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  • Edwin Shank

If you want to understand the Anabaptist

If you want to understand the Anabaptist

by Edwin Shank

Good morning, folks, I’m so sorry for going AWOL for a few weeks. It was not intentional. Each week I thought I was going to find a little time to write, but each week the time slipped away with other unavoidable important things crowding my schedule. I won’t even bother you with the various church meetings, school meetings and farming events that tied me up, but just know that all along I was mindful that I was dropping the ball on this blog and felt badly. But I have not forgotten and I’m back.

Today, I’d like to address questions we get about the birth of the Anabaptist plain people.

Who were the early Anabaptist Christians? How did they live? What was their core value which they valued more than life itself? How could they allow themselves to be tortured and even be drowned and burnt at the stake rather than give up their faith?

These are great questions... and they deserve good answers.

But maybe rather than trying to answer that question all over and fresh again (since I’m sure I can't do it justice in the scope of a blog post anyway), let me introduce you to a book that will give you those answers much better than I ever could.

The book I’d love to introduce you to is: "Fire in the Zurich Hills" This book was extensively researched and written in 1972 by Joseph Stoll, an intriguing and rare Amish book writer. The story Stoll tells is the brave and tumultuous birth of a group of devout Christian believers known as the Swiss Brethren. They later were nicknamed Anabaptists which means re-baptizers.

Here are 7 reasons I recommend this book: 

  1. It is written simply in captivating story form, so even though it is church history it won't overwhelm or bore even the casually interested reader.

  2. It is a true story about actual historic people using their real names. Stoll says, “The source materials are amazingly detailed and much of the conversation was lifted right out of the court records, (in Zurich Switzerland) word for word, and translated to English.”

  3. It is not too long; you could read the whole book in a day or two.

  4. It is the historic record of the actual Jan 1525 birth of the Anabaptist movement so it’s a great starter book to understand the plain people.

  5. It is real-to-life and brutally honest... unreservedly showing the weakness and even some bad mistakes of the early Anabaptists. Their humanity is not glossed over. In spite of their tremendous faith and commitment to truth they were not perfect people. Even as we plain people today are not perfect people.

  6. It’s an excellent book to understand our plain people's dedication to truth. Most of our schools assign this for a book report sometime in the 7th-10th grades to acquaint our youth with their heritage of faith.

  7. And last but not least... you've probably never read a book written by an Amishman :) ... So here is your chance!

In the Preface, Joseph Stoll gives his reason for writing:

      "This is a book in which men and women struggle to know the will of God, and to live it. True faith in the 16th century was not easy.

      Nor is it easy today in the twentieth Century. The cost is still the same—wholehearted devotion and obedience to God. Temptations have not lessened, nor even changed in 400 years. The decisions of our forefathers are the decisions we face today.

      That in short, is the reason for this book."

I remember reading this book myself as a youth in school. And I have read it a few times since. It has always impacted me. The year I taught school, I strongly recommended it to my class as a side study to our church history course.

Every time I read it, I cannot help but ask myself the question, "Am I as fully and unflinchingly dedicated to honoring the will of God as they were?  If not, why not?" I believe you will find this book insightful. After you have read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts, feelings, and pondering on the 500-year-old story.

Did the bravery and faithfulness of Felix Mantz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock just challenge you?  Or did it change you?

Because, the fact is, we can be challenged by truth all day long...and even feel smug and righteous sharing with others how much we have been challenged. But unless we allow truth to change us... there will be no sanctifying.   - John 17:17

I hope you enjoy the book!  Please ask if you have questions.

Blessings until next time!

Your plain Mennonite Christian friend,


P.S. 'Fire in the Zurich Hills' is the 500-year-old real story of real events in real history. I do not present it in any way to be offensive to those whose churches even yet today, may not agree with the doctrines that these brave 'lovers of the truth' embraced. I simply present it as a historic account of the pain, sacrifice, cross bearing even unto death that these Anabaptists were willing to endure to be true to God, His Word and his will. This background of struggle and persecution will help you to better understand us as plain people today.


P.S. Feel free to share our emails in any way you want. Food for the Soul posts are free for all. We do not copyright any of our material nor are we possessive of its use. Freely we have received... so freely we give! More Questions about Mennonites or faith? We welcome them! We can't promise to personally answer each, but we will try to address your question in future post. And we just may get back to you personally, too.


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