2018: Zürich, Switzerland

The commission met at the BWA’s Annual Gathering, July 3-6, 2018, in Zürich, Switzerland. Topics of each session are described below. 

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Historical Tours

Session 1

Tuesday, July 3, 4:30-6:30 pm

4:30-4:40 – Introductions and Updates on Commission Members

Brian opened the series of meetings with a reading from Psalm 40 and prayer, followed by a welcome and the introduction of those who were in attendance. Brian then introduced our presenters.

4:40-5:10 – Baptist Anabaptist scholar, Martin Rothkegel (Germany), presented his paper, “The First Zurich Believer’s Baptisms of 1525, the Swiss Brethren, and the 2025 Quincentenary Forgotten, Rediscovered, Contested” (paper coming soon)

Martin Rothkegel

Martin Rothkegel studied protestant theology (Th. D., Charles University Prague, 2001) and classical philology (D.Phil., University of Hamburg, 2005). He is professor of church history at the Theologische Hochschule Elstal, near Berlin, Germany. His research is focused on religious nonconformity in Early Modern Europe. He is the editor of the series Bibliotheca Dissidentium. Répertoire desnon-conformistes religieux des seizième et dix-septième siècles (Baden-Baden: Éditions Valentin Koerner).

Rothkegel overviewed the young circle who became known as Anabaptists, and their commitment to the New Testament pattern of believer’s baptism. When they followed in the practice of believer’s baptism in January of 1525, they were the first to do so following the gradual decline of the practice that happened after the Council of Nicea of 325. When current Christians champion believer’s baptism and separation of Church and State, they follow in the legacy of the Anabaptists, not Luther or Zwingli, or Calvin, or the English reformers. This date, then, should be celebrated by all Christians. Our Roman Catholic friends who uphold Vatican II’s Dignitatus Humanus are also included in this legacy in regard to religious freedom.

Martin surveyed the Hutterite Chronicles (1565-78), written during the Hutterite’s “Golden Age,” by those who were diligent about recording their history, for the details about what happened as the young scholars split from Zwingli’s Reformed movement in Zurich between October 1523 and January 1525, and what happened after they did so. Luther blotted out Zurich and blamed the “uprisings” on Thomas Muntzer, and Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575, Zwingli’s successor in Zurich), castigated the group in his teaching, preaching, and Second Helvetic Confession (1562/4), resulting in more than three hundred years of persecution against the Anabaptists. More records in the Martyr’s Mirror (1660) supported the Hutterite Chronicles, but also suggested that there had been an unbroken line of beliefs among Hussites (followers of Jan Huss, 1369-1415) and Bohemian Brethren, and that what happened in Zurich was not something new, but rather a continuation of 14th century reformer’s work.

Rothkegel then reviewed several historians who led the field in Anabaptist studies and their major contributions. To this day, there are differing opinions and conclusions reached by scholars, simply because the Anabaptists dispersed the day following the baptism service, and they were hunted and/or died before their vision could be realized.

The question of who exactly were the “Swiss Brethren” was explained as well. Rothkegel found that between 1538-1554, there were a number of congregations of Anabaptists in the Neckar region, in Schaffhausen, and the Palatinate. In 1540, there were but two churches. The demographics changed in 1555, and afterward, where the center of Anabaptists had moved to Strasbourg and Cologne. Books were then printed in the mid 17th century in Cologne or Lower Rhine, and only one in Basel, demonstrating the shifting pattern of Anabaptist movement. Hans Hut, baptized in 1525, was banned from Swiss territories to South Germany for twenty years, and his work encouraging underground cell groups and synods to meet, perhaps spawned the term, “Swiss Brethren.” By the 17th century, the Brethren were in Bern and later moved to the Palatinate and Alsace.  People now living in Pennsylvania in the US mostly came from Switzerland and South Germany when they emigrated.

What will we celebrate in the 2025 Quincentenary? The work of Balthazar Hubmaier (1480-1528), perhaps the foremost theologian among the South German Anabaptists. We will celebrate pacifism, passed down through the Anabaptist Reform legacy to current Baptist ethicist scholars like McClendon and the late Glen Stassen. We can celebrate the union of Mennonites and Baptists today, the union of Swiss Reformed and Anabaptists, and believer’s baptism, democracy, and separation of Church and State.

