And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. Col. 3:15
On Easter morning in April 1528 in Augsburg, Germany, almost 100 Anabaptists were rounded up by the authorities during worship and told to denounce their faith. Some of those arrested lost their lives for refusing to do so.
Lawyer Hans Leupold, one of the Anabaptists arrested, eventually was sentenced to die, mercifully, they said, by the sword rather than by burning. Said Leupold when he was told he would pass from life to death: “No, from death to life.”
Two years ago, a plaque was placed outside the house where these Anabaptist Christians once worshipped. Lutherans, Catholics and Mennonites celebrated together that Christians no longer faced persecution in Germany. A brother from the global south reminded us that was not true for people of faith in some other countries.
Pilgrim Marpeck, an early Anabaptist thought leader, also lived in Augsburg. Contrary to most other reformation leaders, Marpeck felt that if Christians took up arms defending their faith, it would only lead to protracted war.
Marpeck wanted to bring the various groups of Anabaptists in the region together for common witness and mission. It was a task he ultimately failed to accomplish.
Almost all Anabaptists were expelled from Augsburg by 1530. Conrad Peutinger, the town manager for 40 years, was seen by many as a tolerant leader of the multiple Christian factions present in the city at that time. But about these Anabaptists, he asked, what was he to do with these radicals who didn’t believe in the military and how would the city remain safe?
The city of Augsburg, Germany is called the city of peace, even though it has seen its share of violence. During World War II, 80% of the city was destroyed. Most of the men in the city were killed fighting in the war and the women were left to rebuild their community.
I was in Augsburg for meetings of the Mennonite World Conference, the global body of almost 1.5 million Anabaptists around the world. About 100 leaders gathered in Augsburg to talk about issues of faith within the Anabaptist bodies.
Our Mennonite World Conference tour leader told us about a gathering of German-speaking Anabaptist leaders who met here in 1527 to decide on a common mission strategy. In a way, he said, MWC meeting here now is the first international gathering of Anabaptists in this city since 1527!
Near the end of our Anabaptist tour in sight of the Catholic cathedral, we saw the sculpture of Max Josef Metzger, a Catholic priest, who gave his life during the war in 1944 resisting the Nazis. Metzger believed that the Christian task was to preach the peace of Christ and to put our weapons down. Metzger said he was ready to give up his life for the unity of the church and for the peace of the world.
Reminiscent of lawyer Hans Leupold more than 400 years earlier, Metzger said before he was put to death, “I go into death, no! I go into life.”
Ron Byler is the executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.