Harlingen, March 1532
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all, and in all… Eph 4:5
Anna and Adriaen invited a small group of friends to their wedding on the way home. They went from house to house, inviting the baker who smilingly offered to bring fresh loaves of his best bread, the tall cobbler who cracked a small smile and offered to bring a pair of new leather shoes for the bride. The miller laughed jovially, telling Adriaen it was high time there was a wedding in these parts. Everyone they met with their news offered something.
The weaver handed her a piece of fine blue wool to make a new dress, and the seamstress hired an extra girl to finish it on time. It was a beautiful sky-blue material, and the dress was fashioned modestly, as befit an aspiring Anabaptist bride. The skirt draped gracefully over her hips, trailing nearly to the floor. Long loose sleeves ended in a simple cuff and the bodice laced up modestly up to the throat. A soft blue silk apron covered it smoothly, and a new headdress completed her outfit. Anna felt like a queen, yet humbled by everyone’s generosity.
Social gatherings were nearly non-existent in these troublesome times for the Anabaptists, and even a wedding would have to be somewhat disguised. Anna was warmly surrounded by welcomes from the women who took her under their wing and give her all the advice they could muster about being a married woman. Anna blushed and thanked them, appreciating this generous sisterhood.
Wedding preparations began at Susanna’s house and Anna was swept into a haze of cooking, frantic cleaning and gardening and churning and moving of furniture. She hadn’t realized there would be such a to-do, just for her benefit, and she moved through it with her head in the clouds and her feet barely touching the floor. She felt bad not to contribute, but she was not allowed to speak of it. The good ladies were all overjoyed to be involved in a wedding and laughed and joked as they worked.
Their loving togetherness and busy industry was certainly inspiring. Even the stable boy had a spring in his step these days and mucked the horse stalls with extra care, and cleaned out long neglected corners.
The weather cooperated as well, and the days sparkled by. Adriaen dropped in nearly every day to say goede dag, then hurried back to his job at the goldsmith’s, earning as much as he could, so they could eat after they married.
One evening three days before the wedding, Adriaen came by, his gray doublet and hose freshly washed and ironed, and his face gleaming with unbridled joy.
“Ready to go to meeting tonight?”
Anna fingered her apron and tucked some stray curls behind her ears. She was ready and yet not ready. How could one become ready to join a persecuted people? She knew she must trust God in this, and with Adriaen to guide her she hoped to become worthy of these people, and of God’s grace.
They walked side by side, close but not touching. The meeting would be held in an Anabaptist house, half an hour’s walk away. The sunset was beautiful, with the flat horizon streaked in fiery flames of red and orange. Few people were on the street this late in the day, and outwardly the town appeared to be quiet. They could only hope that nobody was suspicious and follow them to the meeting. A young couple on an evening stroll should be no cause for suspicion, after all.
“Tell me about Melchior Hoffman,” Anna said. “Has he always lived here?”
“No, he was born in Germany, and used to be a furrier. He became interested in the mystics, and thoroughly read the Bible and Luther’s writings. His furrier business took him to Livland, where he ended up preaching for the Protestants, until he was imprisoned and expelled. He went to Dorpat and preached against images, and you know what happened after that.”
Anna nodded. “Oh, is that when mobs of people destroyed all the images and idols in the churches?”
“Yes, but Hoffman never intended for this to happen, nor did he help with the destruction. The church authorities were going to arrest him, but were prevented by the populace.”
“That means many people must have supported him. When did he come here?”
“Several years ago, in May 1530, he came to Harlingen for the first time as an Anabaptist evangelist, and found the soil well prepared for his message by the Reformers. He was even allowed to use the Grosse Kirche, and was able to baptize around 300 people right in the church. He baptized both burgher and peasant, lord and servant. Count Enno—remember, we talked to his stable boy—was moved to tears by Hoffman’s message.”
“So he had support from the nobles. I guess that’s why he was so successful.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, he left without leaving an able leader behind. Later, Jan Trypmaker led the congregation, before he went to Amsterdam.”
“Trypmaker? The man whose head was displayed on a pole in Amsterdam?” Anna shuddered.
“Yes. Well, here we are at our destination.” They entered a tall, narrow house with stepped gables, and were taken to a large back room, already crowded with people talking quietly. Melchior Hoffman was there, surrounded by a cluster of men talking earnestly. Adriaen joined them and Anna walked over to a group of young women, who happily pulled her into their circle.
