Anabaptist Anonymous Blogging Throughout History…

Over the last few years, there have been some Mennonite bloggers who have blogged anonymously and spoken out against perceived evils and trouble in the Mennonite Brethren (mostly) Conference of Churches.  I even once was an anonymous blogger, but I no longer blog anonymously.  Apparently, anonymous blogging is a serious enough problem to mention on national websites for people who are in power.  One would think that the half dozen or so anonymous blogs would be far less a threat to these people than, uh, say, the actual attack on Christianity by places like www.RichardDawkins.net or Debunking Christianity or even Zeitgeist.

Goodness me, I’m guessing that more MB’s have watched Zeitgeist than will ever read any of the anonymous blogs.

I’ve never talked with anyone in any of the MB churches here in Saskatchewan who’ve ever even heard of any of these anonymous blogs.  I’m guessing that it’s other MB bloggers and the MB pastors/leadership who are noticing these anonymous blogs and getting worked up.  Most of the MB’s I know of are too busy either trying to figure out Outlook Express (and these “new fangled” computers) or reading The Ooze to bother reading anonymous blogs.

Either way, the question always comes up of whether or not this is appropriate.  Lynn Jost, ex president of MBBS, says that blogging anonymously “fails to measure up to the biblical injunction to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15)”, which insinuates that Ephesians 4:14 is the case (rather than 4:15) and anonymous blogging is speaking false teaching, springing from human imaginations, motivated by deceitfulness.

Now, all I’ll say about that is that calling someone a false teacher, motivated by deceit, is difficult to establish when they’re calling for a return to the scriptures and obedience to Jesus Christ.  Call me crazy, but I don’t remember false teachers doing that in the NT.

Beyond that accusation, critics of the critics often assume that the motivation behind anonymous blogging is always nefarious.  Apparently, anonymous bloggers don’t have the guts to stand up to their accusers and are lobbing rocks from the safety of a 10th story window.

It’s true that there are people who do write anonymously and hide behind the freedom of anonymity, saying things that they shouldn’t say or saying things that are demonstrably untrue.  To assume this is always the case strikes me as utterly stupid.

Why does that strike me as utterly stupid?

Well, it’s utterly stupid because we Anabaptists have had our anonymous bloggers since the start…

…Well, not entirely.  Instead of bloggers we had tract and pamphlet writers.  Anabaptists were known for anonymous literature when they started out.  I’m working on a sermon for Sunday, but here’s a short list of some of our early anonymous literature:

1.  Somewhere around 1525 to 1530, there was an anonymous tract circulating Anabaptist ideas called “Two Kinds of Obedience”, which was supposedly written by Michael Sattler.

2.  Sattler was attributed to be the author of another anonymous tract called “Concerning Divorce”, published around the same time.

3.  Circa 1530, there was an anonymous Anabaptist tract published in Augsburg called “Disclosure of the Babylonian Harlot and Antichrist’s Old and New Mystery and Abomination, etc.”

4.  There was an anonymous tract published around 1540 called “Uncovering of the Babylonian Whore” that challenged the Christian use of the sword.  This tract is attributed to either Pilgram Marpeck (Packull, Werner O. “Pilgram Marpeck: Uncovering of the Bablyonian Whore and Other Anonymous Anabaptist Tracts” in Mennonite Quarterly Review 67, no. 3, July 1993, 351-355) or Philipp Ulhart.

5.  Ulhart’s Press produced other anonymous Anabaptist tracts in the 1540’s. One was called “How the Scriptures Should Be Discerningly Distinguished and Exposited” (Packull, 352) which carried the mark “MS”, which was once thought to mark the authorship of Michael Sattler (John H. Yoder, ed., The Legacy of Michael Sattler (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1973, 171), but more like marks a “Marpeck-Scharnschlager” (Leupold Scharnschlager) collabaration (Packull, 353).

6.  Anabaptist Andreas Karlstadt published an anonymous tract on baptism in 1527.

7.  Christopher Schappeler, an Anabaptist of the 1520’s, published an anonymous tract called “To the Assembly of the Common Peasantry”.

8.  Around 1530-1531, there was an Anabaptist anonymous tract published called “A Beautiful Dialogue between a Nobleman and His Servant Concerning Apostolic Baptism” (Packull, 355).

9.  Finally there was an anonymous pamphlet that was clearly pro-Anabaptist called “Ein gehapter Ratschlag Lucipers” (A Recent Consultation of Lucifer) that critiqued and satirized the Diet of Speyer or 1529 (Waite, Gary, K. “A Recent Consultation of Lucifer: A Previously Unknown Work by Sebastian Franck?”, Mennonite Quarterly Review, 58 no 4 O 1984, p 477-502).

Those are only from a small, 20-30 year period.  History remembers far more than that and maybe one day I’ll produce a more comprehensive list.

Beyond that list, epistle writing was a popular means of transmitting ideas in the early Anabaptist movement, and it was quite normal for Anabaptist epistles to appear anonymously, frequently written by martyrs before they died who wanted their teaching to be passed on.

So if writing tracts/pamphlets/blogs and attacking the established church for heretical beliefs was a practice in early Anabaptism, then it appears that we’ve been not “speaking the truth in love” ever since the beginning.  Also worth noting is that it appears that the ones who history remembers as orthodox are the ones who were writing the anonymous tracts and pamphlets.

So, can anyone guess why every one of those anonymous writers did so?

Mischeif?

Divisiveness?

Give me a break.

It’s because Anabaptists were convinced of the biblical truth of their beliefs, but were being killed for holding them.  They were motivated by a love for the truth that recognized imminent and actual bodily threat for their beliefs.  Not quite nefarious motivations, if you ask me.

I’ve had several anonymous bloggers contact me, and they all said that they were afraid of being kicked out of their churches, their conference, their schools, or generally being blacklisted and shunned. I fully understand their fears; I’ve received hate mail and yelling in my time too.  Heck, I was kicked out of my youth group in ninth grade for showing up late, so I understand the fear of the Mennonite penchant for over-reacting to problems and ignorantly exercising “the ban”.  We’ve been doing that recklessly for centuries.

So, here’s the million dollar question:

Would Menno Simons blog anonymously?

Well, I don’t know…but those around him did and their descendants still are.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Happy Participant of the Witness Protection Agency Since 2005” Unger

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One thought on “Anabaptist Anonymous Blogging Throughout History…

  1. Pingback: Would Menno Simons Blog Anonymously? « Menno-lite

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