The date often used as the official beginning of the Reformation is October 31, 1517. Although Anabaptists and later Mennonites are most often identified as Protestants, they are really neither Protestant nor Catholic but a third stream during the time of the Reformation. At the same time they are both Protestant and Catholic, having been influenced just as much by mystical medieval monasticism as by Lutheran evangelicalism. The date often used as the official beginning of the Anabaptist movement is January 21, 1525.
One of my favourite stories of 16th century Anabaptism is the emergence of the young radicals of Zurich: Andreas Castleburger, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock, who were all students of the well-known reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Their little band became known as “the school of heretics” who took their mentor’s teaching farther and implemented it faster than he ever intended. On January 21, 1525 they baptized each other as an overt break, not only with their teacher but with their entire society. As a result, some of them were arrested and killed by Zwinglian authorities.
As a professor and mentor myself, it caused me to pause and wonder about my own students and young adult children when I visited the sites associated with this story. What is my response when they take my teaching to new vistas I may not have intended or even imagined? We now laud these young men of Zurich for their courage, but today, I am Zwingli and my students and young adult children are the young radicals. Do we turn around and label our young people as heretics and say, “Whoa, not so fast… Are you sure you know what you are doing? We’ve never done it this way before.”
A short distance from the Grossmunster where they met regularly, on a fishing platform in the middle of the Limmat River, Felix Manz was preparing for his “third baptism” by drowning. As he was being given his last chance of recantation, his mother shouted from the shore, “Stay strong Felix! Stay strong!” As we stood on the shore looking at the plaque in his honor, my wife and I wondered whether we would say the same to one of our young adult children. Maybe rather it would be, “It’s ok… you’ve made your point… don’t go to extremes… come home, get a job and live a nice life.”
What are the challenges in this story for parents/teachers? What are the challenges for young adults/students?