Sunday, July 8, 2012

A conversation with Hans

Just a note: the last several posts have all been related to our time in Langnau. The experience getting to church, meeting Hans and Heidi, his becoming our guide--these were all very special moments. Something I didn't tell you was that when we arrived at the road to the castle, it was blocked. A local club was sponsoring a sort of soap box derby on the long, steep road. Hans talked them into letting us walk up the road. On the way up, he and I had a chance to talk. The following is a bit of our conversation which I thought you would find interesting.

CONVERSATION WITH HANS  . . . . . while walking up the road to the Trachselwald Castle.

Me: “To what degree did the Zürich radicals bring Anabaptist thought to the Emmental?”
Hans: “The radical reformation was not so much a missionary effort (i.e., through the traveling of Grebel, Manz, Blaurock, et al.) in Switzerland, particularly in the Emmental. The farmers were already about to revolt against the nobility and church leaders. The development in the Emmental was a conflation of economic and political factors as well as spiritual. The people (especially the poor, the peasants) wanted to be free from oppression of all kinds.
So, the movement “just sprang up” everywhere, almost simultaneously—it could not be held back. The spiritual aspect epitomized the longing of the heart for freedom in worship and in the local church. Certainly, what was happening in Zürich and Bern had some impact.”

Me: “You refer to “the bad times.” What is in your mind?”
Hans:  “I am clearly thinking of the earliest and worst persecution (in the 16th and 17th centuries.) But there also much more recent times, as recently as the late 19th century. Even in those days, the local “state church” pastors were eager to turn in the Taüfer to the authorities. The farms and other possessions of the Taüfer were confiscated and some portion of the money was given to the state church for a new building or a new pulpit.

“The sympathetic farmers (not Anabaptists, but fair-minded individuals who respected the Anabaptists and their morals and work ethic—or simply because they were friends and neighbors) would hide the Taüfer in their barns or other outbuildings. Soon, the authorities would offer rewards or the local town leaders would be arrested and thrown in the castle dungeon until the farmers would turn over the refugees. This was an awful situation for everyone. The Anabaptists would then be held in the castle cells until transferred to Bern to be banished or put to death.

“There is a farmhouse in the area that still has the ‘hiding place’ as it existed in the 16th century. It is a popular place for tour buses. It is closed right now because the owners need a break from the tourists! I am sorry you can’t see it.”

Me: “How would the authorities identify who had adopted Anabaptist beliefs (thus making them outlaws)?”
Hans:  “For one thing, their children’s’ names would not be on the baptismal record at the state church.”

Me: “Was the persecution constantly awful or were there times of relative peace?”
Hans: “The persecution came in waves—it depended who the current pastor of the local state church was. Some of them were actually friendly toward the Anabaptists and would not pressure the locals to turn them in. Others were intent on stamping out the heretics altogether because the Anabaptists represented a threat to their power, popularity with the local people, and their standing with the higher authorities.”

Me: “Could the old times come back?”
Hans: “The old times are gone  . . . but they are not far away. Yes, they could come back. Perhaps not with the same intensity, because there are laws. But anytime a religious group is perceived as a threat to peace, prosperity, or power, the possibility exists that it will be subject to persecution. In the worst case, people can turn vicious again.” (Hans clearly lives with a sense of a tenuous existence born of an acute awareness of 300-plus years of persecution

Me: “What are the questions faced by the church today, as you see it?”
Hans: “We don’t focus on the old times as much—that is good, because we do not need to live there. But we should not forget. Those times should teach us. We should always stay vigilant and we should never be too involved with the state. The two do not mix well.

“Other questions are the ones we have been asking since the beginning:
What is the church?
How should it relate to the state?
What about baptism . . . its importance . . . its forms . . . its place in church and personal life?
How do we be a community internally, where we really know and take care of each other (young, old, all ages; really live as one—Jn. 17)?
At the same time, how do we be “in the world’?

Me: “The big question. Here, in this beautiful country, you have your farm, your family . . . all you could want and need. Why would you be willing to give this all up? For what would you be willing to die?”
Hans: “Jesus.”


  1. How amazing to find the same spirit, the same soul-deep convictions and passions (even some of the very same words you've said to us) so far away... What a wonder! ;D

  2. And that is why I love this family of faith! Wherever you go, you can find someone with whom you share the deep foundational truths of life. For some reason, it always catches me by surprise, but it really oughtn't. We have a wide, spread out family and that family reunion is going to be one grand foot-stoppin' good time!