by Vicky Kaniaru

CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews) — On April 19, 1525, Anabaptist pastor, apologist and hero of the Christian faith Balthasar Hubmaier baptized about 300 believers who had professed faith in Jesus Christ in the town of Waldshut near the Swiss-German border. Because of that and similar events, Hubmaier stood less than three years later amid a martyr’s flames and died for his biblical beliefs.

On April 19, 2012, Assistant Professor of History Jason Graffagnino — a former Roman Catholic –preached a sermon as part of Radical Reformation Day at Truett-McConnell College in which he explained why Hubmaier was murdered.

Introducing Radical Reformation Day, TMC President Emir Caner noted that Pastor Hubmaier had, in 14 months, immersed between 6,000 and 12,000 people, and was responsible for initiating the believer’s church movement.

Leaders like Hubmaier “gave their lives in such an incredible [and] significant way that, literally, America would not be America with our emphasis on religious liberty if it weren’t for men and women who stood up 500 years ago,” said Caner, adding that such New Testament Christians in the 16th century had a post-conversion/-immersion lifespan of 18 months.

Graffagnino explicated the Anabaptist movement by presenting the acrostic “B.R.A.V.E.” The “B” represents the Anabaptists’ adherence to biblical authority.

Noting Hubmaier’s work, “On the Christian Baptism of Believers,” the history professor read 1 Cor. 13: 1-7, 13, and said Hubmaier specifically targeted the topic of baptism in the text in response to Ulrich Zwingli, the father of the “Reformed” faith, whose ilk was still defending infant baptism.

Hubmaier quoted verse six, emphasizing “love does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices with the truth, with what is right, with what is correct, with what is reality. That is the essence of what the verse really says if we get back to the Greek,” Graffagnino said.

The Bible was the sole authority on doctrine for Hubmaier, and he insisted that in “all disputes concerning faith and religion, Scripture alone proceeding from the mouth of God ought to be our level and our rule,” said Graffagnino, who added that “those who professed faith and were believer’s baptized were authentically following what Scripture taught.”

“Zwingli and others, Luther included, were still professing infant baptism. Though they looked at it differently than the Roman Catholic Church, they nonetheless continued to press for infant baptism,” Graffagnino said. “One of their arguments was specifically that Scripture did not forbid infant baptism.”

The quick-witted Hubmaier responded sarcastically: “With that it is not written explicitly, do not baptize them, to this I answer, can I also baptize my dog and my donkey … take infants to the Lord’s supper … sell the mass as a sacrifice, for [the Bible] does not prohibit anywhere with explicit words that we do these things? Realize what a nice double potpourri we would set up again if it were acceptable to joggle outside the word of God in those matters which concern God and the souls.”

With this statement, Hubmaier is responding both to the practices of the Roman Catholic Church by making a mockery of it, and to Zwingli, who would agree with the mockery except on the issue of infant baptism, Graffagnino said.

The errors Hubmaier addressed still exist today, intimated Graffagnino, who was reared a Roman Catholic as was Hubmaier, who served as a priest before placing his faith in Jesus Christ.

“I, too, was raised in the Catholic faith. I, too, was deceived like Hubmaier,” Graffagnino said, noting he was deceived by his church and unwittingly by his parents.

“Now my parents’ deception was much like Hubmaier’s deception,” Graffagnino said. “My parents had been taught the same false doctrine by their parents … and yet nonetheless, it was deception.”

As a mere first-grader, Graffagnino was not sure why he had to confess his sins to a human. So, the youngster asked a nun in the parochial school’s hallway, “If God is God, and he’s all powerful, then when I do something, why can’t I just tell him instead of having to tell the priest?”

The nun berated the lad, saying, “How dare you question the practice of the church? We must go through the priest—that is what the church teaches us. You cannot talk to God. You must talk to the priest!” recalled Graffagnino.

“You see, even as a seven-year-old, I was questioning what my parents were teaching me, what my school was teaching me, [and] what my church was teaching me because what they were teaching me was not the truth; and God was speaking to my heart even then,” Graffagnino said.

The “R” in the acrostic demonstrates that Anabaptists relied on each other as a brotherhood as they “were flying in the face of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic church,” Graffagnino said.

The “A” represents adult baptism, or believer’s baptism. One did not have to be 18 years old to be baptized, “but you had to be of an age to profess faith yourself, not have someone choose faith for you,” Graffagnino said.

This Anabaptists’ stance against infant baptism offended 16th century government because the state and the church were inextricably intertwined. Graffagnino explained that, when infants were baptized, they were also placed on local tax rolls. And if Hubmaier’s sermons on believer’s baptism were heeded, the government may lose tax revenues. “This was a key reason why infant baptism was so important to the existing church,” the professor said.

Voluntary church membership represented the “V” in the acrostic, said Graffagnino, who added that Anabaptists were teaching “of your own volition, of your own will, you choose to profess faith in Christ. You choose to join the church. You choose to be believer’s baptized.”

The “E” represents that Anabaptists were eternally minded. “They made decisions with eternity in mind,” Graffagnino said.

Eternal-mindedness caused Hubmaier to risk his life when he professed believer’s baptism, said Graffagnino, adding that because of her Anabaptist beliefs, Hubmaier’s wife was murdered as civic/church officials tied a rock around her neck and threw her into the Danube River just three days after her husband was burned at the stake.

This practice came to be known among the murderers of Anabaptists as the third baptism: as infants they were sprinkled by priests; after conversion to Christ, immersed; upon martyrdom by drowning, permanently submersed.

Because the church and state were synonymous, it was church members who were committing these executions. “When you broke a church law, you were breaking a government law. You were a criminal. And Hubmaier faced death bravely; hence the acrostic,” Graffagnino said.

Not until after graduating from high school was Graffagnino, then a lapsed Catholic, reintroduced to church. He was invited to attend a Baptist church by Morgan, who later became Mrs. Graffagnino.

The history professor remembered everyone “laughing and talking and [seeming] somewhat engaged. And I also noticed that everyone carried their own Bible with them,” he said, astonishingly.

The Holy Spirit used Graffagnino’s curiosity about the Bible and began to wrestle with him about a relationship with Christ, Graffagnino said.

So when a Christian carries a Bible in public, “that’s a witness,” Graffagnino said. “You may not realize it, but the Holy Spirit can use anything you do to glorify himself.”

The professor warned the audience against ignoring their spiritual condition: “Some of you think this is a joke what we do. Right now, if you died walking back across this campus, get hit by a car, you wouldn’t just sneak in the gates of hell, they would burst open and you would run in.”

“God’s Word is truth, and the sooner you understand that, the more meaningful, the more fulfilling, [and] the more real your life will be,” Graffagnino said. “The truth is that Christ is all there is. You know the world will tell you the worst thing that can happen to you is death. That is not the worst thing that can happen to you. The worst thing that can happen to you is spiritual death.”


TMC President Emir Caner and Dr. Graffignino were among several scholars who presented papers at Southwestern Seminary’s “Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists Conference” last February. Attended by more than 500 people, many from abroad, the conference set an attendance record at SWBTS.

Click here for conference audio.

Vicky Kaniaru is senior staff writer at Truett-McConnell College.

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