Telling Tales to Tell the Truth
If you were to visit the Netherlands today and walk on one of their protective dikes, you would be enchanted with a tranquil setting. On your right would be water as far as the eye could see. To the left and lower than the water would be lush green pasture land which hosts small farms and grazing sheep. The serenity of the scene gives no hint of the once brutal religious persecution that swept over this land in the 16th century during the Reformation.
In 1531 the first Anabaptist or Doopsgezind was put to death in the Netherlands for his belief in the free church movement. By the end of the century, many hundreds of Anabaptists had been executed under various bloody decrees issued by government officials. The slaughter of innocent men and women, who asked nothing more than the right to worship God as their consciences directed, only subsided in 1578 when the Dutch provinces established a limited degree of religious toleration.
Thieleman van Braght (1625–1664) was a Dutch Mennonite minister who believed that even though the stories of the murders of Anabaptists from the previous century were horrible they needed to be remembered. What was the message in these descriptions of burnings and beatings, bold testimonies in prison to inquisitors, and letters of encouragement slipped out to brothers and sisters of the faith but still at large? As a successful pastor and author, van Braght worked diligently to keep Dutch Mennonites true to their historic faith. In his own day, the Dutch Mennonite church was divided into two main factions—one traditional in their Anabaptist theology and the other more progressive. These two groups were known as Coarse and Fine—the Coarse held more tenaciously to the old patterns of a vigorous use of ...