The Anabaptists of the 16th century referred to the resurrection in four basic ways. (1) They acknowledged that Jesus had been crucified, that he died and rose again on the third day (Hubmaier, Schriften, 134, 254, 289, 296-97, 350, 368-69; Riedemann, Confession, 30; CRR 2:59). (2) In their view the resurrection of Christ signified that there would also be a resurrection for those who believed in Christ. This hope gave them confidence and strength in suffering, knowing that Christ would be victor over sin and death (Menno, Writings, 53; Hubmaier, Schriften, 217, 371, 325; Riedemann, Confession, 23, 32, 46, 214; CRR 2:408; Klassen in MQR 32: 271). (3) Most often the resurrection was referred to in relation to the new birth, a central point of discussion in the disputes and in the teachings of the Anabaptists. Baptism was viewed in analogy to the death and resurrection of Christ -- "In baptism [the regenerate] bury their sins in the Lord's death and rise with him to a new life" (Menno, Writings, 93). Frequent references were made to Paul's concept of being buried and raised with Christ in baptism (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4-5). Baptism was seen as a sign of the new birth, of being raised to a new life in Christ. This new birth, however, was the entrance into the body of Christ, the church, and was signified by baptism (Wenger, Glimpses, 141, 149; Hubmaier, Schriften, 180, 181, 188, 194, 217, 230, 244, 338, 487; Riedemann, Confession, 18, 30, 57, 77; CRR 2:83; Menno, Writings, 93, 122). (4) A unique and theologically significant use of the resurrection appears in article one of the Schleitheim Confession (1527). "Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and ... who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ." The concept of "walking in the resurrection" was arrived at by putting together the oft-quoted passages of 1 Peter 1:3 (resurrection and new birth), 1 Peter 3:21 (resurrection and a good conscience) and the references of Paul "to walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4) and to be buried and raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12).
H. S. Bender sees this reference to walking in the resurrection as central to the Anabaptist ethic and emphasis (1961). It catches well their emphasis on the new birth, the new life in Christ, discipleship, "walking in the will of the spirit" (Felix Manz, TA Schweiz I [Zürich], 237-38), the empowerment of the spirit, and their willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ. In contrast to others who thought that Christians could never really break the bondage of sin and live in holiness, the Anabaptists lived in the resurrection, i.e. in the power of the resurrected Lord, who now lived in them. To walk in the resurrection meant putting away the old person of sin and putting on the new person of holiness; it meant living the life of love toward all people.
This emphasis on discipleship, obedience, love and self-sacrifice earned the Anabaptists the accusation of work-righteousness, but unjustifiably so, as J. C. Wenger has pointed out (1961). They believed that, under the power of the Holy Spirit, it was possible to live a life in good conscience to God (1 Peter 3:21); that it was possible to do the will of God; and that it was possible to live a Christ-like life. Before the resurrection people were powerless against sin, but after the resurrection people could live in the power of the resurrected Lord; before people were not free; now God's people were free to do God's will (Hubmaier, Schriften, 321). Everywhere in their writings, the Anabaptists linked the resurrection with a new and sanctified life (Menno, Writings, 265; Hubmaier, Schriften, 188, 230, 244, 338, 487, 150, 136, 312, 112, 122, 134; Riedemann, Confession, 30, 69, 77, 79, 224; CRR 2: 112, 187, 193).
In several instances the Anabaptists were accused of not believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ. (Marpeck Verantwortung, ed. Loserth, 1929, pp, 3311 238, 403, 510; Wenger in MQR 1938, p. 255; Krahn, MQR, 1955, pp. 256-58; Neff in ML, 1:90; Hubmaier, Schriften, 312; Riedemann, Confession, 30, 40-45, 52; Dyck in MQR, 1962, pp. 147-54, 165). This was not the case however, for Hubmaier makes an explicit attempt to refute such rumors (Schriften, 312) and Peter Riedemann makes it explicit as well (Confession , 40-45). Several items, however, contributed to this misunderstanding. Calvin referred to the resurrection as a resuscitation to which the Anabaptists replied that of such a fleshly or physical event they knew nothing (Farley, 113). The other contributing factor was Menno Simons' view of the birth of Jesus as simply passing through the body of Mary, taking none of her flesh. This then had implications for the heavenly body in terms of heavenly flesh (Writings, 432-33).
Another point of contention was the frequent reference to the life after death in terms of "sleep" (Williams, Radical Reformation, xxvi; ML 1:90; Hubmaier, Schriften, 312; Riedemann, Confession, 30, 52, 40-45; Farley). Anabaptists were seen by their opponents as holding to the death of the soul after physical death and the resurrection of the soul at the last day. Williams, using Calvin's words, refers to their position as psychopannychism. The Anabaptists did not so much advocate the death of the soul after death, but they were insisting that the teachings on purgatory were not biblical.
It is clear that in the early years of the Anabaptist movement eschatology was a strong motivating force. The hope of the resurrection gave them the power to live by the Gospel and signaled that the time was short, time that must be spent in the service of Christ, and in vigorous missionary work. The decline of the eschatological fervor in the Anabaptist movement caused it to lose some of its missionary zeal and some of its radicalism, but the view of the resurrection and its ethical importance remained.
The time of liberalism and the time of radical, critical historicism had its impact on some of the Mennonite leaders and scholars such as Sytse Hoekstra Benedictuszoon (d. 1898) in Holland and Gordon Kaufman in America. The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in North America shaped the way such leaders as Daniel Kauffman spoke of the resurrection. But the basic theological position sketched above remained representative for the Mennonites. This can be seen in the more recent confessions of faith, in written articles, and in the lack of controversy over the question of the resurrection.
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Cite This Article
Schroeder, David. "Resurrection." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 10 Mar 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Resurrection&oldid=100720.
Schroeder, David. (1989). Resurrection. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 March 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Resurrection&oldid=100720.
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