An Introduction to Anabaptistism

Anabaptist
Spread of the Anabaptists (1525-1550). Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa)

Anabaptists are Christians who believe in adult baptism, as opposed to the baptizing of infants. Originally a derogatory term, Anabaptist (from the Greek term anabaptizein—which means to baptize again) meant "re-baptizer," because some of these believers who had been baptized as infants were baptized again.

The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism, believing a person can be legitimately baptized only when they are old enough to give informed consent to the sacrament. They call the act "believer's baptism."

History of the Anabaptist Movement

The Anabaptist movement started in Europe about 1525. At this time, a Roman Catholic priest, Menno Simons (1496 - 1561), lived in the Dutch province of Friesland. He was shocked to learn that a man named Sicke Freerks had been executed for being re-baptized. Menno began to study the Scriptures as he questioned the practice of infant baptism. Finding no references to infant baptism in the Bible, Menno became convinced that believer’s baptism was the only biblical form of baptism.

Still, Menno stayed in the safety of the Roman Catholic Church until members of his congregation, including his brother, Peter Simons, led an attempt to found a "New Jerusalem" in a neighboring cloister. The authorities executed the group.

Menno, who was deeply affected, wrote, "I saw that these zealous children, although in error, willingly gave their lives and their estates for their doctrine and faith.... But I myself continued in my comfortable life and acknowledged abominations simply in order that I might enjoy comfort and escape the cross of Christ."

This event caused Menno to renounced his priesthood in 1536 and be re-baptized by the leading Anabaptist Obbe Philip. Not long after, Menno became the leader of the Anabaptists.

He wandered around Holland, secretly preaching and devoting the rest of his life to organizing the scattered body of believers known as Anabaptists. After his death in 1561, his followers came to be called the Mennonites, maintaining a view of the church as the pure bride of Christ, separate from the world and peacefully nonresistant.

Anabaptists were violently persecuted at first, rejected by Catholics and Protestants alike. In fact, there were more martyrs among the Anabaptists in the sixteenth century than in all of the persecutions in the early church. Those who survived lived mostly in quiet isolation in small communities.

Besides the Mennonites, religious groups that follow Anabaptist doctrine include the Amish, Dunkards, Landmark Baptists, Hutterites, and Beachy and Brethren denominations.

Pronunciation

an-uh-BAP-tist

Example

The Old Order Amish, who believe in adult baptism, are one of several groups with Anabaptist roots.

(Information in this article is compiled and summarized from the following source: anabaptists.org; The Complete Book of When and Where in the Bible, Rusten, Tyndale House Publishers; Crisis Ministries, Oden; Holman Bible Handbook; 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, Broadman & Holman Publishers)