“We are so envious of your husband-to-be, Anna. We’ve all tried to reel him in, but he just wasn’t interested. He was waiting on you I guess.” A lively-looking girl grinned at her, smoothing black hair done up in braids around her head. Anna looked at the floor, suddenly shy. Of course, Adriaen would have had other caps set for him. It was a wonder he hadn’t succumbed to the wiles of one of these charming girls, so much prettier than she.
The meeting began, with the women sitting on benches on one side of the room, and the men on the other. Anna shifted nervously. Would tonight really be the night she let herself be baptized? She desired it, yet also felt the heavy responsibility of joining with these Brethren. She hoped she’d never be caught or put to the test of standing up for her faith. Anna shivered. Only by hanging on to God’s hand could she hope to become a True Soldier of Christ.
Adriaen sat beside Melchior at the front of the room, and when everyone had grown respectfully quiet and still, Adriaen stood, holding an open Bible in his hands. While her beloved read in his deep, reverent voice, Anna found it easy to let the words flow into her soul, soothing and healing.
When the chapter was finished, Melchior Hoffman stood and praised the Lord that everyone was able to gather here tonight. He stressed the importance of living peacefully, in obedience to the government as far as their consciences allowed.
“And prepare yourselves, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” he said, with a zealous light in his eyes. “Christ will be returning soon, and He has sent me as His prophet to testify to the people, and stir them to repentance. It is not enough to be justified by faith. We must be sanctified, and live our lives in the imitation of Christ.” The gathered believers listened intently, and leaned forward to absorb every word. Anna shifted on the hard, wooden bench.
“Baptism,” he continued, looking straight at Anna, “should be the symbol of the covenant with God and the Lord Jesus Christ, administered only to adults who can understand the Lord’s teaching.” After continuing with his sermon for an hour, Melchior offered a prayer, then everyone joined in singing a long, slow hymn with praise sent heavenwards, and asked for strength from above. Anna was caught up in the spell of love in the little room, which seemed thick enough to hold with the hands. Here, one was safe in the love of Jesus and He seemed very near. She could almost believe that angels were present.
When Melchior asked anyone desiring baptism to come forward, Anna found herself rising, seemingly not of her own volition. Two young men, aged about eighteen, also followed her to the front, and they all knelt before Melchior Hoffman. Anna was reassured by the quiet presence of Adriaen nearby, while the three of them were asked some questions.
“Do you repent of your sins and desire to amend your life?” Melchior asked the three of them. They all said ’Ja’. “Do you believe truly that your sins have been taken away by Christ, and from everyone who walks in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and do you wish to be buried with Him in death, so that you may be resurrected with Him?” Again, they answered ’Ja’. Dipping one hand into a dipper of water held by Adriaen, Hoffman cupped some water in his hand and sprinkled it on the first young man’s head, then placed both hands on the man’s head, saying, “Upon confession of your faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” He repeated the procedure with the other man, then it was Anna’s turn. She had never felt so calm in her life, nor so close to Jesus Christ. One of the women came forward and removed Anna’s cap from her bowed head. Cool water dripped onto her hair and trickled down her forehead. Gentle hands were placed on her head as Melchior repeated the blessing.
Next, Hoffman offered his hand to the first young man, saying, “In the name of the Gemeente, I offer you my hand,” and here the young man took the proffered hand and rose to his feet, standing before the preacher with his head bowed, “Stel jezelf in op nieuw begin, and you are welcomed as a brother in the Gemeente.” Melchior kissed the young man with the Holy Kiss of peace.
In the meantime, the woman holding Anna’s cap replaced it on her head, smoothing back the stray curls. When Anna’s turn came to rise, the same words were used, except she was welcomed as a sister to the Gemeente, and the woman gave her the Holy Kiss. Anna’s doubts were washed away with the water sprinkled on her head, athough Melchior had admonished that all the waters of the sea could not wash away their sins. Only the blood of Jesus and a renewal of one’s life could do that.
On their homeward way, Adriaen held Anna’s hand tenderly, his strength passing from his heart to hers. No words were needed to express their closeness to each other and to Christ.
When they were almost home, Adriaen spoke softly, “Anna, this night is more special than you can ever know. My cup of blessings is running over.” He squeezed her hand. “Have I told you how much I love you? Never forget that, no matter what happens.”
