Primitive Christianity Home Page

Chapter 1 A Man Hanging from his Thumb
Chapter 2 What was the Secret of the Strenth?
Chapter 3 The Woman Who had a Baby in Jail
Chapter 4 From Where did the Anabaptists Come?
Chapter 5 Literally...An Explosion!
Chapter 6 On to Christ
Chapter 7 On to Conviction
Chapter 8 On to the Teachings of Christ
Chapter 9 On to the Word
Chapter 10 On to a New Life
Chapter 11 On to Baptism
Chapter 12 On to Commitment
Chapter 13 On to Communion
Chapter 14 On to Community
Chapter 15 On to Visibility
Chapter 16 On with the Message
Chapter 17 On to Witness
Chapter 18 On to Peace
Chapter 19 On to an Ethical Way of Life
Chapter 20 On to Modesty
Chapter 21 On to Christian Families
Chapter 22 On to Christian Service
Chapter 23 In Spite of Terrible Mistakes
Chapter 24 A Bull in the China Shop
Chapter 25 Zu de Gmeysleid
Chapter 26 To the "Outsiders"
Chapter 27 The Last Chapter

The Secret of the Strength

What Would the Anabaptists Tell This Generation?

The Secret of the Strength-Peter Hoover

The Secret of the Strength - epub
The Secret of the Strength - mobi
The Secret of the Strength - pdf (Dec 2009) Revised edition (3.4mb) Has pictures, text is very similar to original.
The Secret of the Strength - pdf Original version (1.1mb)
The Secret of the Strength - MS WORD (original text)

by Peter Hoover

The above picture features an Anabaptist preacher of the 16th century, speaking to his audience in the fields...with the backdrop of a modern Anabaptist's material prosperity...

"We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard, said the apostles marching directly into persecution. They had discovered the secret of Jesus' strength. We may discover it too, thanks to the clues left behind by those who loved not their lives even unto death. In this book you may find many clues."

The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you," Christ told his followers-and a few fishermen, a tax collector, and a motley crowd of Jerusalem "believers" set out to change the world.

They succeeded.

In sixteenth century Europe, the Anabaptists preaching in cities by night, on back streets, and in wood corners behind rail fences began to do the same. What was their secret? In this book you may study what they accomplished as long as they remembered it and what they lost when they forgot it.

Was their secret a return to the Bible? No, they were far more than biblicists. Was it a return to the apostolic way? No, they were far more than keepers of tradition. Fundamentalism and traditionalism have never held Christianity together nor made it work.

The "secret of the kingdom of God" is stunningly simple. With two words Christ revealed it to his friends, who-upon comprehending it-came to a sudden knowledge of the will of God, of the whole Bible, and of the right way to live.

The purpose of this book is to help many more to comprehend the same.

Conrad Grebel, Menno Simons, Peter Rideman--what did these Anabaptists really say about conversion, separation from the world, the visible church, the meaning and mode of baptism, the frequency of communion, divorce and remarriage, community of goods, and many other issues? With its nearly four hundred quotes from sixteenth century writings (many of them original translations), and dozens of character sketches, this 300 page book is a serious attempt to answer the question of its subtitle: "What would the Anabaptists tell this generation?"

"I highly recommend Peter Hoover's book, The Secret of the Strength. The teachings and sufferings of the early Anabaptists are thoroughly documented. The author vividly describes both our strengths and weakness in the four hundred seventy-three years of our history."

Myron Dietz, Old Order River Brethren historian

"The strength of this work is its evocative use of language to set a scene, its mixture of stories---Anabaptist and personal---with Anabaptist texts, and the gently passionate tone of its message. The book makes Anabaptist sources broadly available to the casual reader, and it places their story into the broader, deeper framework of commitment to Christ."

