Hutterite Missioners (Sendboten)

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While it is characteristic of Anabaptism in general that its very existence is preconditioned by the mission idea (as over against the state and national churches with their comprehensive constituency), this is in particular true of the Hutterites, perhaps the most active and aggressive missioners of the entire 16th century. They acted out of a strong sense of being called to spread the Gospel, to call people to repent and to change their life in a spiritual rebirth, and to invite men and women to follow Christ as true disciples. They "sent brethren every year to lands near and far according to the commandments of Christ and the practice of the apostles, to teach and to preach and to gather for the Lord God's people" (Ehrenpreis, Ein Sendbrief, 1652, Von der Sendung in die Länder).

The established churches in Germany contested the right of the Brethren to send out missioners on the ground that they had not been ordained by God to do so. For instance the Calvinist superintendent of Alzey in the Palatinate asked the Hutterite missioner Leonhard Dax, imprisoned in 1567, who had given him the right and authority to come into the Palatinate to confuse the people. Dax replied that he was not sent to confuse them but rather to lead everybody from error to the right way of Christian discipleship. The Brethren owed it to the world to bring it the pure and unadulterated Word of God. And those who were sent by the brotherhood were properly ordained as "apostles" (Sendboten), and must be considered as commissioned by God Himself. Otherwise also the apostolic church would not have done right. (He quoted Phillipians 2; Colossians 4; 2 Timothy 4; Titus 3; Acts 11-13, 18.) Dax had also been chosen to this service by an orderly established Christian church (Gemeinde), whose duty it was to preach faith in Christ and to testify both to repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name, and that not only at one specified place but to the ends of the earth. (Dax epistles)

In order to be able to fulfill the task laid upon them by the Lord, the congregation semiannually (usually in the spring and fall) chose from the preachers a number of Brethren to perform a widespread missionary service in all directions, to preach the Gospel in accordance with the commandment of Christ, and to lead the converts to the "promised land" or Moravia.

The departure of these missioners was always a most solemn occasion, as everyone was fully conscious of the extraordinary responsibilities laid upon these itinerant preachers, and also of the real dangers involved in this task. We find in one Hutterite codex of 1628 (in Esztergom) two descriptions: "How the Brethren who go into foreign lands take leave from the brotherhood" and "Response of the elders to the Brethren who are about to leave." (A full description may be found in Loserth, 228-231, and Wiswedel, Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 1948: 119 f.) Words of encouragement, of wisdom, and of trust in God and His guidance are exchanged, and the parting Brethren are then assured of the intercessory prayers of the entire brotherhood while they are away on their dangerous task. At the end, a hymn composed especially for this occasion was sung, "Ein Lied wöllen wir singen und fürher bringen tun" (1568); Wolkan (Lieder, 206-209) prints the entire hymn, and the Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (650-652) borrows from him.

Each missioner had his field assigned to him; thus Brethren went out to all parts of Germany (Bavaria, Württemberg, Hesse, Thuringia, Rhineland, also Silesia and Prussia), to Switzerland, to Poland, and in two cases also to Venice, Italy. A few even came as far as Denmark and Sweden, but that was hardly their actual field of work. Each brother had epistles and tracts in his knapsack. The home congregation supported its missionaries not only by prayers but also by writing them letters and, in case of imprisonment, by dispatching Brethren to maintain contact, bring them these letters and receive their replies, also to bring home all news of importance. The missionaries, on the other hand, never tired of writing letters home about their success or, if arrested, their trials and their good cheer and unshaken trust in God.

As a rule the Brethren held their meetings at night in remote places, often in forests or mountain glens, in lonely mills, barns, stone quarries, and the like. It was not as their opponents asserted (Menius, for example) that they only "sneaked" around in corners because they feared the light of the day or despised church buildings, but merely because they were safer in such places. By chance we learn also how they called such meetings and how they came into contact with possible listeners. T. W. Röhrich published a "letter of invitation" (which by chance was found in the Strasbourg church archives) in which those who arranged the meeting wrote to a couple to come then and there ("in the house where one has been before") and not to be late and also to invite "the old man" to come too (Röhrich, 115, note 73).

