Written by Barry Thompson
At the beginning of the 17th Century, the German state-controlled Lutheran Church became irritated by a group of women who were steadfastly refusing to come under their authority. They would not attend local parish churches nor would they participate in the Lord’s Supper with the unregenerate traditional Church. They were the Anabaptists. The Anabaptist movement is defined by a belief that baptism should be reserved for a person who confesses their own faith. Margaret Hellwart was one of the leaders of this group. Born in 1568, Margaret became an Anabaptist before the age of forty. She believed that to participate with those who lived as they pleased during the week and ‘worshipped’ God on a Sunday was not proper. After several warnings that her non-attendance had been noted, she would not yield to the pressure of the authorities, leading to her being placed under house arrest by being chained to her own home.
Margaret was punished in this way twenty-one times in the space of eleven years by the Church Court with the only person having a right to visit her being the Lutheran Pastor (in order to convert her). Despite this supposed confinement, it is reported that Margaret went about her business of spreading the Gospel, largely uninterrupted – perhaps due to her husband or some other accomplice. Indeed, it is reported that on occasion her chains fell off as Peter in Acts 12 and Paul and Silas in Acts 16. On one occasion when the mayor and church superintendent visited her, there was a significant pause before she answered the door…she was putting her chain back on!
Margaret’s faith and courage in the face of persecution is inspiring. Her determination to serve Christ without compromise is challenging to our safe, comfortable Western Christianity. She was a risk-taker who saw God work miracles through her obedience to Him. Her story parallels that of Daniel in the Old Testament, as a person of faith, unwilling to bow to demands of society around him. He too was under great pressure and warned of harsh reprisal yet stood firm in the full knowledge of the repercussions.
As she approached her latter days, after being brought before the court once more, the authorities realised they could do nothing but leave the matter with God as Margaret avowed that she would die an Anabaptist. In 1621, aged 53, that prayer was answered.
Barry is a Baptist Minister and Pastor of Farnhams and Hedgerley Community Church in South Bucks alongside his wife Vicky, together they have two sons. Barry is passionate about seeing people become all they can be in Christ.