Neutäufer (Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter)
Neutäufer is a name sometimes given in Switzerland and South Germany to the Apostolic Christian Church called properly "Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter" or "Fröhlichianer." The Neutäufer are a rather widely disseminated denomination in Switzerland. Since some of its adherents were originally Mennonites they were called "Neutäufer" to distinguish them from the older "Alt-täufer." The group owes its origin to Samuel Heinrich Fröhlich, born in Brugg in the Swiss canton of Aargau 4 July 1803, who stemmed from an old French Huguenot family with the name De Joyeux. When the family fled from France in the period of persecution it settled in German-speaking Switzerland and changed its name to Fröhlich. Samuel Fröhlich studied theology at the universities of Zürich and Basel, but was not in sympathy with the spirit of rationalism found in the universities at that time. After severe inner struggles, in October 1825, "finally a view of faith on Jesus Christ, the Crucified" came to him which brought him "rest and peace and light and created room in me for a new creation." He served as a pastor of the Reformed Church at Leutwil in the canton of Aargau for a short time. Since he taught a rebirth through repentance and faith, and baptism upon confession of faith, he was opposed by the church consistory. On 22 October 1830 he was hastily summoned and told that he had been eliminated from the list of Aargau clergy, and that he was strictly forbidden to perform any church function such as preaching and baptizing.
Fröhlich then had himself baptized in Geneva by Pastor Bost, who had likewise been expelled from the church. From then on he preached the Gospel in private meetings, began to baptize, and "to help to gather the children of God." In August 1832 he made connections with Christian Gerber near Langnau, the leader (Vorsteher) of the Emmental Mennonite congregation. When it developed that there was some agreement on the matter of baptism, Fröhlich himself traveled to Langnau and visited Gerber (1763-1849), who was at that time nearly 70 years old. At a meeting of all the ministers and deacons Fröhlich presented his beliefs. Gerber and several others, like Christian Baumgartner, a Mennonite preacher living in Labach near Langnau, agreed with him. Fröhlich's "earnest pure teaching of the Gospel, which aroused the sleepy," soon found entry, especially since Gerber and Baumgartner complained about the lethargy and laxity of the preachers. Thus Fröhlich found favorable soil in Langnau and from then on held regular meetings there, which were well attended. The court record reports that "at a public meeting he gave the admonition like a preacher and in the evening often taught, so that the old simple doctrines now seem to some as foolishness." He won several members of the Langnau Mennonite congregation, who then began to separate from the others. They demanded that communion be held almost every Sunday according to Acts 2:46, hoping thereby to lead the congregation back to the apostolic position. These innovations attracted many. By 2 September 1832 Fröhlich's audience was estimated at 400-500 persons. Fröhlich was therefore summoned before the government and banished. He then went to East Switzerland.
This move, however, caused severe divisions in the Mennonite congregations in the Emmental. In spite of negotiations, unity could not be achieved and discord increased. Gerber and Baumgartner began at Christmas time 1834 to observe communion separately with several of their companions. This matter then came before the brotherhood in the Jura. In January 1835 four preachers, David Baumgartner, Hans Zingg, Jakob Nussbaumer, and Ulrich Lehmann, came to Langnau to settle the trouble, but accomplished little. The elders and ministers of the Langnau congregation continued to hope for improvement, but the meetings remained separate. In East Switzerland and in the vicinity of his home in Aargau many Mennonites grouped themselves around Fröhlich. The movement spread also in the cantons of St. Gall, Appenzell, Thurgau, and Zurich. In the Emmental the division became even greater when Fröhlich sent to the Emmental George Steiger from Toggenburg, one of his followers, a young man of 21 years. Steiger declared that the adherents of the old order were all spiritually dead as long as they were not baptized by immersion. Just as Jakob Ammann had done in his time (1694-97), Steiger insisted that the Langnau church discipline was too lax. He succeeded in drawing about 64 persons out of the Mennonite congregations and a similar number from the Reformed Church in Langnau and uniting them into a separate congregation by re-baptism. But they first had to confess that they had until then been children of the devil. This baptism by Steiger destroyed all hope of healing the schism in the Mennonite congregation. The Swiss conference meeting in March 1835 decided to expel Gerber and Baumgartner with their following from the Mennonite brotherhood; this was done on the first Sunday of May by the elders of the Jura churches. Thus complete separation had come. Fröhlich's followers were now called "Fröhlichianer" or "Neutaufer."
Soon after the division Ulrich Steiner was installed as elder of the Langnau Mennonite Church. In his booklet Angenehme Stunden in Zion he describes how seriously he was grieved by this course of events, which caused him severe trials until God gave him light. The light of the rising sun with its golden glow seemed to him a symbol of the old church, since through all the storms of persecutions it had shone as a bright light. As a symbol of the new brotherhood he believed he saw the light of the full moon as a reflection of the former.