Peter Detweiler

5:10-5:30 – Response by Rev. Peter Detweiler, Reformed Pastor and Ecumenical Officer of the Zurich Reformed Church, Switzerland. 

Peter addressed the Commission and responded to Martin Rothkegel’s paper by saying that he works a great deal with many groups today as part of his office. Today, Zurichers live in Bern, Swiss people have moved to Germany and are now German. Now the demographics are very complex.

Detweiler took the lead in 2004, leading up to the Swiss Reformed Church’s Celebration of the 500th year anniversary of Bullinger’s birth. The Church leadership realized that they could not, in Christian conscience, remember Bullinger (Zwingli’s successor) without also remembering that he was a persecutor. He had accused the Anabaptists of heresy and encouraged their banishment, punishment, and murders, setting up more than 300 years of persecution across Europe until the year religious freedom was proclaimed in Switzerland in response to the Enlightenment. Even after this, Anabaptists were categorically imprisoned for refusing to serve their military terms until 1995, when they were given alternative ways to serve their country with civil service options.

Dealing head-on with this crisis, Peter Detweiler began contacting Anabaptists, building networks of friendships with the Amish, Swiss Brethren, Moravian Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites across the globe. He visited them, conveyed his eagerness to reconcile, and penned the powerful statements of confession, reconciliation, and invitation to become unified in Christ. At home, the Swiss Reformed leadership considered all aspects of this historical error that had occurred and asked how they, in this generation, could bring about healing and reconciliation and union. The Swiss Reformed Church invited several hundred Mennonites to a service of repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness scheduled for 26 June 2004.

The Grossmunster was packed the day of the service, when the Swiss Reformed Church read aloud its published and formal apology, its recognition of the correct positions that Anabaptists had taken in 1525, and its sin with regard to the persecution and hostility it had carried for so long against them. The people together read liturgy about reconciliation, heard sermons from both Anabaptist and Swiss Reformed leaders, and walked solemnly to the Limmat River, where a plaque was unveiled at the spot where Felix Manz and others had been drowned to death for their beliefs in believer’s baptism, separation of church and state, their refusal to take an oath, and their pacifism. by these actions, the Swiss Reformed Church publicly stated that two reformed movements had begun in Zurich: the Swiss Reformed Church, and the Radical Reformers – the Anabaptists.

5:30-6:10 – Rainer Ebeling, longtime Baptist pastor, presented his paper on “The History of the Swiss Baptist Union in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”

Rainer Ebeling

Dr. Rainer Ebeling has worked for Theologischer Schulungs-Service (Theological Training School) since 2004. He served as a pastor in Germany and Switzerland for many years and now serves as a volunteer to other missionary associations.Ebeling did his theological training at the Baptist Seminary in Hamburg, Germany, at the Baptist Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland, as well as at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.In 1995 he earned his doctorate, which was based on the study of the life of German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1905-1945).

Ebeling began his presentation by covering the astounding early growth of the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland and South Germany. For example, on 9 April 1529, Grebel visited St. Gallen and baptized more than 500 people out of a milk pail at Easter, and half of the city of Waldshut became believers, with Hubmaier baptizing 800 out of a milk pail.

Rainer explained that in the middle of the 19th century, there was a conflict between faith and freedom, and that many persons from different layers of the social strata worked to bring about the new ways of knowing God. Mrs. Meyer held a salon where these conversations took place, and Mrs. Schlatter also was influential in St. Gallen. Her son founded the Evangelical church of Switzerland, a separate denomination. Another influential woman was the wife of a diplomat, Baroness Barbara Juliane von Krudener (1764-1824), who impacted Pietism in Switzerland, including both the Swiss Reformed Church and Moravians.

Among the free churches of Switzerland, some formed Reformed house churches, and others separated from the Reformed Church entirely. Roth, for example, formed the Free Evangelical Church in Bern, founded upon the separation of Church and State, and the Apostolic Christian Church was founded about the same time.

