What is an Anabaptist?
Pssst! The spelling is not antibaptist
Anabaptist n. New Latin anabaptista, "one who is rebaptized," from Late Greek anabaptizein, "to baptize again."
The term anabaptist was used to describe and define certain Reformation-era Christians who rejected infant baptism in favor of believer's baptism.
Since many of them had been baptized in their infancy, they chose to be rebaptized as believing adults. Hence, their enemies called them anabaptists -- "re-baptizers."
Being labeled anabaptist was neither complimentary nor safe. In fact, for a time it was a sure death sentence.
Even though we now embrace that term as part of our identity, it really is an inaccurate term to describe the original Anabaptists. They never considered that any rebaptism took place -- they outright rejected and refuted the entire concept of infant baptism. To them, infant baptism would have been an oxymoron. They would have considered infant and baptism mutually exclusive.
The differences between the Anabaptists and the Magisterial Reformers lay much deeper than any outward sign, including that of baptism. The Anabaptists were earnestly concerned with the restitution of the true church on an Apostolic model. The Anabaptists considered the state churches beyond reformation.
Here are a few additional tidbits about the Anabaptists:
- The era of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation in Europe spawned a number of radical reform groups, among them the Anabaptists. These Christians regarded the Bible as their only rule for faith and life. Because of their radical beliefs, the Anabaptists were persecuted by Protestants as well as by Roman Catholics.
- The evangelical and non-revolutionary Anabaptists of Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, were a trial to the leading reformers because of their radical views on the nature of the church and of the Christian ethic.
- There is no single defining set of beliefs, doctrines, and practices that characterizes all Anabaptists.
- Contemporary groups with early Anabaptist roots include the Mennonites, Amish, Dunkards, Landmark Baptists, Hutterites, and various Beachy and Brethren groups.
- Anabaptists have been characterized historically by a love for the Word of God, and by a strict demand for holiness of life.
In her study, Anabaptists: Separate by Choice, Marginal by Force
, Elizabeth Scott notes:
- The Anabaptists of central Europe evolved in a time of social and religious chaos, developed unique ideas concerning the church and state, and retained a wildly radical view of society.
- The teachings and way of life of the Anabaptists, according to the Anabaptists themselves, were merely ways of trying to reinstate the true church, a church of true believers. It did not seem this way to the Magisterial Reformers or to the Roman Church, however. It was those very teachings and acts that made the Anabaptists into the object of numerous persecutions at the hands of both church and state.
- The historiography of the Anabaptists...is largely hostile to them and their teachings. It remains one of the largest problems in modern scholarship to separate the hostility of their biographers from the circumstances of Anabaptist existence.
- The impulse to join and remain within a society of martyrs is certainly hard to pinpoint.
- In their earliest years, many of the Anabaptists were followers of Zwingli in Zurich.
- Their unique model of what Church and society could become, if politics and fear were placed as subservient to love and community, stand as witness to the possibilities of a voluntary church, and the possibilities of a free society.
Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia (copyright 1993, 1994) notes in part:
During the 16th-century Reformation in Europe, the Protestant Anabaptist, or Christian Brethren, movement flourished in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and other countries. The basic belief of the Anabaptists was in adult baptism, but they also supported the separation of church and state and voluntary church membership. While there was no direct development from the Anabaptists to the growth of the Baptist churches in England, it is very likely that the latter were influenced in their beliefs and attitudes by the continental Brethren.
Many of the denominations that emerged after the Reformation were attempts to revive the church by returning to 1st-century conditions described in the New Testament. Such was the aim of Anabaptists, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Moravians, and others.
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