Anabaptism is a Christian theological tradition sometimes known as the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation.
Developed during the 16th-century Protestant
Reformation, Anabaptism contended that other Protestant movements
(such as Lutheranism or Calvinism) were right in demanding reform of the Roman
Catholic Church. However, these radicals complained that, in some respects, the Protestant reformers had not gone far enough with their demands. The Anabaptists
encouraged their fellow Christians to embrace further reforms, such as:
The 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 should follow
the 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 Membership
In 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 another—a far cry from seeing the church as comprised of
everyone who resided in a given geographical area.
Separation of Church and State
The 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.
In 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.
The Brethren in Christ Church, the founding denomination of Messiah College, has its roots in the Anabaptist tradition. Most of the church's eighteenth-century founders were Mennonites, and while they were not completely satisfied with the Mennonite churches they left, they nonetheless retained the Anabaptist convictions outlined above. Thus the Brethren in Christ Church is a Christian church in the Anabaptist tradition.