Ebeling then considered the impact of Johann Gerhard Onken’s life and ministry. He is called the Father of German and European Baptists. He traced the details of Onken’s networking among believers in Basel, and the Mennonites and New Anabaptists in Bern, Gallen, Watli, and other villages and towns in Switzerland. Ebeling shared many insights about Baptists in Switzerland. As an agent for Bible societies, Onken invited people to join his movement, even as he was disagreeing about infant baptism. During World War I, Baptists were centered in Basel, Bern, and St. Gallen, numbering about 1,500 at their peak (today about 1,200).  When Alsace was given to France, the Swiss Baptist Union and German Baptists separated, primarily due to the war and its aftermath, the strong stance of the Swiss church on the matter of no centralized authority, and a lack of Baptist identity.

When the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission Board opened the Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, the Swiss Baptist Union was on friendly terms, but some ambiguity over time grew, especially with regard to the 1982 Lima Document, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, and the ecumenical influence of Gunter Wagner. Since that time, Swiss Baptists have had several dialogues with the European Baptist Federation, the Service of Reconciliation in 1983, and the Theological Deaconate seminary for lay people, 1980, which has now been closed and merged with the Reformed Church school. As Swiss Baptists stand today, most Baptist churches have lost their missional focus and have not developed their evangelistic programs, their church authority is too strong, and there is a noted lack of commonality in theology and Baptist identity.

Read Ebeling’s paper.

6:10- 6:25 – Response by Rev. Peter Detweiler, Reformed Pastor and Ecumenical Officer of the Zurich Reformed Church, Switzerland.      

Peter responded by suggesting that a conference be held to dialogue about the past few items in the list. He said these concluding statements might well be applied to all Christian churches across the whole country.

There were many problems in the Free Evangelical Church in the 1880s: for example, the Salvation Army members were beaten in Geneva; and for centuries, the Roman Catholic and Reformed churches, which represented more than 90% of the population, held animosity towards all free church traditions.

Today, people are often legal members of the Reformed Church, but attend and are engaged as members of the Free churches as well. The International Christian Fellowship (ICF) churches are attracting young people in large numbers, as well as the charismatic churches. Finally, there are more Roman Catholics in Zurich than Reformed: 30% are Catholic; 30% are Protestant; and migrant Roman Catholic churches are growing among the Asians and South Americans, especially. There are now more immigrants in churches than original Swiss families.

Session 2

Wednesday, July 4, 2:00-4:00 pm

Joint Session with Baptist heritage and Identity Commission, Brian Talbot, Chair, and the Religious Freedom Commission, Duke McCall, Chair

2:00-2:10 – Welcome and Introduction of Members and Guest Speaker, Stephen Stookey and Martin Rothkegel, Responder

2:10-3:00 – Stephen Stookey presented “The Biblical Basis of Religious Liberty” (paper coming soon)

Stephen Stookey

With his PowerPoint on religious liberty, Stookey asked a series of four questions and answered them from Baptist history: 1) Is religious liberty a liberal philosophical argument in search of a scant biblical justification? 2) Are we not commanded to obey the state in Scripture? 3) Is the promotion of religious liberty an endorsement of non-Christian religious movements? and 4) Why should I defend religious liberty for those who refuse to reciprocate? Early Baptists argued for a select cluster of convictions consistently: Lordship of Christ, Biblical Authority, Soul Competency / Priesthood of Believers, Church Autonomy, and Religious Liberty.

Stookey answered the first question by citing early Baptists John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. The 1610 Short Confession of Faith sets up the duties related to the magistracy. Civil laws were necessary, early Baptists believed; and although some believed it was not right for believers to hold public office, Helwys carried the majority who saw no harm in serving as civil magistrates. In the Standard Confession of 1660, the Baptists claimed that they were not storing up guns, weapons, swords, or knives, and that they were not among those who rebel against the government. Grantham encouraged Baptists to serve in the military to take up arms in just wars and to serve in the magistracy as their just duty.            

The second question, concerning the biblical injunctions to obey the government involved the discussions about the proper role of the state, or civil justice?  Again, the Standard Confession of 1660 cites many biblical references to the duty to uphold love as the fulfilling motive in our treatment of others. For example, Romans 13:1: “Let every person obey the government authorities,” and verse 10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” George W. Truett stood at the Baptist World Congress in 1920 to make the appeal to all Baptists to fight for religious liberty and that love would motivate us all.

