Skip to content

War against the Täufer

Catholicism appeared in the western valleys of the Oberland region of Bern starting in the beginning of the 15th century (that’s the 1400’s for those who don’t know). And it was in this time that the village of Adelboden received its first church. In the year 1433 a few men built this church, which building has changed very little since. Out of around 500 residents of the village at the time, 56 were willing to vouch for the salary and support of a priest.

But what does this church have to do with anything?

This church, it would appear, was the center of a clash between two faiths. On the one hand, we have the old farmers of the valley who held on to their ancient customs, including their simple understanding of the Gospel. On the other we have the Catholics, likely those who had been under some level of influence from the authorities of Bern which had acquired this valley a few years prior and which was at this time a devoutly Catholic city.

There is evidence that these people would have preserved an old Christian practice, long since abandoned by Rome. It would certainly seem as if they failed to baptize their infant children as was the practice of the newly arrived Catholic Church. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to trace baptismal records at all in these valleys back before a time well after the Reformation moved in.

This was obviously a matter of great trouble for the Catholics, and something they apparently fought very hard against. For it is on the side of the old church in Adelboden that the debate found permanent expression. Here there is an old Fresco which depicts the Last Judgment. This is a very common image on a Medieval Catholic church.

On the left portion of this picture are the blessed, those who at the judgment are allowed to enter into heaven. This side has been washed away by 500 years of weather. On the right, still quite visible, are those condemned to hell.  This is all very usual, except for one portion which stands out, and is not found elsewhere on last judgment paintings. There condemned to an eternity of suffering are the heads of unbaptized children.

This stands out, and makes a bold statement. This is not a common thing to place on the side of one’s church, and I can only imagine that it was put here quite deliberately. It certainly seems to make a bold statement against the baptizing of adults, and stands as a sharp warning to those who did not wish to have their children baptized.

Consider this in light of the following: Many Anabaptists today can trace their own heritage back to this very valley, or one of the neighboring valleys. And many of the old Anabaptist names can be shown to have originally come from this region. Adelboden, or at least the Engstligental in which it lies,  stands right about at the center of the Western Oberland region from which nearly all of the Amish faith hail. And if we follow this valley out north to the Thunersee, it is straight across this lake in a cave on the steep slopes of the Niederhorn that a Christian of the first century, an acquaintance to Paul by the name of Beatus, spent the last decades of his life. The valley in which Adelboden lies points directly at this cave, known as the Beatus Hölen.

Perhaps I am making too much of this. But I do not think so. Too me, this is far too much to merely be a coincidence. How strange that the rare depiction warning against adult baptism would be found in this same land where in half a century Anabaptism would be the most deeply rooted of any place in Switzerland or indeed, as it may seem, in all the world?

This painting was made in the year 1471. The practice of Adult Baptism supposedly began with the baptisms of the Zurich circle in 1525.

For those who don’t want to do the math, this message against adult baptism (in a future Anabaptist haven) was made 54 years before the practice supposedly began.

Maybe we should look at this and realize, our history is not shared with Protestantism, and our origin is not one of rebellion. Rather, we may after all possess a faith that comes down to us in a direct line from the Apostle Paul.

Advertisements

Waldleute

The high mountain passes of the Bernese Alps, known as the Berner Oberland, have for centuries been a distant, remote, and isolated place relatively free from any outside influence. A look at the local geography quickly reveals why.

Just south of the ancient city of Thun, which is in age perhaps more ancient than Jerusalem and maybe even a rival to Damascus, the jagged peaks of the Alps soar heavenward, piercing the clouds with their snowy heights. Between these peaks run a great number of valleys, with their rivers and tributaries which run on most cases down to the crystal clear Thunersee. In these valleys, walled in on all sides by towering peaks and monolithic guardians, live an ancient people known in times past as the Waldleute, or forest people.

The ancestors of these people and their unique culture have lived in these valleys for thousands of years. Many kingdoms and empires have passed through and ruled the lands below, but the mountains have always provided a stronghold.

