This sermon summarizes and contrasts the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anabaptist positions on five major 16th-century issues: their view of political, social, and economic reality; their view of authority and tradition; their view of what it means to be saved; their view of what the church is; their view of what ethics applies in human relations.
The Catholic and Protestant views of political, social, and economic issues were very similar: church and state were closely intertwined and functioned as one reality, and in general, a person could not move out of their divinely ordered place. Anabaptists said that all people are equal and that political and social structures that build layers in society are wrong, and that believers should obey God rather than man when the demands of political authorities differ from the clear commands of Scriptures.
The Catholic and Protestant views of authority and tradition were similar in that both emphasized that truth and grace are contained in, transmitted by, and “grown in” the believer through the sacraments and clergy. Anabaptists generally tried to return to New Testament Christianity, get rid of human traditions and civil/state involvement in church decisions, and root all in the Word, Spirit, and Christian community.
Roman Catholicism taught that by receiving the sacraments, a person received the grace contained in the Sacraments and experienced spiritual transformation as a result of partaking. Medieval pietism (Theologia Deutsch) emphasized an internal transformation as a result of Gelansenheit (abandonment/self-surrender/faith). Luther at first appreciated the view taught in the Theologia Deutsch but then moved toward “justification by faith alone” (justification apart from human involvement). The general Protestant view of salvation emphasized the imputation of the sinner’s sins to Christ on the cross and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner who believes the historical facts of Christ’s death for them. Anabaptists understood salvation in the Theologia Deutsch tradition and emphasized repentance and faith as prerequisites for baptism/salvation and transformation of heart and life as the necessary fruit of salvation.
Both Roman Catholicism and Protestants taught that the church is present where the sacraments are properly administered. Anabaptists said the church is present wherever those who trust and follow Christ are gathered.
In relation to what ethics apply in human relations, the Orders were expected to live out the love ethic in a different way than the rest of society. Protestants generally viewed the Sermon on the Mount as applying to a future Kingdom. Anabaptists said believers are called to practice the Sermon on the Mount, to follow the example of Christ, and to resist evil without violence or carnal force, and to suffer wrong.