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The Reformers and Their Stepchildren Paperback – 19 Dec 1964

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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (19 Dec. 1964)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802847803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802847805
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,359,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
I read this book along with a more general introduction of Anabaptists by Estep.
Verduin writes each chapter around a specific issue the Reformers had against the Anabaptists - this allows the reader to clearly grasp and appreciate the Anabaptists' theology and understand why they were persecuted so much.
This is a tremendous book.
The only negative I'd have about it is that often he makes reference to quotes, and then displays the quote in it's original language. So, if you can't speak German or Swiss or Dutch you're in trouble!
But overall, a brilliant, and very revealing book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 27 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Lots of great research, but... 20 Oct. 2011
By Joel E. Mitchell - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Leonard Verduin seeks to explore many facets of Anabaptist history, beliefs, and relationship to the mainline Protestant Reformation. He does so by examining a number of derogatory terms applied to Anabaptists by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation (e.g. Luther, Calvin, & Zwingli). The whole book seeks to portray the Anabaptists as existing primarily as a protest against "Christian sacralism": the unscriptural system in which church and state are united (beginning with Constantine, carried forward by the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period, and emulated by the Protestant Reformers). There is certainly a wealth of historical research here, but there were a few things that took away from my enjoyment of the book.

1. The author views virtually everything about the Anabaptists through the lens of "sacralism vs. separation of church and state" which means he just argues the same point over and over again from slightly different points of view rather than actually examining various facets of the Anabaptists.

2. The author is so obsessed with showing that most groups labeled as "heretics" down through the ages espoused major Anabaptist doctrines that he glosses over major doctrinal aberrations in some of these groups (aberrations that probably would have horrified the Anabaptists).

3. Major quotes in the frequent footnotes are left untranslated. I could pick my way through the French and Latin ones, but I could not read the far more numerous Dutch and German quotes.

Overall: Lots of great historical research, but the author's obsession with the evils of "Christian sacralism" is more on display than the actual history and beliefs of the Anabaptists, and unless you can read Dutch and German you will miss out on many crucial quotes
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The Real Reformers 17 July 2003
By S. E. Moore - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is must reading for anyone fed up with political Christianity. Verduin unmasks many of the myths about the Reformation which the mainstream Protestant churches fail to teach.
"Stepchildren" is a term Verduin uses to designate the more radical front of the Reformation which was later scorned and persecuted by the officially sanctioned Protestant churches. Verduin avoids the term "Anabaptist" because this underground dissent of Christendom went all the way back to the days of Constantine and had no official founder or name. Known throughout the centuries as Donatists, Waldenses, Cathars, or Anabaptists,the "stepchildren" had the greatest influence in securing the religious liberties we enjoy today.
Verduin spares no criticism of the Reformers, ie Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, who merely replaced Roman Catholic theocracy with one of their own. Originally allied with the "stepchildren", the Reformers became their bitterest enemies when they allied themselves with the governing authorities and used civil and military force to coerce believers.
It was the "stepchildren", many of whom emigrated to the American colonies, and not the Reformers, who had the greatest influence upon religious freedom and separation of church and state which was later incorporated into the First Ammendment of our Constitution. The First Ammendment, once and for all, ended the notion that America would ever become a "Sacral" or theocratic society tied together by one religion.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Good Introduction to the Anabaptists... 24 Nov. 2009
By Lyndon Unger - Published on
Format: Paperback
Leonard Verduin's work, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, is a rather sweeping work, examining the theology and practice of the Anabaptists (and other reformational and pre-reformational `heretics', all lumped into the general category of "the Reformer's stepchildren"). He explores the historical foundations and reasoning behind all their nicknames by a clever examination of all the slanderous descriptors used in reference to them.

In the first chapter, Verduin delivers an explanation of Donatism in the times of Constantine and examines how many opposed the idea of Christianity becoming the new sacralism of the Protestants. He explains how there always, in some way or another, was a remnant who challenged the institutionalization of the church under Constantine, instead claiming that the true church consisted of only the believers, and how this remnant then emerged in the reformation and was called Donatisten.