John D. Roth, editor, Mennonite Quarterly Review


I well remember the first time I faced the stark realization that I was a Mennonite and different. My fourth-grade friend, Gregory, and I were riding home from public school on the bus. We were talking about our future, how we would always be friends and do things together when we grew up. Then he enthusiastically began to describe activities that from my upbringing I knew to be worldly. Desperate to save our lifelong friendship, I turned to Gregory and said, "You will have to leave your church and become a Mennonite when you grow up." Thus, the inevitability of our way of life impressed itself on my eight-year-old mind. A year later I made my decision to follow Christ. Of course, Gregory never joined my church, and I do not even know his whereabouts today.

The theme of separation from the world ran strong in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania where I grew up. But I wrongly assumed that, except for our plainness, we believed the same things that other Christians believed. Then one evening at the Chambersburg Mennonite Church, where I was a member, a visiting speaker jolted me with a graphic picture of my martyr heritage. Even after forty years, I can still see Brother Irvin Martin stepping to the edge of the platform to demonstrate how they shoved the head of Felix Manz beneath the water trying to make him recant. Then the preacher showed us how they stripped his bound hands over his knees, thrust a stick between to hold them, then dumped him into the water to drown while his Anabaptist mother shouted encouragement from the riverbank. From that moment I knew that my destiny lay in the faith expressed by Felix Manz, though I but dimly understood what that meant.

Several years later I visited Zurich, Switzerland and stood beside the Limmat River at the place where it had happened. By then, I knew that it was the Protestant reformers, not the Roman Catholics, who opposed my Anabaptist forefathers in Zurich. I realized that the issues then were freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. Knowing that these were no longer issues in the free land of America, I again wrongly assumed that only our separated lifestyle and nonresistance distinguished us from our neighbors who now actually professed the same fundamentals of faith that we do. This false assumption was driven home by many sermon comments about our "twin distinctive doctrines." It seemed that we were Biblicists just like the fundamentalists around us except for our two distinctives. Unfortunately, my false assumption was a reality in the beliefs and lives of many in my church. But this I did not realize until many years later.

In the meantime, I struggled through a spiritual crisis that obliterated thoughts of history and heritage. Agonizing doubts about my salvation drove me finally in desperation to surrender all of my life unconditionally to Jesus as my Lord. Brimming with new motivation and power of the Holy Spirit, I began my quest for reality. The Scriptures became an absorbing delight, and I made it my purpose to master the Book. Then new movements in the community began to challenge the worldward drift in the church. Earnest preachers called for a return to "what the Bible says." Revival would follow when we had "scriptural beliefs," "scriptural standards," and "scriptural churches." The genius of our Anabaptist heritage, we were told, was our forefathers' insistence on sola scriptura (the Bible alone). At first, I agreed. It sounded so right. Certainly, obeying God meant obeying the Bible. But something seemed to be missing.

The secret of my new life was my passion to model my life after Christ, not my preoccupation with the text. For me, the text was not an end in itself, but a means to an end -- learning to know the thoughts, feelings, and will of my Lord. But I saw well-meaning people getting stuck in the text. And then the disagreements broke out all around me over what and who were "scriptural." In the confusion that followed, one thing became clear. Much sincere teaching and debate focused on sharpening "scriptural" ideas from the Bible, but not on the example of Jesus Himself.

I saw this discrepancy most clearly in our "scriptural" conclusions about mammon. The "Biblical" discussion was impressive. The exegesis put every verse in its proper place. No one could find fault with the "scriptural" logic. There was only one problem. The conclusion did not match the voluntary poverty of Jesus Himself, nor did it ring true to His many clear teachings on the subject, even though we had "scripturally" explained them all. It was a watershed discovery: Being "scriptural" did not guarantee that we would be Christlike -- the whole point of being Christian.

With new ears I began to scrutinize the teaching around me. The call to follow the Bible was loud and clear, along with the call to obey the Church and separate oneself from the world. But a primary call to focus finally on the example of Christ and follow Him was seldom heard. The rare allusions to modeling the actual life of Christ in everything were usually peripheral to other primary concerns. It was obviously assumed that getting the verses right would make us Christian.

