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As Ulrich Zwingli preached in Zurich, he sought to bring reformation to Switzerland within the context of the established state church. In Zurich and throughout Europe, there was little difference between state and church. All babies baptized were thereby considered members of the church and citizens of the city. But Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, impatient with Zwingli’s reforms, began holding Bible classes in private homes, and their investigation of Scripture raised questions about state-sponsored sprinkling of infants.
When Grebel’s wife gave birth to a son the stage was set for conflict. On January 17, 1525, the Zurich City Council arranged a public debate on the issue. Zwingli insisted that all children be baptized by their eighth day, while Grebel and Manz argued that baptism symbolized a believer’s commitment to Christ. They lost.
Four days later under cloak of darkness, a dozen men trudged through falling snow to Manz’s house. After kneeling in prayer, one of them, George Blaurock, asked Grebel to baptize him in the apostolic fashion—upon his confession of personal faith in Christ. Grebel did so, then Blaurock, a former priest, baptized the others.
Zwingli was incensed, and these radical reformers were soon driven from Zurich. They established a congregation in the nearby village of Zollikon, the first “free” church of modern times. But they weren’t free from Zwingli, who hounded them, or from Zurich’s arm of persecution.
Grebel, his health failing in prison, died of the plague. Blaurock was burned at the stake. And Zurich officials decided that if Manz wanted baptism so badly, they would give it to him. Taking him from Wellenberg prison, they bound his arms and legs. As they rowed down the middle of Zurich’s Limmat River, his mother shouted over the splashing oars for him to remain true to Christ. After he sang “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” he was rolled overboard, and the cold waters of Lake Zurich closed over his head.
As they were going along the road, they came to a place where there was some water. The official said, “Look! Here is some water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. Then they both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 17.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1677 – Trial of Lodowicke Muggleton, a fanatic religious leader who had gathered many followers and annoyed London authorities by claiming to be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 and publicly cursing opponents. He will be sentenced to stand in the pillory for three days in three sections of London, to pay a £500 fine (or go to jail), and to have his books publicly burned. The sect of Muggletonians had arisen under his teaching.
1705 – John Ray, a naturalist, and theologian; died in Essex, England. He systematized botanical classification and developed a theology that sought to understand God’s wisdom and power by studying created things. His system for classifying plants was the first to divide flowering plants into monocots and dicots.
1932 – Charles Gore, founder of the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican monastery; died in London, England. He was an author, a bishop, and an advocate for social justice.
1945 – Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish Lutheran diplomat, is last seen alive by his friends after Soviets take him into custody. His resourcefulness had saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Nazi occupation. He will be remembered with other Righteous Gentiles in the Episcopal Church calendar on July 19.
*Information retrieved from ChristianHistoryInstitute.com.