US Mennonite Brethren

One Family. One Lord. One Mission

Anabaptism

What make Anabaptists distinctive? What do Anabaptists believe? As heirs of the Anabaptist tradition we need to understand this historical movement. We need to hear its biblical essence—the emphases that we seek to incorporate into our Confession of Faith.

Anabaptism: Basic Beliefs

The first Anabaptists of the early 16th century played a distinctive role: they were neither Catholic nor Protestant but a separate third force. That reality, widely forgotten, is beginning to receive renewed attention in modern theological circles.

Certainly, the Anabaptist founders owed much to Luther and the other Protestant reformers. In particular, Luther's emphasis on salvation—through personal faith, in Christ alone, by grace, as revealed in Scripture—prepared the way. But on many other crucial issues the Anabaptists differed as much from Luther as Luther did from Roman Catholicism.

While giving Luther his due, we do well to remember some historical realities. Luther, as well as Calvin and Zwingli, came to oppose harshly the Anabaptists. In fact, of the 20,000 to 40,000 Anabaptists martyred in the early decades, likely more were massacred by Protestants than by Catholics.

The differences between Anabaptists and the Reformers ran deep.

  • Luther, Calvin and their associates wanted reformation of the medieval church. The Anabaptists wanted restoration of the New Testament church.
  • The reformers looked to the state to defend the establishment of an official religion. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, sought no government's endorsement.
  • The reformers asserted that all people in the realm should conform to the official state religion. The Anabaptists, however, long before philosophers promoted the idea, proclaimed religious and civil liberty for all.
  • The reformers retained much of the Catholic church-state fusion of that day. The Anabaptists, who saw themselves as strangers and pilgrims in this world, rejected any fusion of faith and citizenship. The church of which they testified and for which they died was based on Jesus Christ alone and knew no state boundaries.
  • The reformers specifically endorsed military slaughter by Christian soldiers. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, expressed love for their persecutors and prayed for them.
  • The reformers fragmented and compartmentalized Christian living. Luther wrote, "As a Christian, man has to suffer everything and not resist anybody. As a member of the State, the same man has to fight with joy, as long as he lives." The Anabaptists rejected such ethical dualism.

As you can see, Anabaptists were not part of the great Protestant Reformation but established a third option. They upheld distinct value.

Today, of course, many other groups have accepted much of what the Anabaptists rediscovered, and the differences between Protestantism and Anabaptism have decreased. But the total set of Anabaptist beliefs and practices remains distinctive. Even though the privileged heirs of Anabaptism have often not practiced and preached it consistently, Anabaptism remains a unique blend of basic biblical principles.

 

Anabaptism

What make Anabaptists distinctive? What do Anabaptists believe? As heirs of the Anabaptist tradition we need to understand this historical movement. We need to hear its biblical essence—the emphases that we seek to incorporate into our Confession of Faith.

Anabaptism: Basic Beliefs

The first Anabaptists of the early 16th century played a distinctive role: they were neither Catholic nor Protestant but a separate third force. That reality, widely forgotten, is beginning to receive renewed attention in modern theological circles.

Certainly, the Anabaptist founders owed much to Luther and the other Protestant reformers. In particular, Luther's emphasis on salvation—through personal faith, in Christ alone, by grace, as revealed in Scripture—prepared the way. But on many other crucial issues the Anabaptists differed as much from Luther as Luther did from Roman Catholicism.

While giving Luther his due, we do well to remember some historical realities. Luther, as well as Calvin and Zwingli, came to oppose harshly the Anabaptists. In fact, of the 20,000 to 40,000 Anabaptists martyred in the early decades, likely more were massacred by Protestants than by Catholics.

The differences between Anabaptists and the Reformers ran deep.

  • Luther, Calvin and their associates wanted reformation of the medieval church. The Anabaptists wanted restoration of the New Testament church.
  • The reformers looked to the state to defend the establishment of an official religion. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, sought no government's endorsement.
  • The reformers asserted that all people in the realm should conform to the official state religion. The Anabaptists, however, long before philosophers promoted the idea, proclaimed religious and civil liberty for all.
  • The reformers retained much of the Catholic church-state fusion of that day. The Anabaptists, who saw themselves as strangers and pilgrims in this world, rejected any fusion of faith and citizenship. The church of which they testified and for which they died was based on Jesus Christ alone and knew no state boundaries.
  • The reformers specifically endorsed military slaughter by Christian soldiers. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, expressed love for their persecutors and prayed for them.
  • The reformers fragmented and compartmentalized Christian living. Luther wrote, "As a Christian, man has to suffer everything and not resist anybody. As a member of the State, the same man has to fight with joy, as long as he lives." The Anabaptists rejected such ethical dualism.

As you can see, Anabaptists were not part of the great Protestant Reformation but established a third option. They upheld distinct value.

Today, of course, many other groups have accepted much of what the Anabaptists rediscovered, and the differences between Protestantism and Anabaptism have decreased. But the total set of Anabaptist beliefs and practices remains distinctive. Even though the privileged heirs of Anabaptism have often not practiced and preached it consistently, Anabaptism remains a unique blend of basic biblical principles.