I finally turned again to the Anabaptists. Was Biblicism their secret? To my surprise, I found that the Protestant reformers were the Biblicists, insisting that people turn from the dogmas of the church to the authority of the Bible. Martin Luther gave his people the Bible in German so they could read it for themselves. Zwingli preached through the Gospels verse by verse. Between them, they bitterly debated the meaning of the literal text. It all sounded so familiar. So what then did the Anabaptists do differently?

To be sure, I found that the Anabaptists also turned to the Bible in serious study. But they went "beyond the sacred page" to focus on the Person the Scriptures were intended to reveal. For them, the final appeal was actually solo Christus. A credible discipleship was their powerful theme, not a sterile Biblicism that actually misses the life of the Person. They saw the Scriptures as an "outer word" that would lead the genuine seeker to the "inner Word," which was Christ. It was the confirmation I needed for the conviction the Holy Spirit had given to me.

Herein lies the great distinctive of Anabaptism. The "gospel" of the fundamentalist still focuses on the text, manipulating verses into proper theologies. Somewhere along the way, we unwittingly adopted their emphasis. But we dutifully tacked on our "twin distinctives." It is obvious now that this was not enough to save us, and most of my boyhood friends were finally swept into the camp of the Biblicist reformers. The gap between Reformation theology and Anabaptism is as wide today as it ever was. It is the difference between a misguided Biblicism and the true Word of God.

Our critics will say, "There should be no difference between the Scriptures and the Word." The writer of this book would heartily agree. The glory of this powerful union as well as the tragedy of the unintended separation is shown in his story.

Peter Hoover has not given us a history of the Anabaptists. You can read that history in the many volumes by others. In this book, however, you will meet the Anabaptists in their struggles to live as Jesus would against strong Biblicist opposition. The strength of Brother Peter's presentation lies in the many actual quotes that allow the Anabaptists to speak for themselves. Obviously, these quotes have been selected and no doubt reflect the writer's bias (as all books do). But the reader is heartily invited to judge the truth for himself. Have we really followed Christ as our forefathers so passionately followed Him? Or has His pristine example been obscured by many "scriptural" inventions that they would have rejected outright? Does all our emphasis on the church lead us to experience the unique Anabaptist vision for community? Was "the secret of the strength" what we commonly assume today?

This book will likely provoke much fresh and vigorous discussion. It will challenge many long-held assumptions about what it means to be an Anabaptist. Some will see this as threatening and dangerous. Others will be encouraged to focus with new passion on the Person and example of Jesus Christ. With a fervent prayer to this end, we invite you to consider the story you hold in your hands.

John D. Martin

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

November 8, 1997

For my Friend

about whom they asked, "Isn't this the Carpenter?"

who wrote no books

but about whom and for whom we are still writing,

for Susan

and the brothers and sisters of our fellowship in 1997: Lynn and Wilma Martin, Marvin and Virginia Wadel, John and Patricia Martin, Edsel and Jennifer Burdge, Kore and Elizabeth Byler, Ronald and Edith Martin, David and Starla Goodwin, Eldon and Sherilyn Martin, Conrad and Katrina Hege, Kevin and Jalee Brechbill, Jason and Jill Landis, Dallas and Joy Martin, Gordon and Janelle Ogburn, Conrad and Sharon Sollenberger, Wendell and Marla Martin, Harvey and Arlene Reiff, Kirk and Barbara Anderson, Jonas and Vonda Landis, Mike and Sarah Hostetler, Dan and Esther Mae Wadel, Sheldon and Marge Martin, Piper Burdge, Luke, Elisha and John Byler, Mario Aguilar, Edna Horst, Levi, Malinda and Rhoda Hostetler, Wade and Katrina Anderson, Andrea, Erica, Rantz, Lana, Trent, Anne, Heather, Candace, Craig, Bradlyn and Sharleen Martin, Barry Willis, Marc, Kathy, Byron, Darian and Christa Wadel, without whom this book would not have become a reality, and for Christopher, Grace, Justin, Stanley and Stephanie Hoover, Chantel Brechbill, Daniel, Ian, Adam and Andrew Burdge, Salome Byler, Conrad, Felix, Julitta and Anysia Goodwin, Karla, Marjorie, Audrey, Lynette, Leonard and Delbert Hege, Bertha Hostetler, Rylan, Rochelle, Jenna, Elyse and Lorielle Landis, Radford, Natalie, Abigail, Winston, Meghan, Alex, Roxanne, Geoffrey, Spencer, Caroline, Lauren, Amy, Rachel, Brady, Dylan, Shana, Kylie, Lance and Colin Martin, Ian, Ariana and Avery Ogburn, Joshua, Jonathan and Joellen Reiff, Travis, Jessica, Heidi and Benjamin Sollenberger, Brendan, Kirby, Maria, Kayla, Micah, Daven, Justin, Joanna, Lindon and Kara Wadel who, it is hoped, will capture the message of this book and share it with the world.

