1679 - 1735
Mack was born in the obscure
agricultural village of Schriesheim, a few
miles from Heidelberg, Germany in 1679, more
than 300 years ago. His ancestors had been
political and religious leaders of the village
since their arrival there in 1560. His father
was twice mayor of Schriesheim and a successful
mill owner. Although Alexander had hoped to
attend the University at Heidelberg, the death
of an older brother made him a logical heir
to the large mill, cutting short his educational
aspirations. Schriesheim suffered from successive
occupations by invading German and French
armies. Three times the Mack family had to
flee to nearby hills for safety. Growing up
Mack became disillusioned by war and war-making
states, and confused by the participation
of Christians on both sides of a conflict.
During an era of relative
peace, in 1701 Mack and Anna Margaret Kling
were married in the village church. Their
wedding united two of the most prestigious
families of Schriesheim. Ten months later
their first child, a son was born. A second
son was born to Alexander and Margaret in
1703 and was christened by the pastor in the
Reformed Church. This event was the last indication
on record of Macks formal relationship
to the institutional church.Although Mack
had only a grade school education, he was
an avid reader of the Bible and as a young
man became increasingly disaffected with the
local Reformed Church. He questioned the sterility
of the sermons in his church which dealt primarily
with academic topics and theological disputes
of little interest to him. He was also disillusioned
by the immorality of some of the clergymen
and the lack of integrity by many lay persons.
With many other Christians in other congregations
he became part of a revival movement called
With other Christians he
believed in the basic tenets of Christianity
as given, e.g., in the Apostles Creed. With
other Pietists he also firmly believed the
All human beings, even those
baptized as infants, are in need of redemption.
Salvation is possible through faith in Christ;
usually in a very intense conversion experience.
The Bible is the primary authority for all
religious questions and is accessible to all
Devotional exercises, such as prayer, Bible
study and hymn singing, are essential aspects
of the Christian life.
New light may break forth from the Word.
Religion is fundamentally experiential and
emotional -- of the heart not the head.
All Christians should lead pious lives,
i.e., lives of integrity, humility, and Christian
Encouraged by some pastors, but opposed by
others, small groups of Pietists would gather
in homes for Bible study, prayer, and hymn
singing. Although most Pietists continued
in relationship to their local congregation,
a few, called Separatists, withdrew from the
established church and pursued their own spiritual
pilgrimage. Mack was one of them. In violation
of the law against private religious gatherings,
he initiated a small Bible study and prayer
group which met in the Mack mill following
his fathers death.
In 1705, Mack became a close
follower of Ernst Christoph Hochmann, a charismatic
preacher who would have very little to do
with the state church. On August 22, 1706
while Hochmann was leading a religious service
in the Mack mill the chief law enforcement
officer from Heidelberg broke into the meeting
to interrogate the worshippers. The county
clerk who accompanied the officer was so angered
by this illegal gathering that he threatened
to call in a regiment of soldiers to put them
all under arrest.
The Mack family had to make
a hasty decision -- whether to flee or to
remain. They chose to flee. That same night
he, his wife, and their two small sons gathered
together what possessions they could carry
and in the darkness of night fled from Schriesheim.
They found refuge in the village of Schwarzenau
in the province of Wittgenstein, not far from
Marburg. Under the protection of a sympathetic
count, many other Separatists had found there
a haven of peace and freedom from persecution.
Mack who had a sizable inheritance
from his father, shared his wealth unselfishly
with those who had fled their homes for religious
freedom. Although Mack was only in his twenties,
he was highly regarded as a natural leader,
and was especially respected for his knowledge
of the Bible and his ability to interpret
it. He was soon the leader of a small group
who met regularly in the Mack home for worship
and Bible study. With many other Separatists,
Mack believed the following:
The established churches
had become corrupt and were not the true church.
Many of the congregations did not cultivate
a vital relationship with God.
True Christianity could be found only outside
the State churches.