The third question, concerning the endorsement of religious liberty and other non-Christian religious movements, was discussed using the parables of the Great Banquet in Luke 14 and the Weeds in Matthew 13. The point of the argument rests upon whether “compel them to come in” means compulsion (State Church model) or invitation (Free Church model). The Matthew passage, for Baptists, has meant that all persons have the freedom to exist and that Christians should treat all others well. As far as the Weeds and Tares parable is concerned, Baptists have interpreted this as leaving the judgement to Christ, who will pluck and throw into the fire those whom He chooses. In opposition to this, State churches have historically brought everyone into the church by legal compulsion, from Constantine through Aquinas, the Inquisition, and in some places in history, like the Inquisition, been the judge and executioner as well.

The last question, about how to defend religious freedom for those who refuse to reciprocate, is one with which current Baptists around the world live each day. Baptists have used the missional motif from Matthew 7 to address this issue from the beginning.

Baptists were birthed as “outsiders” from their earliest days. It is well to remember that Baptists have lived long, and still do live as “powerless” people. They have been unsure about how they will be treated. Yet Baptists have responded to the Great Commission, willing to suffer on behalf of others if need be.

3:00-3:40 – Martin Rothkegel’s “Religious Liberty: Enlightenment and Tolerance” (paper coming soon)           

Martin Rothkegel

The concept of religious liberty was only introduced into European countries in the 3rd quarter of the 19th century, 200 years after the Enlightenment. Religious freedom was part of the Enlightenment’s results; for example, John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) excluded Atheists and Roman Catholics, and Nathan the Wise, by Lessing (1779) encouraged readers to “live in such a way as to make the ring true.” Toleration spawned criteria used in determining valid qualifications, and were either derived from religious or morality for societal foundations.

English Religious Nonconformists, Political Liberalism, and religious liberty are topics many people use interchangeably with little understanding. religious liberty was proposed by the Anabaptists and Baptists. In Roger Williams’s Bloody Tenet of Persecution of 1644, he argued that states must be totally secular. There was no way a state can be Christian – “a very irritating concept,” says Rothkegel.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was based upon religious principles, which were thought to be of the highest authority. The Anabaptists called for religious liberty, including Balthazar Hubmaier’s Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them of 1524, claimed that faith is a gift from God and that no man should interfere between a human being and God when it comes to matters of faith. The Swiss Brethren revolted against the authority of the City Council and were martyred in 1527, ostensibly killed for rebellion and blasphemy rather than heresy; but the Swiss Brethren wanted the Sermon on the Mount now, instead of later. Heinrich Bullinger’s response to the Swiss Anabaptists in his On the Origins of the Anabaptists (1560) sets up 300 years of persecution, where hundreds were killed for their faith. He thought that the notion that the State should be neutral (and not Christian) was absurd.

There were mediating positions between these two positions, however, even in the 16th century. Caspar Schwenkfeld (1490-1561) thought that believing Christians should be magistrates, and preached this opinion. Fausto Sozzini (1539-1604) led the Polish Brethren, who rejected the Trinity and Predestination and developed a rationalistic theology. Przypkowski and Limborch’s work stated that one must admit that God exists, but one need not take up arms against the government. Locke borrowed from these writers and published it as his own thought. he had lived in Poland prior to the Glorious Revolution. Baptists still hold to this “irritating notion,” even as secular governments are abandoning Christianity.

3:40-4:00 – Question and Answer Session

Many good questions were posed to the speakers and answered:

  • Is the notion that all persons are created equal necessary for religious liberty to be granted for all persons?
  • In the name of terrorism, countries are starting to limit religious freedom. Is part of the problem the first word – “Religious?” Russia is attacking Jehovah’s Witnesses, for examples, and Russian Baptists have stood up to defend them.
  • Early Baptists and Anabaptists wanted church and state separation. They wanted the state to be neutral. Have you found, in their early writings, any comprehension of philosophical moorings related to state? Is it possible for a state to be entirely neutral? Is this a part of the tension?
  • Is it a form of idolatry to give to the state that which rightly belongs to God?