Apart from the Christian community that produced it -- the men, women, young people and children who have come to share what they have, spiritually and materially, so that none are left with too much and none are found wanting -- this book would have nothing to say. It is our challenge. Let us live it. We will need the "secret of the strength" when our trial comes.


My birthplace, the city of Kitchener, Ontario, had much to do with the writing of this book. Founded by Mennonite bishop Benjamin Eby in the early 1800s, the city, with its doors always open to immigrants, provided me with my first contacts with the wider Anabaptist community: the Russian Mennonites, the Nazarener, the Hutterites, and others. Special recognition must be given to J. Winfield Fretz and Frank Epp, then of Conrad Grebel College, for spending time with me in my most impressionable years. The same and more must be said for Reinhold Konrath, then of Victoria Street, with his rare collection of Anabaptist books and documents, and for Reg Good, a friend.

My parents, Anson and Sarah Hoover, and great-uncle Menno Sauder of the Old Order Mennonite community north of the city greatly stimulated my desire to know about our past. So did my grandparents, Menno and Leah Hoover and our neighbourhood harness-maker, Matthias Martin, whom I visited innumerable times on foot, cutting across the back fields to his place along the creek.

I would thank Cornelius Krahn of North Newton, Kansas ( who gave us a box full of Anabaptist books as a Poltergeschenk when we stopped at his place on our wedding trip) and bishop Elmer D. Grove for their inspiration in historical research. I thank the following persons: Amos B. Hoover (in whose library I paged through original Anabaptist writings for the first time), David Bercot, Philip Yoder, John David Hoover, Elmo Stoll, Wayne Chesley, Keiner Barrantes and the rest who played a part in bringing this book to completion.

Claudia Schmiedel Pichardo, writing from Mexico City, München, or Graz added a special dimension to this project, and I am grateful to John D. Martin and Edsel Burdge for their work as editors, Elizabeth Myers Byler and Starla Goodwin for correcting the text, Conrad Sollenberger for its design, and to my wife Susan and our children for putting up with me during long hours of writing and review.

Peter Hoover

How to Find the Anabaptists' Writings

German-language Anabaptist writings still in use among their descendants, such as the Ausbund, Menno Simons' Vollständige Werke, the Märtyerspiegel, Dirk Philips' Enchiridion, the Artikel und Ordnung of the brothers at Strasbourg and Güldene Äpfel in Sílbernen Schalen (which includes the writings of Thomas von Imbroich, Michael Sattler, Matthias Servaes, etc.) may be purchased from the publishing house of the Old Order Amish: Pathway Publishers, 2580N 250W LaGrange, IN, U.S.A. 46761.

The Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder and four volumes of letters written by Anabaptist leaders in southern Germany and Austria, Die Hutterische Epistel, are available from the Schmiedeleut Hutterian Brethren at the James Valley Bruderhof, Elie, MB, Canada, R0H 0H0 (204-353-2148).

An English translation of the Martyrs Mirror and the writings of Menno Simons, Balthasar Hubmaier, Conrad Grebel, Dirk Philips, Michael Sattler, Pilgram Marpeck, and others are available from Herald Press, 616 Walnut Ave. Scottdale PA 15683 (412-887-8500). Select writings of Peter Rideman, Peter Walbot, Andreas Ehrenpreis, Claus Felbinger, and the voluminous chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren are available in English from Plough Publishers, Spring Valley Bruderhof, Rte. 381 N., Farmington PA 15437 (800-521-8011).