As to the exact contents of their message and preaching we do not know too much. We may assume that it was about the same as what we read in their epistles and tracts. In the Handbüchlein wider den Prozess we read: "An evangelical missioner shall use the sword of the Spirit which reveals to men the sin of their heart, separates them from the wrong, revives the soul and gives assurance of eternal life in the faith of Christ."—"We believe in Jesus Christ," writes Riedemann in his Rechenschaft, "and although men cry against us that we seek to become pious and saved by our own works, we say no to that." And Hans Hut confessed at his trial that he taught nothing but first repentance, then believing, and finally baptism upon faith. But this baptism imposes also the obligation to live as the Word of God indicates. Without such a life of obedience faith does not save. Above all they stressed discipleship—a message which people could not hear anywhere else. There is no God-fearing life without the "fruits of the Spirit." Hence it is deemed necessary to leave this worldly life and join the brotherhood. People may see for themselves in Moravia how genuine disciples of Christ actually live.

The result of this message was truly amazing. A continuous stream of Brethren moved from all parts toward Moravia, from Tyrol, from Switzerland, and also from Württemberg, and the Rhineland, including the Palatinate. It made the authorities of these countries uneasy, and almost everywhere laws were enacted specifying that those who left for Moravia should lose all claim to their parental inheritance. But the price of these achievements was also no small one. Very few of the missioners died a natural death. Most of them ended their lives as martyrs, being burned, beheaded, drowned, or imprisoned for life. "Thus fare the messengers of God who seek to help people out of ruin," remarks the Geschicht-Buch. The memory of these blood witnesses is retained in the brotherhood by word, song, or writings. Time and again we find remarks of that kind in the Chronicle.

The execution of these brave men was quite often a public event shared by a crowd "of thousands." As these brethren went to the place of martyrdom with shining eyes, admonishing people to remain loyal to their faith in God and to follow His commandments, people were profoundly touched, and many turned Anabaptist as a consequence of such an event. And this the Brethren knew and were unafraid of trial and suffering. There was a time, Loserth contended, when almost all of Tyrol and Styria were in sympathy with Anabaptism. It was about the same everywhere in southern Germany.

The missionary zeal lessened somewhat toward the end of the 16th century when the situation in Moravia began to deteriorate, hence the incentive to come thither became weaker. But we still hear of mission work in Prussia (Josef Hauser) and in Silesia in the early 17th century. Even after the Brethren had been expelled from Moravia and moved to Slovakia, they tried to continue their mission work although on a reduced scale. The last mission work was done around 1650-1654 in Danzig, where individuals of the Polish (Anti-Trinitarian) Church were contacted (see Ehrenpreis).

Perhaps the most successful of all Hutterite missioners was the brother Hänsel Schmidt or Raiffer, who was burned at Aachen in 1558.


Dax epistles, Beck Collection in Brno, file 14.

Ehrenpreis, Andreas. Ein Sendbrief an alle diejenigen, so sich rühmen und bedünken lassen, dass sie ein abgesondertes Volk von der Welt sein wollen: als sonderlich die sich auch Brüder und Schwestern nennen, als Mennisten, Schweizer Brüder und andere mehr, wo sie hin und wieder in viel Orten und Landen, in dunkeln, wolkichten, neblichten Tagen dieser Welt zerstreuet sind. Brüderliche Gemeinschaft das höchste Gebot der Liebe betreffend [Matt. 5:6, II Peter 1:10]. Scottdale, Pa.: [Mennonite Publishing House], 1920: 122 ff.

Ehrenpreis, Andreas.  Von der Sendung in die Länder.

Litteil, Franklin H. "Anabaptist Theology of Missions." Mennonite Quarterly Review 21 (1947): 5-17.

Littell, Franklin H. The Anabaptist view of the church: an introduction to sectarian Protestantism. [Hartford]: American Society of Church History, 1952: 94-112.

Loserth, Johann.  "Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. and 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Lehre, Geschichte and Verfassung." Archiv für österreichische Geschichte 81, 1 (1895): 228-231.

Rideman, Peter. Account of Our Religion. Bridgnorth, England, 1950.

Röhrich, T. W. "Zur Geschichte der Strassburger Wiedertäufer." Zeitschrift für Historische Theologie (1860): 115 n., note 73.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer. Berlin, 1903. Reprinted Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1965: 206-209.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Wiswedel, W. "Die alten Taufgemeinden und ihr missionarisches Wirken." Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte (1943): 183-200; (1948): 119 f., (1948): 115-132.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1956

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Friedmann, Robert. "Hutterite Missioners (Sendboten)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 16 May 2022.

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Friedmann, Robert. (1956). Hutterite Missioners (Sendboten). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 May 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 866-867. All rights reserved.

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