In his use of scriptures Mack emphasized the
New Testament and especially the Gospels and
the Sermon on the Mount. He was well acquainted
with the Mennonites who lived not far from
Schriesheim and was very impressed by their
emphasis on obedience to the Biblical teachings.
During the spring and summer
of 1707, Mack and Hochmann traveled together
to preach and give encouragement to Pietists
living in other areas, even traveling as far
as Switzerland. Macks son, Alexander
Mack, Jr., reports that his father also visited
in heartfelt love from time to time various
meetings of the Mennonites in Germany.
These journeys ended when Hochmann was imprisoned
at Nüremberg. Mack was now the primary
leader of the Pietists in Schwarzenau.
The more Mack studied his
Bible and read church histories, the more
he was convinced of the following:
The word baptism really
means immersion, not sprinkling or pouring.
Baptism is for believers, not infants.
The New Testament Church was a disciplined
community that had clear moral expectations
for its members.
A group of Christians that would be truly
Christian should pattern their church on the
model of the New Testament Church.
As these understandings became more clear
to Mack, the more he felt that the individualism
and the spiritualistic (e.g., spirit baptism)
approach of Hochmann were not valid interpretations
of the scriptures and that the Mennonites
were in error by not practicing immersion.
By the spring of 1708 all
those who would be the founding members of
the New Baptists had arrived in Schwarzenau.
In their meetings the question of baptism
repeatedly arose. They had all been baptized
as infants, yet they did not recognize their
own baptisms as legitimate. Rather swiftly
they were moving from Pietism to Anabaptism,
(rebaptism) represented by the Dutch Collegiants
and the Mennonites.
In the early summer of that
year two foreign Brethren arrived
in Schwarzenau. They strongly urged the Pietists
there to be baptized by immersion. Quite likely
these were Collegiants whose own practice
was immersion, and who encouraged adult baptism.
On July 4th, Mack and another
Schwarzenau Pietist carefully composed a letter
to Hochmann at Nüremberg requesting his
counsel concerning a service of baptism for
adults. Writing from prison on July 24th,
Hochmann gave his approval for such a ceremony
if it followed true repentance and faith.
Although he himself did not believe that water
baptism was essential, he felt that if God
were leading some of his children to be immersed
in flowing water as Christ himself had been
immersed, he would have no objection. Believing
that Hochmann had approved their plans for
a baptismal service, the little group of eight
decided to proceed with a public baptismal
service in the Eder River which flowed through
Yet two pressing problems
remained. First, what kind of Baptism? The
English Baptists immersed once backwards.
The Collegiants immersed once forward. After
studying some church histories, this group
came to the conclusion that the person being
baptized should be immersed three times forward
in the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit. From their
study of church history they were convinced
that trine immersion had been
the practice of the early Christian Church.
The second problem was Who
should do the baptizing? The group wanted
Alexander Mack to officiate. Being a very
modest and humble man, Mack did not want any
one person to go down in history as the founder
of their group and refused. He urged the group
to cast lots for one of the others to do the
baptizing, with the understanding that that
persons name should remain secret.
Early one morning in August,
1708, eight persons gathered at the bank of
the Eder River to establish, in Alexander
Mack, Jr.s words, a covenant of
good conscience with God. One of the
group read from Luke 14 about counting
the cost, which Hochmann had suggested.
Mack was the first one baptized,
after which he baptized the others. Following
the baptisms the little group had prayers
and sang favorite hymns. They dispersed in
the full knowledge that in most German states
what they had done would have led to heavy
fines, imprisonment, or exile. Some time later
Mack composed a hymn entitled Count
Well the Cost. One of the stanzas proclaimed:
Christ Jesus says, Count well the cost
When you lay the foundation.
Are you resolved, though all seem lost,
To risk your reputation,
Your self, your wealth, for Christ the lord
As you now give your solemn word?