All of the preceeding, and the remaining known Anabaptist materials in their original languages or translations are available at the Mennonite Historical Library 1700 S. Main Street, Goshen IN 46526-9989 (219-535-7418); the Menno Simons Historical Library, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg VA 22801-2462 (540-432-4177); and the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo ON N2L 3G6 (519-885-0220). Competent personnel at all of these locations are pleased to assist those who visit, write, or call. The Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen holds 45,000 volumes, the oldest dating from 1516. The collection is especially rich in South German and Swiss materials. The Menno Simons Library at Harrisonburg, holding a large number of Dutch and North German works, has 25,000 volumes. The Mennonite Archives of Ontario has access to a vast collection of Anabaptist source materials on microfilm.

For preliminary English-language research on the Anabaptists we suggest the following informative books (even though some conclusions drawn in them are not our conclusions):

1. C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, Pandora Press, 1995.

2. Walter Klaassen, editor, Anabaptism in Outline, Herald Press, 1981. Translations of Anabaptist writings on a wide variety of subjects.

3. Cornelius J. Dyck, Spiritual Life in Anabaptism, Herald Press, 1995. Includes many valuable translations.

4. George Williams and Angel Mergal, editors, Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, Westminster Press, 1992. Includes important writings by George Blaurock, Conrad Grebel, Michael Sattler, Obbe and Dirk Philips, Ulrich Stadler and others.

5. James M. Stayer, The German Peasants' War and Anabaptist Community of Goods, McGill-Queens University Press, 1991. Invaluable for the under standing of the Anabaptist movement in southern Germany and Austria.

6. Werner O. Packull, Hutterite Beginnings, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Without a doubt the best book available on the subject.

Includes the story of the Gabrielites and Philippites.

7. John Horsch, The Hutterian Brethren, Macmillan Bruderhof, 1985. An inexpensive and truly inspirational history.

8. C. Arnold Snyder, The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, Herald Press, 1984.

9. John L. Ruth, Conrad Grebel, Son of Zurich, Herald Press, 1975.

10. Cornelius Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism, Herald Press, 1981.

11. Cornelius J. Dyck, An Introduction to Mennonite History, Herald Press, 1981. Includes a valuable overview of the Anabaptist movement.

The Mennonite Encyclopedia and the issues of the Mennonite Quarterly Review, published at Goshen College, offer information about a wide variety of subjects pertaining to Anabaptist life and thought.

Historical research may help you, but Hans Langenmantel, beheaded with his foster son and housekeeper on May 11, 1528, wrote: "Neither spirit nor soul can ever be fed except in following the living Word of God."

That is still true.

Tracts and Articles


Cry From the Heart

The Great Divorce

The Styrofoam Cross


Sitting in the Gates of Sodom

Divine Love

As Jesus Loved

Do You Really Care?

Mine Eye Spared Thee

Not to Please Ourselves

The Unbarred Door

Come See My Zeal for the LORD!


Face the Battle Singing!


Holiness Unto the Lord

Innocent Amusements-Finney

Mark of the Beast



I Don't Want It

The Danger of Riches-Wesley

The Deceitfulness of Riches

Danger of Increasing Riches-Wesley

Kingdom Economics

Through the Eye of a Needle- The Doctrine of Nonaccumulation

Practical issues

Pharmekeia-2000 a.d.

Finney on Dress

The Idolatry of Television

The Full Gospel Beard

The Fornication Puzzle

Enjoyment of the Pleasures of the Present Life- Letter of John Newton

Sustainable Living series

What's Right about Insurance?


For we wrestle not against flesh and blood...


Is This That?

Primitive Christianity

The Church Fire

The Revival Spirit

Burning for Jesus

Dead Began to Speak


Jesus Our Scapegoat

The Supreme "IF"