The Anabaptists

Other Protestant reform groups started appearing in Europe during the same time that Lutheranism was finding its grip on Germany. One such group was the Anabaptists, who sprang from the peasant uprising of the early sixteenth century. Feeling betrayed by their princes, Rome, and Martin Luther, some of the peasants took a deeper look at their faith and formed their own paths.

At the forefront of Anabaptism was the issue of baptism itself. The Anabaptists did not see the mandatory baptism of babies in the scripture. What they did see was St. John the Baptist baptizing believers—adult believers. They saw the day of the Pentacost, where thousands were baptized after discovering the message of Christ. Therefore, the Anabaptists believed that a person should be baptized once he or she has realized and accepted his or her spirituality.

The Anabaptists saw themselves as Christians, but they were also reformers. They were not revolting against the Catholic Church, rather they revolted against the Protestant reformers. While Calvinist and Lutheran in the roots, they did not feel that these reformers took reform far enough. They too turned to the scripture to find the true meaning of God's word.

The Anabaptists spread their beliefs through preaching (like the apostles and certainly like Paul). As a result of their travels, their message spread through Switzerland, Holland, and German-speaking regions of Europe.

Return to Scripture

The Anabaptists, like members of the neo-apostolic movements from which Lutheranism sprang, turned to the scriptures to find their faith. In doing so, they took the Bible very literally. The Anabaptist Protestants held intense Bible study classes where they analyzed every inch of the scriptures. In this sense, the Anabaptists set out to take a deeper step into the frightening abyss of what the Catholics called heresy. The Lutherans, however, had timing, Martin Luther, and the power of princes behind them, while the Anabaptists only had the scriptures and their own determination.

Grebel and Manz

Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz are considered the forefathers of the Anabaptist movement, which began in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1525, the Council of Zurich demanded that Grebel and Manz call an end to these Bible study classes and make sure all babies were baptized within eight days of their birth. Anyone who did not comply would be banished. Grebel and Manz held a meeting with other believers to decide what to do. Instead of giving in to the demands, they baptized each other to confirm their commitment to their faith in Jesus Christ—in the way they chose to believe, not in the way that was mandated to them by church sacraments and law enforcement.

Quakers, Mennonites, Baptists, Hussites, and the Old Amish Order are all branches of Anabaptism. Only the Amish adhere to strict living with no fringe benefits of modern technology, however. The Mennonites adhere to an austere lifestyle and consider themselves a peace-loving society in the tradition of Christ's message.

Separation of Church and State

The Anabaptists believed in the separation of church and state. They saw it as a conflict of interest, and it simply did not exist in the scriptures. In their intense examination of the New Testament, the Anabaptists discovered that not only did the state have nothing to do with Christianity, but discovered that the Christian community was just that—a community of people who believed and followed Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that Lutheranism was considered revolutionary reform, the Anabaptists did not accept it because it was still an organized religion with clergy and strong connection to the state—in this sense, it was no different than the Roman Catholic Church.

Return to Apostolic Christianity

The idea of returning to apostolic Christianity was not a new one. The monks and the mystics both headed in that direction as the pre-reformers. But the Anabaptists took it a step further. They believed that every Christian is a disciple of Christ and is part of a community of saints. All believers in Jesus Christ are saints, not just those canonized by Rome.

The Anabaptists wanted radical reform in terms of strict adherence to apostolic values. As a result, they refused to be part of a society that did not share these values or one that was founded on organized, nonscriptural Christian doctrine. They fought this point to the death, but it was difficult to do so with the refusal to take up arms or to take any political offices.

The Anabaptism movement split into three different branches:

  • The Swiss Brethren (with Grebel and Manz)

  • The Hutterites in Moravia (a Czech region)

  • The Mennonites in northern Germany and The Netherlands.

Like all other reformers, the Anabaptists suffered their fair share of persecution. There had never been a peaceful path for “heretics,” but Lutheranism did, unintentionally, help pave the way for other reformers.

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