The second chapter explores the Stabler, or "staff carriers". He comments on how the Anabaptists and others did not want to allow the state the carry the sword for the purpose of coercing people to belief in the gospel or suppressing heresy, but instead held to an idea of voluntary belief, for which many of them were killed by the state.

The third chapter brings the discussion to the Catharer ("the cleansed"). He states that the Catharer rejected perfectionism but also rejected the idea of conductual-averagism, with was essentially righteousness judged by the `lowest common denominator'. In opposition to this, the Catharer taught that those that claimed to be Christians needed to behave like Christians, and pagan priests were no priests at all.

The fourth chapter examines the Sacramentschwarmer ("Sacramentarians"). Verduin explains that Sacramentarianism was a flat denial of salvation by sacramental manipulation. Beyond that, he comments on how the `stepchildren' opposed the administration of communion as an act that had any power in itself for the administration of grace.

In the fifth chapter Verduin discusses the Winckler ("those who met in the corners"). The Winckler were those who met in `house churches', having unsanctioned communion and religious gatherings. Beyond that, they were those who preached without commission from the church.

The sixth chapter addresses the Wiedertaufer ("Anabaptists"). He explains how the administration of pedo-baptism was an issue of societal control, and interesting how many of the reformers `towed the party line', though they secretly disagreed with the teaching of pedobaptism. Verduin also explains the difference between anti-pedobaptism and anti-Constantinianism, the latter of which was really what was being rebelled against.

Chapter seven observes the Kommunisten ("the community of goods"). He explains how they Kommunisten idea was a reaction to the excessive wealth and pomp of the clergy, who lived in luxury while all other people lived in squalor. Also, he comments on how this idea led to common accusation of the communal sharing of wives.

The eighth chapter closes out the book with examining several of their peculiarities. Verduin talks about the Rottengeister ("people who agitate within a society to form a party") and comments on 4 distinct, separate marks of the `Stepchildren'. He gives time to their refusal of oath taking, Menno Simons neo-docetic views of Christ, cross bearing and suffering and the missionary nature of the Rottengeister.

On the whole, the book was quite a strong work, with strengths that far outweighed the weaknesses. Verduin seemed to take a fairly balanced approach to history, attempting to have objectivity in areas where it would be easy to want to tread lightly out of fear of mass offense. I respected how he admitted some of the failings of Calvin, Luther and the other reformers, and that he admitted how today we would be embarrassed by some of the things that they did and wrote. One can only imagine how any `foul' talk of John Calvin could offend the pants of some people in certain theological circles, but Verduin seemed to be quite accurate and fair in his laying forth of history `as it was'. I also appreciated how he commented on how the reformers were so emotionally involved with the battle of the second front that they were unable to pass a fair judgment on it. It's easy to look back, see all the blood that was shed, and point fingers of judgment (that are fairly deserved). One must remember the time in which those men lived, the unfathomable task of ecclesial reform that was ahead of them, and the threat of death that loomed over them from the Roman Catholic Church. Beyond that, for all the possible finger pointing to the past, one could definitely argue that many from the past could equally point ahead in shame at the modern church that tolerates everything and anything, and places issues that they deemed worthy of defending unto death "on the $.99 menu" of theology.

For all his strengths, Verduin had a weakness or two. He did seem to be superlative with the descriptive language at times. An example is his comparing the medieval church to a totalitarianism, complete with "brainwashing" (45). Leonard may be correct in his assessment, but his articulation carries connotations that seem a little too Hollywood and are easily make the middle ages sound a bit like a comic book. I was also wondering exactly what he meant when he commented how the Old Testament was exceeded by the New (211). Not a big deal (most likely reflecting a covenant theology understanding), but just a question.