A small shiver of apprehension shook her body. She didn’t want to think about anything happening. She wanted to keep this moment forever in her heart without the foreshadowing of a tragedy that would tear them apart. She didn’t want to think about the ever-present danger they were in. For now, she wanted to pretend that their happiness would last forever, that there was no persecution just around the corner.
“Yes, Adriaen, you have.” Anna smiled, “but you may tell me again, even though I won’t forget. I love you, too, with all my heart and have for a long time.”
She wished she could walk on forever in this star-sprinkled world with Adriaen. Tonight, she refused to think about anything except the pleasure she felt in his company. Not for a moment did she doubt he would do all in his power to make her life happy and safe. She trusted him as much as it was possible for one human being to trust another, and she wouldn’t think about the things over which he had no power. What mattered was that he loved her, and she loved him, and they both loved God.
Every evening, for the remaining days leading up to the wedding, Adriaen would come to see Anna after his day’s work was done, and the two of them would sit on the bench in the garden, while Adriaen instructed her further in the Anabaptist doctrine. This was not only for the purpose of her own salvation, but so that in the event of her being arrested, she could hold her own against the inquisitors, and answer each question as befitted a True Soldier of Christ. The inquisitors were notorious for trying every obscure argument under the sun to trick their victims into denying their faith.
“Usually, you would have this instruction before baptism,” Adriaen began, “but because Hoffman is leaving soon, and because he trusts me as a Diener am Wort, he has gone ahead with your baptism, believing that you do repent of your sins, and wish to have a new life in Jesus.” Adriaen brought forth a small tract written in German, and showed Anna the title: ’Bruderlich vereinigung etlicher Kinder Gottes/ Sieben artickel betreffend’.
“This Confession of Faith was drawn up in Schleitheim, Germany by Michael Sattler and others,” Adriaen continued, “attempting to unite the scattered brethren, for guidance in our faith, and to give a cohesive message to the government. So, the first of these seven Articles is about baptism, how it is the seal of the covenant made with Jesus Christ, that you will henceforth take up your cross and follow Him. You will shed the old man and put on the new, and be dead to sin.”
Anna truly wanted this, but what if she failed? No more could she hide her shame by asking the saints to pray to God for her, she would have to face the Lord herself when she sinned.
“The second Article is about excommunication. Those who have twice been admonished by their brothers for their sins, and repent not, will on the third occasion be excommunicated because of their sinful life. Anna,” Adriaen said, looking at her, “I hope neither of us will ever need to be reminded more than once.”
“I don’t want to think about it,” Anna said. Excommunication was about the worst thing that could happen, since it would mean one had denied Jesus, and was unrepentant. The Catholics also practiced excommunication, and even kings could face this chastisement, so this concept was not new to Anna.
“The third Article speaks of communion with Christ. Only those who have been united by Christian baptism and separation from sin, may be admitted to the Lord’s table for communion. Jesus Christ asked us to hold communion with like-minded brethren, as a remembrance of His dying on the cross for our sins. The bread is a symbol, not the actual body of Christ, and the wine is a symbol of his blood.
“The fourth Article tells us to separate ourselves from the world, for the child of God is called upon to withdraw from every institution and person which is not truly Christian, or is not a True Soldier of Christ, we might say.
“The fifth Article concerns shepherds, or pastors, of the flock of Jesus Christ. Their duties are to read, admonish, teach, warn, discipline, excommunicate, to lead in prayer, to administer the Lord’s supper, and undertake the general oversight of the congregation. You may think that because you are a woman, this does not concern you, but your part in this is to support your husband if he is ordained as a shepherd of a flock, and be not a stumbling block to him.”
“Oh, Adriaen, I don’t want to be a stumbling block to you, though I have been a stumbling block for you and your brother.”
“Don’t be so worried,” Adriaen assured her, “You are forgiven. Just hold on to the hand of Jesus, and you will be fine. Now, the sixth Article deals with taking up the sword. In other words, using a weapon with the intention of killing someone, even in war. The child of God is to follow the law of love as taught by the New Testament, and leave the sword to the officers of the state as ordained by God. Article seven forbids the Christian from swearing of the oath, since it is forbidden by the express commands of Scripture. That’s it. Now, all you need to do, is say with ’Ja’ that you agree with these Articles, for you to be a true Sister in Christ.”
“Ja,” Anna said in a quiet and subdued voice. This is no child’s play, she thought. This is serious.