Anabaptists were a collection of religious dissenters in Europe between 1525 and 1600 who separated from both Catholicism and Protestantism. Beginning in Zurich in 1524, under the leadership of Conrad Grebel, they often called themselves 'Christian Brethren', but they were called Anabaptists, or rebaptizers, by their opponents because of their practice of adult, believer's baptism. Many Anabaptist beliefs and practices continue among the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterian Brethren.

Anabaptists always insisted that ethics and theology, deeds and creeds, could not be seperated from each other. It was not possible to consider faith and works separately, and they vehemently criticized Catholics and Protestants for doing so. Believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God would, they argued, be of no avail before God unless one did what Jesus commanded. Justification by faith, a belief they shared with Protestants, therefore included for them both credo and oboedio. The one was as necessary as the other to salvation. This frankly synergistic view bore more resemblace to the late medieval view on faith and works than to that of the Reformers.

Anabaptists were biblicans in the sense that they used the Bible and especially the New Testament exclusively as a blueprint for both theology and ethics. The ethical injunctions of the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles constituted for them a pattern for living. They attempted with some success to read the Bible directly rather than through the ancient premises of Christendom. The result was an ethical radicalism whose closest relative was medieval monasticism. The difference was their belief that the counsels of perfection and the precepts of Christ were not a vocational but a universal obligation for Christians.

They saw ethics, therefore, not in terms of principles but in terms of specific injunctions governing all personal and social relationships. Ideally, the context of ethical decision-making was the disciplined community of faith in which mutual aid also included assistance in finding any right course of action. They regarded common obedience to specific ethical mandates rather than common confession as the basis of Christian unity.

Anabaptists rejected the doctrines of special predestination and bondage of the will. Each person therefore had to be free to believe or not. Hence they espoused religious liberty and rejected all coercion in matters of faith. And since governments in the sixteenth century everywhere regarded the maintainance of the unity of faith as an important part of magisterial function, they rejected any participation in government for themselves. Since, in their view, the church was not territorial, they rejected the oath of loyalty to city or principality. Because for them force and killing not only were incompatible with the clear words of scripture but also constituted abridgment of freedom for others, they refused military service. There were a few early exceptions to these generalisations. According to the Schleitheim Confession of Faith (1527), the sword was ordained by God but 'outside the perfection of Christ'.

They took a much freer view of marriage than most of their contemporaries. If, as happened frequently, confliciting claims to loyalty demanded a chice between Christ and the spouse, separation or divorce were allowed. Finally, they rejected the notion of private property as the exclusive right to possession. What one had was ideally always available to whoever needed it. All commercial activity for the sake of gain was condemned, as was the charging of interest. The Hutterite Anabaptists instituted total community of goods in 1533, allowing for no private property. It was based on the NT, but also on the old classical view that greed was the original sin.

An`a*bap"tist (#), n. [LL. anabaptista, fr. Gr. as if : cf. F. anabaptiste.]

A name sometimes applied to a member of any sect holding that rebaptism is necessary for those baptized in infancy.

⇒ In church history, the name Anabaptists usually designates a sect of fanatics who greatly disturbed the peace of Germany, the Netherlands, etc., in the Reformation period. In more modern times the name has been applied to those who do not regard infant baptism as real and valid baptism.


© Webster 1913.

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