon end but that his followers would be spared. He forced people to be baptized and introduced communization of property. The Catholic world was shocked by his hedonistic orgies. The whole city was jolted when, in a fit of frenzy, he beheaded one of his four wives with his own hands in the marketplace.
On June 24, 1535, after 24 months of chaos and corruption, the besieged city fell to Francis of Waldeck and Anabaptists were butchered. “King David” was captured and tortured, red-hot pinchers clawing every inch of his body. Then he was hung in a cage in the tower of the Church of St. Lambert in Munster’s chief marketplace. His remains swung in the cage from the church rafters for 400 years until finally removed in the twentieth century.
The Munster fiasco was the most serious aberration of sixteenth-century Anabaptism, and it strengthened the position of those wanting to persecute the Anabaptist cause. Rulers determined to rid Europe of every vestige of Anabaptism, and multitudes of good people suffered endlessly because of a handful of extremists.
You were doing so well until someone made you turn from the truth. And that person was certainly not sent by the one who chose you. A little yeast can change a whole batch of dough.
After his solo, Rodney coughed nervously and said, I am only a gipsy boy. I do not know what you know about many things, but I know Jesus. I know that He has saved me. I cannot read as you do; I do not live in a house as you do; I live in a tent. But I have got a great house up yonder, and some day I am going to live in it. My great desire is to live for Christ.
Thus began 70 years of remarkable, world-renowned evangelistic work.
Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. (Philippians 3:8,10a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 24.