Session 3

Friday, July 6, 2:00-4:00 pm

2:00-2:10 – Welcome, Opening Remarks – Brian Talbot, Chair

Brian brought a reading from Ezekiel 37 and the reminder that “Hope is here when God is in our midst.” 

2:10-2:40 – Stefan Gisiger’s paper on the “Work of the Swiss Baptists in the 21st Century.”

Stefan Gisiger

Gisiger serves as the President of the Swiss Baptist Union and is a pastor of a Baptist church. Today, there are twelve churches with about 1,050 members. They were first allowed to be stand-alone churches in 1847, and in 1923, the Baptist Union was formed.           

Dr. Ebeling’s comments on Wednesday about the state of current Swiss Baptists runs true. There is a lack of common Baptist identity; for example, of the twelve churches and pastors in Switzerland, only two have been trained in a Baptist seminary. There is a shortage of Baptist pastors, and Swiss Baptist churches have neglected to train their own young ministers, so pastors often share pulpits, and some of these other pastors are not familiar with Baptist identifiers.

Today, Swiss Baptist churches have started a department for evangelism and church planting, and hold sports camps for their communities. They recruit Christian sports professionals to speak to the participants. They also have a ministry for human trafficking rescue, called Project Restoration. There has been a high success rate in this ministry, especially among women from Eastern Europe, and now there is a church plant from this ministry. There is also an Evangelistic outreach called Wettinger that works among the refugees and internationals from fifty countries.

Today the Swiss Baptists work with the Swiss Council of Churches, which formed in 1972. Although Baptists cannot subscribe to the Declaration of Mutual Recognition of Baptism, they can add an addendum to the declaration about why they refused it sign it, and it is printed with the disclaimer. But Baptists still engage to do ministry with this body. Also, the Free Churches could not meet in 1919, during the global influenza outbreak, but they did meet and formed their own Union a few years later. A question hangs over Swiss Baptists: What are the Swiss raising so many funds but have no missionaries?

There is much work to do. The idea of autonomy is still too strong among Swiss Baptists, driving churches into isolation. There is little common theology upon which all agree. And there is a loss of common Identity among Swiss Baptists. Please pray for the work here in Switzerland.

Read Gisiger’s paper.

2:40-3:00 – Bettina Lichtler’s paper, “The Inter-Church Work of the Swiss Reformed Church in the 21st Century.”

Bettina Lichtler

Bettina serves as the Ecumenical Officer of the Reformed Swiss Church, with its headquarters in Zurich. She brought a response paper sharing what the Swiss Reformed Church is also doing to work with other faith groups.

Starting from the historical position and coming forward, the Reform of the Church had to take place within the context of the State Church – this happened against the overpowering Roman Catholic Church at the time. Radicals were exerting dangerous pressure, it was thought, against the Reform movement, and there was no room for others in the Reformed Church context in Zurich for centuries afterward. After Napoleon, the 19th century saw a new constitution in Switzerland, granting religious freedom at last. The Industrial Revolution happened, and workers came streaming to Zurich to work, and finally there was unity in the 20th century as ecumenical openness welcomed all faiths there. The Bible contains approaches to truth in different voices. The Roman Catholic Church received equal status in Zurich when the Reformed Church fought for them.

Ecumenism today in Switzerland is highly cooperative. The Swiss Reformed Church and the Roman Catholics participate together in worship services and special projects at local and country-wide levels. There are ecumenical campaigns for relief efforts, pastoral care at hospices, prisons, counseling centers at train stations, youth hostels, and many other places. Both Churches have issued joint statements against cutting funds to refugees, for another example. Roman Catholic theology can only be determined from Rome; the Swiss Reformed Church recognizes this and does what it can.

Smaller church groups or denominations are invited to participate in the Swiss Evangelical Alliance with Free churches, and some come while others do not yet participate. Migration churches are also newer partners, particularly the Orthodox migration churches who have formed associations. They, like the Catholics, can only get their theology from the Patriarchate. In the Center for Evangelical Migration Churches, rooms are given to pastors, study courses help them learn the theology of others, and the Swiss Reformed Church tried to help them to assimilate in Zurich.

