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Melchiorites is a term used for the followers of Melchior Hoffman (modernized in German as Hoffmann), the Reformer who carried the gospel to Baltic areas such as Estonia and Livonia, to Emden in Friesland, and to Amsterdam. Hoffman was an individualist who did not unite with the Swiss Brethren, and they in turn repudiated him. Nevertheless he did unite with a fringe group of Anabaptists in Strasbourg in 1530. For a time he was a Lutheran, but Luther ultimately repudiated him. In the 1530s he traveled about a great deal. He held to such Swiss Brethren doctrines as believer's baptism, nonresistance, the rejection of oaths, earnest discipleship to Christ, and separation of church and state. He wrote numerous books, mostly on eschatology. He made much of baptism as a covenant (see 1 Pet. 3:21 in the Luther Bible), and his followers were often called Brethren of the Covenant or "Covenanters."

In addition to the usual Anabaptist doctrines Hoffman was obsessed with eschatology, reveling in the anticipated apocalyptic violence against the wicked after Christ's return, and he was naively drawn to "special revelations" through dreams and visions. He also held an eccentric view of the incarnation whereby Mary was understood to be merely a channel through which the "heavenly flesh of Christ made its entrance to the earth." In response to a special revelation through a Melchiorite he hastened back to Strasbourg in 1533, was arrested, and jailed, in the expectation that in six months Christ would return.

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However, Hoffman lay in prison for ten long years before dying in 1543. His Reformation in the Low Countries slowly matured into two wings: (1) The Peace Wing led by Jan Volkerts Trypmaker (martyred in 1531) and Jacob van Campen (martyred in 1535). Later leaders in this Peace Wing in Friesland were Obbe Philips, his brother Dirk Philips, and from 1536 Menno Simons. (2) The apocalyptic and revolutionary Melchiorites were led by the unstable Jan Matthys, who set up a theocracy in Munster, Germany, and died violently in 1534, and by the unscrupulous "King" Jan van Leyden, who was executed after the 1534 - 35 Munster "kingdom." Violent Munsterite "ultra - Melchiorism" was kept alive briefly by Jan van Batenburg (executed 1538) and by David Joris, who fled to Basel in 1544 under a false name and successfully posed for the rest of his days as a Zwinglian.

J C Wenger

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Mennonite Encyclopedia, II, III.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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