Halfway Anabaptists

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They were called the Halbtaeufer or Halfway-Anabaptists. These people sympathized with the Swiss Anabaptists but never left the state churches to join Anabaptist brotherhoods. Some sympathized because they recoiled at the horrific treatment these defenseless brethren endured as they were chased, tortured, and slaughtered at the hands of the Swiss authorities. Others were convinced that the Anabaptists practiced a pure Gospel that they themselves did not have the courage to practice openly.

Halfway-Anabaptists greatly aided the Anabaptist brethren. They did everything they could to help them escape the fury of persecution. They gave them food and clothing. They allowed them to have meetings on their properties and build shelters in their woodlands. They went out of their way to warn them of approaching danger.

Obviously, the Halfway-Anabaptists were a problem for the persecuting authorities. These sympathizers could not be relied upon to help track down and arrest the Anabaptist people. They refused to cooperate in giving information as to where the brethren were hiding. Sometimes when they were commanded by officers of the law to assist in arresting groups of Anabaptists, they would allow the fleeing Anabaptist to run unhindered into the surrounding forests and mountains. While, the authorities passed mandates, orders, and prohibitions against aiding the Anabaptists, in some Swiss districts there appeared to be more of the sympathetic Halfway-Anabaptists than loyal members of the state church. It is no wonder that the Anabaptist brethren referred to the Halfway Anabaptists as die treuherzigem Menschen or “truehearted people.” The following recorded prayer of Anabaptist origin refers to these “truehearted people”:
“O Holy Father in heaven, we pray Thee for all truehearted people who love us and do good unto us, and render us services of mercy by providing us food and nourishment, housing and shelter. O Lord, do Thou recompense them richly with all that is good. And since they hear Thy Word gladly but have little strength to surrender themselves to obedience, we pray Thee to grant them that they may through Thy Holy Spirit have ingrafted in them Thy Word which is able to save their souls.”

This prayer definitely reflects an appreciation for these Halfway-Anabaptists or “truehearted people.” and what they had done to aid the brethren. It also clearly expresses a concern that the “truehearted people” had not gone far enough in following the Scriptures and that they wished them to be saved. A number of years later, however, it appears that the Anabaptists’ view of the Halfway-Anabaptists had begun to shift; for, eventually a question arose as to whether the Halfway Anabaptists should be considered as saved. This question was one of the points of controversy in the Amish division from the Anabaptists in 1693 – 1696.

Apparently some of the more tolerant Swiss Anabaptists had not only accepted the Halfway Anabaptists as Christians, but had also intermarried with them and attended the state churches with them on occasion.

Jacob Amman, a leader in the Amish division, believed that to accept the Halfway-Anabaptists as Christian was to compromise one of the foundational aspects of Anabaptism. He believed that Anabaptists should cut off all fellowship with the state church and no longer recognize those who continued to be members there as fellow Christians.

From our vantage point today, it is easy to cast judgment on both the Halfway-Anabaptists and those who eventually accepted them. God seemed to use the Halfway Anabaptists to preserve and protect His people when they faced extermination in many Swiss provinces. We are probably better served, however, to evaluate whether we today are Halfway-Christians or Halfway-Mennonites.

We live in a society that is quite different from that of our Anabaptist forefathers. We no longer face the arresting officers, the dungeon prisons, the torture chambers, and the executioner’s sword and fire. However, we still deal with the pressures to believe a partial Gospel and to live as Halfway-Christians. Many nominal Christian churches around us do not preach a full Gospel. They do not promote discipleship to Christ in everyday living. They do not practice the “all things” of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

But the principles of God’s Word are still as effective and as relevant to us today as they were to our Anabaptist forefathers. As conservative Mennonite churches we need to continue to maintain the pure doctrines of the new Testament. We must promote and practice nonresistance as an expression of God’s love in our hearts. We must continue to forbid divorce and remarriage as Jesus taught us. We must abstain from the swearing of oaths. We may not love the world and the many things that are highly esteemed among men but are an abomination to God. We must uphold a high moral standard in both our thoughts and practices. We must keep our churches strong in faith, doctrine, unity and brotherly love. Much more could be enumerated.

Jesus told the church at Laodicea, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). Jesus clearly states that this church was halfway warm and halfway cold. This halfway state was not acceptable to Christ. May our Mennonite churches and her people be fully dedicated to serving the Lord with their whole heart and not halfway. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30).

~ Peach Bottom PA
June 2011