the weblog of Alan Knox

Anabaptists on the Reformation Preacher

Posted by on Aug 3, 2010 in church history, discipleship, edification, gathering | 15 comments

Anabaptists on the Reformation Preacher

After publishing “Things I Didn’t Learn in Baptist History Class,” I became even more interested in the source of the quote on that post. It turns out that the quote is from a Swiss Anabaptist pamphlet from 1532-1538, very early in the Reformation. You can find it in the article “Answer of Some Who Are Called (Ana-)Baptists – Why They Do Not Attend the Churches” by Shem Peachey and Paul Peachey. (Mennonite Quarterly Review 45 (Jan 1971), 5-32)

As I was reading through this pamphlet (which we only have because it was copied by one of their detractors), I noticed that the original authors did not stop at encouraging mutual edification during the church meeting. They also spoke against the practice of one person speaking, especially when the only person allowed to speak is an ordained minister:

And thus, as already mentioned, they [primarily Lutherans and Zwinglians] deny that we possess the evangelical order nor would they permit us to exercise it (if we did attend their preaching), but teach and presume that we also, as those who err, should remain silent in their preaching regardless of what we would have to speak to edification whether or not their preacher defaults from the truth, one must be silent, even though according to 1 Cor. 14 the listeners must judge the preacher’s doctrine. All judgment and everything, yes everyone in his conscience, is bound to the preacher and to his teaching, whether it be good or evil (to accept the same in conscience to believe and to do), and not the teaching of Christ and of his Holy Spirit. (12)

Later, the writers say that requiring everyone but the preacher to remain silent “annuls, transgresses and resists… yes, forbids and then also frustrates and impedes the rivers of living water.”

When most churches practice that only the pastor (or his representative) can speak during the church meeting, I do not think they intentionally do what the Anabaptists claim. Usually, its probably a matter of tradition and pragmatism.

But, were the Anabaptists correct? When we silence everyone (except one) do we hinder the work of God?

What do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-3-2010

    Ooo, good work! I searched the internet a bit but was unable to find more of that quoted article. Did you find it in print at a library or online?

    I do think the way sermons are usually given hinders the work of God. Educators know that students learn best when they interact with the material. Lecture format is not the best way to get people to apply learning into their lives. The person preparing the lecture will learn a lot, but the listeners will only retain a small fraction.

    I find it difficult to remain silent. I may agree with 95% of what is said from the front, but if there is 5% that I think could be interpreted a different way I feel compelled to speak up. But I’ve discovered that it is not always useful to approach the speaker after the sermon and give feedback of a different viewpoint… so I’ve learned to keep those thoughts to myself (or hash them out myself on a blog…).

    What if God wants to speak through different people to the gathered body? The way we have it structured we learn what the one person is learning from God… but I think we are missing out on a lot more.

    Thanks Alan, God bless!

  2. 8-3-2010


    I found the journal in our library. I think the Anabaptists were concerned with the potential for someone (even the *gasp* pastor) speaking error that could not be corrected. But they were also concerned with the practicing of quieting all other voices through which God could speak.


  3. 8-3-2010

    So I guess those guys who talk about particaptory meetings do have some history on their side? I thought this was fabricated to take down one of the 9 marks of a healthy church.

  4. 8-3-2010

    After having been a member of a home fellowship where all are encouraged to share, I have come to know how the Anabaptists have it right. So many times listening to a sermon, I come upon an insight that is so exciting to me, and yet I can only share it in barely breathed whispers to my husband beside me, lest I disturb others listening to the sermon. In our fully participatory meetings, I can actually share my insights out loud without fear of interrupting anything! (Well, as long as I wait my turn and don’t speak over another brother or sister!) There is nothing more freeing, nothing more exciting, than being freely able to share what has been laid upon your heart.

  5. 8-3-2010


    We must be mistaken. This whole participatory mutual edification is some new fangled thing, right?


    Yes, it’s great when our experience matches the example of Scripture.


  6. 8-4-2010

    What’s difficult is that 99% of church goers today don’t know how it works or how it would work. The idea seems chaotic. And indeed it could be in large large groups, however, even then breaking up into smaller groups to process and discuss then letting those groups speak to the larger groups it can be done. We don’t have many trained facilitators for that, though.

  7. 8-4-2010


    Yes, you’ve hit on something big. People do not know that it’s their responsibility to teach one another and to judge/discern/consider what someone else says. Even when given the opportunity, many sit quietly and wait for others to serve them.