Mack was now the minister
not of a group of Separatists or a miscellaneous
collection of Christians disenchanted with
established religion, but of a congregation,
a church, the New Baptists or
Schwarzenau Baptists as they called
They believed that they
had been baptized into the church established
by Jesus himself and did not perceive of themselves
as establishing a new denomination; In a devout
attempt to pattern their organization after
the New Testament Church, they initiated a
re-enactment of the last supper Jesus had
with the Apostles, including a meal, a feet-washing
service (John 13), and the communion of the
bread and the cup. Though Mack was the recognized
minister of the newly formed group, they still
considered Hochmann as their primary spiritual
leaders. However, after his release from prison,
he expressed disappointment in what Mack and
the others had done and accused them of starting
a new denomination. This led to a serious
rupture in their relationship. Macks
religious orientation was now very similar
to that of the Mennonites. With other Anabaptists,
he and his brothers and sisters believed that
all the following precepts were clearly taught
in the New Testament and patterned their development
Adult, believers baptism
is valid. Infant baptism is not.
The New Testament, especially the life and
teachings of Jesus, is more relevant to the
ethical and spiritual life than is the Old
There should be no force in religion.
Christians should not go to war.
Christians should not go to law, take the
oath, or become government officials.
The essence of the Christian life is discipleship,
i.e., obeying Jesus, following Jesus -- even
though it may lead to persecution.
Secular authorities should not intervene in
religious matters. In matters of conscience
one must obey God rather than man.
The Christian congregation should not tolerate
immorality. The ban (social ostracism)
should be used against anyone who, having
been baptized, yet stumbles into sin.
The pattern of reconciliation given in Matthew
18 should be carefully followed. If the offender
does not repent that person shall be excommunicated.
Individual responsibility and freedom of the
will are assumed, not election or predestination.
Ordination of ministers is by the congregation,
not by the state or by an ecclesiastical hierarchy.
The Schwarzenau congregation grew rapidly,
becoming a strong cohesive group. Mack led
the group through the earliest controversies,
and helped them establish a stable style of
life which included within its structure opportunity
for continuing growth and renewal. It was
a simple, communal fellowship.
Although their baptism clearly
distinguished them from other religious groups,
their Love Feast was just as distinctive.
In Macks house he had a big room
which was used for the evening service. It
began with self-examination, prayer, and the
singing of hymns. The men would sit around
one table, the women around another. Only
those Christians who had been properly immersed
were allowed to participate -- those who had
separated themselves from the body of
Satan, the world, yes, from all unrighteousness
and from all false sects and religions.
After a service of self-examination
and penitence, one of the ministers would
read from John 13 the story of Jesus
washing of the disciples feet. At the
close of this reading each man in turn would
gird himself with a towel and kneel to wash
the feet of another and then had his feet
washed as a symbol of true humility and spiritual
cleansing. The sisters did likewise.
After a prayer of blessing
the group ate in silence a simple meal of
bread, broth, and beef, feeling a spirit of
unity against the forces of evil which had
so often plagued their lives.
After reading the account
of Jesus trial and crucifixion Mack
took the unleavened bread in his hands and
blessed it. He then broke a piece to give
to the one next to him. Each participant did
the same. A common goblet was used for the
wine. A closing hymn was sung, after which
the communicants went out silently into the
night. For the next several years Mack became
an ardent evangelist for the New Baptists,
visiting Pietistic groups in various places,
using his considerable persuasive skills.
His efforts bore fruit.
Three times he traveled
to the Marienborn Area northeast of Frankfurt
to perform baptisms, all of which were illegal.
A strong congregation was established there,
but by 1715 most of them had to flee due to
threats of persecution. Some went to Schwarzenau,
but most went to Krefeld where the third congregation
in Europe was formed.
In a few years a congregation
of about 200 was thriving in Schwarzenau.
It is quite clear that these New Baptists
were deeply spiritual, filled with caring
concern for one another. The daughter of the
ruling Count Henry described them as a quiet
people who spend their time in Bible
study, in prayer, and in deeds of kindness
and charity. Count Henry himself called
them inoffensive out of pure desire
to lead lives pleasing to God. In 1719
a large portion of the Krefeld congregation
migrated to Pennsylvania in search of economic
opportunity and religious freedom -- most
of them settling in Germantown near Philadelphia.
