OK, so on this day in 1535 40 Anabaptists ran naked through the streets of Amsterdam. This non-violent protest came about, it seems, because they were fed up of there being a dominant religion that was in bed with the wealthy and the city government and yet were not caring for the poor in the way the Anabaptists felt the Bible directed Jesus-followers to. The group taught that all should share, and as unemployment was high and poverty rampant it’s no wonder the poor were interested. The rich were not of course, they were “not amused”, and so it was the lower classes in particular who were attracted to the teachings of the anabaptists.
It was a time when followers of different faiths and doctrines were considered heretics but, as long as they didn’t cause a fuss they were left alone. However on this day in 1535 forty anabaptists
did cause a fuss and in act of non-violent protest ran naked through the streets to the town hall. ‘The next day the city officials had them massacred. They were, without exception all killed. Their hearts were cut out of their bodies in the middle of Dam square, their bodies were quartered and hung. Their heads were stuck on poles and placed at the entries to the city gates. The message was don’t you dare rise up against catholicism’.
Today the Guardian reports
that Bideford Council has lost its battle over prayer sessions and prayer before, during or after official council sessions will no longer be allowed. Already many Christians in the UK are up in arms about this – How could this be? Who do these Secularists think they are? But we’ve always prayed in council meetings!
This raises several questions for me:
1. When will we Jesus-followers in the UK realise that we are increasingly in a post-Christendom era where the church no longer has the influence it once had. It does not make all the rules and can sometimes barely influence them (for better or for worse). We might not like this fact, but we need to start being honest about it.
2. What will the last vestiges of Christendom do about this? Will Christendom fight back a rebellion and if so how will they do this without resorting to showing muscle power as they did in Amsterdam those years ago? (Ok I know people are unlikely to be hung, drawn and quartered now, but subtle laws which prevent non-violent protests are being passed even as we speak – why are we so afraid of protest?)
3. What can the Anabaptists teach us about following Jesus today? There are many who feel that their story resonates loudly with today’s context and can give examples of how to remain faithful Jesus followers in a society which neither acknowledges nor understands him let alone advocates his teaching. Whilst the Church remained powerful and strong in the time of the naked anabaptists of Amsterdam it’s influence, power and control was crumbling. As we witness this paradigm shift once again in England (played out in high definition outside St Paul’s this very moment), perhaps the offerings in The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray can help us glean pearls of wisdom from our past.