Anabaptism 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 Baptism 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 anothera 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.
Pacifism 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 5:4345) 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.
Other Anabaptist connections on the World Wide Web:
Third Way Café
Mennonite/Amish Online Resources
Anabaptist/Mennonite Sources on Christian Nonresistance