For fifty years, the Zurich Church Council has worked to engender trust with other groups. Their Charta Documenica calls for acting together at all levels of church life wherever conditions exist; to defend the rights of, and reduce misunderstandings between, groups; and to promote conscientious dialogue. Each year, churches participate together in the “Way of the Cross,” a walking pageant through Zurich on Good Friday. The Reconciliation Service with the Anabaptists in 2004 was open to all, with a public Statement of Regret. The Reformation Commemoration event will be held in September of 2018, and there is an ongoing panel discussion asking whether all churches need Re-formation?

The Swiss Reformed Church urges Christian churches to speak as often as we can with a common voice, to step out of talking into action, and to celebrate and worship God together.

Read Lichtler’s paper.

3:00-3:45 – The Commission Works Together: Reporting and Planning Session for 2018-2020

Review of Old Business and Commission Dialogue and Actions

  1. The Minutes of the last year were approved in consensus.
  2. Commission Website:

Melody Maxwell, our Webmaster, encouraged everyone to submit archives, papers, books, press releases, and other news items for the Commission website.

Shorter Baptist Histories by Country into other languages – We need someone to translate them into Spanish and German. Kirsten Timmer said she would see about the possibility of getting some into French.

David Parker announced that this would probably be his last Commission attendance. The Commission members extended our deepest and heartfelt thanks for his faithful years of establishing and heading up the Commission website. His projects of history-writing and leadership in so many areas of our Commission will be his lasting legacy among us. We are truly grateful to him. He has attended Commission meetings from 1975, and been a member of the Commission since 1996.

  1. Brian Talbot expressed thanks to Karen Bullock on behalf of the Commission for planning and leading the Walking Tours in Zurich, the Anabaptist Cave worship experience and the Pre-and Post- Gathering Tours to the Reformation sites. (See below.)
  1. Summary Statements from 2018: As the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission closed its final session, members were asked to articulate what we have learned this year and what we might communicate about our time together to Baptists unable to attend. The results were three. Overall,                       
  • we came away impressed with the richness of God’s Blessing upon us. We have a rich heritage, and the ecumenical relationships have blessed us as well.
  • we were burdened to pray for the Swiss Baptists and their work. We were also impressed to pray for an enhanced awareness of religious freedom around the world and how to advocate for it.
  • we felt a challenge to vigilance in preserving our Baptist family story, not to lose sight of our distinctive insights.

Finally, we agreed that we were all looking forward to next year. We will take up the remainder of our work with the Archives Project, our Pocket Histories, and the work of our Commission together.

In Nassau, we will aim to take up the topic of “the poor” as we look at “Baptists: Poverty and Wealth.”

Historical Tours

Tour opportunities during our time in Switzerland included the following:

Tour to Anabaptist Cave

Several Annual Gathering participants joined a special tour to the Anabaptist Cave, just one hour outside Zürich, on Sunday July 1st, for a unique worship experience. This is the cave where Anabaptist hid during times of persecution. Media coverage of this tour and worship service are available from Ethics Daily (article, video, and video).

Zürich Walking Tour

During the Annual Gathering there were two opportunities to join a two-hour Walking Tour of Zürich to explore major sites of the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland. Tours were led by members of the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission.

Pre-Gathering Reformation Three-Day Tour

Several individuals joined the three-day adventure touring several Swiss Reformation and Anabaptist sites. Leaving from Zürich each morning, we visited Constance, the place where Wycliffe was declared a heretic and Jan Hus was executed. We climbed to the Anabaptist Cave, high above Zürich, where brothers and sisters gathered during persecution to worship. We visited old Zürich, Zwingli’s birthplace, and the earliest Anabaptist sites. We also took in other scenic villages, and the breathtaking Rhine Falls.

Post-Gathering Reformation Three-Day Tour

Some BWA participants extended their Zürich stay for three more days to experience more wonderful Swiss Reformation and Anabaptist sites. We traced the steps of Zwingli, his Cathedral at Einsiedeln, and Kappel, the battlefield site of his death. We explored Lucerne and stayed overnight in the beautiful city of Lausanne. We traveled to Basel, where Erasmus is buried, and Calvin’s Institutes was first written, and ended our tour in Geneva, home of Calvin’s legacy, and the marvelous Reformation museum.