Conrad Grebel - Ministry

Ministry

Conrad Grebel probably experienced a conversion in the spring of 1522. His life showed a dramatic change, and he became an earnest supporter of the preaching and reforms of Zwingli. He rose to leadership among Zwingli's young and enthusiastic followers. This close following and enthusiastic support of Zwingli was challenged by the Second Disputation in Zurich in October 1523. Grebel and Zwingli broke over abolishing the Mass. Zwingli argued before the council for abolishing the Mass and removing images from the church. But when he saw that the city council was not ready for such radical changes, he chose not to break with the council, and even continued to officiate at the Mass until it was abolished in May 1525. Grebel saw this as an issue of obeying God rather than men, and, with others, could not conscientiously continue in that which they had condemned as unscriptural. These young radicals felt betrayed by Zwingli, while Zwingli looked on them as irresponsible.

About 15 men broke with Zwingli, and, while taking no specific action at that time, they regularly met together for prayer, fellowship and Bible study. During this time of waiting for direction from God, they sought religious connections outside of Zürich. Grebel wrote to both Andreas Karlstadt and Martin Luther in the summer of 1524, and to Thomas Müntzer in September. Karlstadt traveled to Zürich and met with them in October of that year. Despite apparent similarities, no connection between the Zürich radicals and Karlstadt ever came to fruition. In his letter to Müntzer, Grebel encouraged Müntzer in his opposition to Luther, but also reproached him for several errors he felt he was making. He urged Müntzer not to take up arms. The letter was returned to Grebel, having never reached Müntzer.

The final question to completely sever ties between the radicals and Zwingli was the question of infant baptism. A public debate was held on January 17, 1525. Zwingli argued against Grebel, Manz and George Blaurock. The city council decided in favor of Zwingli and infant baptism, ordered the Grebel group to cease their activities, and ordered that any unbaptized infants must be submitted for baptism within 8 days. Failure to comply with the council's order would result in exile from the canton. Grebel had an infant daughter,Issabella, who had not been baptized, and he resolutely stood his ground. He did not intend for her to be baptized.

The group met together for counsel on January 21 in the home of Felix Manz. This meeting was illegal according to the new decision of the council. George Blaurock asked Grebel to baptize him upon a confession of faith. Afterward, Blaurock baptized the others who were present. As a group they pledged to hold the faith of the New Testament and live as fellow disciples separated from the world. They left the little gathering full of zeal to encourage all men to follow their example.

Being well known in Zürich, Grebel left the work to others and set out on an evangelistic mission to the surrounding cities. In February, Grebel baptized Wolfgang Ulimann by immersion in the Rhine River. Ulimann was in St. Gall, and Grebel traveled there in the spring. Conrad Grebel and Wolfgang Ulimann spent several months preaching with much success in the area of St. Gall. In the summer he went to Grüningen and preached with great effect. In October 1525 he was arrested and imprisoned. While in prison, Grebel was able to prepare a defense of the Anabaptist position on baptism. Through the help of some friends, he escaped in March 1526. He continued his ministry and was at some point able to get his pamphlet printed. Grebel removed to the Maienfeld area in the Canton of Grisons (where his oldest sister lived). Shortly after arrival he died, probably around July or August.

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