Friday, August 01, 2008

A Dunk in the Eder

From the beginning the Brethren felt a call to radical obedience to the teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament. In 1708 they found that obedience to Jesus and the scriptures meant disobedience to the state. But after counting the cost, Alexander Mack and seven others decided to risk everything for their faith.

The call to radical obedience led three women and five men into the waters of the Eder River in central Germany on an early August morning in 1708. There the one who had been chosen by lot baptized Alexander Mack, who, in turn, baptized the other seven.

Alexander Mack, Jr., wrote about this day in the foreward to his father's pamphlet Rights and Ordinances, saying, "After they had all emerged from the water, and had dressed themselves again, they were all immediately clothed inwardly with great joyfulness."

What is more difficult for you and I to comprehend today is that by participating in this baptism, all eight became criminals because each of them had been baptized as infants and it was illegal to be baptized again.

In the Fall of 1706, Alexander Mack, his wife Anna and their two small sons left Schriesheim where Mack was the son of a respected mill owner but where they faced persecution for their Pietiest beliefs. They moved to the village of Schwarenau in the territory of Wittgenstein, an area known for religious tolerance. Here the Mack family and other Radical Pietists had more freedom to pursue their understanding of radical obedience to Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament.

Soon Mack and this small group of dissenters came to the conclusion that obedience required baptism. And true baptism, they were convinced, had to be an act chosen by an adult to demonstrate an inward change. These realizations caused the group to do even more serious Bible study to see how they were to live out their faith.

After much prayer and study, they decided to form a new community based on believers baptism by immersion. A letter was written to a trusted teacher named Hochmann seeking his advice. Hochmann confirmed the scriptural basis for their intentions, but he warned them to be sure it was God's will and to be ready to "count the cost."

After counting the cost and announcing their intentions to other Pietists, they gathered at the river on an early August morning to be dunked in the Eder. And the rest, as they say, is history, our history of 300 years.

Source and excerpts from Let Our Joys Be Known,
an adult Brethren Heritage Curriculum written by
Richard B. Gardner and Kenneth M. Shaffer (1998)