Conrad and Felix

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Conrad and Felix liked Ulrich. When Ulrich Zwingli led the reformation in Switzerland, his absolute commitment to the authority of scripture attracted Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz to support him. They went a little further than Zwingli went, however. When they read about the early church they noted the difference it and their own. Among other things, they saw the importance of “believer’s baptism.” The Roman Catholic church practiced infant baptism and these reformers believed the New Testament taught that only those who had come to faith in Christ were to be baptized after conversion.

So, in the Fall of 1524, Conrad and his wife had a decision to make: Would they have the baby baptized, or would they stick to what they believed the scripture taught. The Grebels refused and bad things started to happen. Because the church and the state were one in that country, refusing to have an infant baptized amounted to a crime. On January 17, 1525, the city council arranged a hearing. After hearing from both sides on the question, the council sided with the status quo. It warned all parents who had neglected to have their children baptized to do so within a week.

That’s what led to that fateful day, January 21, 1525. Conrad and his followers held a “believer’s baptism. They were imprisoned and commanded to stop. As soon as they got out, however, they continued. Finally, the Zurich council lost all patience. On 7 March 1526, it decided that anyone found rebaptizing would be put to death by drowning. Apparently their thought was, “If the heretics want water, let them have it.” Within a year, on 5 January 1527, Felix Manz became the first Anabaptist martyr. The Zurich authorities drowned him in the Limmat River, which flows through the city.

Sounds like a lot of fuss over a small difference doesn’t it? After all, both sides believed in Christ; both sides held the Bible to be their final authority; both sides thought they had found God’s will in the matter. Why did they make this such a big deal?

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