Member of a movement of the Protestant Reformation characterized by adult baptism. Anabaptists held that infants were not punishable for sin because they had no awareness of good and evil and thus could not yet exercise free will, repent, and accept baptism. Denying the validity of infant baptism, they accepted adult baptism, which was regarded as a second baptism by those outside the group who identified them as Anabaptists (from the Greek for rebaptizers). Confident of living at the end of time, early Anabaptists sought to restore the institutions and spirit of the primitive church. The first adult baptisms took place outside Zürich in early 1525. Most Anabaptists were pacifists and refused to swear civil oaths. Thomas Müntzer advocated a more violent eschatology that called for the overthrow of the rich by the poor and was executed after leading the Thuringian peasant revolt (1525). Another group of Anabaptists, led by John of Leiden, took control of the city of Münster and sought to establish the millennial kingdom. Their excesses led to their violent suppression in 1535 and further persecution and martyrdom of the Anabaptists. Many Anabaptists settled in Moravia, where they stressed the community of goods modeled on the primitive church at Jerusalem. This branch continues as the Hutterite movement, primarily in the western U.S. and Canada. Increasingly persecuted throughout Europe, Anabaptists in the Netherlands and northern Germany rallied under the leadership of Menno Simonsz. and survive as the Mennonites.
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Believer's baptism is one of the defining characteristics of Anabaptist beliefs, but was considered heresy by the other major religious groups of the reformation period. As a result, Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th.
In the following points Anabaptists resembled the medieval dissenters:
They may have preserved among themselves the primitive manual of conduct called the Didache, for Bishop Longland in England condemned an Anabaptist for repeating one of its maxims "that alms should not be given before they did sweat in a man's hand." This was between 1518 and 1521.
Research on the origins of the Anabaptists has been tainted both by the attempts of their enemies to slander them and the attempts of their friends to vindicate them. It was long popular to simply lump all Anabaptists as Munsterites and radicals associated with the Zwickau Prophets, Jan Matthys, John of Leiden (also Jan Bockelson van Leiden, Jan of Leyden), and Thomas Müntzer. Those desiring to correct this error tended to over-correct and deny all connections between the larger Anabaptist movement and this most radical element.
The modern era of Anabaptist historiography arose with the work of Roman Catholic scholar Carl Adolf Cornelius' publication of Die Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs in 1855 (The history of the Münster riot). Baptist historian Albert Henry Newman (1852–1933), who Bender said occupied "first position in the field of American Anabaptist Historiography," made a major contribution with his A History of Anti-Pedobaptism. Though a number of theories exist concerning origins, the three main ideas are that,
The opponents of this theory emphasize that these non-Catholic groups clearly differed from each other, that they held some heretical views, are not successors of the Apostles, or that they had no connection with one another with origins that are separate both in time and place. This view is held by some Baptists, some Mennonites, and a number of "true church" movements. The writings of John T. Christian, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor, contain perhaps the best scholarly presentation of this successionist view. Somewhat related to this is the theory that the Anabaptists are of Waldensian origin. Some hold the idea that the Waldenses are part of the apostolic succession, while others simply believe they were an independent group out of whom the Anabaptists arose. Estep asserts "the Waldenses disappeared in Switzerland a century before the rise of the Anabaptist movement." Ludwig Keller, Thomas M. Lindsay, H. C. Vedder, Delbert Grätz, and Thieleman J. van Braght all held, in varying degrees, the position that the Anabaptists were of Waldensian origin.
Those of the polygenesis viewpoint use Anabaptist to define the larger movement, and include the inspirationists and rationalists as true Anabaptists. James M. Stayer used the term Anabaptist for those who rebaptized persons already baptized in infancy. Walter Klaassen was perhaps the first Mennonite scholar to define Anabaptists that way in his 1960 Oxford dissertation. This represents a rejection of the previous standard held by Mennonite scholars such as Bender and Friedmann.
Another method of categorization acknowledges regional variations, such as Swiss Brethren (Grebel, Manz), Dutch and Frisian Anabaptism (Menno Simons, Dirk Philips), and South German Anabaptism (Hübmaier, Marpeck).
Historians and sociologists have made further distinctions between radical Anabaptists, who were prepared to use violence in their attempts to build a New Jerusalem, and their pacifist brethren, later broadly known as Mennonites. Radical Anabaptist groups included the Münsterites, who occupied and held the German city of Münster in 1534–5, and the Batenburgers, who persisted in various guises as late as the 1570s.
Much of the historic Roman Catholic and Protestant literature has represented the Anabaptists as groups who preached false doctrine and led people into apostasy. That negative historiography remained popular for about four centuries. The Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists, resorted to torture and other types of physical abuse, in attempts both to curb the growth of the movement and bring about the salvation of the heretics (through recantation). The Protestants under Zwingli were the first to persecute the Anabaptists. Felix Manz became the first martyr in 1527.
On May 20 1527, Roman Catholic authorities executed Michael Sattler. King Ferdinand declared drowning (called the third baptism) "the best antidote to Anabaptism". It has been said that a "16th century man who did not drink to excess, curse, or abuse his workmen or family could be suspected of being an Anabaptist and thus persecuted. Thousands died in Europe in the sixteenth century. The Tudor regime, even those that were Protestant (Edward VI of England and Elizabeth I of England) persecuted Anabaptists as they were deemed too radical and therefore a danger to religious stability. The persecution of Anabaptists was condoned by ancient laws of Theodosius I and Justinian I that were passed against the Donatists which decreed the death penalty for any who practiced rebaptism.
Thieleman J. van Braght's Martyrs Mirror describes the persecution and execution of thousands of Anabaptists, such as Dirk Willems, in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe between 1525 and 1660. Continuing persecution in Europe was largely responsible for the mass immigrations to North America by Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.
In addition, it may be argued that one of the historical Anabaptist doctrines, specifically that one must volitionally, consciously, and personally relate to God, is likewise found among much of Evangelical Protestantism, even though these churches may not be historically linked to the Anabaptists.
Sojourners Magazine editor Jim Wallis has said that Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder "inspired a whole generation of Christians to follow the way of Jesus into social action and peacemaking." The neo-Anabaptist communities and theologians are also considered a nearly direct result of this legacy and communities are often identifiable by a desire to live as an prophetic alternative to a larger society through their commitment to Christs' Sermon on the Mount as normative for the Christian life when empowered by the Holy Spirit. Outworkings of this spirituality include simple yet joyful lifestyle, peace and justice making, the practice of nonviolence, communal living and the voluntary sharing of goods, particularly with those in need all as an outworking of seeking the kingdom of God.
The Anabaptists were early promoters of a free church and freedom of religion (sometimes associated with separation of church and state). When it was introduced by the Anabaptists in the 15th and 16th centuries, religious freedom independent of the state was unthinkable to both clerical and governmental leaders. Religious liberty was equated with anarchy; Kropotkin traces the birth of anarchist thought in Europe to these early Anabaptist communities.
According to Estep,
Where men believe in the freedom of religion, supported by a guarantee of separation of church and state, they have entered into that heritage. Where men have caught the Anabaptist vision of discipleship, they have become worthy of that heritage. Where corporate discipleship submits itself to the New Testament pattern of the church, the heir has then entered full possession of his legacy.
The novel Q, by the collective known as 'Luther Blissett' features an Anabaptist as the central character and is set in the 16th Century, touching on key elements of Anabaptist history such as the siege of Munster.
From Anabaptist seed [The Mennonite family sprang to light in the 16th century from an Anabaptist seed: Part 1 of 3]
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