is a Christian theological tradition that developed during the
sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptists believed that
other Protestant reformers (such as Martin Luther) were right in
demanding reform of the Roman Catholic Church, but they complained
that, in some respects, these reformers had not gone far enough with
their demands. The Anabaptists encouraged their fellow Christians to
embrace further reforms, such as:
Adult BaptismThe term
"Anabaptist" literally means "re-baptizer." Their opponents gave them
this name when they began administering adult baptism to one another,
believing that their baptism as infants was not an authentic form of
baptism. The Anabaptists contended that baptism shouldfollowthe commitment one
makes to follow Jesus, and thus rejected infant baptism. While many
twenty-first century Christian groups now practice adult baptism
(sometimes called "believer's baptism"), practicing this form of
baptism in the sixteenth century was dangerous, and it often brought
persecution to the Anabaptists.
Voluntary church membershipIn
the sixteenth century, every citizen in a given geographical area was
automatically a member of the church. The Anabaptists had a different
conception of the church, believing that church membership should
consist only of those who made a voluntary, adult decision to follow
Jesus. The church, said the Anabaptists, should be a voluntary, visible
gathering of believers who committed themselves to encourage and
discipline one anothera far cry from seeing the church as comprised of
everyone who resided in a given geographical area.
Separation of church and stateThe
Anabaptists did not think it was appropriate to link the church and the
government. In the sixteenth century, however, this link was taken for
granted by most other Christians. For instance, if a person lived in a
region where the rulers were Catholic, his/her only church option was a
Catholic church; if that same person lived in a region where the rulers
were Protestant, his/her only church option was a Protestant church.
The Anabaptists argued that government officials should not have the
authority to determine a citizen's church affiliation or a church's
theology, and they therefore called for the separation of the church
and the state.
PacifismIn a society racked
by violence and selfishness, Anabaptists called for placing the way of
Jesus above self- and group-interest. The Anabaptists interpreted
Jesus' command to love one's enemies (Matthew 5:43-45) as a real
command, and they embraced his teaching that, because his kingdom was
"not of this world," his disciples would not fight their enemies with
the weapons of this world (John 18:36). The Anabaptists concluded that,
to truly follow Jesus, they needed to reject the sword as a way of
responding to their enemies.
Because of their new ideas, the Anabaptists often found themselves
persecuted by other Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. Indeed,
thousands of Anabaptist suffered martyrdom during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. They survived this persecution, however, and
added to their numbers, and some eventually migrated to North America.
The most numerous Anabaptist immigrants were "Mennonites," who took
their name from an early Dutch Anabaptist leader named Menno Simons.
The Amish and the Hutterites were two other Anabaptist groups that
migrated to North America.
--From Messiah College's Sider Institute for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, www.messiah.edu/siderinstitute/anabaptism.shtm