The Niesen rises up from the shores of Lake Thun, and stands as the guardian of the western Oberland valleys. At its base, the Kander and Simme rivers merge and flow on to the lake, each one having descended from high up in the mountains. These two turbulent rivers with their valleys and tributaries mark the chief center of the land of an ancient people. For it is the Kandertal and the Simmental from which the earliest predecessors to the Anabaptist faith arise, along with their tributaries, the Kiental, Engstligental, and Diemtigtal.

It can be said with full assurance that the people of the upper valleys were never Catholic. There are three points which can be made which readily illustrate this point. First, their children were not baptized or christened in any Catholic church. Second, their marriages were not ever performed by a priest. Third, they never attended the mass or took part in the Eucharist. Indeed, throughout their entire history these people did not participate in any of the Catholic sacraments, and therefore it is impossible to say that they were Catholic or in any way affiliated with or under the dominion of Rome.

At the time of the establishment of Roman Christianity, which led in time to Catholicism, these lands were already on the very fringes of the Roman Empire. Their ancestors were given the gospel at the close of the first century, and carried it by themselves for over a millennium.

So what does this have to do with Anabaptism, exactly?

On the eve of the reformation, in the mid 15th century, the very first churches were built in these valleys. These were built by the Bernese, who had only begun to expand their territory into this region. However, even after the churches were built it was another matter to place priests in them. Most of these churches would in fact never have a priest, owing to the fact that within decades the Catholic church was driven forcibly from Bernese territory.

Here one might raise the point, if there were never churches in these valleys, how can we call them Christian? But here we must make an important point. The Church of Christ is not any building built by man’s hands, but is the body of believers brought together and built up by God. The people here had a simple yet penetrating faith that ruled their lives in many ways. This can be shown by the custom of engraving scriptures and invocations to God onto their homes, and by the deeply religious nature that to this day has been passed on to their descendents.

So when can we say that Anabaptism begins?

With the coming of the Reformation, the city of Bern sought to impose the mandated religion on all of its subjects. Prior to this, religious life in the Oberland was a very informal and unorganized affair. But if the traditions were to survive, and if this ancient faith were to prosper, then it would need at least some level of organization against the oncoming persecution.

It was at this time that God raised up leaders for His Church. First with the brethren in Zurich, whose ideas caught on to some degree in their own lands, but whose enduring effect would be to rally the believers in Bern. Through this movement, which was originally separate, a system was formed. Michael Sattler can said to be responsible for establishing and unifying a strong leadership. It was through the Schleithheim Confession, which Sattler organized and largely wrote, that the beliefs of the Anabaptists were firmly established. These important events gave these people the structure they would need if they were to survive.

The Master Builder

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, ...

Image via Wikipedia

For we are God’s fellow-workers: ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.
According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon.
For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble;
each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is.
If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward.
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.
Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye.

I am a carpenter, always have been and have no plans to do otherwise. That means I build things. I build houses of wood and nails, you see, that are bound to some day crumble to the ground. Nothing I have ever built is truly permanent, because everything on this earth is destined to pass away.

But there is a building that we can build that shall never pass away, a building with its foundation in heaven, its frame rightly fitted and joined so that it will never fall. I am talking, of course, about the Temple of God. This temple, mind you, is not a temple of stone or of wood, or of any material wrought by the hands of men. Rather this temple is built by the living stones shaped by Gods own hands. The temple of God is Christ’s Church, and the stones that build it are the believers, the true followers of Christ. This building has a great cornerstone, which was once rejected by the builders.

I suppose I can stop speaking in riddles. But I figured if I would do that first, it may help someone to appreciate the deep mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Our work for God’s kingdom is as builders. Some must lay the foundations, spreading God’s word and rooting it firmly into the lives of those that hear it. Others have the task of building up the Church on these foundations.

There are a great many ifs in my immediate future. I do not know what exactly God has in store for me. I don’t know his plans; I don’t know what is going to happen. There are some things that do not make sense to me, and other things that I am very excited about.

