Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 30 and 31 with a special lecture series delivered by the world's foremost scholar on Swiss Anabaptism.
The lectures explored some of the events and debates that ensued 500 years ago when Martin Luther composed 95 theses for debate in Wittenberg, drawing some conclusions for our day. Dr. C. Arnold Snyder presented the three-part series, titled, "Faith and Toleration: A Reformation Debate Revisited." Snyder, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, ON, posed the question: Should dissenting religious beliefs be tolerated on religious principle, and toleration established as civic policy?
One might have thought that the central evangelical teaching that faith is a God-given, spiritual, inner, and personal matter would have led to a wave of religious toleration accompanying the Reformation. This never materialized. Instead, a tsunami of intolerance and violence swept away thousands of people into prison, exile and martyrdom. What happened?
Protestant theologians, both Lutheran and Reformed, soon became champions of state churches that required all subjects and citizens to attend their churches and swear allegiance to state-sanctioned confessions of faith. How did these Christian theologians justify coercion, torture and even execution in the name of true faith?
Anabaptism was officially outlawed in every state of the Swiss Confederation, with all Reformed pastors and civil officials under oath to report violations. Nevertheless, Anabaptist communities survived into the seventeenth century. Archival records shed important light on the phenomenon of de facto toleration that made Anabaptist survival possible in Switzerland.
Printed from: media.cmu.ca/2017jjtfriesenlectures