In February 1836 Fröhlich made an attempt to make contact with the Reformation Committee of the Baptist Association in London, with the view of bringing about a unification of his group with the Baptists. He also negotiated with Johann Gerhard Oncken in 1846 for the purpose of union. All these attempts failed; Fröhlich was alone with the congregations which had originated through him and which called themselves "Taufgesinnte Gemeinschaft." On 30 October 1836 Frohlich again visited Langnau, staying at Bäregg for several days until the police began to pursue him. In 1844 Fröhlich was finally expelled from Switzerland and found refuge in Strasbourg with a Johann Diebold. Here too he tried to find his way to the Mennonite congregations, but the Mennonites explained to him that only those ministers who were ordained for the proclamation of the Word by the laying on of hands of their elders were admitted as preachers. Since the “Alttäufer seemed to regard the letter more than the Spirit" no agreement was reached. From Strasbourg Fröhlich tried to serve his congregations by means of pastoral letters, some of which are still extant. In late July 1852 he once more visited the Langnau congregation, holding a meeting in a barn. Again on his last trip in Switzerland in 1856 he passed through Langnau. He died on 15 January 1857.
In the canton of Bern the Neutäufer had considerable congregations, not only in the Emmental but also in other parts. In Bern they built an old people's home called the Mattenhof in 1903. In 1908 a part of the congregation under Elder Fritz Zehnder separated and built a meetinghouse of its own in Bärau near Langnau.
On the whole the Neutäufer were rather hostile to the state church, for which reason there were serious difficulties with the clergy of the church in the first decades of their existence. A clergyman of Bern whose name is not given published a pamphlet in 1864 with the title Gemeinfassliche Belehrung über die Sekte der Neutäufer and ihre Lehre, "to preserve the members of the Evangelical Reformed State Church from error and seduction."
For the nurture of the Neutäufer congregations in Alsace, Strasbourg, and elsewhere, Fröhlich on 1 January 1847 ordained G. Martin Mangold in addition to Johann Diebold. Mangold is credited with the publication in 1853 of the Zionsharfe, the Neutäufer hymnal, using songs out of the former Harmonika. But this cannot be true, since the first edition is dated 1844. But he is the author of the book Blicke in die Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft, oder Enthüllungen wichtiger prophetischer Weissagungen und Anmerkungen über die Offenbarung Jesu Christi an seinen Knecht Johannes (Zürich, 1862). Mangold here presents himself as a prophet illuminated by God, who has the task of explaining the Revelation of John. At the very beginning he calls infant baptism the basic error, which has set the whole ecclesiastical building on a false foundation. The rejection of infant baptism is, to be sure, understandable, but what follows is particularly striking, and is actually nothing more than unwholesome presumption. The fallen star of Revelation 8:10-11, he says, was the Church Father Augustine, who must be regarded as the "destroyer of divine fundamental truth." The Reformation and the whole Protestant church he saw as the second beast out of the abyss, which like the first beast, the papacy, killed the two witnesses of God, the Law and the Gospel, and is therefore called the false prophet. The beast with seven heads was, in his interpretation, the combination of traditional church doctrine with the seven sacraments, through which the body of the orthodox world church is held together. The new church constitution of the Reformation had "like the Lamb in the church of God only two sacraments." Both branches (Lutheran and Reformed) he interprets as the two horns of the beast which have extended their might over lands and kingdoms. At the end Mangold also discusses the Mennonites and Baptists, “who to be sure, at first stood in the truth but gradually fell into externalities," which had lost "the divine anointment and the power," and had turned into a "saltless salt."
After Fröhlich's death Mangold immigrated to America and established several congregations there, which spread to the states of New York, Illinois, and Ohio. In Austria, where there are a few Neutäufer, and in Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Rumania, where there are more, they are called Nazarenes. During World War I many of them had to undergo long imprisonment in Hungary because they refused military service. On the whole the Neutäufer are rather narrow, rejecting communion with other believers, even those who maintain the same principles, and holding strictly to tradition.
Geiser, Samuel. Die Taufgesinnten-Gemeinden : eine Kurzgefasste Darstellung der wichtigsten Ereignisse des Täufertums. Karlsruhe: H. Schneider, .
Gratz, Delbert L. Bernese Anabaptists and their American descendants. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1953. Reprinted Elverson, PA: Old Springfield Shoppe, 1994.
Mangold, G. Martin. Blicke in die Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft. Zurich, 1862.
Ruegger, Herrmann. Aufzeichnungen über Entstehung und Bekenntnis der Gemeinschaft Evangelisch-Taufgesinnter. Zurich: 1948. English translation: Apostolic Christian Church History. Chicago, 1949.
Die Sekte der Neutäufer. Bern, 1864.
Die Umtriebe der Neutäufer. Bern, 1841.
Cite This Article
Geiser, Samuel. "Neutäufer (Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 11 Dec 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Neut%C3%A4ufer_(Gemeinschaft_Evangelisch_Taufgesinnter)&oldid=141239.
Geiser, Samuel. (1957). Neutäufer (Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Neut%C3%A4ufer_(Gemeinschaft_Evangelisch_Taufgesinnter)&oldid=141239.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 857-859. All rights reserved.
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