If all would go as planned right now, I would be doing in the mountains of Switzerland more or less what I do now at home -building. Of course, the style of building here is unlike anything we have in America (see the picture to the left if you don’t believe me). But with this, there is a great deal of uncertainty. I don’t speak the language, which is a unique dialect of German that in these mountains varies tremendously from one village to the next. I only know one family that lives there. And the list could go on for a while. But I am excited anyway. I have a great opportunity. I can learn new skills, I can learn a new language or two. Most of all, I can restore a connection with the land, the language, and the culture of my ancestors.

But this is all really unimportant. I do not want to go to learn how to build like this. I do not want to go to learn the language, and I do not really even want to go to restore a link to my own heritage. These things are all certainly a plus, but that’s not why I want to do this.

My reason for going is to go as a builder. Not a builder of houses of wood, that will just be something I do on the side. Rather, I hope to go as a builder of the Temple of God.

This place I go is, I believe, the very birthplace of my faith. It was in these mountains that for hundreds of years people clung to their ancient faith. But this faith was, after the time of the Reformation in Bern, attacked and driven from the land. Today, there are only a scattered few left here, and after centuries of persecution they are closed to outsiders.

To put it plainly, my vision, my hope, is to bring my faith back to the land where it came from. I feel a great burden for these people who have so rich a history, yet today have lost the light of faith that once burned so bright among them.It is also worth considering that some day the Anabaptists could return here, as we look ahead to the very real prospect that some day it may be difficult to maintain our beliefs in America.

 

Im Berner Oberland

Coat of arms city of Adelboden (Switzerland)

In the year 1528, a man by the name of Hans Bähler was born. Hans was born in the village of Wattenwil, in the Oberland region of the Canton of Bern. The birth of this ancestor of mine, 483 years ago, coincides with a number of important events. It was in this year that Bern officially adopted the Protestant Reformation. It was also in this year, as part of the official Protestant stance of the Canton, that Anabaptist doctrines were officially condemned by the state. It was also right around this time that the Anabaptists gained a great many converts in the Oberland. The village of Wattenwil lies right in the middle of the Oberland Anabaptist region, which was centered around the nearby city of Thun. This village is thought to have been an important center of Anabaptist activity.

As far as the Bernese Anabaptists are concerned, most are familiar only with the community in the Emmental, a region east of the city of Bern, one of the lower valleys north of the high Alps of the Oberland. The Anabaptists of the Emmental endured some of the harshest persecution imaginable. Their history resonates down through the years, because of all they went through, but mostly because they happened to keep very good records of it.

The persecution of the believers in the Oberland was every bit as severe, if not more so. The believers here were every bit as numerous as in the Emmental, probably far more. It is hard to say, because they did not keep any records. The government was far more zealous in exterminating the Oberland community, so much so that it does not exist at all today and there are virtually no good records to be found.

History does reveal itself to us, if we look close enough.

During the 17th century, thousands of Anabaptists fled their homes in the Canton of Bern. First they moved to the Swiss Jura, and then to the Alsace, which today is a part of France. Today, the majority of Anabaptists in America trace their heritage to those who fled to these lands. By observing the names common with these people, something becomes immediately obvious. Almost all of them come from the Oberland. Very few trace their origins to the Emmental. In America today, there are far more Anabaptists of Oberland origin than of any other region. This region is so undeniably important to our history and our heritage, yet we have almost totally forgotten about it. To many, Bernese Anabaptist and Emmentaler are one in the same.

But instead, for much of us our heritage does not go back to the castle of Trachselwald and the hills of the Emmental. Instead, our ancestors were thrown into dungeons in the great castle of Thun, and sought refuge high on the snow-covered peaks of the Alps and in the dense forests of Oberland valleys. Our ancestors came from villages such as Wattenwil, Adelboden, Sigriswil, Uetendorf, Frutigen,  and Kirchdorf, nestled in alpine valleys or along the shores of Lake Thun. They did not farm the fertile hills of the Emmental, but herded cattle in the high mountain pastures.