  8. 8-5-2010

    Do you think anyone should share who feels led? What if the ones sharing are not so much spirit -led, but just full of themselves? I mean a situation where the majority of the congregation knows what’s going on with certain people. Repeat offenders who just let it fly to be heard. Any experience in that area? Shouldn’t we have few teachers? What if the meeting degenerates into group therapy rather than mutual edification- where teaching takes a backseat to experience. I’m sure you’re familiar with some of the Anabaptists who took their experience and community life to the extreme.

  9. 8-5-2010


    Any of us could speak when the Spirit is not leading us to speak, or we could be silent when the Spirit IS leading us to speak. Thus, we can all disobey the Spirit’s work in our lives. Those who are more mature (whether elders or others) should help people who either constantly speak or never speak. There is always a danger (as with the Reformers or Anabaptists) of going to one extreme or another. Teaching is important, and should always be important. But, other types of sharing and speaking are also important, and should always be important.


  10. 5-11-2011

    Hi I am an Anabaptist Pastor, and will just share my experience leading a church that has attempted to try to move in this direction. Though we have one speaker usually, it is not I, in fact at least 50% of the time it is not I, but we have developed many with different gifts and they bring their gift forward. Often there is time for questions, or others input, but mostly we consider the speakers words.

    We have at times in the past, lead in a way that opened the door for a “Every one has” services, which usually starts off with people truly preparing their hearts and minds with the things God is teaching them, but then often digresses to a sharing time of what ever is in the heart or mind at the time. This has too often made the time not so much of the Lord, and the flow of his presence seems just as stilted, and the messages, pablum, and full of opinion and old bread, not fresh revelation. Though the Spirit will teach through the sharing, and encourage hearts from the testimonies, but often does little to teach us.

    If you study the Anabaptists further, you will also see that they were people of the word, not just opinion who may read a daily bread, but are not really students of the word. We see that the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, as a great help to any fellowship, and that low and behold one of them is called “Teacher”. Which is not just one who has studied, but one who is gifted by the Spirit to teach.

    I would say that we need a balance here for us to stay on course. Your point is that a one voice fellowship is a potential danger, and has probably lead to the body of Christ being so illiterate in the Word.

    I would just say, I think that the scriptures, will support an approach that should have both, and in submission one to another walk in a submitted way that builds, not deconstructs all the time.

    I’ll bet your dissertation is fascinating, will you publish it?

  11. 5-11-2011


    I think that God gifts some among the church with speaking gifts (grouping them together like in 1 Peter 4:10-11). Naturally (and supernaturally) these people will probably speak more than others. However, God can and does work through the speaking of others as well. So, I like to have a meeting where all have the opportunity to speak. If we are following the Spirit, then the Spirit will be able to speak through whomever he desires. Of course, if we’re not following the Spirit, then it doesn’t really matter who has the opportunity to speak – we will each decided on our own whether we should speak or not or whether we should allow others to speak or not.

    My dissertation is coming along very slowly because I need to work on other things for now. I would love to publish it once it’s complete. In fact, I’d prefer to rework it and publish it in a less technical/academic format.


  12. 7-19-2011

    Nice post. Gotta love history!

    Regarding the fear that mutually participatory meetings would frequently tend to disorder, and considering that the vast majority of U.S. churches presently have one or more professional pastors, perhaps one possible way forward could be found in thinking about how Paul “preached.” From what I can tell, he didn’t deliver a sermon as most would think of sermons today, but dialogged, reasoned, persuaded, even debated as he proclaimed Christ. In this way it would seem at least to me that he acted as both teacher and facilitator.

    I know that applying this to existing churches would not in most cases produce a totally “organic” church, but could it for some be a step in the right direction?

  13. 7-20-2011

    What you have written is at the heart of why we had at one time involved ourselves in a local Brethren church. The pastor solicits feedback at meetings where the participants are comfortable with interacting- what they call “the early service”

  14. 8-17-2012

    Alan, my husband runs a unique format of church meeting where leadership is all about facilitation, not performance. Everybody is involved in active learning techniques, everyone speaks and contributes. It’s an immensely powerful way to empower people to connect, learn and grow. One of the mottos of the group is “one leader (Jesus), many teachers (each other).”

    We believe interactive learning is particularly relevant in this time, where the Internet and social media are changing the way people interact and see themselves. We are increasingly empowered outside of the church – yet we seat people in rows and speak at them in church, even those who are spiritually mature and want to contribute.

    I have written a book called “Church in a Circle” to share what we have learned. I’m up to the third draft and planning to submit it for publication soon.

    Thank you for this interesting article and for your ministry,


  15. 8-17-2012


    Thank you for your comment. We’ve also found that sitting in a circle facilitates mutual teaching and learning and removes the focus from one person (or a few people). I’ve added your site to you Google Reader, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.