Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Learning from the Battle of Frankenhausen
Does an event of May 15, 1525, have any relevance for May 2012? Specifically, what lesson can we learn from the Battle of Frankenhausen led by Thomas Müntzer, a tragic figure of the Protestant Reformation in Germany?
Müntzer (born c.1489) has been highly regarded by socialists (Communists), but generally criticized by most Christian thinkers. He is also an embarrassment to contemporary Anabaptists, for he has sometimes been linked to the beginning of the Anabaptist movement.
Early on, Müntzer was a follower of Martin Luther, and in 1520 Luther recommended him for the pastorate of a church in Zwickau, about 125 miles south of Wittenberg. But Müntzer became increasingly opposed to Luther's ideas and was exiled from Zwickau the next year.
Part of Müntzer’s opposition to Luther was with regard to baptism. Müntzer began to reject infant baptism, and for that reason he is sometimes said to be one of the first Anabaptists. And Luther increasingly opposed Müntzer, not just because of his rejection of infant baptism but for his militancy.
In 1524 Müntzer became a leader in the uprising later known as the Peasants’ War. This was partly a class struggle, and it has been praised as such by Friedrich Engels, who wrote The Peasant War in Germany (1850). It was also an attempt to set up a local theocracy by military force. Establishing an apocalyptic kingdom seems to have been a primary focus of Müntzer.
The Peasants’ War in Germany ended with the Battle of Frankenhausen on May 15, 1525. Around 8,000 peasants were killed and Müntzer himself was captured, tortured, and then executed twelve days later.
The tragic Battle of Frankenhausen is depicted in the world's largest oil painting, Werner Tübke’s work housed in its own specially built panoramic museum. That painting is 400 feet long and 45 feet high. (Can you imagine a painting that is considerably longer than a football field?!) Unfortunately, the Internet link showing the painting no longer works, but here is an external link telling about the museum, and several scenes from the painting are included (one of which is pasted below).
One obvious lesson for us is that, as Jesus said, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52, ESV). The only form of Anabaptism that has survived is that which is pacifistic, and perhaps it is more influential today than at any time since the sixteenth century.
The main lesson is to beware of, and openly oppose, Christians leaders who seek to lead us to war in order to bring about the End Times—such as Rev. John Hagee is seems to be doing.
Hagee (b. 1940) is the founder, in 2006, of Christians United for Israel, the most visible organization of American Christian Zionists. He launched that organization just a month after the release of his bestselling book Jerusalem Countdown. In his book, which last year was made into a movie that is now on DVD, Hagee asserts that an American and Israeli war on Iran is not only biblically prophesied but necessary to bring about Armageddon and the Second Coming.
The scary thing about Hagee’s ideas is how some prominent politicians—even recent presidential hopefuls such as Rick Perry and Rick Santorum—seemingly agree with them.
Linking beliefs about the End Times to taking up the sword to help inaugurate God’s rule was not a wise thing for the German peasants in 1524-25, and it is even a more dangerous idea for Christians today.