Church of the Brethren Newsline
July 8, 2017
by Karen Garrett
Six Brethren were arrested 300 years ago in Solingen, Germany. What was their crime? In 1716, the six men, ages 22 to 33, had been baptized as adults. This crime was a capital offense, the punishment could be execution. The six men were first marched to Dusseldorf for interrogation. It is said they sang hymns as they walked to their imprisonment.
The German authorities wanted to be fair. They sent priests and ministers from the state churches to speak with the six men, to persuade them to recant, denounce their re-baptism, and at least attend a state church once a year. For Johann Lobach, Johann Fredrick Henckels, Gottfried Luther Setius, Wilhelm Knepper, Wilhelm Grahe, and Jakob Grahe, recanting was not an option. For them, attending such an apostate church even one Sunday would violate their faith. They chose instead to face torture and even death.
The six were eventually marched on a three-day journey to a fortress in the town of Juelich. The journey began with the six accompanied by 44 guards. Soon 24 guards departed. The Brethren were peacefully marching to Juelich. The group eventually spread, with much space between guards and prisoners, but the six men did not consider running away. They wanted to use the opportunity to make a good witness of their faith. They wanted to stay together as brothers. Indeed, if one had escaped, it would have been very difficult for the other five. People living along the way encouraged the men to keep their faith. Their goal of being witnesses was being accomplished.
They also witnessed their faith to other prisoners and guards at Juelich. They worked their hard labor without complaint, endured the living quarters filled with rats, lice, and fleas, and sang songs. One used his “free time” to write numerous hymns. Their Bibles had been confiscated, so they were not able to read scripture but they could “sing” scripture, until they were forbidden to sing. They also carved buttons out of wood to sell, which provided them money to purchase food to supplement the bread they were given.
The hard labor and working conditions broke their health. Brethren in the area visited them, which brought encouragement. When Lobach became ill, his mother came to nurse him back to health. However, she also became ill and died in Juelich.
This story was shared in an insight session presented by Jeff Bach, director of the Young Center at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, and sponsored by the Brethren Historical Committee. The session brought a sobering challenge: Would I stand strong in my faith, if I faced such persecution today?
In the United States, we can hardly imagine such persecution. Our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, on the other hand, do face such persecution regularly. Dear God, help us deepen our faith and resolve to stand firm in love and obedience to your commands.
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