Every once in a while the subject comes up about people who have been baptized as infants being re-baptized as adults when they come to faith for themselves. Some denominations allow it, others do not. What has always amazed me however, is just how contentious an issue it can be. Consider the story of Dirk Willem.
Dirk was captured and imprisoned in his home town of Asperen in the Netherlands for the crime of being an Anabaptist. These were basically peaceful citizens who did not believe in war and who became the forerunners of today's Mennonites and Amish. The main complaint of the authorities against them was that they did not believe infant baptism had any value. They chose to be re-baptized as willing adults. Dirk knew his fate would be death if he remained in prison, so he made a rope of strips of cloth and slid down it over the prison wall (yeah people actually escaped using the bed-sheet trick). One of the guards gave chase.
A late spring frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk decided to take his chances and dashed across the flimsy surface. He made it, but the guard that was chasing him didn’t. Falling into the cold icy water the man cried out for help. Dirk could not ignore his cries.
You see, the Anabaptist aversion to infant baptism was based on their determination to do all things in accordance with scripture. This devotion to the Word also meant Dirk believed in Jesus’ teaching that a man should help his enemies. He immediately turned back and pulled the floundering guard from the frigid water. The event was reported in The Martyrs Mirror, first published in 1660 by Thieleman J. van Braght. A woodcut depicting the rescue (pictured) accompanied the account.
Grateful for his life the guard was of a mind to let Dirk escape, but a Burgomaster (chief magistrate) who had been standing on the shore sternly ordered him to arrest Dirk and bring him back, reminding him of the oath he had sworn as an officer of the courts. Reluctantly, the guard escorted Dirk back to prison; Dirk offered no resistance.
As expected he was condemned to death for being re-baptized, allowing secret church services in his home and letting others be baptized there. The record of his sentencing concludes: "all of which is contrary to our holy Christian faith, and to the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others; therefore, we the aforesaid judges, having, with mature deliberation of council, examined and considered all that was to be considered in this matter, have condemned and do condemn by these presents in the name; and in the behalf, of his royal majesty, as Count of Holland, the aforesaid Dirk Willems, prisoner, persisting obstinately in his opinion, that he shall be executed with fire, until death ensues; and declare all his property confiscated, for the benefit of his royal majesty."
As was the custom Dirk was burned to death for his crime (women were executed by drowning). They also placed a cumbersome clamp on Willem’s tongue. This was because many Anabaptists proved to be so bold in their final testimony for Christ that authorities began to clamp their tongues before leading them out to their execution so that they could not speak up and win more converts.
The wind blew the flames away from him resulting in his death taking much longer and being far more painful than was usually the case. Time and again Dirk cried out to God for release. Finally one of the judges could not bear to see him suffer any longer and ordered one of the guards to end his torment with a quick death.
How many Anabaptists died during the sixteenth century persecution in Europe? No one knows for sure. What is certain is that at least 1,500 were cruelly tortured and killed, for the crime of wanting to decide for themselves when they should be baptized.
Dirk William paid the ultimate price for his dedication to Scripture on May 16, 1569 - 438 years ago this week.
Other events that happened this week.
May 13, 1963 - Death of A.W. Tozer, Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and author of The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy.
May 14, 1572 - Gregory XIII, who reformed the Julian calendar bringing into usage the calendar used today and was subsequently named for him, is raised to the papacy.
May 15, 1984 - Presbyterian evangelical Francis A. Schaeffer passes away in Rochester, Minnesota. Schaeffer was the author of many books, and founder of the L'Abri (the Shelter) community in Switzerland.
May 17, 1844 - German biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen is born. His controversial theory about the Pentateuch—that it is a compilation of four literary sources (J, Jahwist; E, Elohist; D, Deuteronomist; and P, Priestly Editor), laid the foundation for most subsequent Old Testament criticism.
May 18, 1920 - Karol Wojtyla (who would take the name John Paul II when elected pope) is born in Wadowice, Poland.
May 19, 1971 - The musical Godspell, based on Matthew's gospel, opens at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York.