On the whole, I found that I learned much from The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. I really appreciated the opening explanation of the sacral society, explaining how a society was "held together by a religion to which all the members of that society are committed" (pg. 23). I also enjoyed the explanation of the idea of idolothyta; how in a sacral society, all meat was placed before an idol (27). He had an interesting take on Constantine's adoption of Christianity as a new sacralism in order to unite the empire (31), and it was certainly interesting how he explained the significance of the Anabaptists speaking, praying and reading the scripture in the vulgar tongue. The most dominant lesson I learned from Verduin was the one that resonates throughout the entire semester: heresy is always accompanied by trifling or acrobatic hermeneutics. With the improvement of proper, applied hermeneutics always comes improvement of doctrine (on paper and in flesh). I must include final thing that I learned:

"When the Waldensians wish to go to their conventicle they first rub an ointment on their well as on a stick, and ointment supplied to them by the devil. Then they straddle this stick and fly to whatever place they wish to go, over cities and forests and lakes...They congregate about the tables decked with wine and bread. Devils in the form of billy-goats, or dogs or apes are present; sometimes in the form of a man...They worship these, kissing the billy-goat's derriere, with candles in their hands...Then they tread on the cross, spitting on it despite of Jesus Christ and the holy Trinity. Then they present their buttocks to the sky, in derision of God..." (175)

That is definitely something new that I took from Verduin. The Anabaptists were the original 'witches' ('Wicca' in it's modern sense didn't exist back then; 'Wicca' was simply run-of-the-mill 'Paganism'). In one sense, it's simply ludicrous and an entertaining quote, but on another sense it's hard to believe that sane people would invent such bizarre and unbelievable stories in order to attack a deviant sect of theology. The outright propagation of clear and explicit deceit, especially in the form of such `fantasy', amazes me almost as much as the penchant for the proletariat to believe such nonsense. Sadly, that kind of horribly baseless exaggeration exists to this day.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Significant Historical Perspective 26 Jun. 2010
By Gary Lowder - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By the author's own admission, the radical reformers ("the stepchildren") receive a more sympathetic treatment in this book than that which is common. But, as the book amply demonstrates from direct quotes from all sides, there are two good reasons for this treatment: (1) the history as written by the "winners" at the time (the mainline reformers) is largely slanderous--ungenerous and inaccurate; this brings some balance. (2) History has largely proved the radical reformers correct. Little by little, conservative evangelicalism has adopted the very precepts for which these radical reformers stood, and for which they were persecuted--and at times murdered--by the popular heroes of the reformation.

It has given me a great understanding of the historical background of the Reformation, including the pre-Reformation ideals of the radicals that can be traced back to the time of Constantine. It has also given a better understanding of what was at stake and in the minds of the founders of this country where--finally--the great experiment of a non-sacralist state was attempted and blossomed.

It also serves as a warning to all generations that otherwise noble men can have blind spots that make them wrong, embarrassingly wrong, in certain areas. Unfortunately, such men can argue for such false views with just as effective rhetoric as the truth, and lead the impressionable masses to do unspeakable horrors. For the committed evangelical Christian, it is a warning to be wary of those with eloquence of speech and always search the Scriptures as the final authority--much like the radical reformers were committed to.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Finding the Thread of Christianity in History 25 Oct. 2000
By Itasca C. Small - Published on
Format: Paperback
Reverend Leonard Verduin devoted his life to serving the Lord. He died in Nov., 1999, at the age of 102, still working on his writing until the last couple of months of a rich, God-Fearing life. This is just one of the books he wrote in an effort to inform his fellow-man of the true history of Christianity since Jesus Christ brought Salvation to this world. Leonard was a Fulbright scholar who not only spent a full year researching the original ancient and pre-modern records in Europe, but also devoted decades to research in many facets of history and other subjects. He had a truly idetic memory and could perfectly recall everything he ever read. He was a brilliant linguist, who read the texts in their original forms. He translated many works. He dedicated his life to the Lord at an early age and steadfastly held to the course. If you want to truly understand Christianity's history, this book is a must-read, together with his book published in 1998, "That First Amendment and the Remnant". His other works are also first-rate!
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