It is right into this land, to the village of Adelboden, that the doors seem to have opened for me. It is here, I am told, that the name Bütschi, which is remembered in English as Beachy, has its origins. A testament to the fact that once, perhaps 250 years ago, there were Anabaptists in this place. Today it is a popular tourist destination. It is well known for its ski slopes, and even hosts the world ski championships every winter, but its involvement in the history of the Anabaptists has been completely lost. For many people here, this may be a very real part of their own heritage. But they have long ago forgotten.

A Little Vision

Anabaptist Dirk Willems rescues his pursuer an...

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

A little bit of vision goes a very long way. Jesus tells us that those of us that have will be given more. I believe this applies to the area of vision as well. If we have a vision, then God will strengthen it, and it will flourish. Likewise, our Lord tells us that those who have not, even what they do have will be taken away. And so, as Solomon says in Proverbs, if we do not have a vision for God’s kingdom, we perish.

So what is your vision?

For the early Anabaptists, the vision started out small. A few believers gathered together with the vision of studying God’s Word to see what they were missing. With God’s help, this vision prospered. This vision led to the baptisms of 1525, and quickly spread all across Switzerland. By the 1530’s, thousands across the country followed the vision started by Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock. How quickly, and how wonderfully the Holy Ghost can work. What great things can our God do if he finds someone with vision?

This blog is about my vision, I vision I truly believe comes from the Lord. I want to share with you all the amazing things that my God has done. I want to be a willing servant, doing the things that God leads me to.

For me the vision started small. What if? But when things happen, then the vision grows. God giveth the increase

And things did certainly happen, without me looking for them.

God opened doors for me. Through ways I cannot even begin to understand, he put me in contact with a wonderful family that shares my vision. A Swiss family. A family from the very place that our ancestors come from, where the people have names like Stutzmann, Joder, Müller, Graber, Bütschi, Kaufmann, and of course Bähler. A family that holds a deep love for the Anabaptists, and for years has been seeking after our ways. Through this family, God seems to have opened the doors for me to travel to this far away land, to live and work there and, most of all, to share with hischildren there.

So will I actually go? I do not know. A lot remains to be seen, I am by no means guaranteed a job, and there certainly is no guarantee that the Canton of Bern will grant me the papers to stay for a long period. Whatever does happen, however, I am certain that it will be God’s will.

 

A Little Introduction

Coat of Arms of Switzerland.

Image via Wikipedia

Since this is my first post, I should probably explain what this blog is for.

The Title, Swiss Journey, in many ways expresses what this blog is all about. Of course it leaves a lot to the imagination, and so requires a bit of explanation.

This blog is about an incredible journey that the Lord has been taking me on, a journey that may ultimately lead me to (you guessed it) Switzerland. This is the land of my heritage, a land that holds a special place in my heart.

Switzerland is not only the land of my ancestry, but also it is the land of my spiritual heritage. The Anabaptists began in this land, and nearly all of us today can trace our ancestry back to this small country in the middle of Europe. So much of our history comes from this land, a history that in Switzerland today is all but forgotten…

 

This all began with a little thought: what if Anabaptism would return home? What if there were a revival among the Swiss people? What if our faith could once again be established in its land of origin?

So many of us can trace our families back to a few small villages in this country, yet in those villages today no one knows who we are, or what we believe, or what our ancestors, who are often times their ancestors too, endured. To be fair, however, we so often times forget these things too.

It is not fair to say that all of the Anabaptists left Switzerland. There are today two groups in this country. The first are the Mennonites, which are a small body consisting of perhaps 2000 people. To us as conservative Anabaptists, however, they are followers of the world. The Mennonites of the Emmental have even gone so far as to officially join the State Church of the Canton of Bern.

Then there are the Neutäufer, or New Mennonites. This group split off from the others in the 1830’s, seeing a need for reformation and restoration. Today it would be accurate to call them conservative Anabaptists. However, this group is very small, and very closed. They simply have no interest in reaching out.

So the little question came to mind. How can these people know the truth of the Gospel, if they have no one to teach them, and to show them God’s ways?

And with this question, the journey began…

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.