In Schwarzenau, the threat
of persecution was becoming more ominous,
and in 1720 the congregation of 200 decided
to find a haven of religious freedom in the
tiny village of Surhuisterveen in North Holland,
where work was available for them in the peat
fields. The Mennonite congregation in that
village welcomed them and helped them resettle.
In September of 1720 a double tragedy struck
Mack and his faith community. His dearly loved
wife of nineteen years died unexpectedly.
Her quiet strength and fortitude had been
a major support to Mack through the years,
and her death was a grave blow. That loss
was compounded shortly afterward by the death
of his six-year-old daughter, Christina.
Unfortunately, the peat
fields were being rapidly depleted, and the
congregation felt the only course for them
to take was to follow their brothers and sisters
to the New World. In 1729, with the help of
Collegiants and Mennonites, Mack led about
100 of them to Rotterdam where they sailed
to Philadelphia. The remaining New Baptists
in Europe either joined the Mennonites, returned
to the state churches, or withdrew from organized
religion. The Germantown congregation which
had been established by the Krefelder group
with Peter Becker as its minister, eagerly
welcomed Mack and the new immigrants. Peter
Becker and the congregation readily accepted
Mack as the new minister of the congregation.
For these German Baptist
immigrants the first years in Germantown were
intensely fulfilling. Years of harassment
and rejection experienced in Europe made the
accepting love of the Germantown Brethren
and religious freedom incomparable blessings.
Economic opportunities in the Germantown area
were abundant and the enthusiasm and evangelistic
fervor of the settlers soon led to the formation
of several new congregations. There was one
serious problem, however, that confronted
Mack. Conrad Beissel, who had been the minister
of the Conestoga congregation repudiated his
relationship to the German Baptists shortly
before Macks arrival. This tragically
divided the Conestoga congregation and threatened
the Germantown congregation as well.
Mack worked diligently for
a reconciliation with Beissel, but to no avail.
Apparently, though, Beissel had a basic respect
for Mack, for as long as Mack was alive he
refrained from attacking the German Baptist
congregations or seeking to make proselytes.
In 1732 Beissel started his own religious
group at Ephrata, emphasizing celibacy and
the observance of the Seventh Day. The surviving
buildings of his community are now known as
the Ephrata Cloisters. Although Mack could
rejoice in the rapid growth of the various
congregations, the insoluble problem of Beissels
defection preyed on Macks spirit and
undermined his health. On February 19, 1735,
to the deep sorrow of his brothers and sisters
in the faith, Alexander Mack died at his home
in Germantown. Sometime before his death,
he had said to his sons, Now when I
am gone, dont mark my grave, or they
might sometime want to erect a monument....
Macks sons were distressed and protested
to their father. At last Mack agreed to allow
them to mark his grave with a small slab.
Mack was buried in a community
cemetery which was later abandoned. In 1894
his remains were moved to the cemetery in
back of the mother church in Germantown where
six generations of his descendants are also
Alexander Mack was a truly
humble man, for out of his humility and his
own willingness to grow and change, he fashioned
the most precious gift he could bequeath his
spiritual progeny -- a life of committed discipleship
to Christ with a willingness to be guided
by the Spirit to new understandings of the
truth and new expressions of faith. In his
latter days Mack must have pondered deeply
the drastic changes which had occurred in
his own lifetime. As a young man he had made
a covenant of good conscience
with God. During his life time he had counted
the cost many times, had fought a good fight,
and had remained faithful to his transcendent
vision of a supportive Christ-centered community.
We, his spiritual heirs, are pleased to honor
him, not so much by naming libraries, or camps,
or church buildings after him, but by emulating
his spirit -- of love not hatred, of peace
not conflict, of kindness and forgiveness
not vengeance, of wholehearted discipleship
to Jesus Christ. We honor him also for his
vision of religious freedom and separation
of Church and State and for using peaceful,
non-violent ways to resolve conflicts. Finally,
we honor him for his willingness to count
the cost, and to pay the price of commitment,
a price which gave us the heritage we enjoy